Born November 23, 1960 in Supare-Akoko, Ondo State to Prince and Mrs. Ezekiel Olorunfemi, his mum, an indigene of Ado Ekiti was a housewife while his father was a policeman. Shortly after his birth, he was taken to Ibadan to start life with his father who was serving in Ibadan. His father’s love for education saw him enrolling young Olorunfemi at Ibadan City Council Primary School, Agodi before having his secondary education at St. Joseph College, Ondo. In those days of stiff competition, young Olorunfemi was admitted into Obafemi Awolowo University where he bagged a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Agriculture, as well as a Masters degree in Engineering from the University of Ibadan.
After his NYSC programme at Groundnut Board, Bauchi as well as Gongola River Basin Authority, Olorunfemi joined the Lagos State Polytechnic, where he rose to become Chief Lecturer. Uniquely, in his over 28 years of working experience, Olorunfemi has also been in the public service where he has demonstrated proven proficiency in engineering, capacity development and management. A former Commissioner for Agriculture in Ondo State, he is presently, the Special Adviser to the Ondo State Governor on Agriculture. Interestingly, he also and presently occupies the highest position in his Engineering profession in Nigeria: Office of the President/Chairman-in-Council of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE). In this exclusive chat with TAYO MUSTAPHA, in his cozy Lagos office, Demo, as he is fondly called, fielded questions on his profession, vis-à-vis challenges, prospects and others. Enjoy it!
Your resume is quite impressive
Can we start by looking at your stint with the Lagos State Polytechnic?
After my 25th birthday, precisely on December 23, 1985, I joined the Lagos State Polytechnic as an Assistant Lecturer in Agricultural Engineering department. With all sense of modesty, I would say that my commitment to work earned me promotions to Lecturer 111, Lecturer 11 and Lecturer 1. I was further elevated to Senior Lecturer, Principal Lecturer and Chief Lecturer. Besides my academic responsibilities, I also served in many managerial, developmental and facilitation positions. I was a member of the Research and Development Committee of LASPOTECH, Project Manager, LASPOTECH/Highbury College Portsmouth, UK (HCP) Partnership, Joint Secretary, LASPOTECH –EEC LOME 111 Projects.
Besides functioning as Acting Head of the Agricultural Engineering Department, as well as Acting Director, School of Engineering at different times, I was also Director, LASPOTECH Konsult. Prior to my appointment as the Commissioner for Agriculture in Ondo State in 2011, I was Chairman, External Relations, LASPOTECH.
How has the Engineering profession fared in Nigeria?
The Engineering profession, just like any other profession has come a long way. It started with the evolution of man because God as the supreme engineer started it with the creation of the world through engineering processes before we humans took over. Talking about how it has fared, I think it depends on the perspective at which you are looking at it. Are you talking of academics, operations, legislation, developmental roles and what have you? By and large, I would confidently say that the profession has fared very well in the last couple of decades, especially given our series of professional achievements at the academic and professional level.
What about the professional society, NSE?
The Nigerian Society of Engineers has equally come a long way too, alongside other notable professional associations and societies. It was formed by a group of young Nigerian Engineers in 1958 in the United Kingdom. Down the line, the society has contributed a lot to the socio-economic development of Nigeria. In terms of capacity development, strategic partnership drive, Nigerian content development, technology advancement initiatives and other impactful policies, the society has become a reference point to Nigeria’s development. Basically, it is the umbrella body that serves the interests of all professional engineers in Nigeria. With a membership of close to 40,000, we have impacted positively at the local, state and federal levels of governance in terms of policy formulation and implementation.
How is it run?
The NSE is managed in structure through its 19 divisions and 59 branches. The Divisions are based on professional specialisations while the branches are spread in geographical locations across the country.
What is the difference between COREN and NSE?
