President, Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers and Chairman, Safety Buildings Committee of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Engr. OREOLUWA FADAYOMI, spoke to EMMANUEL BADEJO of The Guardian on the future of his profession,and other matters
Why did you vie to head the structural engineering body in Nigeria?
So many things propelled me. First of all, I have an experience to impact on the younger ones, having practiced for over 40 years. When you consider what goes on these days, you ask yourself whether many are still interested in doing the work. Better still, those that are interested are they given the needed encouragement? And we said to ourselves, how do we take over? If we don’t want charlatans to take over and be ruling engineering, calling themselves engineers, we just need to rise up to protect the profession and save lives and property. Based on what has been done within the profession, you need an experienced hand to be on board to pilot the ship of our profession. I came in to straighten the paths of engineering profession, particularly structural engineering.
If we don’t want charlatans to take over and be ruling engineering, calling themselves engineers, we just need to rise up to protect the profession and save lives and property
What programs would you be putting in place as the president of structural engineers?
One, I am not reinventing the wheel because it is not as if some of those things are not there, but the problem is that most of those things have been forgotten. Therefore, we need to train and retrain our people to be proud of their profession. We also need to educate the people for them to know the difference between structural and civil engineers, the better for everybody and the society. Also, we need to teach the students to know what they are up to, so as to prepare them for future engagements. We want to create a different platform whereby the people can understand what we are doing and then, we can have a threshold as a pattern for the profession. It is a known fact that, engineering is growing and we cannot afford to remain at a point and yet claiming the title of an engineer. No! We must update ourselves and do so many things in a structured pattern.
We also need to educate the people for them to know the difference between structural and civil engineers
So many structures are failing in this part of the world, what could be done to prevent collapsed building in Nigeria?
It is a wide chapter but we will start from somewhere. First of all, there is a law and if you run foul of the law, particularly with impunity and there is no repercussion, it is obvious that, you’ll do it again. Why do we have issues of kidnapping, commercial drivers driving one-way, it is simply because we lack enforcement of the available laws. The first thing is for the governments to live up to their responsibility of enforcing laws. The starting point is to put flagrant breakage of laws and order under control.
Another thing is the design. All projects begin with planning, then, the design, approval, the bidding process and the usual construction. For the design, we, the structural engineers, are taking care of that. And we are putting together series of training sessions to update and expose the younger ones to latest technologies and how to handle all issues relating to soil test and foundations before going into super structure in another module. After the design, the clients are expected to see it to be sure that it is still pocket friendly so as to avoid the project being abandoned. Every client has the role to be diligent to know the kind of structural engineers he or she is giving his jobs to. It is quite unfortunate that most clients fail in this responsibility. Most government projects also fail and that is why you find contracts awarded to the wrong people. There is need to train those who award contracts in government. All these are to ensure that the right team is on board to handle your project, as this will eliminate low quality jobs, which often leads to project abandonment. Clients should ensure that the right people are patronized and allowed to do their jobs.
As the president of the institution, what enquiries have you made on the collapsed Lekki Gardens building?
I was there on the day it happened, though for rescue operation. Honestly speaking, it is too early to begin to deduce. Besides, it is not what our own institution can single-handedly handle, as it has become a state matter. As you know, the government is involved; COREN, NSE are involved. There is nothing we can do on our own other than to try to sensitize the general public. What has happened, has happened, we need to move ahead to raise the tempo of campaign through various forum by which we shall be putting the public on a red alert on signs that could lead to a building collapse.
Some young structural engineers are finding it challenging to break even, leading to brain drain in the sector. What are your plans to stop the trend?
Brain drain can come in many ways. We usually associate brain drain to an expert leaving his country to practice elsewhere. But when a potential expert leaves his profession for another field, to me that is equally brain drain. There are many of our engineers that are no longer practicing engineering; some are in the banks, some are in other sectors, some are just doing any other thing to make ends meet all because they are impoverished. This is one of the challenges.
To reverse this, it takes the will of government. If we look back into the Obasanjo era, there were policies on construction, if they were followed, it would be a different ball game and the young engineers would be happy doing their job. So, if there is lack of political will on the part of government to implement their own’ policies, this problem may remain with us for a longer time to come. Another issue affecting this is instability with government policies, as successive governments try to undo the previous ones, forgetting that, government is a continuum. Since we know that the major issue is from the top, we cannot fight them but engage in advocacy, appealing to the government and civil servants to do the right thing in awarding projects. Many of our younger ones should be given the platform to expose and gather the experience needed to do well on the chosen field.
Does structural engineering have an answer to the challenge of replacing or renovating buildings to minimize environmental impact, for example, achieving carbon neutrality, while at the same time, yielding impressive financial return on investment?
The answer is yes because that is actually engineering, as there is nothing on earth that does not involve structural engineering, which helps to put the shape before construction. In achieving this, we have to change our ways of doing the same things we are doing now. We need to understand that there are new materials that would assist in neutralizing the carbon effects. Our professionals need to learn and gain mastery on designs that would minimize pollution. These are ways some of these things can be achieved. However, as our environment stands now, not many people will understand what green house or designs are all about. For instance, those living in the villages cannot understand this concept. Notwithstanding, we, the professionals should not relent in exposing our people to the reality of climate change and the need to adapt very, very fast.
What would you do to raise the standard of education in the tertiary institutions of learning for would-be structural engineers?
The lecturers must on regular basis update themselves to be current and relevant to the society. We as professionals are also going to some schools to orientate and help the systems and the students. We would continue to train them and carry out technical works so that after their studies, they would have had better understanding of what they are doing. Also, the issue of tutelage is still there, whereby the young graduates are attached to their seniors on the job before you apply to take the seven-hour professional exams for our people, without which you cannot claim to be a qualified structural engineer.
There are agitations for the review of COREN law. Which section of the law do you think should be altered and why?
COREN is under the Ministry of Works and the minister is the overall supervisor of its activities. The Minister should not be regulating COREN. If COREN, an independent man wants to punish the minister, can it do it? There is no way that could be done. The bar association is independent and they can look at the president in the face. Right now, two of their own men, who are senior advocates, are facing allegation of corruption, and I don’t know whether that would have been possible, if the Minister of Justice regulates NBA.
COREN is under the Ministry of Works and the minister is the overall supervisor of its activities. The Minister should not be regulating COREN. If COREN, an independent man wants to punish the minister, can it do it?
There has to be law for structural engineering practice in Nigeria, as it is in the United Kingdom. If is clearly stated that you cannot do structural engineering work if you are not deemed qualified by the Nigerian Institute of Structural Engineers. No other group has the power to do that in Nigeria and that should be backed by legislation either through COREN or the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE). Meanwhile, we are stepping up the campaign to popularize structural engineering practice in Nigeria.
Exerpt from an Interview First published on Guardian