Being a text of Presentation titled ADVOCACY & ACTIVISM IN OUR ENGINEERING DNA Being a Presentation by HR Engr. Otis Anyaeji KtSGG FAEng, Obi Onowu II n’Okija (Traditional Head of Ubahu-Okija), 30th President, The Nigerian Society of Engineers at 2022 October Lecture. Made as Part of the Collection Themed “WISDOM OF THE NIGERIAN SOCIETY OF ENGINEERS On the Occasion of NSE OCTOBER LECTURE On October 7th, 2022
DEDICATION: This NSE 28th ‘October Lecture’ is dedicated to Engr. Ife Akintunde FAEng FNSE FNICE, President, Nigerian Society of Engineers 1987 – 88, and, Vice President, World Federation of Engineering Organisations 1990 – 92.
When the President NSE reminded me that my October Lecture would be due this year, I gave some thought to what one would be saying to the Engineering community and different publics on how one has seen engineering all through several decades of practice, and advocacy/activism.
If I speak on practice of engineering, there would be so much to speak on, but then I will be talking as a professional Engineer.
On the other hand, if I talk on advocacy and activism, I will be speaking as a leader of the Engineering professions in Nigeria, West Africa, Africa, and the world.
I choose to lecture on advocacy and activism, which incidentally I realise run through all my life starting from primary school.
2.0 SOME HOUSEKEEPING
For us all to be on same page, some basic housekeeping by way of definitions of advocacy and activism would have to be done. That would afford me a proper point of departure for the business of today.
First, we define ‘advocacy’ according to WIKIPEDIA as “an activity by an individual or group that aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social institutions. It includes activities and publications to influence public policy, laws and budgets by using facts, their relationships, the media, and messaging to educate government officials and the public …”
Again, from WIKIPEDIA we get the following definition of Activism (which they place as synonymous with advocacy), as “consisting of efforts to promote, impede, direct or intervene in social, political, economic or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society toward a perceived greater good …”
We would thus use terms ‘advocacy’ and ‘activism’ interchangeably, in the course of this lecture.
3.0 EARLIEST INVOLVEMENT WITH ADVOCACY & ACTIVISM
Without knowing what advocacy or activism meant, I was drawn into their vortex in 1963 playing victim to my parents’ insistence on my going to Christ the King College Onitsha rather than Bishop Shanahan College (BSC) Orlu which I preferred. Past senior pupils of my primary school Holy Trinity Primary School Onitsha Water Side, who were in BSC had mentored those of us in Standard 6 to appreciate the unique position of BSC in preparing the students for engineering undergraduate work.
They had explained that BSC was the only secondary school in the then Eastern Region of Nigeria, that offered Technical Drawing, Metal Work, and Wood Work.
Also, they explained to us that any of us that easily could solve all the exercise problems in Larcombes’ Arithmetic, or Shillings Arithmetic, should from that discern a flair for engineering studies.
As I was just then beginning to rise above all problems at the end of each chapter of these Arithmetic books, I began to see myself as having interest in becoming an Engineer.
I sat for and passed the entrance examination, and later the interview for the BSC Orlu. When I received the letter of admission, and the prospectus detailing all the items to be procured for me, I was convinced and certain BSC was the next bus stop in my life. On return from Orlu after the interview, I handed the admission package to my parents, and anxiously awaited the commencement of the procurement of the prescribed personal effects. When it appeared it was taking forever to begin, I called out my parents on the issue. It was then they told me that I was to attend the interview for Christ the King College Onitsha, and that action with regard to collecting my college personal effects would happen after the results for the CKC interview were out.
I understood this to mean that they preferred CKC to BSC for me. I then resorted to tyranising the household with incessant crying. This made my mother to go to the Principal of CKC to report that she does not understand why her son is complaining about CKC, preferring to go to BSC Orlu. The Principal, Very Rev. Fr. Nicholas Tagbo OON asked my mother to bring me over for further explanations.
