Nigerian Society Of Engineers At 50: The Challenges, The Prospects By Engr. Bello Gwarzo Abdullahi, MNSE
“Just as by standing on the shoulders of giants we can become even bigger giants, so it is that by climbing on the spires of skyscrapers, engineers can reach for ever taller skyscrapers. If this be hubris, it is an admirable trait that has, on balance, led to cumulative progress in which engineers and non engineers alike take pride.”
By Henry Petroski in “the Hubris of Extreme engineering”
The above quotation is an encouragement to engineers to think big and act big in their attempt to radically change society for the better. It is also saying in another way that the feat so far achieved by engineers is a clear demonstration of the almost unlimited capacity of human brain to bring about innovative changes. According to Microsoft Encarta 2008 “ Engineering is the term applied to the profession in which knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences , gained by study, experience and practice, is applied to the efficient use of the materials and forces of nature.” The outcome of whatever engineers make is a function of many contending factors and must be attuned with the existing physical, political and social infrastructure. In other words the socio-economic, cultural and political factors must come in to play. But the success of any venture be it social, religious, economic, developmental etc is achievable when a combination of factors that are mutually complementary are well thought-out.
For scientific and technological processes to gain ascendancy in our clime certain salient issues have to be played out.
This piece intends to focus on issues that necessitated the formation of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) in 1958, its successes and failings and the way forward. In doing this a number of issues will be raised with a view to addressing the present problems based on the historical perspectives and in the light of paradigm shifts in policies and programs of government. A brief history of the NSE, its major achievements so far, the challenges it faced and is now facing and a way forward based on the realities on the ground would be tackled.
BRIEF HISTORY OF NSE
The NSE was formed by 32 radical young engineers and students in London. It was a patriotic move to resist discrimination and seek enhanced opportunities for the Nigerian engineer. That period was the eve of independence and the Nigerian engineer was not finding it easy to effectively carry out his functions based on the subordinate status and discrimination he was going through. That epoch making gesture of NSE formation has now culminated, after fifty years of strenuous efforts in to a very formidable corporate body of more than 20,000 members. Science and technology as the fulcrum of modern human development is a direct function of the societal norms, values, mission and vision of those in the position of leadership. This is why the development and consolidation of the successes of the NSE follow closely the overall perception of the leadership and by extension the followership in the context of a complex polity.
In the light of the aforesaid one may be tempted to ask “how far has the NSE gone in addressing the vital issues affecting engineering in its entire ramification? Has the response shown by the government positive? And to what extent has the society in general and engineers in particular aided or abetted the realization of the set goals of NSE? These and many other questions will be tackled as we explore the NSE at 50.
MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS OF NSE
The COREN decree of 1970 as amended in 1990 is a veritable weapon for ensuring that engineering is practiced in accordance with the laid down regulations. Needless to say the regulation of engineering practice is better left to the experts who can operate within the laws of the land. The decree and its amendments were the culmination of efforts geared toward putting the Society in good stead and in line with the internationally accepted standards. It is noteworthy that it took 12 years before the promulgation of the decree by the General Yakubu Gowon regime. It was also only in 1990 another 20 years when other members of the engineering family-technologists, technicians, craftsmen and consultants were incorporated with the amendment of the decree. The establishment of council and secretariat went through metamorphosis over the years to reach the present state. Though the struggle to gain societal recognition is a continuous exercise but the deft move by some of the past presidents to reach out to government and to use whatever influence they could garner paid up handsomely. In this respect the name of Engr. Khalil Inuwa is worth mentioning. His tenure witnessed an unprecedented rapport with those in power which was utilized for the benefit of the Society.
The settlement of debt and the full cooperation of government and its agencies facilitated the completion of modern engineering centre in Lagos. Also the enforcement of the law that for an engineer to reach level 12 in the civil service he/she must be registered with COREN. Also the thorny issue of graduateship exam for HND holders was resolved and this was followed by the amendment of COREN decree. The number of engineers who were ministers assisted greatly in this respect.
A good lesson that could be learned and applied is the creation of a favorable situation through persuasion and action by engineers that they mean well for this country and if given the opportunity they posses the wherewithal to change this country for the better.
