Engineering is Development: The Turbulent Sixties by Bayo Adeola

Engineering is Development: The Turbulent Sixties by Bayo AdeolaNigeria was perceived by most western countries as a promising example of thriving democracy in black Africa throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. There were a decent number of university graduates and professionals in several fields including law, medicine and engineering. There was a university, a university college, a college of medicine and a polytechnic. Self-rule had been tried at the regional level and reasonable progress had been made. These were positive indicators that self-governance could thrive in Nigeria.

There were, however, other challenges. The political parties had become very strongly regional and ethnic. The different regions of the country were at different levels of development educationally, and in readiness for self-government. The level of literacy and awareness precluded issue-based debates. The general citizenry could not really appreciate the concept of Nigeria and ethnic loyalties were much clearer and stronger.

As it turned out, these challenges could not be easily overcome and the Nigerian nation was soon engulfed in crisis.

Power and Politics in the Sixties

The first national election held in December 1959 and the British handed over power to democratically elected Nigerians on the 1st of October 1960. The election had been contested by three major political parties, the Northern People Congress, NPC from the north, the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC with strong presence in the west but predominantly from the east, and the Action Group, AG, from the west. The election was fiercely contested and allegations of rigging dogged the results. At the end of the election, there was no party with enough votes to independently form a government, but the NPC had the highest number of elected delegates. A coalition was formed by the NPC and the NCNC. The constitution of the country was based on the British parliamentary system of government and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of NPC became the Prime Minister and Head of Government and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of NCNC became the ceremonial President. Chief Obafemi Awolowo of AG became the Leader of Opposition.

Differences soon arose between Chief Awolowo who had now moved to the nation’s capital, Lagos, and his successor as premier of Western Region, Chief Ladoke Akintola. The differences rocked the party. Akintola decamped from the AG and formed a new party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP, but did not resign as the premier. The resulting crisis culminated on the 15th of January 1966, when a group of soldiers staged the first coup d’etat in the country. A counter-coup soon followed, leading to the Civil War that broke out on 6 July 1967 and continued until 15 January 1970.

The immediate post-independence decade was therefore not a period of national development but rather, a period of turmoil and struggle with the preservation of the country as the primary focus. Rather than the hope and optimism that had been raised, it was political instability, violence and ethnic strife that confronted the nation. It is against this background that national and engineering development in the sixties must be evaluated and appreciated.

National Planning

On the eve of independence, the departing colonial administration prepared a development plan for the whole country. The philosophical, political and strategic basis of this plan, and how well it met the new national aspirations was, however, not clear. Therefore, soon after independence in October 1960, the federal government prepared what has been regarded as the first National Development Plan. The government examined the political economy of the nation in the light of the constitution and formulated policies for the orderly development of the whole country. The Plan was to last from 1962 to 1968. Political instability and the civil war of July 1967 to January 1970 however interrupted the plan and not much was achieved. It was to be continued immediately after the war and was extended to 1974.

Achievements of the 60s in Engineering Development

Basic education and the study of science is the primary input into engineering training, to be concluded in tertiary institutions where engineering is taught. Recognising the need for technical capability, the government aggressively promoted the study of science. The Federal Emergency Science School was established in Lagos to provide opportunity for the study of advance level sciences. Many of the senior engineers of today graduated from this school.

A major achievement in the decade, however, was the significant increase in the number of tertiary institutions, the total number of which increased from four in 1960 to sixteen (6 colleges of education, 5 polytechnics and 5 universities) in 1965 and 20 in 1970. All the polytechnics had engineering focus and the universities had faculties of engineering. The major employers of engineers in the sixties were the federal and regional governments. By independence, enough engineers had risen to senior positions in government. Prominent engineers and establishments also emerged in the period. The private sector had also started to emerge. Construction companies had a head start in the construction industry in Nigeria and offered work opportunities for engineers.

Engineers and the Civil War

Professionals like doctors and engineers are always inevitably major participants in wars. The doctors treat the injured while engineers provide the critical infrastructures both for the war and for rehabilitation after the war. The civil war provided such opportunities for Nigerian engineers. On both sides of the war, engineers were called upon to maintain essential services.

Since war inevitably leads to physical destruction of engineering structures, it was a sad irony that engineers were called upon to destroy what they had helped to build. The then newly completed £6.5 million Niger Bridge had to be rendered unusable. Thus, Nigerian “civil” engineers became “military” engineers, showing that the dichotomy is not real, especially in terms of the experience of applied technology for war purposes. However, much of the engineering input into the war was handled by the Nigerian Army Engineering Corps on the Nigerian side. Achievements included the building of a 70-feet clear span bailey bridge with the assistance of the staff of the Ibadan Ministry of Works and Transport when traffic on the vital Lagos-Ikorodu road was disrupted. On the Biafran side, engineers were busy manufacturing weapons and maintaining infrastructures in spite of the war. notable among which were the ‘Ogbunikwe’ hand granade and the Uli airstrip.

The COREN Decree

A major achievement of the decade is the move towards the enactment of a decree to regulate engineering practice in Nigeria. The counter coup of July 1966 brought Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon into power, and he was to lead the country from July 1966 to February 1975. His Commissioner for Works and Housing was a young and popular Lagos lawyer, Lateef Olufemi Okunnu, popularly called Femi Okunnu, who facilitated the promulgation of the COREN Decree No 52 of 1970.

Mr Okunnu presented the memoranda for the Architects Registration Council, ARCON, and the Council for the Registration of Engineers in Nigeria, COREN to the federal cabinet. The Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers, however, sent a delegation to the Honourable Commissioner to complain that they were ‘a different breed’ from the main stream engineers. He referred them to the Nigerian Society of Engineers for a resolution and held back the COREN memo. Only the ARCON memo was therefore presented and this was passed and later promulgated as Decree No 10 of 1969.

Perhaps because the engineers had the charter on a silver platter and did not have to fight hard for it, the objectives of this charter have not been rigorously pursued. COREN has not exercised its powers in preventing many foreigners from coming to the country and describing themselves as engineers in order to circumvent the Expatriate Quota Law, which prevents any company working in Nigeria from bringing any foreigner to do work which any Nigerian can do. The law also made it mandatory for any company bringing a foreigner to work in the country to train Nigerians to take over from the foreigner within a specified time. The neglect of this law has hindered the acquisition of practical experience within the country by our indigenous engineers as well as their unemployment and most importantly, under-employment.

Bayo is the Founder and Managing Director of CPMS. He is a passionate advocate for developmental planning and the use of project management to help organisations actively build their value creation capabilities. Bayo has worked as a consulting engineer for more than 30 years, specialising in building structures, water and wastewater management, urban infrastructures, and more recently, highway designs. He speaks and writes internationally on Engineering as an intrinsic basis for development in Africa: he is an ardent believer in Engineering, Design and Technology as a necessity for a well set up future. In the past, he has served as Chair of FIDIC’s Capacity Development Committee and a former member of the FIDIC Executive Committee from 2003 to 2007. he can be reached at +234(0)8022910259;;






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