THE ROLES OF ENGINEERS IN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OF NIGERIA: BY ENGR. KASHIM ABDUL ALI, FNSE, NPOM, mni.
Engineering and economic development are like Siamese twins, as the former is the enabler of the latter. There’s usually no meaningful economic growth without engineering inputs, which explains why engineering has a proportional relationship with development; and national development is measured largely by the quality of engineering activities. It’s imperative therefore that in discussing national development, the role of the engineers is prime and fundamental. Let’s now look at the definition of the key elements.
1.1 What is Engineering?
Engineering is the branch of science which deals with the application of scientific and mathematical principles to practical ends such as the design, manufacture, operation and servicing of efficient and economic structures, machines, processes and systems. Today, these end results are seen in the likes of constructed bridges, dams, roads, railways, buildings, factory machines, automobiles, ships, aircrafts, computer and electronic systems, electrical fittings, their maintenance and repairs. Engineering is a professional course which has been proven to be a recognized tool for every nation’s economic growth and development. It has been and still is the forerunner for the development and progress of any country.
1.2 Who are Engineers?
Engineers are professionals rigorously trained in practical and theoretical knowledge in engineering, graduated successfully, gone through professional training, certified and licensed to practice by the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN).
COREN is a statutory Regulation body established by law with the core mandate to regulate and control the practice of Engineering in all its aspects and ramification in Nigeria. Pursuant to this, the Council carries out accreditation of engineering programs in all institutions and registers Engineering Personnel (i.e. Engineers, Engineering Technologists, Engineering Technicians, and Engineering Craftsmen) and Firms to ensure that Engineering is practiced in line with best acceptable standards as prescribed by the codes and ethics of the profession.
To give effect to its practice regulation mandate, COREN inaugurated the Engineering Regulation Monitoring (ERM)Inspectorates in 1997 to ensure Engineering is practiced in Nigeria in accordance with relevant codes of practice, enforcement of discipline and compliance with standards and ethics, considering the fact that over 90% of the nation’s appropriation is in engineering projects.
2.0 Economic Development
Economic Development is the sustainable increase in living standards of inhabitants of a geographical location which implies increased per capita income, better Education and Health, Provision of Basic Social Amenities, as well as, Environmental Protection, Energy Maximization, Food Transportation, Shelter and effective Waste Management. Natural resources are to be fully harnessed in order to create jobs and generate income for the Government for the purpose of transformation of the society and development of the economy.
Nigeria, a developing country located in the Western part of Africa with a current population of 190,790,734 inhabitants, is a middle-income, mixed economy and emerging market, with expanding manufacturing, financial, service, communications, technology and entertainment sectors. Undoubtedly, Engineering, Engineering services and products belong to the sector classified as ‘Services’ in the national economy, which accounts for about 53 percent (53%) of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The revival of physical infrastructures is quite important because infrastructure is central to sustainable development and economic competitiveness of Nigeria.
First, let us have an analysis of how our nation has fared so far by considering achievements, challenges and prospects of engineering-related sectors of the economy.
In Nigeria today, the areas of the economy in which engineering is expected to play dominant role are numerous, but for the purpose of this presentation, three (3) sectors will be highlighted:
• Power Sector
• Highway Sector
• Telecommunications and ICT Sector
2.1 Power Sector
In spite of the privatization of the Power Sector, power generation and distribution remain a challenge. A significant proof is the high ratio of darkness versus lightat several locations in Nigeria, sadly, especially in semi urban and rural areas. It is common knowledge that the highest electricity generation recorded in recent times is 5,074.7 Megawatts (MW) that was on February 2, 2016, while the highest maximum daily energy wheeled nationwide was 109,372MW on the same day. Unfortunately, that 5,074.7 MW achievement meant nothing till date as the generation level has continued to hover between 3,730.5 MW as at February 9, 2017 and 2,662MW (the amount recorded on January 2, 2017). Besides, the nation’s power generation capacity experienced a huge drop from 3,959 Megawatts on January 4, 2017 to 2,662 Megawatts on January 22, 2017. Realistically, for a country with over 180 million inhabitants whose energy demand is over 30,000 Megawatts, generation and distribution of 2,662 Megawatts is just a mere fraction.
Presently, out of the 26 power plants (including the AES Plant in Egbin) which Nigeria owns, three (3) are hydro-powered; the hydro power plants in Jebba, Kainji, and Shiroro. Unfortunately, this provision is far below the Energy Infrastructure Nigeria requires.
