REJOINDER: “RAILWAY TECHNOLOGY BEYOND THE EXPERTISE OF MOST NIGERIAN ENGINEERS” BY RT. HON. CHIBUIKE R. AMAECHI, HON. MINISTER OF TRANSPORTATION (HMT)
The attention of the Nigerian Society of Engineers has been drawn to the uncanny remarks credited to the Hon. Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, CON. It was published on page 30 of ThisDay Newspaper of 21st July, 2017, and made during the Extraordinary General Meeting of the Association for Consulting Engineering in Nigeria (ACEN) that took place in Sheraton Hotel Ikeja, 13th July, 2017. The theme of the meeting was “Implementing Government Policies Towards Integrating Nigerian Consultants in National Infrastructure Development”.
In the midst of more than 200 professional engineers of diverse disciplines, international delegates, consultants and contractors with members of the press in attendance; the Hon. Minister criticized the quality of the engineers in the country and described the railway technology as “complex engineering”. He continued “I am ashamed that white men still supervise us during road construction”. He concluded “those who drive trains are Nigerians-that’s easy-but what happens is that when the train stops, the Chinese men jump down to check the locomotive”.
ACEN President, who also doubles as the Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, FNSE who attended the meeting, reacting noted that “there is really not much anything about railway; but combination of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. There are very many qualified Nigerian that have the basic qualifications and engineering is about continuous professional development”.
Nigerian engineering firms and engineers are not given adequate exposure, let alone steady workload to perform and keep improving their skills.
We return to the subject matter, credited to the Hon. Minister of Transportation, NSE wonders with disgust how an Honourable Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria manning such a strategic Ministry would turn around to castigate the professionals in his country. These same engineers have made their mark locally and internationally, and to the extent they are allowed and supported, have been keeping the sectors under the Ministry of Transportation running.
Again on Wednesday, August 9, 2017, The Guardian reported the Hon. Minister as defending the exclusion of indigenous firms in the construction of the over $20billion rail tracks across the country, on the basis that China is financing the projects through the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC). Rt. Hon. Amaechi asserted wrongly that on the basis of financing, the contractors have 100% execution right of most of the rail projects.
As early as the 1960s, Nigerian engineering firms and even public service engineers were building railway extensions in Nigeria. The records are there in the Ministry of Transportation and also the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) that the Gombe – Ashaka Railway Extension was constructed by Nigerian Engineering & Manufacturing Company Limited (NEMCO). NEMCO was a Nigerian company established by Engr. Prof. Nwankwo Chukwuemeka, FNSE. The Kuru – Maiduguri railway extension was constructed by Nigerian engineers, technologists, technicians and craftsmen of the NRC.
Despite rejection by government and limitation of finance, Nigerian engineers have continued to put in their best in the circumstance
After the Federal Government of Nigeria entered into MOUs with the Chinese in 2016 for the development of railways and other transportation projects, the Nigerian Society of Engineers advised Minister Amaechi that most of the materials, fixtures, fittings, machinery and equipment needed for the implementation of the projects can and should be produced in Nigeria. The Society did advise that rails which account for about 75% of the cost of a railway project should be produced at the Medium Section & Structural Mill (MSSM) of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex. Rt. Hon. Amaechi gave four appointments to the Society for discussion of this proposal. He failed on the four occasions to make himself available. It became clear to us that his heart was in China and with the Chinese, preferring continued investment into the Chinese economy at the expense of the development of the Nigerian economy.
It must be stated clearly that the advice NSE gave to Rt. Hon. Amaechi stemmed from the directive from President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR to the minister to discuss with NSE to determine the areas Nigerian engineering firms will be involved in the projects to be implemented with the Chinese loans. Mr. President gave this directive over a year ago, but the Hon. Ministers of Transportation (HMT), Industry, Trade & Investment (HMITI), and Power, Works and Housing (HMPWH) are yet to comply.
Already, we have infrastructural deficit in the country and to reverse the trend finance and expertise are needed. Comments of this type made in and outside the country are misleading and disingenuous. NSE strongly condemns these vitriolic remarks poured on Nigerian engineers by HMT, and previously by his colleague in Power, Works and Housing.
What the Hon. Minister may also not realize is that the consulting and contracting engineering services are polluted with non-professionals. In line with the comments of the Hon. Minister of Water Resources, there should be political will to give Nigerian engineering firms opportunity to train the young engineers and ensure continuous professional development. The course content of engineering training is the same done outside the country, but difference is in exposure. It is gratifying to note that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on 2nd August 2017 adopted a policy of awarding development projects to Nigerian engineering firms who could bring in foreign partners if needed.
In these days of lean resources, it will be foolhardy to continue depleting our foreign exchange by importing expertise, machinery and equipment instead of emphasizing on home grown technology. Most developing nations virtually shut their doors against importation of experts but create jobs for the youth, unemployed graduates and promote the security of their land. When will Nigeria commence evolving a strategic framework for the take-off of the Nigerian Content Development Initiative? Loans are to be repaid by Nigeria, and so the Chinese lenders do not have “100% execution right of most of the rail projects.”
This is not the time for us to proceed with myopic subjective views but to look at the bigger picture and deepen the maturity of technology by our professional firms and professionals. It is sad for Nigeria and for the engineering profession that the Hon. Minister of Transportation. Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi should make such remarks on Nigerian engineers. We therefore call for caution, since what is obvious is that railway technology is beyond the grasp of a Liberal Arts graduate that finds himself superintending over engineering based MDAs.
The Nigerian Society of Engineers is the corner stone for Nigeria’s development agenda at all levels of governance from policy formulation to project delivery. Despite rejection by government and limitation of finance, Nigerian engineers have continued to put in their best in the circumstance. Perhaps, the Hon. Minister is out of touch with the reality and functioning of Nigerian engineering firms and Engineers.
Engr. Otis Oliver Tabugbo Anyaeji, FNSE, FAEng
President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers