Jumade Adejola: Though an Accountant, Economist, I’m Passionate about Fire Engineering

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Though Jumade Adejola trained as an accountant and economist, he runs a fire engineering enterprise. Operating from a purpose-built office with plans to move to a new ultra-modern office and warehouse at the end of the year, Adejola has a client base that include Guaranty Trust Bank, Union Banks, etc. In this interview with Samuel Ajayi, Adejola talks about his novel enterprise. He also speaks about why he left the banking industry for his wife who clocked 50 recently

Surveillant Nigeria Limited, keeps a low profile. Why?
It has been a deliberate policy. But now, we want to be the number one fire protection company in Africa. We have opened offices in Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya and we have offices in Port-Harcourt, Abuja and our head office is in Lagos. Very soon, we will be moving to our ultra-modern new office complex because as you can see, this place can no longer contain us.
We wanted to get to certain level. Most of our clients know us and they know we can deliver at the shortest notice. Besides, we were not ready for the pressure that would come with too much noise. When we promise, we deliver even if it costs more than what we billed you. We believe in quality service and consistency. If we say three months, it will be three months. Our engineers are competent and they know their onions. And let me also add that I am not an office or arm-chair chief executive. I go to sites to supervise and take charge where necessary to deliver to the quality we promised the client. If you look at the issue of fire and its prevention and protection, it is a matter of life and death. So when people begin to use fake product, what you are protect is at risk. Look at insurance companies. They are supposed to involve us when planning their policies. It is not about paying premiums alone. We are supposed to be training their loss adjusters. It is about the risks involved and how are you going to really handle things when issues arise. Let me give you this example. You insure a building but proper fire protection equipment was not used. The whole building is at risk. And it is not proper equipment alone but approved one. Most of these products we see outside are refurbished products. If you use fire extinguisher that the cylinder is expired, because it is a compressed extinguisher, by the time open, it can injure your jaw and that is death. So what you are buying as safety equipment can also be risk equipment unknown to you. So you have to approach qualified companies that are doing the business.

But regulation is poor and this puts the works of professionals like you at risk. How do you deal with this?
Yes, regulation is poor. I am not disputing that but there is a building code now that has been passed to law and it is being pursued and being enforced. Most of the time, you will discover that if you don’t apply these rules, they won’t be enforced. That is at the federal level. In Lagos State, the state government is very committed to safety. We are consultants to the Lagos State Safety Commission and let me tell you that what they are doing is great. The state does not joke with lives of citizens and the state is even organising a conference on Vision Zero and this is about zero tolerance to fire, accidents and mishaps in any place. And that us why, in most of the construction sites, if you don’t take safety serious, the place will be shut down. We don’t take safety serious in this part of the world.
That is taken. We were at the Abuja airport one day and we alighted from the plane and we had to trek to the arrival lounge. That was unacceptable and that was risky. Countries don’t do that again. No matter the short distance, you don’t do that. In our company, our engineer are well trained when it comes to installations of fire detection system, fire fighting system and FM 200, which us fire suppression system for critical areas like server room of telecommunication companies or server room of banks and most of places that need protection. FM 200 puts out fire automatically either you are there or not.

Seems that is not common yet in ther.
It is here and people are already using it. We have banks and companies are using it. In fact, we have done it for a bank that all their equipments are protected. Guaranty Trust Bank is one of our major clients and they are doing well when it comes to the issue of protection. They don’t joke with it. We usually use them as reference and yardstick for other banks. I am not mentioning them because they are our clients but because of what they do. Union Bank too is doing well. As big as that building is, it is well protected. So many high-rise buildings in Lagos are now protected but many are still not.

And these are owned by multinationals?
Yes, they are and so many people are working in these offices. They are human beings too. If anything happens, what do you do? How do you evacuate them? And it even goes beyond this. We must also train your fire wardens to international standards. Each floor must have fire wardens. In case of emergency, they must be able to give instructions to the occupants of that floor on what to do. And that is why we encourage people that have high-rise buildings to have evacuation proceedings like public address system to tell people what to do in case of fire incident and the person operating that public address system must understand evacuation procedure. For instance, if there is fire on the eighth floor, he should be able to tell them to move to the ninth or tenth floor is the staircase is not yet on fire. The lift too must be connected to the fire detection system such that if there is an alarm, it automatically comes down to the ground floor so that everyone comes out. And the person operating the public address system must be able to give instructions on what to do to get to the muster point. This is why we are needed everywhere.
Look at the factories. They are the ones that need us most because they have the largest number of employees, especially the so called casual staff. They are many. They should have procedures. Let me use Olams Group as an example. They do fire drill for their staff all the time; either you are casual or regular staff.

