President of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Kashim Ali, canvasses the devolution of power supply to enable states, local councils, and even individuals generate and supply electricity, in this interview with Chinedu Eze. Ali also believes international financiers and investors are not attracted to Nigeria due to lack of clear legal and administrative framework. Excerpts:

What is the adherence rate to COREN regulations among engineers in Nigeria?

The Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria is a statutory body set up by government for the regulation and control of the practise of engineering in all its aspects and ramification. To this end, it accredits universities’ engineering programmes to be sure that those who come to practise engineering are qualified and properly trained. It accredits also students of polytechnics and technical schools; to ensure that those who become technicians and technologists also are properly trained and skilled enough for the job. It is the mandate of COREN to ensure the level of knowledge and skills required for practice at every of the grades, that is as an engineer, technologist and technician. And like they say, good product comes from good preparation, good planning and you can only have good planning and preparation when you have the right manpower.

For sure, the adherence is not something that is contestable. There are two options: if you don’t comply with our regulations, we sanction you. So it is not like we do advocacy, COREN does not do advocacy. For instance, if we go to a university and we find that they don’t have enough personnel or their laboratories or workshops are not okay, we don’t accredit them. And any university that is not accredited, the products can never practise engineering if they graduate. We have a list of qualified universities in Nigeria. So it is not every university in Nigeria that its products can practise engineering.

Do you objectives also include making Nigerian engineers to be recognised worldwide so that they can practise anywhere in the world?

We are working on that, to have them practise all over the world. But for now, we are already a member of the league in Asia and the eight countries in Asia now have recognition for our certificate. But we want to have one global recognition and that is why the issue of accreditation is very pertinent to us. So any university that doesn’t meet our minimum criteria will also not qualify, because we will not give accreditation and if we don’t give you accreditation, I am sorry, you can’t participate. We want a global recognition beyond the one we have now.

You have a bill in the National Assembly, which has passed second reading. What is the bill all about?

It is the initiative of the National Assembly, which has seen our level of commitment in the course of their oversight functions. They have seen that given more powers we could do a lot more. For instance, the bill seeks to give more powers to COREN to deal with those who constitute a nuisance to engineering practice in Nigeria. They are creating problems for us because they are quacks. The greatest challenges we have are from quacks. If you hear about collapse of buildings, these are the handiwork of quacks. But our current law does not allow us to deal with them; we can only report them to the police. But what the new law is fighting for is to give us the power to deal with them. Because we don’t have a tribunal that deals with issues related to our own registered professional. But the new law now is going to expand it so that we can bring to book even those we are not registered, as long as you delved into engineering project then you can be brought to the tribunal for trial.

What are you doing to sensitise the public on the need to patronise professionals to get quality products and services at the end of the day?

The truth is that the people who build don’t even need sensitisation because they know; they make choices. But unfortunately, their choices turn out sore. I give you an example, there is no Nigerian who wants to buy a used car that will not go and look for his mechanic to help him look at it. So it doesn’t call for any sensitisation, it is the same thing. If you want to build a house, you want to get someone who will build a house that will serve the purpose for which you want to build it. To build a good house you know the right place to go is to go first to an architectural firm to help you do the design. The architectural firm will naturally invite on board or ask you to invite your own structural engineer who will help you deal with the structures, especially when it is a high rise.

And they will also have a mechanical and electrical engineer who will help you to look at the plumbing systems and the electrical systems generally and getting your electrical systems to serve the purpose for which the building will be put to. These are technical things that you need the expert to help you do. If you chose to do it on your own, it is not because you do not know, it is just because you decide to cut corners. Often people use the non-professionals for houses that they will not live in themselves because they have the mind-set that if I build this house, it will stay for some years until I get my money back or I may even have to demolish it and build another one. It is that tendency that causes these problems. So it is not really about them being sensitised, they are well sensitised. Buildings are not done by just anybody.

What can be done to solve the problem of poor electricity supply in the country?

