Engr Kashim Ali
Engineer Kashim A. Ali is the President, Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN). In an interview, spoke on the capacity of Nigeria engineers to transform the nation and the fight against building collapse in the country.
As the regulatory body for engineers, what is COREN doing about building collapse in the country?
One the things COREN is doing is that anybody found culpable in building collapse would be investigated and convicted if found guilty. Beyond that we have set up Engineering Regulator Monitoring Committee (ERMC) in 56 locations across the country. What they do is to go and check locations where building construction is going. People only look at buildings but we also look at the roads too. But we don’t play major role in building as engineers, because the job of the engineer is to make sure that the column of the building is strong enough to carry the weight of the slab and other load in the building. So in a building where there are no slabs and columns, what would be the engineers’ role? If it is a bungalow the engineers’ role would only be on electrical and mechanical power and also plumbing but in any bungalow collapse they blame engineers.
We are always embarrassed by that but we have to take the heat and absolve them. Anytime we noticed that something is not going on well in both building and road constructions, we look for the authority responsible because we have our members there. For instance, in Abuja, if we notice any defect in a building we make a report to the Abuja Development Control for correction and after that we check whether either a registered engineer, draftsman or technologist is there and ask them to make correction in areas where correction is needed to be made and if there is any problem after wards, we would hold them responsible. Often we go to sites and discovered there was nobody, but they would go there at night to work and before you know, the building would collapse. When building collapse we do our independent investigation and submit the report to the appropriate authority for prosecution. The unfortunate thing is that when building collapses in the country, nobody gets punished for it because the owners of those collapsed buildings are untouchable.
Do you think the engineers have the capacity to transform this country from monolithic economy to multi-economy now that the nation is talking about diversification?
We are talking about diversifying the economy, but the question is: do we have the capacity and even if we have the capacity, does the government recognise that we have the capacity to help solve the problem? The truth is that Nigerian engineers have the capacity to transform the economy and the government recognised that. Government is aware of the capacity that abound in the country but sometimes when they want to build critical infrastructure they look for the wrong person to advise them and if they have a position to fill, they also look for the wrong person to put there. For example, the power sector is one of the areas that we have few challenges in but the leadership in the sector has always been in the wrong hand. At lower level, for instance, the Niger Delta Power Holding Company is responsible for NIPP, the essence of that company is to build power plant across the country but who is in charge, an accountant. There is a special training you must have to be a regulator. To regulate any professional process you need to be a trained person in the area. There should be no crisis in power sector, but we would continue to have problems in the sector unless the right thing is done. Put the right person in NIPP projects and you would see things moving. So it not about capacity because there are great Nigerians who are doing great things. I attended a conference in London and a British person who presented a paper there asked what would be the status of their infrastructure if Nigerian engineers should leave Britain. Do you know that the director of road infrastructure there is a Nigerian? So if the environment is right such individual would come and do more for their country. We don’t lack capacity but the political will on the part of leadership to use human resources that we have.
What is COREN doing so that those studying engineering can get good foundation?
Of course, there have been challenges in those areas but thanks to government policy like TETFUND, it has been a saving grace to the university system and most universities who have good leadership have invested substantial part of the fund in faculty of engineering. COREN has taken a decision that it doesn’t matter who is at the head of the university or the university’s age, what matters is that you are either qualified to train engineers or not. You recall that we closed down the faculty of engineering in University of Abuja because it lacked the equipment to train engineers. An engineer who is not properly trained is more dangerous that bomb because if he designs a road it would fail and if he designs a building it would collapse. So on issue of training we don’t compromise and our colleagues in the universities are really co-operating. If a university is not ready in terms of workshops and laboratories, there is no way they can get accreditation for engineering courses.
How can the federal government address housing deficit in Nigeria?
We started many years ago with 16 million housing deficit but recently I heard in the media that it is now 18 million. Our population is growing so much and the houses are not increasing. One way to do this is to change our orientation. Like I said earlier, the world has moved on, the time of building big a house has gone. Let’s begin to build decent moderate houses, Lagos is taking the lead. Before you see people having their house with gates but today there are high rise buildings with flats. Government must find a way of providing buildings at moderate fees so that people can go for them.
Why must it be that houses in Abuja are for those who have stolen our money? So government has a responsibility to work with the private sector to build more houses in the country.
What would be your advice to the new government in terms of policy formulation for the engineering sector?
We have just seen that we have a unique government in Nigeria today but we have been doing things in the wrong way over the years and the results are not what we want. So since the president wants to bring change, we want to be part of that change. We want the president to use the potentials that abound in the country. The best time to diversify is at the beginning of your prosperity and not at the tail end but it is never too late to start. We should have started long time ago. Countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have regenerated themselves through the little they have by investing properly using the power of science, engineering and technology and they are where they are today. We have what it takes to move up. I want to advice the government to get moving and we should not pretend that life is going on well because it would be much more difficult tomorrow.