In the presence of Father Principal, the latter asked, “why do you not want to come to CKC?” I had no problems making a responsive reply, as I had spent weeks answering same question to my parents. My reply was simply, “Father, I want to go to BSC because they teach Technical Drawing, Metal Work, and Woodwork, and I want to be an Engineer.” Father then asked another question – “who told you that these subjects are good for Engineering?” I promptly answered that older pupils of our primary school, who are in BSC told us so. The Principal, then put his hand on my back and told me that I should come to CKC, that he would start the teaching of Technical Drawing in the school. That greatly calmed me down and, I then started co-operating with my parents on the matter of admission to CKC rather than BSC.
Thus in January 1964 to CKC Onitsha I went. The first year went by without any teaching of TD. But in January 1965 Fr. Principal lived up to his promise, and introduced the teaching of the subject Technical Drawing in CKC.
In hindsight, I recognize this choice of BSC over CKC for the reasons of the engineering courses available in the former, and not available in the latter, and the effect of my persistent complaint resulting in CKC Onitsha (the oldest Catholic School  in Eastern Region of Nigeria) introducing the teaching of Technical Drawing as my earliest involvement in Engineering advocacy/activism.
This success encouraged me to approach Father Principal anytime I had an idea I thought would add value to the state of affairs of the school. There were a number of occasions that happened, and the Principal on each occasion treated me as one who always talks some sense.
It is quite gratifying recalling a particular encounter with Father Principal just before I left the school to go for undergraduate studies. One noticed the school was losing good athletes after their school certificate year, as the college only offered science subjects in the higher school programmes. I approached the Principal and drew his attention to that. He asked me to put it in writing, and I promptly did so. A few months later, preparations were underway for the commencement of the offering of art subjects in the Higher School Certificate programmes in CKC Onitsha, Circa 1971.
3.2 SCOUTING FOR LECTURERS FOR MY CLASS AS AGBEBI
In my penultimate year at Agbebi College of Engineering, UNN, there was acute shortage of teaching staff for our courses. Our class discussed with the Head of Department, Dr. Clifford Ezeilo, and he gave the go-ahead for we students to assist in scouting for lecturers. One spearheaded the effort to source for part-time lecturers from the Railway Corporation, and the State Ministry of Works, Enugu. When we could not get enough teachers, my classmate and friend Emmanuel Chukwuneta and I thought out of the box, and came up with the idea of exploring the possibility of our class being temporarily transferred to the University of Lagos. We decided to go, and the two of us at our expense travelled to Lagos to meet the famous Prof. Ayodele Awojobi.
When we met the Prof at his residence in UNILAG, and broached the transfer idea, he said the latter would be an extreme measure. He asked if we discussed the issue with Prof. Gordian Ezekwe, and Dr. Ezeilo (we later learnt these were his teachers at University College Zaria). When we replied in the negative, he proposed two other solutions that could be tried in situ UNN. On our return, these proposals were taken up with the HoD, but fortunately the Dutch Technical Assistance, and the Commonwealth Development Office came to the rescue of the Department, rendering the proposals unnecessary. Again, without knowing it, one was involved in engineering activism, and spending scarce personal funds, in furtherance.
3.3 FRUSTRATION OF TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER AT PAN KADUNA
One got to Peugeot Automobile Nig. Ltd in June 1978, on employment as Production Engineer. I was the first university graduate Engineer in the then Production Department.
Over a relatively short period of time, relationships began to deteriorate between the Nigerian Engineers, technologists and the Management of PAN. To deal with this, most of the Engineers and technologists in the production functions began to meet to work out strategies of seeking remedies from the French management. In order to eliminate the possibility being bugged, we chose to hold the meetings at a point located off the Kaduna – Kachia road on the way to the Kaduna Refinery. Somehow, the Management still got wind of our meetings and determined that yours truly was the arrowhead of this initiative.
The Management immediately descended on me and started intimidating me. That move disorganized the meetings of the Engineers/technologists. As the one that kept the records of our meetings, I was forced to release the memo we were developing for Management attention under my signature. It was explosive. The memo was titled “Infringement of Fundamental Human Rights.”