COREN, Council for the Regulation of Engineering Practice in Nigeria is the statutory regulatory body set up by law to regulate the teaching and practice of Engineering in all it’s ramifications. COREN overseas the training and regulation of all members (cadres), that is, Engineers, Technologists, Technicians and Craftsmen as well as Engineering Consulting Firms. NSE on the other hand, is the umbrella professional body of all Engineering Cadre members of the Engineering family in Nigeria. It looks after the overall interest of its membership in the ultimate goal of national development. NSE ensures continued capacity development of its members and provides networking platforms for its members and colleagues in the West African sub region, other parts of Africa and the world in general. In furtherance of this, NSE is a country member of the West African Federation of Engineering Organisations (WAFEO), Federation of African Organisations of Engineering (FAOE), Commonwealth Engineering Council (CEC) and the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO)) and plays very active, prominent and visible roles. To this end, NSE on behalf of the government and people of Nigeria, is hosting the 2014 WFEO Summit, the World Engineering Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure (WECSI) on November 2-7, 2014 in Abuja.
What about APWEN?
APWEN means Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria and it’s the female division of our society. Owing to NSE’s high regard for our women engineers, a division within NSE was formed to accommodate our female colleagues. Basically, APWEN aims at among other strategic reasons, encouraging the Girl Child to study and practice Engineering and advance the course of women in national development and a place and voice in the global arena.
Where is NSE in Nigeria’s vision statement of becoming one of the 20 leading world economies by year 2020?
Presently, there is a latent yearning of NSE members for the display of our engineering ingenuity to bring about development. I am also convinced by our multi-disciplinary collaboration with many other professional associations to consolidate our efforts at synergizing with the leadership of the country to take our dear country to the promised land of prosperity and citizen contentment.
Specifically, NSE, through the engineering profession intends to instigate and nurture the technological work force, knowledge and innovation to facilitate the technical change needed to transform the economy and make it globally competitive. It also intend to contribute its technical and vocational workforce to operate and maintain such facilities for industrial production as well as maintain the technical infrastructure to form the supporting skeleton/super structure for the country’s competitive development.
Talking about regulation and as an engineer, what are the remote causes to the increasing incidence of building collapse in the country?
The rising incidence of building collapse has become a disturbing trend. While these tragedies are mostly accompanied by mass loss of lives and properties worth billions of naira, our investigations has revealed that poor workmanship, use of cheap and inferior materials, wrong interpretation of building designs, inadequate supervision, non- adherence to due process in building construction, lack of maintenance culture, greedy attitude of contractors, abuse of plans and the activity of quacks are some of the reasons behind these avoidable agonies.
And where, how does NSE come in?
NSE on its own part is presently in partnership with all relevant stakeholders towards stemming this negative development. We are in a strong alignment with COREN on engineering regulation monitoring to ensure that the relevant laws guiding the sector are adhered to. In particular, we intend to wrestle the importation/infiltration of the so called ‘expatriate’ non engineers to take up critical engineering jobs. We are also working with the Head of Service, CEOs of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and all service companies with a deadline to submit the list of all Engineers in their employment stating their cadre and NSE membership status. We have and shall continue to vigorously defend and protect the turf of qualified engineers in all spheres of the economy by stimulating law enforcement agencies to bring offenders to justice, educate Nigerians to avoid cheap services to ensure Nigerians get value for their money in all engineering undertakings.
What is NSE doing about the use of engineering projects to loot the national treasury?
At NSE, we have consistently harped on our zero tolerance for corruption. Talking about value for money in engineering and allied infrastructures, Nigerians and Nigeria as a nation has been ripped and raped for long since after independence. It is common knowledge in project and international development circles that not up to 30% of committed funds are effectively utilized in projects in Nigeria. The heavy burden of corruption is self -defeating, counterproductive, discouraging foreign investment and regressing an otherwise vibrant and progressive economy. NSE on its part is committed to ensuring that it stops the use of engineering for looting of the national treasury by Nigerians and their foreign collaborators.
