Impersonation as bane of Nigeria’s building industry

By Bunmi Olaoye and Kunle Williams

Impersonation is gradually turning into a challenge in Nigeria’s building industry.
With the scarcity of construction projects comes cut-throat competition forcing the amoral marketing strategy of impersonation to become permissive.

This retrogressive idea where people deceive prospects and clients about their qualifications for a job is practiced by both professionals and artisans in the industry. Left unchecked, it will eventually lead to public disrespect for the industry.

Starting with the professionals, there is a need for value re-orientation. On a construction site, not every white helmet-wearing senior staff needs to adopt the engineer appellation just to massage an ego. The nature of construction work often calls for several supporting professions and trades. The site engineers need the support of others such as safety officers, quantity surveyors, architects, land surveyors, and numerous others. Even at the building consultancy phase, so many professionals abuse their knowledge of building drawing by appearing to clients as architects.

In the healthcare environment, the practised ethics discourages a radiographer from appearing to patients as nurses. Not even an experienced hospital cleaner would dare present himself as a para-medic to a patient. Such ethical practice has sustained public confidence in the hospital system. When COVID-19 appeared, hospital entry security staff only reminded patients to observe hand washing & masking. None took advantage of patients in a period where access to healthcare was only easy for emergency cases.

Construction professionals should show pride in their own unique profession while striving to demonstrate their relevance to the building consultancy and construction business. The professional class of the industry performs leadership duties and a lot of artisans look up to them for direction on how to conduct themselves. If professionals are in on the game of impersonation, who will then sway artisans to abandon this increasing negative culture of impersonation? The buck stops at the leader’s table.

Today, Information Technology (IT) professionals have worked hard to build their well-deserved reputation in several sectors without a need to live in anyone’s shadow. So an IT professional in the banking industry would gladly announce his profession rather than say he is a banker. Financial Technology companies have carved their own niche in the banking firmament. We refer to them now as Fintech companies rather than banks.

The construction industry needs to sanitize a few things but stopping impersonation might be the most urgent action. As a suggestion, there is a need to increase the demand for services of the industry in a way that will replace the current job scarcity mentality with an abundant one. Creating solutions to intractable client problems in the industry and earning a fair return for value created is one way of achieving this. While Nigeria may be facing several challenges, its key problems as identified by Christine Lagarde in her 2016 visit to the country as the then International Monetary Fund (IMF) president still remains poverty, inequality, and unemployment. If industry leaders can collaborate to proffer building industry focussed solutions to these three problems, there could be an upsurge in economic activities for the industry.

For instance, poverty is a biting problem because of the oft mismatch between dwindling resources and rising human aspiration which lures some deprived people into crime. Helping more people to access decent housing can contribute to the fight against poverty while expanding economic opportunities for the building industry. Relevant solutions could include expansion of mortgage access, increasing the stock of social housing and promoting joint homeownership. It is worrisome how essential services workers in public service often experience temporary homelessness when posted out of station for duty due to unaffordable house rents in some urban locations.

Contributing to inequality reduction is a national gain and productivity booster for the building industry. Technical and administrative efforts to promote the fair spread of development funds between rural and urban areas will diversify real estate development centres and close the rural-urban wealth gap. So also will be efforts to respond to multinational professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCooper (PWC)’s report of how between $300b to $900b worth of dead capital in residential real estate and agricultural land lies unused when granting of legal property titles is all that is needed to unlock it. The high point of inequality reduction will be the reduction of building and infrastructure procurement fraud which has unnecessarily inflated the delivery costs of buildings and infrastructure while supporting a skewed income distribution pattern.

Entrepreneurship is the new way government has chosen to grow jobs in the economy currently. Since charity begins at home, the building industry needs to develop a sustainable school-work transition programme to guarantee employable job entrants into its fold. It can then offer the supportive built environment that inspires and sustains enterprise-If business hub development is considered expensive, then reasonable residential conversion and mixed-used development should be trending. Another suggestion is to deepen the import substitution policy of the government by promoting alternative local building technology that trims down the average building delivery costs thus bringing in more clients for the industry. With trust built, cross-border alliances with Nigerian diaspora professionals can be another added engine of growth to the industry as cross-fertilisation of ideas becomes democratised, expanding the capacity of the industry to take on greater projects.

The colonialist bequeathed us with the current building industry which primarily served to modernise our people from a traditional lifestyle. There are scarcely enough business opportunities now in the pursuit of this modernisation agenda. Post-colonial Nigeria has since grown up to be above 60 years, burdened with some pains of that modernisation effort. There is a need for local building industry leaders to set a new agenda for the industry that is relevant to Nigeria’s pressing needs. Contributing solutions to the pervasive problems of poverty, inequality, and unemployment could be an avenue to grow enough economic opportunities to go around the teeming population of industry practitioners so that impersonation loses its steam.

Olaoye is a lecturer at Department of Architectural Technology, Osun State Polytechnic, Iree; Williams is the convener of Excellence Network Cooperative, a forum of young real estate industry entrepreneurs.

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