In terms of funding, Nigeria has expended N5 trillion ($31.45 billion) from 1999 till date with only 2,000+ Megawatts to show for it. The Nigerian electricity transmission network was said to have recorded over 26 system collapses in 2016 and in 2017, this has continued. An expedient action must be taken as electricity is becoming a scarce commodity in Nigeria.Employing a nip-in-the-bud approach, the major solution to the current crisis which our Nigerian power sector is facing is for the government to declare a state of emergency in the sector in which all tiers of governments will be provided with the powers necessary to coordinate and implement plans aimed at sustainable electricity supply in Nigeria. It will also help to secure the necessary funds and financial aids that would be required for this purpose without legal bottlenecks and restrictions. The envisaged emergency should take the form of opening our power sector doors for foreign investors. Recently, foreign investors from United States, China, Korea, United Kingdom, Germany and other countries from Europe, shunned investments in the power sector, citing Nigeria as an investment risk. This fear was also expressed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which said it was ready to assist Nigeria develop its power sector if necessary challenges in the sector were settled. The Federal Government must evolve workable measures at ensuring energy access and energy efficiency in Nigeria if we must attract foreign investors and drive our country forward economically. The government must explore alternative power source options such as: coal, solar, water, and fuel flexible technology to power the manufacturing sector. All the stakeholders in the power sector must therefore, come together to rescue Nigeria from this economic quagmire we have found ourselves because of inertia and arrested development in the power sector.
2.2 Highway Sector
In Nigeria, socio-economic development includes road infrastructure development and improvement. This is simply because to connect means to grow. In order to catalyze the present rate of growth and development of the Nigerian economy, the requisite road infrastructure must be put in place. According to a report (“Reforming Road Transport in Nigeria”, 2009), Nigeria ranks tops compared with other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of road network. Nigeria has the largest road network in West Africa and the second largest in Africa, South of the Sahara with an estimated 200,000 kilometers of road network connecting villages to cities.
Today, 95% of both passengers and freight movements are by road in Nigeria largely due to inadequacy of other forms of transportation in the country. The Federal roads account for only about 17% of the total national road network but accommodate more than 80% of national vehicular and freight traffic, bearing in mind a 2.533% population growth rate per annum. In addition, new vehicle importation in the country increased by the 45% in 2011 and the first half of 2012 recorded an increase by 15% compared with the same period in 2011. Apparently, Nigeria is getting more cars on the road making reformation and maintenance of the roads very essential. All these indices clearly justify the need to enhance road infrastructure delivery to support this expanding populace. However, the task is enormous and requires huge investment for a country of its size, an assessment of the current state of road infrastructure is indicative of the fact that the country has fallen short of international benchmarks.
Against this background, the Federal Government of Nigeria has recognized the challenges and opportunities inherent within the nation’s road infrastructure sector. More so, the government of Nigeria has also identified a workable approach to tackling the challenges facing the sector, while harnessing the economic gains of an enhanced road network. As a proactive approach, the Federal Government has embarked on road sector reforms which basically seek to improve service delivery, enhance management capacity and create a conducive institutional legal and regulatory framework through joint participation with the private sector both in financing and management of the road sector. In addition, the Federal Government has been able to secure concession loans from multi-lateral and bi-lateral agencies for road sector development. Furthermore, it is the view of the government that with the involvement of the private sector, growth and development will be facilitated. Typically, good roads imply reduced travel time and vehicle operating costs and provide the necessary fund for the development and maintenance of other forms of transportation, like the railways, which is a present laudable project by the Government. In addition, economic, commercial and business activities will also thrive along these routes, by virtue of increased traffic flow and hence, profitability and general economic development of our nation.
But then, it is important to reiterate that Nigeria is an emerging economy with exploding road infrastructure requirement. Typically, there is a growing funding gap between public spending on road infrastructure and capital needed to build new roads infrastructure, upgrade and maintain existing ones. The projected estimate of funding requirements of about NGN 500 billion on the average annually must be spent over the next ten (10) years to fix, build and reconstruct Nigeria’s ailing and dilapidated roads and bring them to sync with road infrastructure development in other thriving nations. Hence, the need for the Federal Government of Nigeria to turn to private investors to share the costs, risks, rewards of building, financing, constructing and operating infrastructure.
