A Stitch in Time

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The practice of engineering, like most facets of life, is impacted by poor decisions of the past. This is however giving its gatekeepers some sleepless nights and they want to nip it before it is too late, writes Chineme Okafor

“The resultant effects of unwholesome engineering education in Nigeria have had great effects on the participation of the Nigerian engineering family in the provision of adequate and necessary infrastructural development in our country,” said Chris Okoye, chairman of the board of fellows of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE).

Speaking at a recent occasion where 20 members of the NSE were conferred the title of fellows, Okoye whose board screens and ratifies nominees for the fellow title, said that engineering practice in Nigeria was greatly distressed and needs a quick makeover before it loses its grandeur and relevance in nation building.

He said in his description of the profession’s path to its current status, that over the years, universities and colleges of technology in the country have lost their standards and capacities to train and graduate good engineers. The country, he added has had to pay dearly for this with instances of engineering failures across its cities and towns.

“The genesis of the rot in our universities and technical schools lies in the successive military administrations in Nigeria in the early 70s and their poor perceptions and appreciation of the need to continually support this most critical aspect of our national development,” he stated.

Okoye was plain in expressing his displeasure with the status of engineering in Nigeria’s development matrix, and his position was further amplified by a former Minister of Power and university teacher, Prof. Chinedu Nebo in a lecture he gave at the occasion on the need to reform engineering education in Nigeria.

Nebo, in his lecture titled, ‘Engineering education reform and the competitiveness of the Nigerian economy,’ made it clear that Nigeria’s loss of economic competitiveness could be traced to the poor showing of her engineering practice.

He said the fact that the country relies on other countries to provide some of her engineering needs, means that it will be difficult for her to grow home-based capacities to compete and gain economic advantages.

In reality, Okoye and Nebo’s positions on the status of engineering practice in the country are not hidden considering the role it has played in Nigeria’s struggles with developing her economy.
From roads designed and construction in the country, to homes and office buildings that are built across towns and cities of the country, down to even simple engineering acts of machine tools designs and production, the practice has witnessed an immense erosion of its credibility by quacks and dishonest practitioners.

Other key infrastructure that help keep a country’s competitive edge in good shape like power plant constructions and refineries, have also felt the unpleasant taste that bad engineering practices has bequeathed to the country.

Accordingly, the dishonesty often associated to Nigeria’s sluggish national development pace has contributed in a great way to the level of decadence and loss of professional ethics in the country’s engineering practices.

Over the years, poor engineering practices for instance have left thousands of Nigerians dead from collapsed structures, poorly designed and built roads and bridges, and substandard applications on infrastructure developments or even products consumed by citizens.
The impacts of these engineering failures are quite enormous but get less attention from the Nigerian society.

It was from poor engineering practice that a church building in Lagos collapsed in September 12, 2014 and reportedly killed more than 111 people, warranting the Lagos State government to file 111 counts charge against the owner – Synagogue Church of All Nations, its engineers – Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company; Jandy Trust Limited; and other persons that include Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun, who were reported to be the engineers in charge of the project that collapsed.

Another bad engineering practice also resulted to the death of 34 people in a Lagos Lekki estate in March 8, 2016, while an Abuja plaza also gave way in September 2016 from bad engineering practices, killing scores of people.

It can be argued with reasons and evidence that on the back of irresponsible engineering practices, Nigeria’s economic growth has largely slacked. The profession has sort of allowed the popular but dangerous ‘Nigerian factor’ to creep into its fabrics, giving way to irregular engineering education and poorly equipped professionals to define its narrative in Nigeria’s development space.

Indeed, corruption in the engineering profession, malpractice by engineers, negligent and carefree engineers, unattended professional misconduct by engineers, incompetent engineering services, illegal activities of engineering consultants, and dangerous applications of engineering to national development, now define the practice in the country.

When for convenience, engineers apply poor processes and equipment in their jobs, or get involved in corrupt practices that deprive the country of standard infrastructure distribution, they contribute in very large ways to the devaluation of the country’s economic competitiveness and capacity to sustain socio-economic development.

Okoye and Nebo were not economical in their condemnation of such irregular engineering practices in the country, and called for reforms in engineering education, as one of the ways to accelerate Nigeria’s industrialisation.

Similarly, the President of NSE, Otis Anyaeji shared the same sentiments when he recently presented the society’s position on Nigeria’s economy.

Anyaeji explained that the place of good education in any professional practice cannot be overlooked, hence the need to reform and reposition engineering education in Nigeria.
“Good engineers and other professionals come into being through sound education and practical experience. Nigeria’s current system of education is very poor and should be reformed at all levels, otherwise how can one explain that a major oil company interviewed 2000 engineers but found none fit for employment,” he said.

According to him, “A typical direct entry requirement for engineering in a Nigerian university is two A‐level passes which must include Mathematics and Physics plus the basic O‐level entry requirements (credit passes in five subjects, in not more than two sittings.
“Ordinarily students with five O‐Level credits at two sittings should not be considered university materials elsewhere in the world; they should go and learn a trade. No good university in the industrialised world would admit such a person to read engineering.”

He further said: “Nigeria needs to go back to the basics, humble itself and emulate the system of education and practices of those countries whose codes and standards Nigeria uses and copies. This is the sine qua non for pre-eminence in engineering, safety and prosperity, even after minimising corruption, nepotism, theft, self-interest and square pegs in round holes.”