The first step is to make the process transparent. The investment we have made in power is huge. I think there should have been more than we have now, given the level of investment. But the processes are there and the bid to pick. In fact, when you see the bid documents from the power sector, they are always deliberately made to make life difficult for Nigerians. We invested billions of dollars and there is not much to show for it. And it is saddening that nothing is being done about it because if we don’t change the way we handle that sector we will continue to have problem. Besides, the world is moving on and while we are still investing in fossil fuel, the world is moving away from fossil fuel but we have not even succeeded in using our own. So what happens to us when the world moves away? In the meantime, there is abundance of other resources in the country. For instance, the world was using clean coal at a time. Many years ago, when I first tried to do a study, I found out that 60 per cent of America’s power was coal based. They have reduced it now and I think is about 30+ per cent now. They have reduced it drastically and they are working to reduce it more. At the time we are doing those our projects that didn’t give us anything, China built a coal plant that is about 24 megawatts.

We have coal in Nigeria, we have a coal belt that starts from Anambra basin all the way to Gombe. You have exploration taking place in Enugu, you have in Kogi and you have extensive one in the whole of that Benue trough. We are doing what with it? We have no sufficient investment with it. We have vast wind energy on the coastal line which we can also use. We can do some off grid systems because there are some communities that are very small, you don’t need to extend cables to their community; you can do off grid, but it has to be properly organised. You have vast land in the North with high intensity sun rays that we could use. China has used the land and they are using the sea, they have floating solar panels now that is giving them about 40,000 megawatts. We have all kinds of resources that we can use. There was a wind system that was being done in Katsina, it started since the time of the late President Yar’ Adua; it has not been completed up till today.

The power sector is in a quagmire and there has to be decisive action on the part of government. There is a lot of scam in that sector that needs to be cleared for there to be a transparent process. Because it is not rocket science, it can be done, the capacity to do it abound. But there must be a transparent, open process that everybody will have access to information and then be able to address the challenges that come about. But the way it is today, there is problem.

Do you think there should be devolution in the sector so that state governments, even individuals, can build and manage their own power systems?

Not only power, you see what we have now is a kind of centralised system because the laws says it is a strategic asset and should be owned by the federal government. We could have state governments, even local governments with capacity to develop their own schemes, ring themselves. But the good thing is that you can link one ring to the other, you have clusters but you can link them and put a break in between. If, for instance, I have excess power, I will call my neighbours and ask them if they have a short fall and we would link or connect them because it is metered. So I supply to you and you pay me and then that way you won’t have disruption in your network, which is the standard thing to do. So everybody manages a small network, it is easier if we are doing that, it is even the same thing with roads and railways. They law should be broken down such that it allows a devolution.

Many see public, private partnership as a solution to the problem of infrastructural deficit. But how can Nigeria do a reliable and sustainable PPP?

My honest opinion is that for critical capital projects that are new, government should borrow money and build them. The successful PPPs in the world are not largely on new projects. PPP did not originate from Nigeria; the most celebrated successful story in Africa was in South Africa. There have been very successful PPP around the world, but not all PPs are successful, even in Europe with all their discipline. Here when we adopted it, we didn’t have appropriate laws in place to protect both the government and the investor. Like the MMA2 (domestic terminal) at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos (that was built by Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited on Build, Operate and Transfer arrangement), it has its challenges. But the road that was awarded on PPP was the worst case because there was no law to protect the investor and that is why the case is still in court. And because it is in court the government cannot do anything.

We also need a high level of discipline because the laws are always stringent and violations are not forgivable. But we are used to saying, please forgive me; you don’t forgive in such things because I am in charge in managing the property does not give me the ownership of the facility. If I am in charge of a project on behalf of government, I cannot forgive because nobody has the power to forgive you, except the owners, who are the whole Nigerians. But Nigerians will still insist you forgive and somebody will use his waiver to do that. If there is no discipline it cannot work. I see some projects that do not meet the requirements of a PPP and they still call it PPP. We must have appropriate laws and their enforcement for us to have successful PPP.