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Road sector reforms needed to address infrastructural challenges

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Mr. DAYO OLUYEMI is the National Chairman, Nigerian Institution of Highways Transportation Engineers.

In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, he spoke on the despicable state of roads in Nigeria and lack of political will to engage Nigerian engineers in infrastructural work among other issues.

Many have raised concerns over the quality of engineering graduates from the nation’s higher institutions. Do you align with this?
The Council of Registered Engineering of Nigeria (COREN) is ensuring that there are standards in every School of Engineering in Nigeria. They make sure that the lecturers are qualified and also quality in terms of the laboratory equipment. COREN has been doing its best to ensure that engineers are of a good standard. The major thing with young graduates of today is that when they graduate, they assume that they are engineers already. They should not believe that they are already engineers because they still need to learn a lot. So, I don’t believe that the quality of our graduates is falling but I believe that we need to put more into their post-graduate training.

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In those days, when engineers come out of the University after their National Youth Service Corp (NYSC), they were absorbed as pupil engineers in government offices and engineering companies but how many of these graduates are able to find places to do their pupillage now, very few. Today, you see engineering graduates teaching in some private schools, where they are paid N20, 000 per month after their NYSC. Things are terrible.

In what way can this be changed?
To change this narrative, the government must, first of all, ensure that all our factories are running in full capacities and they must pump money into developing infrastructure. When they pump money into developing infrastructure, there will be a lot of activities going on. We have already known that our roads are in terrible condition throughout the country. When they give out these construction contracts, Nigerian engineers will be employed, even the mechanical engineers will be employed to manage the equipment and our people will get experience. The other issue is that when you give a construction project to Chinese firms and they bring everybody that work on the project from China, we are not helping ourselves.

Recently, you made a position against re-introduction of tolls on Nigerian high ways, why such position?
First, If you are tolling a road from Lagos to Benin, you must provide an alternative road that people who don’t have the means to pay the toll can take. The alternative road may not be good as the ones you are tolling but, there must be an alternative.

Secondly, in this present-day Nigeria, how many roads are in good condition that can be tolled? Very few roads are in good condition that can be tolled. How many of those roads that are in good condition that are economically feasible to be tolled? When you want to toll a road you do it for a purpose.

The economic feasibility must be considered. You don’t just go and put people at the beginning and end of the road and tell them to collect N20. That would not work in this case. That is why I said we are not yet at a position where our roads can be tolled. We are not there at all. For us to toll these roads, we must, first of all, carry out necessary repairs and reconstruction on these roads. We must also have good maintenance plans for the roads.

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But Government said it is planning to maintain the roads with the toll because of the paucity of funds. Don’t you think it should be given a chance?
It is true that the government has no money. As we speak, the government is broke. The only thing is that they are not telling us the truth. They don’t have enough money to maintain all these roads. But even when they toll them, the traffic on these roads would not generate enough funds to do the maintenance.

What options are opened to Government in addressing the road infrastructure challenges?
Government should carry out road sector reforms. The road sector reform in the sense that the 8th National Assembly passed some bills which the President does not give assent to. We must have what is called the Road Board. The Road Board bill must be signed. The Federal Highway Authority bill must also be signed. When we have these bills in place, then our roads will be better. In the bills, they have looked at alternative sources of funding for our road infrastructure. We have been talking of road sector reform for about 50 years but the problem is that successive governments do not have the political will to put the bills in place. We all know that the roads are bad and that the government cannot build all the roads. Apart from that, there are other problems like excessive axle loads on our pavements. Every now and then, you see government spending huge amounts on roads construction and in the end, it does not last more than 2-3 years because the loads that people are exerting on the roads are heavier than what it was designed for.

Engineers are said to be problem solvers. How has that played out with engineers in Nigeria especially by the problems caused by our population?
Nigerian engineers have been trying their best to solve the majority of the problems we have in this country, where they are involved. For instance, you have Nigerian engineers working in infrastructure companies, whether building construction or others. You have Nigerian engineers working in the power sector, you have Nigerian engineers working in our refineries, you have Nigerian engineers working in all facets of the economy and engineering is about solving problems. Every day, we solve one problem or the other and that is why we are engineers.

