Getting Nigeria right: Between NSE Political Engagement and the fortune of Engineers

by Isqil Najim

In few days time, the largest gathering of Nigerian engineers will converge on the federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The international Conference is an annual event that attracts engineers across the country and the continent. This year edition comes with many expectations.

Aside the traditional technical and knowledge exchanges, products and ideas exhibitions, the critical decisions made at the Annual General Meeting, scheduled as part of the event, there is an added bonus and this is one of it kind as it will only happen once in four years: Engagement with the presidential candidates vying for political of Political parties on “Roadmap for Infrastructure Development in Nigeria’

Kudos to the NSE President Engr Tasiu Sa’ad Gidari Wudil and his team for the foresight. For many years, engineers grumble privately and openly because political officer holders have paid lip services to engineering and technology concerns. During campaign train, they are visible everywhere and identify with professional bodies. Once they get into office, they’ll returned to business as usual.

Hardly do we see political parties with robust infrastructure plan for the country in recent times. Our infrastructure plan has become a subject of impulse and political exigencies than a product of conscious planning and diligent execution. In most cases, we tend to focus on Roads and Bridges. Politicians are driven towards winning approval of voters and subsequently, an election. They talk first before planning. They promised first before thinking of funding. Any Politician, who wittingly or unwittingly neglect engineering and technology to a point of having no plan is on self destruction journey.

The lack of strategic plan has given way to the frequent running to foreigners to fix the problem for us. Not because we cannot fix our problems but because the resources are not available and we need someone who already has a plan and resources to execute theirs for us. This comes with it attendant capital flight, starving local engineers of project experience opportunities; of course job losses. Altogether they have impacts on the economy.

The Nigerian Society of Engineers’, NSE initiative is therefore a welcome addition. But the NSE must not follow the trend as observed in the past by some organizations that have invited presidential candidates to speak on their plans. Ours is a specialized profession with a strong technical background. We must recognize that even if candidates has a plan, execution is certainly not as simple as ABC. They will still need professional guides to midwife the plan to fruition.

Any Politician who wittingly or unwittingly neglect engineering and technology, to a point of having no plan is on self destruction journey.-Isqil Najim

The infrastructure challenge in the country is huge and cannot be addressed by any single candidate in duration of their tenure. While laymen may be expecting Miracle of turning the country into paradise within 4 years, the Engineers should know better, as stakeholders, that the reality is quite humbling. This could be a great opportunity is for the candidates to air their plans and enable engineers ask questions and make contributions. It is not a debate or a superiority contest. The Body of engineers must set a bold agenda for the nation and do so by laying good example others can emulate.

My Personal takes and Suggestions

NSE Infrastructure Plan: This engagements should be an opportunity to present NSE infrastructure Plan (hardcopy) to all the aspirants such that any one of them that wins will have position of the engineering community. There is also infrastructure Scorecard Reports Developed by the NSE. All reports should be made available to the aspirants as a takeaway

Executive Order 5. When President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Executive Oder 5, many engineers hailed it as game changer. Indeed, it is. But the implementation has been very unimpressive and result far from expectations. As the name is, it is an Executive tool and not a legislative law. All that is needed to throw it away is a new president’s signature. Unlike Act of Parliament, he doesn’t need consultation to do so. Engineers must ask the aspirants what their plan is and how to ensure this Executive Order is upgraded to substantive law and extend to all engineering and technology services both at federal and state level.

Projects Funding: one reason many local engineers are left out of the projects is not competency but lack of funding.What are the aspirants’ plan to assist and support Local Industries to access Funding for projects within the country? When you realize that the greater part of our National Debt to foreign countries have been through funding of infrastructures, this will become even more crucial to address.

Ajaokuta Steel Limited; there is no single most critical project as important to our industrialization ambition as Ajaokuta Steel Project. Yet this has become a drain to national purse. It had cost our country in trillions of Naira spent to import steel and iron for domestic and industrial uses. The next president cannot afford to miss the opportunity to end this national shame that has become a concern even to non engineers. Will the waste be cut or this project finally be a reality? Any candidate that do not have a workable plan to end this nightmare should is deemed a failure no matter what he proposes in other sectors.

