We can be as good as the expatriates, Nigerian engineers assure

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Factual Pursuit of Truth for Progress

Chris Paul Otaigbe

Against the backdrop of seemingly growing neglect of local engineers in the nation’s infrastructure development, Nigerian engineers have assured that they too can contribute meaningfully and significantly to building public infrastructure just as their expatriate counterparts.

This assertion was made on the side line of the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers (NICE) meeting held Tuesday in Lagos.

Calling on the federal government, the engineers said it is high time government began to look inward in their direction, adding that they possess same knowledge and capabilities that can deliver the nation’s infrastructure to the level of global standard.

A larger percentage of the infrastructure projects and construction industry in Nigeria is dominated by foreign construction firms. Almost six decades down the line, this trend has tended to give the impression that Nigerian engineers are not capable of handling the nation’s infrastructure needs.

With over two trillion naira allocated for infrastructure development in the 2020 budget and with the volume of construction going on across the country, over 80% of that chunk goes to foreign firms.

For instance, the larger of the over $1.2 billion on going rail line project in Nigeria is being managed by Chinese engineers and technicians, with virtually all that is needed is shipped in from China.

This has left most discerning Nigerians wondering whether there are no Nigerian engineers or local engineering firms good enough for those levels of jobs?

Commenting specifically on the rail project, a Nigerian structural engineer Olawale Ayodele Bolarinwa said Nigerian engineers are capable of handling the rail project on their own. “I have the belief that we have the capabilities in Nigeria.” He said.

Citing examples of projects he had undertaken with Aileme Unnigbe (the engineer who delivered the main lecture at the NICE meeting), Olawale said they had built structures that can compare and compete with any of its kind anywhere in the world.” At Apapa, before Tin Can Island, where we have Tank Farms and even Gantries he had designed and I was the one who handled the construction.

“So, there is nothing new that can be done in steel works.” Said Olawale.

He also cited the structure they constructed for one of the major banks in the country. He said the bank wanted to add one more floor to the building to enhance its banking services. “Since the structure was a two-way entity, we had to introduce a mezzanine floor as an extra level to cater to just the bank sector alone.” Olawale said.

He stressed that the addition they created could be compared with what is known in Europe, the US and other developed countries as a speed floor. “And I am telling you it was not done today. This project was done as far back as before 2006 before Engr. Unuigbe left for Canada that year. We never imported anybody or anything. He did the drawing and I did the construction and we used local artisans. The building is still standing strong today.” Boasted the structural engineer.

The ongoing Rail Project across the country, which is a Sino-Nigerian collaboration is being executed almost exclusively by Chinese Engineers. Olawale said given the same opportunity, Nigerians would do as much. “It is about financial capability. If we have the financial capacity, we will do it.  The British who built the old Railway didn’t use foreigners, they used local labor supervised by their own people. That was almost a hundred years ago and you cannot tell me everything has been static in Nigeria since then. We have gone ahead.” He said.

Engineer Lola Adetona is the Chairman of the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers and she is optimistic Nigerians are up to the task. She said with the right exposure and training, Nigerians can do far better than their foreign counterparts. “And we have so many of them. We need to believe in ourselves.” She said. for her, it is also all about focus for the Nigerian engineer and being able to have someone more experienced to hang on to and learn from. “We need to focus on our core area of strength as engineers and have a mentor to tutor you in the art of the profession and show us a roadmap to success in the industry.  Learn all you need to help you in the industry and the limit is reachable.” She said.

Regarding the rail project, Adetona said she is convinced Nigerians can deliver the project just as good as the Chinese. “I believe with all sense of responsibility that we can.”

According to her, there is a need for Nigerians to get a space in the construction industry especially in the rail project.

Saying she already walking her talk. “I am already making enquiries on why the Chinese are the ones handling most of our infrastructure construction. They told me it’s because of cost. For all the construction and infrastructure, we are building in the country, we need transfer of knowledge for maintenance. We cannot be giving the main construction job to the Chinese and still ceding the maintenance to them. No way!” Said the NICE Lagos Chairman.

To Aileme Unuigbe, an engineer of global standing, compared to the Chinese and other foreigners, Nigerian engineers can hold their own confidently and convincingly.

“I believe if we have the right opportunity and training, Nigerian engineers would surpass their foreign counterparts in quality and workmanship.” Aileme said.

He also said our local engineers are as capable as their foreign counterparts when it gets to the nitty-gritty of the job. “We can build and design as good, if not better than these foreign engineers because experience is what we have seen and what we have practiced. There are lots of smart Nigerians out there who have the experience to deliver excellently well, to surpass what the Chinese or any expatriate can give you.” Said Aileme.

 

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