2.3 Telecommunications and ICT Sector
In 2015 and the first half of 2016 mobile data moved to the front and centre of Nigeria’s telecoms sector. In recent years the country’s four established mobile operators – namely the local firm Globacom, the UAE’s Etisalat, South Africa’s MTN and India’s Airtel – have ramped up investment in the development of high-bandwidth mobile data networks in response to steadily increasing smartphone uptake. The rise of mobile data in Nigeria has been a long time coming. Since the introduction of GSM mobile services in 2001, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the federal telecoms regulator, has worked with mobile operators to ensure that services of all kinds are affordable and accessible to most Nigerians. Regulatory pressures plus price competition have resulted in declining sector-wide average revenue per user (ARPU) in recent years, to around N1452 ($4.58) as of mid-2015. The nation’s four major mobile operators have invested heavily in new, high-speed mobile data infrastructure in recent years. As of mid-2016 Nigeria’s mobile telecoms sector had attracted some $32bn in total investment, according to the NCC. This included spending by local operators and foreign players since the early 2000s. This figure is expected to expand rapidly over the coming years. In late 2015, Barr. Adebayo Shittu, the Minister of Communications, forecast a total investment in the mobile telecoms industry would reach $166bn by 2020. Much of this expenditure will be aimed at facilitating increased mobile data speeds. In recent years, the bulk of mobile telecoms spending has gone towards 3G and, since 2014, 4G LTE network installation and expansion.
3.0 Expectations of Engineers
In order to actualise all these and create growth in the sectors and comfort for the citizenry, engineers have to put their thinking caps to plan, design, construct,/fabricate/install, commission and maintain these infrastructure.
How ready are the engineers? The answer to this question depends on who’s involved. Over the years, there has been an orchestrated campaign of calumny on Nigerian engineers largely by some vocal public officials seeking to patronise foreign experts for in most cases, reasons that are not noble.
The truth however is that Nigerian Engineers have to a large extent paid their bills. Many including our father, whom we are celebrating today practised engineering with honour and dignity with so many visible outcomes to show case. How many people remember that the Rail track from Jos to Nguru was planned, designed and constructed by Nigerian engineers; how many remember that the structural elements for NET building, the tallest building so far in Nigeria, was design by a Nigerian. I can go on and on but that will take all the time allocated for this programme, because so many iconic engineering master pieces have been and are being developed by Nigerian engineers like the Faith Tabernacle in Otta with one of the largest beam structures, mini hydro plant turbines and solar power panels by NASENI, etc.
What unfortunately make news are building collapses irrespective of who built them. Let me put on record, that of all the building collapses in Nigeria it’s only in 2 nr cases that engineers have been remotely connected.
The roles of engineers is quite critical to national development as explained earlier, and if the nation must derive the best out of them, they certainly don’t need vilification but encouragement and appreciation through appropriate remuneration and welfare requires. Nations that we consider developed today threaded this path and we cannot escape it because it is the right thing to do.
As we demand for commensurate rewards, it’s necessary to remind ourselves that for whom much is demanded, much more is expected. We must stand for ‘value for money’ in engineering projects and distance ourselves from corruptive tendencies. Whoever decides to fall foul however has the COREN Investigation Panel and the Disciplinary Tribunal to contend with.
With engineering being a multi-disciplinary profession, we can no longer remain narrowly confined to a single discipline and hope to be good practicing engineers or good professionals. We must therefore venture out and have our core values revolving around conscience, ethics and accountability in the work undertaken by us for the social, economic, cultural and political development of our country. I call on all engineers to demonstrate their professional and social responsibilities in all matters related to the nation building process. Suffice it to say that all engineers are saddled with the responsibility of making sure our positive impact is in the sands of time and felt even long after we are gone for the benefit of the upcoming generation. Engineers indeed have a legacy to leave behind. It’s up to you and I. We pray that with the government’s recognition of the potentials and capabilities of the professional engineer and our doubled efforts, the sky will be our stepping stone in seeing to the exploration of our country’s economic potentials for national growth and development.
On the Power Sector development, my sincere recommendation is that the Federal Government of Nigeria must evolve workable measures at ensuring energy access and energy efficiency in Nigeria if we must attract foreign investors and drive our country forward economically. The government must explore alternative power source options such as: coal, solar, water, and fuel flexible technology to power the manufacturing sector. All the stakeholders in the power sector must therefore, come together to rescue Nigeria from this economic quagmire we have found ourselves because of inertia and arrested development in the power sector
Due to the dire need of huge capital for Nigerian highway construction, operation, maintenance and repair, I strongly recommend that the Federal Government of Nigeria turns to private investors to share the costs, risks, rewards of building, financing, constructing and operating infrastructure.
In all sectors of the economy, a big challenge has remained the mismanagement and looting/embezzlement of public fund meant for national development. With measures of transparency and strong punitive systems in place for culprits, this menace must be hitched for the overall growth and development of the Nigerian economy.
Engr. Kashim A. Abdul, FNSE, NPOM, mni
former President, COREN