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‘There are no defined laws guiding professions in Nigeria’

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OLADIPUPO AJAYI is the President, Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON). In this interview with Property & Environment Editor, CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM, he spoke on issues of project management, building collapse, accreditations and controversies sorrounding draughtsmen in Lagos and certification of programmes.

In time past, architects had played a leadership role in building construction teams, but it seems your members are losing out in project management jobs to other professionals. What is Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON) doing to reclaim this lost ground?
Nigeria is a place we lobby a lot. Anybody can wake up to call himself a medical doctor or an architect. We don’t bother asking questions. If you wake up today as a journalist and say, you’re an architect, nobody will ask you any question. You will take the brief, give it to draughtsman, and they will pay you. The society itself is at fault; clients and society should be asking questions on professionalism and pedigree. I won’t say architects are losing out. I believe that members should do more; nobody is preventing them from becoming project managers.

Currently, we’re encouraging our members to participate in relevant courses, which will enable them to supervise projects effectively and efficiently. The scope of the built environment is not too big and everybody competes. For now, there are no defined laws guiding professions in Nigeria and no law enforcement. I believe that we should package ourselves very well, showcase who we are and they must see diligence in our works.

The housing industry is still facing crisis in Nigeria. What plans does ARCON have to enable government to build affordable, livable and environmentally friendly homes that ensure people have access to housing?
Presently, there is a programme between Nigerian architects and the Federal Government under the Family Homes Fund (FHF), where they asked architects to submit proposals and to ensure that they have the same façade. I think when the projects commence, they will be huge success as no architect wants to present something that is substandard.

 
In terms of affordability, it depends on which type of housing you’re building. It must be houses that meet the needs of the people. Affordability depends on individual’s purse. Architects are ready to provide designs of all categories for people who are in need of homes. It is not everywhere in Nigeria that homes are scarce; it is only in cities like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Kano. In other places such as villages, there are empty houses. We should concentrate on affordable housing in cities, categorise people and build for them.                                                             

I will only appeal to government and society to patronise qualified professionals in the built environment, such as architects, builders, engineers, estate surveyors, land surveyors, quantity surveyors, and town planners. If the government makes a law that before any person is engaged, he or she should prove with a license that he is actually in the profession. Then you will see how our cities would be transformed. Nigerian professionals are the best in the world, but lack patronage. 

The government particularly should give jobs to professionals, especially architects.  Most cities that have grown to be the cynosure of all eyes in the world like China, Singapore, Washington DC, Dubai and Beijing patronise their own people. But here, we don’t respect our professionals; we look down on them. That’s why our buildings are crying for assistance. They give buildings to quacks, who never go to school, to build. This is because there is no implementation of our laws. Every state has its own edict, which is under the physical planning and urban development. That’s why I’m advocating that the physical planning ministry should be changed to physical development ministry in all states. So, it reflects that it is not a section of the built environment that executes the projects, that it is teamwork. People change these names to suit their own purposes in Nigeria.

The spate of building collapse in the country is worrisome and there are concerns on the encroachment by quacks in the built environment. How has your council been able to tackle this problem?
The problem of building collapse is hinged on two things: Disobedience to the law and lack of law enforcement. From the data we have been able to collect, we discovered that when project managers appoint consultants, the owner takes over his project and dictates to the consultants. This is a big issue in Nigeria. When a contract is awarded, the client or owner should step back and allow professionals to execute it.

The laws and processes are in place but people circumvent them. In some cases, where the contractor is overbearing, the consultants should withdraw. The larger part of building collapse seen in Nigeria is undertaken by quacks. Clients have to cut corners, employ quacks to design for them, and impose themselves on these unqualified professionals. At the end of the day, they claim they are architects, which is not true. What should be done is to respect the laws of the land, perhaps the states’ edicts on processing of approval plans.

They should ensure that qualified and competent professionals are identified, especially those registered by professional bodies in terms of engineering, architecture, cost savings, planning, estate surveying and valuation, building as well as land surveying. Everybody has a role to play, and with good management, building collapse will be a thing of the past. It collapses in every part of the world, just that it is rampant in Nigeria.

In our own field, there is the mandatory Architects Project Registration Number (APRN) issued to all architects practicing in Nigeria for each of their projects. This is to certify that these projects are being executed by Nigerian citizens, who are fully registered with the professional body. With this initiative, only fully registered and financially current architects and firms were eligible to prepare, produce and submit architectural building plans for approvals/ implementation and to receive those approvals when they are given.

We’re pushing for the state governments to adopt it. It allows us to track architects on each project. If anything happens, the architect is easily identified. We have also been doing a lot in our own council, as we have Architects Investigation Panel (AIP), which brings offenders to book or refer them to a tribunal. If one is found guilty, the person’s license is withdrawn; he or she is handed over to the police. The tribunal has the backing of government as the Chief Justice of the Federation set it up. When an architect commits professional misconduct, all the architects in Nigeria are held liable. We are very conscious of that, and that’s why we’re holding consultations with other professional bodies to resolve the issue and curb the menace in the country.

What’s the position of ARCON on the new urban and physical regulation law of Lagos State Government that empower draughtsman to either engage in any kind of design or detail of architectural design?
We don’t agree with the state government and our reason is very simple. The section of the Lagos new urban and physical regulation law-backing draughtsman to either engage in any kind of design or detail of architectural design is at variance with the Federal Government’s provision. We believe it is an error and we have taken it up with the state government. The state’s Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Mr. Idris Salako has also noted our grouse, assuring that the offending section will soon be addressed.

We have noticed that some schools abroad approved by the National Universities Commission have been accredited and validated for architecture studies. What has been your role in all these processes?
We saw that universities abroad were recruiting Nigerians for architecture studies, and in the past when students came from Russia and Asian countries, their syllabus did not fall in line with our programmes in Nigeria. There were complaints that those students were not registered on coming back to the country. The universities started writing us that they want us to let them know what they will teach our Nigerian students. It was interesting as we were able to cement relationships regarding student exchange for Nigerian universities. We also introduced courses on entrepreneurship in their schools, as there are no jobs in Nigeria.

ARCON has been enmeshed in dispute over professional practice competency examinations, which for several years tainted the council. What is the current situation in the certification programme?
I would not say it tainted the council; the council happens to be the leader and the case of infractions was reported to the council being the regulator; that an examination was conducted, some groups were favoured while others were not favoured. Of course, as the police of the profession, we took it up and looked into it and asked them to stop the process. When I came onboard, the two councils agreed to solve the problem. We constituted two committees; they did verification and the report of the process was documented. We have now a harmonisation body that will be conducting the programmes. Since that time, there has been no problem; we have been registering new candidates through the harmonized committees.
 


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ARCONOladipupo Ajayi
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