Asserting there is no gainsaying that the factory in Kaduna was started with the French not bothering to involve Nigerian intelligentsia, it was further stated that common-sense would demand of any science transfer agent to take cognizance of the stratification in technology, and train people according to their qualifications. I observed that the administration started with Nigerian operatives and left out people capable of independent thinking who could rapidly take over the roles of the French. One then attributed this to the desire to perpetuate or prolong unduly the stay of the French, and effect a recrudescence of the French post Berlin conference colonial paternalism. It was then noted that three years, after the technical partner had to account for the progress thus far made in transfer of technology, and she smartly employed scores of highly qualified Nigerians, and flung and scattered them in activities that contrast and demean their aptitude and ability.
Remaking that to each of those stranded and baffled blackman the TP proceeded to assign so called advisers who are nothing but frauds sustaining their trade by deceit and white skin masquerade, one queries how else can one account for a French panel beater advising a Nigerian Engineer or a French happy-go-lucky draughtsman overseeing and advising a Nigerian Engineer? We also complained about what was described as the sham appointment of Nigerian Managers in the factory, whereby two Nigerians were appointed, one to a former French army electrician, and the other to a French man with little, or more to the point, with no knowledge of the operations to be managed. After these Nigerians were confirmed as managers, the TP reinforced the army electrician with yet another French manager advisor, making three managers in one role, and having the presence of a French advisor that would or could hardly communicate any relevant advisory information.
On the non-technical front, we came down on the company housing practice, whereby accommodation is provided for expatriates, whereas housing for Nigerians is deposed and disposed of as a Nigerian problem. We decried the situation where African senior staff expatriates are not considered and treated as expatriate. Our conclusion then was – “The only correct thing to say here is that you are practicing a thinly clad apartheid policy in your housing programme. The veneer you are using to camouflage this racial discrimination is as follows. When you appointed two Nigerians as Deputy Managers in 1978, they pressurized you into reluctantly agreeing to provide accommodation for them. You proceeded to get the worst type of accommodation in the neighbourhood, and bundled these Nigerian Managers into apartments the size of closets in the mansions which French artisans here occupy. The apartments, unlike the houses occupied by the French, were not furnished. You would also be reminded of the wranglings that went on before it was decided that these black managers and their families deserved to have air conditioners in these apartments. It is with further dismay that we note that newly appointed Nigerian managers have been squeezed into these degrading apartments.
We also touched on administrative/management deficit, making the point that what we had as Production Department is nothing but assembly department, which is the least professional of all the sections in a standard production department. We then went on to charge that if the TP really meant to train Nigerian Engineers to be authorities in the act of assemblying cars, each must be trained in all aspects of production viz production administration, assembly, maintenance, quality control, purchasing and supply, local content.
We also provided some evidence to confirm the TP had carefully forestalled the realization of the potentials of the blackman viz
• Some junior staff have risen to managerial positions over a period of four years, while higher institution graduates who have stayed in the plant for four years or more are now in positions worse than their initial conditions. To wit, a graduate who has been with the company for more than four years in one office, was transferred to another office, and in doing so the office he had occupied for four years was handed over to a junior staff. This means that this university graduate was doing the work of a junior staff for four years!
• In another office of a shift work nature, the two shifts were taken charge of by two Nigerians, one holding a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and the other holding a First School Leaving Certificate.
The following demands were then made of the management
• All the Nigerian managers are to vacate the building at Ahmed Petegi Road, and take ranks besides their white counterparts in bungalows at similar locations.
• All the Black senior staff expatriates are to be provided with furnished bungalow residences as applicable with the whites immediately.
• All the French designated as advisors to black senior staff should go back to France. This for the reason that water does not flow from low to high pressure, how much less advice from ignorance to knowledge.
• The practice whereby Nigerian senior staff and all white expatriates are summoned to the same meeting must be put to a stop forthwith.
• Appointment of an acceptably knowledgeable production manager to be in charge of all production activities, and let all the Engineers go round various aspects of production.
Immediately after submitting this memo To PAN management, one petitioned the Ministers of Industry, Science & Technology, Steel Development with copies to HE Governor Kaduna State, President Nigerian Senate, Speaker House of Representatives.
Suffice it to say one met with Governor Kaduna State, Senate President, Speaker House of Representatives. While making these circuits, one got sacked by PAN management, who also met all our demands, including changing the name of the Production Department to Assembly Department, and re-organising the Production function.
To be Continued…