President, Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) Engr Kunle Mokuolu FNSE in this interview with the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Nigerian NewsDirect in commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of NSE spoke extensively on the achievements of the Society, contributions of Nigerian engineers to the infrastructure development of Nigerian economy. He listed challenges, the need to patronize Nigerian engineers and promotion of standards among others. Excerpts.
What can you identify as major achievements of NSE in Nigerian economy?
The NSE is 60 years old this year, hence it is a year full of activities. NSE was established as an umbrella body for all the disciplines of engineering practice including civil, mechanical, electronics, electrical, electronics and so on. We brought them under one umbrella body called Nigerian Society of Engineers. Our primary role is to ensure that there is proper practice of engineering in an ethical way, adequate welfare of Nigerian engineers and discipline among members. So, for our achievements, we have been advocating for patronage of Nigerian engineers by both the public and private sectors of Nigerian economy so as to boost local capacity.
Engineering is a global body of knowledge and because of our history of colonialism by the British, foreigners during the colonial regime were brought to execute engineering works in Nigeria and after independent some of these engineering projects were still ongoing.
However, after independent we started developing local capacity particularly in construction of roads, railway and other engineering infrastructures for the benefit of Nigerians. Unfortunately, after six years, there was a military coup and the military leaders could not really wait for local capacity building because they thought that Nigerians need something as palliative to justify their military intervention that brought the first republic to an end on January 15, 1966. They wanted to show the world and Nigerians that they are better than the civilian regime by doing things quickly without appropriation.They encouraged foreigners to be the major stakeholders of our infrastructure development particularly in construction of roads and bridges among others. Of course, you know it is a common sense that when a nation depends on foreigners, whatever the foreigners provide is not sustainable. It can function very well but it is not sustainable. Another issue is that maintenance programme by foreign engineering companies is very poor. For instance, if they construct a road, after commissioning, they do not look back to maintain the road since they are foreign companies.
Instead, they will prefer to reconstruct the road. Hence, if after two or three years that the government wants to reconstruct the road, it will be compelled to spend more money in reconstructing the road than the initial cost of the project compared with a situation of lower cost if the road was awarded to an indigenous contractor with a very high level of local content.
We are not saying that foreigners should not participate in Infrastructure development of our country but what we are saying is that the infrastructure development of our country should be led by Nigerian engineers. Secondly, various Ministres,Departments and Agencies (MDAs) at Federal or state level should be headed by engineers for two reasons. First,our infrastructure deficit is so high that we don’t need anybody at the helm of affairs who will only be concerned with administration.
This is time for provision of engineering infrastructure and this should not stop at providing the roads. In fact, that is the beginning of provision when the project is completed.That is the time that we really have to draw out a robust maintenance programme for the infrastructure and be able to look for where to get funds. We have to put in place a good structure and strategies on how to raise funds to maintain the roads so as to keep them functioning effectively with no potholes or damage of bridges.
The other thing is that when engineers are appointed as the head of various engineering-based ministry, department & agencies of government, it is so easy to take decision. The decision will be faster and nobody can bambooze them. If there is a non-engineering chief executive, one of the engineers can become a rogue at anytime and then deceive the decision makers to encourage approval of what is not appropriate. Then, there is another point concerning engagement of NSE with the government. Our support for successive administrations over the years has been at a very high level and very productive. Nigerians should observe that engineers are trained to look after people and to improve the well-being of Nigeria’s citizens. That is the reason if you trace the history of Nigeria till date, engineers have never gone on strike. Nigerian Society of Engineers has never join other professional bodies to declare strike action. We are so committed to Nigeria as a product. We are so committed to the well-being of Nigeria and we have been suffering discomfort for lack of patronage and discomfort for non-payment of our consultancy services for a very long time. Instead of strike, we keep on appealing to the government to do the right thing and to pay us. The government in a way tied our hands and legs and then told us to swim. Even then, we have been able to swim and make little progress.