What particular strategic partnership is NSE into with the Federal Government?
One cannot over emphasis the fact that a healthy relationship with the government is essential. We have the NSE Monitoring Action Group (NMAG), a group created to monitor policies and programmes affecting critical sectors of the nation’s economy for the purpose of engineering input and liaising with relevant stakeholders from the public and private sectors to ensure coordinated action for a sustainable infrastructural development. Framed within the context of growth of Nigerian entrepreneurship and the domestication of assets in line with Nigeria’s strategic developmental goals, NSE is at present pushing vigorously not only for the implementation of the Nigerian Content Development Law, but also for the replication of the policy in all other critical sectors of our economy.
How strategic and important is the Nigerian Content Development Law?
The scheme has the potential to create over 30,000 jobs in the next 5 years. It will increase the domestic share of the $18billion annual spending on oil and gas from 45% to 70%. In addition to enhancing the multiplier effects on the economy, through refining and petrochemicals, the projected outcome in this sector is awesome.
We are convinced that our country will not grow economically if we continue to import everything we use. Our manufacturing industry has all it takes to produce quality products and add more value to foreign products if government policy provides them with the enabling environment. To encourage local production and boost the country’s economy, there is the need for appropriate fiscal policy review with the aim of creating market for local manufacturers.
As a former commissioner and presently the Senior Special Adviser to the Ondo State Governor on Agriculture, how did you come into politics considering your academic background?
Well, I have been involved in politics right from my youthful days as an undergraduate. I have held series of positions in academic and professional associations so I have had a clear mindset of my political inclination a very long time ago.
What philosophy has formed or guided your type of politics?
‘Live and Let Live’. I mean the weak must be deliberately protected while food, cloth, shelter, job, healthcare, water, roads and other basic amenities of life must be made available to them.
…Any other political ambition?
You see, right from my youthful days, I have known that I am created to serve and going by events that has shaped my life since I was born, I am convinced of that hence, my readiness to serve my people and my society in any capacity anytime. At my professional association level, I leave that to God while in national politics, I am opened to whatever God and the people wants me to do. However, and I must say that I am not equipped for the kind of elective politics being played in Nigeria now but I am willing to serve if and when I am called upon. Also, I must say that I will only serve given the condition that my principal with whom I intend serving with and I share and believe in the same philosophy…people, mass and progressive oriented philosophy.
What has life taught you?
Destiny is a fact. Only God will make it real but for God to make it real, you must fulfill your own part and how do you do that, you must work hard, obey and trust in God.
How supportive is your wife in all these ventures of yours?
I will give her 102%. She has been there, constant as the northern star. She has borne the burden and effects of my constant tight schedules. As I am on the road on a daily basis, she has built and nurtured the home front. She is a virtuous woman, a good wife and an excellent mother. I call her ‘Omolabake’ and I am happy God has blessed me with such a woman as a wife.
How did you meet her?
I met her at LASPOTECH when I was a Lecturer while she was a student in the Chemical Engineering department. I admired her and tried to curry her friendship but she played very hard to get.
How were you able to win her love then?
It was my persistence. I never got discouraged, I was consistently ‘close-marking’ her until she said yes. Also, and quite fortunate, I want to believe that her late mum was also instrumental in her saying yes because I learnt after asking some questions, observing me and getting to know that I live with my siblings which showed a sign of responsibility, she encouraged her daughter to accept my proposal.
How is your social life?
I am a sociable person, at least to a reasonable extent. I have no barrier in my relationship with people. I always say it that I have more friends than the late M.K.O. Abiola. My friends often refer to me as ‘Network Engineer’ due to my inter-personal relations spirit.
I read, watch news and sports programmes.
What is that one thing you have not achieved in life?
If there is that thing I have not achieved in life, it means I don’t have the capacity to achieve it yet. I have been able to achieve my priorities within the capacity God has given me!
Originally Published on Daily Newswatch