ENGINEERING IS DEVELOPMENT (Serialised) No 3
Modern Engineering Arrives
In this edition, we connect the history of engineering to modern times. At the peak of the industrial revolution, Britain was considered to be at least a hundred years ahead of the rest of Europe. Throughout the 19th century, science thrived and inventions abound in Britain which arrived on the shores of Nigeria (as in several other colonies) with great pride. What did Nigeria have to offer? At best, the locals were only engaged in craftsmanship with artisans without the basic understanding of the forces that control trades. Of course, the new arrivals were disdainful of the little technology available.
The British failed to introduce modern engineering into Nigeria at the time of their arrival. There was no formal western schooling, and therefore people did not read and write western science. All learning was oral and by apprenticeship. The early period of colonization marked the beginning of modern engineering in Nigeria and the earliest projects were to consolidate imperialism, e.g. the 2,110 ft. old Carter Bridge, built to connect Lagos Island with Iddo. Other major infrastructure projects included a telecommunication system that ensured efficient communication between the rulers and ruled; a railway line that moved agricultural products from the hinterland to the coast for export and the Denton Causeway to move products from the Iddo Terminus to the port in Lagos.
The early engineers were of course all expatriates who were not necessarily members of the British Institutions but had their training and experience in the military, elsewhere in Africa and other parts of the British Empire. Most of the projects were carried out in-house under the Public Works Department, PWD.
The need for trained manpower to assist the colonial government in all disciplines became clear. The earliest primary schools were established around the 1850s, to be followed by secondary schools run by missionary organisations. The earliest secondary schools are Lagos Anglican Grammar School (1859), Methodist Boys’ High School (1878), Methodist Girls’ High School (1879), Baptist Academy (1885), all in Lagos, and Hope Waddell (1895) in Calabar. The first government secondary school in the country, King’s College, Lagos was established by an act of the British Parliament and founded in 1909. The oldest secondary school in the north is Barewa College, Zaria, founded in 1922. Dennis Memorial Grammar School was established in Onitsha in 1925 and Government College Umuahia in 1927. By independence, there were well over fifty secondary schools all over the country. The focus of these early schools was to supply the administrative cadre staff required to run government, and most of the early graduates went into civil service.
The need for higher education became clear, and Yaba Higher College was established to prepare students for the London Matriculation Examination. The first full university was the University College, Ibadan founded in 1948. Its focus was on liberal arts and medicine, and engineering and applied sciences were not offered. The colonial administration adopted a policy of awarding scholarships to selected students to study engineering in British and Commonwealth universities. The recipients of the scholarships became the first set of indigenous professional engineers in the country when they started returning home in the early 1950’s; and in accordance with the bond they signed as part of the conditions of their scholarship awards they joined the colonial civil service.
Pre-independence Nigeria also trained people on the job, in the tradition of British technical training. The Railways, Post & Telegraph (P&T) and Public Works Department (PWD) recruited and trained people in technical training schools and many of them took the City & Guilds vocational examinations. The more determined ones went on to obtain full degrees in their respective fields.
Thus, the first set of Nigerian engineers emerged. Engineering came third to law and medicine in the order in which these professions attracted Nigerians. The first Nigerian to qualify as a professional engineer, and perhaps the first in the whole of black Africa, was Herbert Heelas Macaulay. He was elected Associate Member (Corporate Member) of the British Institution of Civil Engineering in 1893. The first Nigerian to obtain a university degree in engineering was George Debayo Agbebi who obtained the B.Sc. degree of Birmingham University in 1911.
Most of the early engineering graduates in Nigeria had difficulties being absorbed into government employment that was dominated by foreign engineers. The experience of Adeniyi Williams who graduated in 1936 and was there at independence was particularly telling. Another engineer, S. A. Alaka’s father, a successful land surveyor, could not understand why he chose engineering when the few engineers in the society did not appear to be doing well compared with doctors, lawyers and surveyors.
Yet pre-independence Nigeria was not without its own engineering achievements. The early nationalists fought for independence with the promise to improve the lots of the citizens. The Western Region Government under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo exemplified the best in Nigerian development. As early as 1955, it introduced free primary education in the region and availed millions of children the opportunity for western education and its consequent advantages. It introduced the radio to houses via cable connections and thus encouraged the dissemination of information. This was ultimately crowned with the introduction of the first television station in black Africa, the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation, WNBC-WNTV.
The 35,000 capacity Liberty Stadium was initiated and completed in time for Nigerian independence in 1960 and was the first of such edifices in the country. I was privileged to sit there as a nine-year-old boy to celebrate the independence anniversary in 1960. The Western Region government also attracted industries to the country by creating the Ikeja Industrial Estate and its complementary residential area. With this creation, manufacturing opportunities were provided to complement the agricultural base of the economy.
In addition to physical construction, the regional government also encouraged local contracting capacity. Local contracting firms included T. A. Oni and Sons, Adebayo and Olatunbosun, Abdullahi and Awomolo, J. F. Ososami, Akin-Deko, Foye Builders, Lucas and O’Dwyer, Unity Contractors, Majekodunmi, Idowu Bros and Solan and Sons. These contractors were very well patronised by the government.
Lagos was still being run as a federal colony, and the Lagos Executive Development Board (LEDB) carried out several notable engineering projects in the Lagos Colony. Lagos area is part of the alluvial stretch that extends along the most of West Africa from the Cameroon to Sierra Leone. It therefore consisted of isolated islands and swamps and reclamation through sand filling was a major activity. Parts of Lagos Island itself, notably Idoluwo area, Marina, Olowogbowo were reclaimed. Other major reclamation included Apapa, parts of Victoria Island, Iponrin and parts of Surulere. The development of North-West Lagos, to be later known as New Lagos and eventually Surulere today was perhaps the most visible and notable achievement of LEDB. Notable Nigerian engineers of this organisation included Chief S. O. Fadahunsi, Dr. T M Aluko and Mr. E. O. Ogundiya.
Other major engineering related achievements of this period included the establishment in 1948 of the first university in Nigeria, the University College, Ibadan, and the implementation of the recommendation of the Ashby Commission on training of 2,500 technicians yearly with emphasis on practical training. This gave birth to the establishment of four polytechnics located in Ibadan, Auchi, Enugu and Kaduna.
Birth of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE
With increasing number of both indigenous and foreign engineers in the country, the creation of a platform for sharing professional experience and networking was only a question of time. There was a need for an organisation of engineers imbued with nationalist zeal and courage to decolonise and grow the practice of engineering in Nigeria and protect the interest of Nigeria and Nigerian engineers. A group of students and graduate engineers in London got together to promote such an association and this gave birth to the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE). On the 16th of February 1958, the NSE was inaugurated in London under the chairmanship of Mr. G.O. Aiwerioba, but was not legally incorporated. The formal incorporation of the NSE took place in Abeokuta, Nigeria on January 19, 1959 with Chief Adeniyi Williams elected as its first president.
Don’t forget, you can read the book in full . Still, we shall continue with the series …
Bayo Adeola: +234(0)8022910259; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.cpmslimited.com