The progress would have been much more for the benefit of Nigerians, if Nigerian engineers were patronized because our body of knowledge and expertise will only improve by practicing. In engineering, once you are trained to become an engineer, if you do not practice, the knowledge goes. Secondly, our body of knowledge is so dynamic because we need to keep innovating as problem occurs. We need to think about how to solve problems. But important thing is that we have been able to get the tools of solving these problems and that is why the NSE over the years have been advocating for government at Federal and State levels to patronize Nigerian engineers.Let us be the one on the driver’s seat for provision of engineering infrastructure.
During your administration, what can you identify as your achievements?
During my administration, my achievements are based on the efforts of past administrations because there is nothing essential that I initiated that is different from the mission and vision of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. However, the one that matured into my hands is the “Enhanced Entry Point for Engineers in the civil service” because we have been on this issue for so many years.`
As a matter of fact, it was a compromise with government because we were thinking that engineers should have a special salary scale because of our training. We took the case to the Federal Council of Establishment to calculate how long it takes for example to train an accountant, to train a medical doctor or a lawyer. And where that lawyer will be when he secured admission into the university and after four years of study in the university. An engineer will spend four years in the university and thereafter will go for pupillage of two years mandatory and another two years experience. That makes it eight years before he can be called an engineer. This is the minimum training period because it could take 10years or more according to practice. The NSE will not allow somebody who has not proved himself to work without supervision to receive license as engineer. It is important because one mistake by one engineer can take so many lives. In other professions, the lives that suffer are in units when there is an error. For example, if a dam should break, sudden flood can cause a sunami effect. That is the reason why our engineers are properly trained before they receive certificate.
In this case, what is the entry point you achieved for Engineers in the civil service?
So far, the entry point is level nine and after one year, a graduate of engineering is promoted to level 10 and after receiving certificate as engineer, he/she will be promoted automatically to level 12.
Another achievement is the branding of NSE particularly ensuring that everything within the secretariat is standard. Then the other one that is painful to us is the maltreatment of Nigerian engineers in the award of contracts by the government. I don’t know for whatever reason why the same government that spent money to train us in primary school and we did well. They trained us in secondary school and we performed excellently well. The same government trained us in the university and we did well with international recognition. However, after graduation the government will declare us as incompetent and not good enough to receive contracts from the government. Instead, the government will prefer to award contracts to foreigners with revenue derived from our natural resources in-country and with the tax paid by our members.
How can the government give more Priviledge to foreigners?
They are profiting from our sweat. Instead of building capacity with Nigerian Engineers, the government is building capacity of the foreigners. This is because engineering really is to know how to arrange the things. To design is the proper and foundation thing. Any person can cut paper to size and any person can put things on top of each other. However, the person that takes the decision about the size, the quantity and quality is the engineer. You improve your expertise on daily basis as you practice. So, after they have trained us in the university and graduated, the government then said that Nigerian Engineers are not good enough.
On the basis of that, we decided to look for Nigerian engineers abroad for partnership. Some of them were trained in Nigeria but for one reason or the other left the country. Most important reason for leaving Nigeria by some of them was lack of jobs in Nigeria or that they were not properly paid.Hence, they decided to travel abroad where they would appreciate their profession. Here in Nigeria, the government do not appreciate the value of engineers even though we are diamonds but they think we are just ordinary stones. So, when our colleagues travel abroad, they give them projects to execute.
What we did as a strategy to ensure that Nigerian engineers would have opportunity to practice was the establishment of Diaspora branches of the Nigerian Society of Engineers.
Now, we have branches of the Nigerian Society of Engineers in Houston, Texas in United States of America. The branch was inaugurated by me on May 3rd, 2018 during Offshore Technology Conference (OTC). Then, we went to London on May 6th, 2018 to inaugurate another London Diaspora branch so that the engineers in Diaspora branches would be available for us. It is to ensure that when we have projects,
then we will tell them that we have Nigerian engineers who can do it from abroad. So that they will not laugh at us, we will get our members in Diaspora branches to take part in the project. For instance, the day we inaugurated Houston branch,three Nigerian engineers who are working in NASA participated. One of them was the person that designed the launching pad for rocket that goes into the space. When we went to London, the person that did planning, design and construction of the extension of Jubilee Line underground train in London is a Nigerian. He was paid the money and trusted to do the design, planning and construction.