Energy and Power: power sector had been partially privatized but things are far from where we want to be despite the progress recorded. The importance of power to both the large industries and SME cannot be understated. What is the Plan to move us from current position to a more sustainable, affordable power for all?

Manufacturing and industrialization:. Any serious government that want to stimulate economy and create more jobs should not be looking toward China or other nations to import basic necessities. The role of engineering in industrialization of this country appeared to have been ignored by successive governments who tend to behave as if engineering and industrialization agenda is an after thought. What are you going to do to protect local industries? What are the practical plan to reviving textile industry which our country once has competitive advantage but is now a shadow of it past glories? What are the plan to transform Nigeria into industrial hub and exporter of engineering goods and services? There are so many moribund industries that are critical to our national development. Admittedly, No candidate will have a grasp of everything, but there is enough structures on ground to call on. Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Association of consulting Engineers of Nigeria, Organised Private sector, Nigerian Economic Summit Group, and of course the Nigerian Society of Engineers among others who can be of help.

National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI): It beats my imagination that Nigeria has a body that is created to address National Science and Engineering infrastructure and development but is not taken so seriously as it should. Most Nigerians do not know about NASENI beyond news headlines. As far as I am concerned, this is a body that is perfectly in position to assist any serious minded president achieve it industrialization agenda and get its policy right. Established in 1992 ,NASENI, by its scope of operation is the Nigeria’s only purpose built Agency designed to conduct developmental work in the areas of manufacturing and as such, it is capable of coordinating the proliferation of technologies developed either within or outside of its Centers including patents obtained.

Already the agency has been making some silent breakthroughs but it is far capable of achieving more. We want more of their products put into national application and commercialized to serve the economy and create jobs for the teaming population. A look into its various activities in recent times will convince any discerning observer that Nigeria need not be looking to China. Be that as it may, NASENI still need policy rejig, Funding and increased attention. What are the parties’ plan towards making this sleeping giant blossom to global reckoning?

NSE and COREN: A serious government that ignore professional bodies will go nowhere fast or is left with charlatans as advisers. COREN Act is weak despite the recent amendments by National Assembly signed by President Mohamadu Buhari. Engineers can do nothing about this as it is a constitutional matter. Also NSE should not have monopoly over control at COREN if we want to truly develop. There is NATE, NISET that must also be empowered and given more voices on COREN Council.

NYSC Posting Engineers to village schools to teach irreverent subjects as against the mandatory posting to engineering companies. This may appear to be of no issue to many people but the cost to the country is staggering, both in wasted human resources and interrupting of young Engineers’ natural career ascension. What are the plan of the candidates to arrest this ugly development? If you want to empower the youth and encourage more young engineers to practice, then, this is a critical step that need urgent attention. There is a law in place but this law is arbitrarily violated by the NYSC under the control of the Presidency. They have their reasons, and this can only be addressed by the presidency.

Other areas that is worth looking into are: Local Content in Engineering, Engineering salary scales, national Codes and Standards, Building collapse, Poor Road networks, HND/Bsc Dichotomy in engineering, telecommunication, Electronics and emerging technologies and host of others.

It is my humble view that if the political engagement is made to be interactive and open, the candidates have more to gain in participating while the engineers have a lot to gain in understanding the minds of their (aspiring) leaders as regard the infrastructures and engineering. Of most important is the need not to be biased as any of the aspirants will emerge and take charge in 2023. Even those who do not emerge as President should have a lasting positive impression of the engineering community. This will make follow up for implementation of ideas a natural order. The goal must be to look beyond the engagement and stare directly at the future with view to ensure that no matter who emerges victorious at the Poll, a plan is in place ready for implementation.

Isqil Najim is a mechanical engineer. He writes from Lagos and can be reached at isqilnajim@outlook.com or @isqilnajim (twitter)

Editor’s Note and update: the event has been cancelled due to non commitment of major candidates to participate.

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