Engineers claim that the refusal to appoint them to cabinet positions has created the missing link in Nigeria’s infrastructural development. In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, the president of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, OTIS OLIVER TABUGBO ANYAEJI provided an insight on their involvement in the practice of engineering valuation, among others.
In your inaugural speech, you quoted The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip as saying that engineers can play a key role in helping to solve the problems caused by the increase in the world’s population. How has that played out with engineers in Nigeria?
In that quotation, the Duke said anything not created by God was created by an engineer. That is to underscore the importance of engineering in continuation of the work of God in creation. So recognising that, we still have to look at the issue, engineering playing a role that is different from other professions because when you want to talk about creation of infrastructure, creation of economic assets, operations and maintenance and even commissioning of all those assets that falls into the purvey of engineering. That is why in every country that wants to move forward, they must recognise the place and importance of engineers. They bring engineers into developmental process right from the conceptual, policy stages through the implementation of policy. If you now go through the quotation of the Duke to what I said later in my inaugural speech about the missing link of Nigeria’s developmental process, where I summarised them as in sufficient engineers in the policy space, that spoke to the fact that engineers are more or less excluded from formulation of policies, I mean in ministerial positions in the country. That leads to the situation where a country, that usually 95 per cent of its capital votes is spent on engineering based activities, you make policies on all these expenditures with people, who had no knowledge or experience in engineering.
The brings about a lot of errors that eventually cannot be corrected through implementations, ultimately will translate to failures in those infrastructure and physical facilities that must have been put in place based on erroneous concepts and faulty and teleguided designs. So to answer your question, the engineers are not being brought in sufficiently to deal with the problem of over population as Duke was talking about and other problems of development. So that is the situation that we have in the country, you can go from state to state and you will find that there are many states that do not even have one engineer in their cabinet.
Engineers are recommending to the Federal Government to adopt vertical city development. What is it like? Are their other ways to solve real estate and land problems?
There are no other ways. If you don’t adopt this vertical city development, then we want to keep building bungalows stretching out over long distances and tracks. You find that one of the immediate problems is that it is not easy to extend basic infrastructure to all those distances, take electricity for example, to do basic installation in a whole quarters in a town, the entire development of that quarter can be put on the street and in a town for example in Lagos, if you were doing vertical city development, that is something like what you have in 1004 estate, if you were doing that consistently and with good planning, then Lagos as it is today would have been contained maybe in 1/20th of the size of its land that is being used now. What that means is that the roads that you need to service will be less, the cables you need to distribute electricity externally will be less and the piping you need to also carry through the water means will be less. All that will lead to more sufficient infrastructure for the people that will be there. But when you begin to extend it before you know it you are almost 50 kilometres inside the city.
Engineers had planned to undertake manpower survey last year. Is it still feasible? What are the key roles of the proposed bureau for engineering manpower?
The functions for the bureau for engineering manpower had to do with making survey to really determine the number of engineers. When you are talking of engineers, you are talking about various disciplines; the basic ones are of course, civil, mechanical, electrical, process and materials and then agriculture. These are the principal five branches of engineering; you also have inter disciplinary specialist areas, where you have something like environmental engineering. So, we need to do surveys and due diligence to determine how many they are and then begin to touch these areas to know what their demands are based on strategic planning. With that, it will be possible to project into the future. So when that also is done, you have an idea for need of engineering manpower in the country.
Many experts in the built environment have raised concerns on the quality of engineering graduates from the nation’s higher institutions. What is your institution doing to changes this narrative?
I don’t think that anybody from outside can come and begin to think sufficiently about what happens in other professions. Our universities and higher institutions have problems, which stretched to all disciplines and departments but it is true that engineering is the most rigorous in terms of training requirements. What you find is that many courses in the universities are taught in the classrooms while some are taught in the laboratories. Some are taught in the classrooms and workshops but it is only engineering that is taught in the classrooms, in the laboratories and in the workshops and you still have to go to industries to do some industrial trainings. When you even finished in the universities, you are deemed to have been taught engineering sciences and you are expected to go into the industry and stay at least four years before you are deemed to have acquired sufficient industry experience to come and present yourself for professional association’s admission or licensing to practice engineering. It is different from other disciplines like quantity surveying, which is actually a form of engineering. If you are teaching somebody costing, the chances are that even in school, he will begin to learn how to cost a building project. So anybody expecting that someone, who is just coming out of school, will begin to design building system services may not get it because the person has to learn on the job.
Are you saying that it is wrong to rate fresh engineering graduates on their works?
Yes, it is wrong to say that those who came out of school are underperforming because the situation is different from all other professions.
You observed that your cost engineers were not included in the cost experts to scrutinize the 2016 budget. Don’t you think you’re delving into other professionals’ territory like quantity surveyors?
No, I mentioned earlier that quantity surveying is a branch of cost engineering and like you can find out that Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveying (NIQS) are members of International Cost Engineering council. Even one of the past presidents was chairman of that council some years past. So quantity surveyors are actually cost analysts for buildings. But when it comes to highways, railways, airports, refineries, sewage plants, electrical works in buildings, plumbing works in the building and so on, it is the engineers that estimate those costs, so we have a field of cost engineering, the majority of projects that government do is not just in buildings alone, they delved into other areas where cost can only be determined by the engineer. Even quantity surveyors are not even brought in properly even in their own areas when all these costs are determined.
Economists just do what they have to do. The thing is that economist does not estimate projects cost, it is the engineer that estimates project cost and where buildings are concerned, and quantity surveyors are involved.
We recalled that Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) had tackled NSE on engagement in valuation practice. Have the matter being settled? If no, what qualifies your members to engage in valuation practice? What role do your Institute of Appraisers and Cost Engineer play?
The Institute of Appraisers and Cost Engineers are to advise on the practices of engineering valuation, which has to do with estimating worth of property, roads, and others. Estimates can only be done from basis of knowledge and experiences in engineering for you to make judgment on these matters and the type of assets like mining and quarries, agricultural channels, industrial plants, machinery, transportation equipment, marine vessels, aircrafts and of course ICT equipment and so on. They also have the mandate for cost engineering, which has to do with estimating new projects, new equipment and also doing project cost, planning and scheduling for such projects and engineering economy. Of course, appraiser means valuer. Our problem with Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) has been on since early 2000. We have been having issues because they feel that engineers should not do that. But the law says otherwise. The law recognises engineers as valuers. If you go to Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) Section 137 it is there.
Section 137 describes professionals, who are valuers as accountants, surveyors, engineers and auditors. If you also go to Engineers Act, the description of practice of engineers, valuation is also there. When we actually took the matter to Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN), they eventually ruled that there is no exclusivity in terms of any of those professions mentioned in the law. That all of them have the right in those perspective specialised areas. So they felt not satisfied with that but that is not what we go by, we go by what the law says.
How has your tenure impacted the engineering profession?
My tenure has impacted the engineering profession in many ways, which I considered modest contribution. One is that we have been able to put strategic plan and strategic management to the conduct of engineering in the society. Two, one has been able through advocacy got the government, especially at the highest level to respond to issues of concerns to the engineering profession in a manner positively favourable to the engineering profession. One of such is the appointment of the chairman of Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). What I considered the most impactful is to sensitise our membership as to the correct model of regulation that the engineering profession ought to have, which is to be chartered just like other professions. It is now on the front burner.
This Interview was first published in Guardian