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Are there key roles, engineers should play in solving some of the problems in Nigeria?
How will engineers play key roles when the leadership is not giving them such roles? The key roles that we expect engineers to play are in all aspects of our economy that concern engineering. People must also have confidence in them for them to play such key roles. When you have confidence in Nigerian engineers, they will do whatever they are expected to do. There is no aspect of engineering that our people cannot do very well for now.

What roles can Nigerian Institution of Highway and Transportation Engineers play in addressing these problems?
The Nigerian Institution of Highway and Transportation Engineers, which is a division of the Nigerian Society of Engineers have been communicating to governments both in writing and other means but they have not listened. So there is no other thing we can do apart from that. We also organise seminars and workshops, where policymakers are invited and we tell them what they should do.

What is your rating of the composition of some important commissions in Nigeria like the Electricity Regulatory Commission? Do you think engineers are adequately represented?
There are some of these commissions that engineers are not adequately represented. When you look at the law setting up these commissions you find out that even out of 10 people allowed by law, you have a representative of the minister, the representative of the President, you have people there, who are never engineers, who do not even know what they should be talking of when they sit down to discuss technically. So, the laws setting up some of these commissions need to be amended to ensure that people who are involved really know what they are saying. If there are engineering companies, let the engineers take over the running.

What implications do you think these hold for engineering profession in Nigeria?
It does not only has negative implications for the engineering profession in Nigeria, but it also has a negative implication on the country as a whole. When you have ten people discussing electricity regulation and probably only one person or two are engineers who know what they are talking about, you know there will be a problem. You know when they go to board meetings, decisions are reached through voting. So at the end of the day, the quality of decisions we are having from some of these commissions are low and we all suffer for it.

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What do you consider as the missing link in Nigeria’s infrastructural development?
The missing link majorly is the fact that the funding is not available. Government must find a way of funding all these infrastructural projects. Secondly, the majority of these projects are in the hands of foreigners, the Chinese, Italians, and others, who will never allow Nigerian engineers to be part of the running. So the missing links are that Nigerian infrastructural development must be in our hands. We must make conscious efforts to ensure that the development of our infrastructure is in the hands of Nigerians.

We must also find ways of getting funds for the construction of these infrastructures. Majority of roads in the country are bad now, whether you are talking about Federal or state roads.

Do you think that the lack of sufficient engineers in the policy space is part of the problem?
Of course. How many engineers do we have in the National Assembly? Very few. Among the Ministers, how many engineers do we have? Very few. Unlike, in other countries like China, you have many engineers in the policy space but in this country, it is not so.

How can this be addressed?
Every nation consciously ensures that they have a lot of engineers in their policy space and that is what they have not been doing in Nigeria. A lot of Ministries and Parastatals that should be headed by engineers are just being managed by nonengineers. That is why you find us not doing very well in the area of infrastructure. Our leadership must make a conscious effort to ensure that engineering Ministries and Parastatals are headed by qualified and well-trained engineers who can make good decisions for the country. That is how we can address the problem.

Do you agree with the Minister of Works and Housing recent thoughts on the state of our roads?
Well, you know that he later corrected himself. One thing, I will tell you is that if you go anywhere in this country generally all the roads are bad. From Lagos to Abuja, where is the good road? From Lagos to Benin, where is the road? Portharcourt to Enugu, Enugu to Makurdi, the whole place is bad. Kotangora to Rijau, it is bad. Even from Ibadan to Oyo to Ogbomoso to Jebba to Mokwa to Tagina to Kaduna, the whole place is bad. So what are we talking about?

As the National Chairman, Nigerian Institution Of Highway and Transportation Engineers what would you say is your major challenges?
The major challenge we have right now as an institution is the state of our roads. The number of bad roads in the country is alarming. They are not reducing in spite of the efforts of the Federal government. It is really a challenge to the institution seeing all these roads in a dilapidated state.

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