The various efforts of governments over time toward the development of the society have demonstrated quite clearly how a combination of leadership qualities and policy outline has assisted greatly in the achievement of set goals. For instance though Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Directorate of foods, Roads and Rural infrastructure (DFFRI) were established to address specific problems the PTF was a resounding success due mainly to the widely acclaimed leadership qualities of General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd). That clearly vindicated the opinion of people like Alhaji (Dr.) Aminu Saleh (the Wambai of Katagum) who is of the view that for any interventionist measure to succeed the “normal” bureaucracy has to be sidelined and a high measure of independence has to be given to the operators to dissuade any form of interference. More importantly the head of any such venture must be someone highly principled and respected who proved his worth over time and who is not ready to compromise his hard won reputation. To me, such action boils down to what is called situational management-look at the problem and proffer a solution based on the variables on ground.
FAST AND PRESENT CHALLENGES
The battle cry of the Nigerian engineers for recognition by the British colonial government led to the formation of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. Based on the current realities one can say, with measure of certainty, that colonial mentality is still very much with us and seem to defy solution. Foreign contractors and consultants will just be given contracts and consultancy jobs with little input from Nigerians. These so-called consultants are no match to their sidelined Nigerian counterparts. It is a very sad issue and it shows how unwilling we are to solve our basic infrastructural problems. Due to this many brilliant students are forced to look elsewhere instead of “wasting” their time in studying engineering. So many countries who were our contemporaries have gone far in terms of development leaving us with un-implementable policies. This sorry state to me is not the government problem alone but can be put at the doorstep of engineers who are not proactive and who seem to be oblivious of the negative impact of their actions to the development of this country. Our senior engineers revel in grand self-delusion
In the NSE newsletter of January, 1987 Engr, Ife Akintunde said and I quote “All the advice of the NSE in its twenty-eight years of existence and eighteen years of annual conferences has fallen on virtually deaf ears of the governments. Otherwise, Nigeria would not be the huge accumulation of the technologies of others which it is today…Only the first of her steel plants and oil refineries would have been accomplished through the know-how of others; she would have been turning out her own model of cars, wagons and electric gadgets…” This statement made some twenty-one years back is still quite apt and vividly describe the situation Nigerian engineers have been grappling with for a very long time. The question is after fifty years of existence as a technical society how do we tackle this problem of nonchalant attitude that has been militating against our society and by implication the whole nation? Do we just fold our arms and allow this to continue? If not what pragmatic approaches are we to make in order to turn the table for the better? In tackling some of these questions let us briefly look at the agenda of the 30 Years Ahead Committee Report on some of the problem areas listed thus;
- “The prevailing situation is that foreign engineering companies have undue advantages over their Nigerian counterparts in the award of consultancy and construction contracts, and even in the area of offering technical policy advice to the government. The Society has set itself the task of altering this unpleasant situation.”(p13)
- “It may be necessary to conduct a scientific survey, first, to establish the reasons why there are more engineers in management, academia and consultancy than in construction and manufacturing.”(p17)
- “Industry, agriculture, commerce and academia in Nigeria seem to have no baseline against which to specify equipment and standards for the variety of purposes their businesses and/or studies require…the engineering practice in Nigeria needs to be more effectively controlled and regulated and this can be done through continuing legislations and enforcement thereof.”(p13)
Closely studying the proposals we find them unassailable but remain to date mere pipedreams. The reason for this lies with the level of timidity exhibited by the Nigerian engineer in tackling issues that affect the profession. In our places of work our behavior is more of certificated laborers and not managers of men and materials. We are very good in blaming others for our woes while we are in a position to effectively change things for the better if we insist on doing the right things. Our senior colleagues seem not interested in bailing us out as they engross themselves in buttering their bread. They are unmindful about the implications of their actions on the profession and on themselves when they finally retire. Other engineers who are contractors, consultants or politicians are not doing much to encourage the younger ones. The results of all these actions produce a docile group of professionals who feel helpless in a country that need their input if it is to achieve its developmental goals. Nigerian engineers are left with no better option than to resign to fate.
To conclude this write-up let us pause and reflect on the way forward. We need to extricate ourselves from self-pity, docility that pervades our rank and file. We should be ready and willing to serve as vanguard to make engineering vibrant. We need to build bridges with other professional colleagues. Engineers should be involved in politics and assert themselves in any other areas that pertain to decision making. They should be their brothers’ keepers by empowering the younger ones and through continuous process of capacity building. They should never shy away from expressing themselves as their profession remains the most critical to any development. Lastly the powers conferred to COREN by the laws of the land should be enforced so that engineering attains its rightful place in the scheme of things. I say bravo! Let’s brace ourselves to the future challenges and endeavor to utilize the almost unlimited potentials of our profession.
Engr. Bello Gwarzo Abdullahi, MNSE,