Engineer Adedamola Falade-Fatila recently took over as the 25th chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Ibadan branch. In this interview with TUNDE OGUNESAN, he shares his vision for the Branch and spoke on state of engineering in Nigeria. Excerpts:
How did you come about studying engineering as a course?
Engineering for me is a natural calling. I have always been interested in toys when I was young, small engines and all these little things. I left secondary school as the best graduating student in my set and people were like this young man must either study medicine or nothing. Then, it was believed that the brightest students studied medicine and I had to come out to be a doctor and that got into my head too. That time, my mother was a matron, so she was about to resign from her work. She had a clinic, a family hospital. So at that time, the family employed a medical doctor to run that hospital. I happened to be the first child of the family, so the hopes were that once this man studies medicine and becomes a doctor he takes over the family business. But it didn’t happen that way, my desire to study engineering waxed stronger, one thing led to another and I ended up at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso to study engineering.
Today you sit as the 25th chairman of Nigerian Society of Engineers, Ibadan branch, what’s your dream for your tenure?
I must first say that I emerged chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers Ibadan tranch by the grace of God and by the common will of Nigerian engineers. I would be the youngest person to ever attain that seat because the Ibadan branch is the first branch in Nigeria founded in 1960 after the main association was founded in London in 1958, so when they got back to Nigeria, the first branch that was inaugurated and established was Ibadan branch and as such, Ibadan is a very strategic branch.
I believe it’s a call to service. We will do our best to live up to expectations; take the society to a higher level from where we met it. The state of engineering generally across the country is what I can call a state of emergency because it is important for us to rise from where we are, take responsibility for many things and take action. So in Ibadan, we are not caught unaware of this state of affairs and that’s why we have to do our best. As chairman, I want to stir up our members to live up to their responsibility, to charge the government to believe in Nigerian engineers, believe in Ibadan engineers and patronise us.
The dams, roads and structures some local engineering firms have built in about 40 to 50 years are still standing today. I feel it is wrong of the government to believe that it is only the Chinese or the Lebanese that can do what they have been doing
What is your perception or notion of people in terms that Nigerian engineers are mere maintenance managers just like you said when you were growing up, you loved playing with toys, have you ever come up with anything in the world of engineering?
I won’t agree with you that Nigerian engineers are just maintenance managers. A whole lot of Nigerian engineers are inventors, designers and they are people who have build masterpieces in Nigeria. I can count a dozen examples with the tip of my fingers here and now. What I feel is that one; Nigerian engineers should be better encouraged and be motivated to do more. Two, the government should demonstrate clear, deliberate, marked willingness to patronise our own. No country has ever developed significantly from depending on external forces or external contribution. The Chinese and Lebanese can only do so much here, make so much profit and repatriate the profit to their country. We are the Nigerian engineers and are the ones that are solely responsible for the development of this country. No matter what we do here, no matter what we make here, no matter what we make of engineering here, won’t take it elsewhere.
There has been more influx of Chinese engineers in the country in the last 10 years, what’s NSE position on this?
It is an unfortunate development. It is one of the things that this presidential executive order seeks to address. It’s as bad as you have rightly observed. The Lebanese will come, take the big projects and they will now go as far as to import labourers, import artisans, import technicians to carry out the works here in Nigeria and our own young men will fold their arms and be looking, idle. They will now be forced to follow politicians when you see a rally, a host of Nigerian youths there because they are not engaged with any productive business. It’s unfortunate. It’s not supposed to be. We the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Ibadan, have been doing our best to discourage this, to charge the government to engage Nigerian engineers. For instance, I cannot get a project in Ibadan here and go and employ a Lebanese to come and dig the ground, or carry materials or drive trucks for me. I’ll definitely use Nigerians. I’ll use my brothers and sisters here and colleagues. It’s unfortunate. It’s quite high time we looked at some of these things.
But some complained that foreign engineers perform better than their Nigerian counterparts?
That is not true. I can count a number of indigenous engineering companies that have existed for over 40,50 years in Nigeria. The dams, roads and structures some engineering firms have built in about 40 to 50 years are still standing today. I feel it is wrong of the government to believe that it is only the Chinese or the Lebanese that can do what they have been doing. We have seen what they have been doing, they are not miracle workers, they have not performed any miracles. To a large extent, they still depend on the expertise of many civil engineers in Nigeria to execute some of these other things.
As Engineers, we must not compromise, we must not relent, we must not give up until we get there.
How committed is the Nigerian Society of Engineers working with the government to ensure this?
We have been working on. For instance, registering a company in Nigeria, you have to go through corporate affairs commission. We have succeeded in the corporate affairs commission in Nigeria for a few years now, that any company in Nigeria that is registering as an engineering company must have a currently registered engineer with the Nigerian Society of Engineers on board of that company. The next step is to make sure that if you want to bid for any contract or any job, the registered Nigerian engineer must be the lead, must be a member of the management board of that company. So when these rules and a host of others are in place to ensure all these, it now boils down to individuals, Nigerians themselves, not engineers now at various positions of authorities, how patriotic are you to make sure that these things are enforced.
One of the evidence and results that our voice is being heard one way or the other is this Presidential executive order file which was just signed because it dealt particularly with engineering, science, and innovation and technology.
If one looks at some places in the world, one would marvel at evident engineering masterpieces, road construction, engineering masterpieces to solve maybe swampy problems and agricultural problems. Is there any form of encouragement from the NSE to ensure Nigerian engineers initiate such engineering masterpiece in the country?
Engineering in the first place is a problem-solving profession. You see an engineer and they ask you what engineering is? Engineering is a problem-solving profession. Get anywhere, see what problem exist and you proffer solutions. Every engineer is trained to solve problems. In every way, we do our best and our members are committed to showcasing this. But in situations where they meet terrible obstacles and bottlenecks, it is difficult to forge ahead. What we were taught in engineering in those days is that you can’t execute a project if you don’t have a consultant. The consultant is first for the design of the project; to determine the construction, cost, to determine the duration of that project, monitor and ensure compliance to those details and standards till completion. But here in Nigeria, you will find the government negotiating the consultant fee, telling you he will take 60 percent and give you 40 percent. How do you want a consultant to do his best? After doing that, that same government official will nominate the contractors and when the consultant complains about the job to the client, they will just ignore you.
What’s your advice for stakeholders, engineers, the association, the public and the government at all levels?
As Engineers, we must not compromise, we must not relent, we must not give up until we get there. One of the evidence and results that our voice is being heard one way or the other is this Presidential executive order file which was just signed because it dealt particularly with engineering, science, and innovation and technology. As a matter of fact, some other professions have started crying that why not talk about medicine and law too? Why only engineering? Engineering is what takes a nation from a third world country to a second world country or a first world country. It’s technology, science, engineering, innovations. For me, I’ll advise that we continue our advocacy. We continue our filibustering with the government, our efforts, continue being forthright. My people say that if a lie runs for 20 years, just one day, the truth will catch up with it. The truth is already catching up, we’ve been on those lies, and if we remain steadfast, we would still be standing when things fall in place and the government should look at our complaints critically and make engineers happy. Patronise engineers, Nigerian engineers and we would all be better for it.
This Interview was first published in Tribune