During a lively discussion held during a meeting of the Association for Consulting Engineering in Nigeria (ACEN) in Lagos, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, criticised the quality of the engineers the country is currently producing, especially as it relates to railway technology, which he described as “complex engineering”.

“Our country cannot claim to have done a lot of things properly,” Amaechi said, before launching into a scathing commentary of the nation’s deplorable educational system, which he blames for the inability of the engineers to deliver as they should.

“I am ashamed that white men still supervise us during road construction,” he told his audience of engineers, “and if you are not challenged by the fact that we don’t have an academic environment that can produce the best in the world, it is unfortunate.”

While noting that it is impossible to build Nigeria’s development on the back of foreigners, the minister said the way forward was to invest in education, an idea which he is promoting by convincing the two major railway contractors in the country – China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation and General Electric – to build Universities of Transportation.

“We are asking the contractors to establish two Universities of Transportation that will train Nigerian engineers,” Amaechi said. “Ministry of Transportation will pick up the bill and we will not allow it to go in such a way that it will not be managed properly or equipped properly.

“I have not seen a Nigerian Railway Engineer that will deal with railway technology. In my ministry, anytime we try to recruit Nigerian railway engineers, we don’t have it. But there are those with degrees in Railway Engineering, and we have told them to come and establish the same thing that they have in their country here in Nigeria, train our Nigerian engineers and use them, because we don’t have a choice. Those who drive trains are Nigerians – that’s easy – but what happens is that when the train stops, what do we do? That’s where we have Chinese men who jump down to check the locomotive.”

However, Amaechi’s dismissal of the capabilities of Nigerian engineers did not go down well with members of ACEN present at the meeting, who argued that the problem was that they had not been given enough ample opportunities.

ACEN President, who also doubles as the Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu noted that “there’s really not much anything about railway; it’s civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. There are very many qualified Nigerians that have the basic qualifications, and engineering is all about continuous professional development. What we are saying is that Nigerian engineers should be given the chance to participate, understudy; there must be some local component within the contracts that must allow for local participation of Nigerian engineers.

“We need to see our contractors moving away from building schools, hostels, classrooms to building the Fourth Mainland Bridge, for example, building our ports, our refineries, our airports. That’s the kind of things we want to see. We feel like that we have come of age.”

Adamu explained that the advantages foreign contractors have over the local ones have nothing to do with technical competence. “The only difference that I can think of between our own local companies and the major players in this country is simple access to capital,” he said. “They come from their countries and take loans at two to three per cent and bring in a lot of equipment – construction is about equipment and technical skill – we have the technical skill; all we need is access to capital so that we can bring in the right equipment. There is no new technology that comes in that Nigerians are not capable of acquiring to improve on their performances.

“As a government, we have a policy that we must support the local industry; and I think this is the first time there is a serious discussion on how the Nigerian construction industry can open up to support more Nigerian professionals and manufacturers. Just like we have been promoting made-in-Nigeria goods, maybe the time has come to also promote made-in-Nigeria personnel.”

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