There is what we call means of egress. In some buildings, even your so-called high-rise buildings, the means of egress is very poor right from the design. How does your company come in especially, when you are not design engineers? And this is where mechanical and electrical (M and E) engineers come in as people might even die trying to escape and not being killed by the fire itself.
This means of egress we are talking about exit, in and out and process of evacuation during emergency. All these have to be designed properly by the architect and after that, the M and E come in. They design their own at the fittings and installations that they need. It is the M and E that look at things the architects had omitted.  But majorly, the problem is that some architects believe they know everything and they want to design everything. What you are supposed to have at construction sites are architects and M and Es. The architects do their own and then the M and Es make their own input. It is the M and Es that are supposed to involve us fire engineers so we can put in our own inputs to minimise costs, reduce risks and ensure that the right products are used. There is what we call over-spec and under-spec. Over-spec means that there are certain things you don’t need which are put in the design. There might be areas where they put six-inch pipe whereas, what you need is four-inch pipe. I have a design that they spec a 10-inch pipe and I started to wonder if we were providing water for Lagos State. If we were involved during the design, we would have told them they did not need these materials. Under spec can occur when you recommend conventional fire fighting system instead of addressable fire fighting system.

What do you mean by addressable fire-fight system?
In fire fighting system, we have what you call the conventional and addressable fire alarm system. The conventional uses zone which simply means that on each zone, you can have about fifteen detectors and those detectors will be on one zone. So, if there is fire, the alarm system will only show zone one or zone two. If it shows zone one, you know where it is and you have fire extinguisher in your hand but you have to be moving from one location to the other. By that time, early detection is easy but early attack will not be easy. It is easy if it is just a floor where you can move easily. In addressable, it gives you the exact location where the fire is. For instance, in this my office, what the panel will say is that there is fire in MD’s office and the person will know where to go. So addressable fire alarm system is very efficient but very expensive. The cost can be four times higher than the conventional own. If you want to do high-rise building you cannot have conventional system. And also in palatial homes where you have so many rooms and chalets, it is always better to do addressable system.
However, you give this advice but there is nothing that says the M and E consultant will take your advice. I am not blaming them because the client has already told them his budget but what is the essence of putting a system in place and it is not efficient? It is not about obeying the law but ensuring that lives and the property itself. Unfortunately, you see a situation where by the client just wants to obey the law and not for the need and necessity of the system. Then the clients should be able to know who are the people handling their jobs. We have had cause to go and inspect what others had done and we discovered that what was done before was a shoddy job.

How do you deal with quacks? Do you have an association?
Fire protection operators don’t have an association for now. We belong to quite a number of bodies but no association.

So, how do you deal with quacks?
It is a tough job especially for people like us who represent genuine OEMs. At Surveillant, we will never give you substandard products. And that is why we always tell our clients to go to people that will give them genuine products. Some people may pick up old and expired products, repaint it and even put the name of the original OEM that manufactured it and they will resell. It is that bad. We have our website and check products and you will get what you need. We don’t source for products; we always have products in stock. When we give you time, we adhere to it.

We learnt you are building a new office.
Yes. We built this place but it is no longer enough for us. We need space to store products so we are building and office with a big warehouse. We will also have an experience centre where clients can come and see products and live demonstration of the use of these products. Apart from that, we believe so much in training and we want to change the face of the industry by training installers such that when they go out, they know what to do. We want to also train graduates who want to go into this industry and make a living. My belief is that we owe the society this as a way of giving back. Our OEMs are coming and they want to use Nigeria as a hub for the whole of West Africa. So we need more space.

Who is Mr. Jumade Adejola?
I am just another Nigerian. I am an accountant and also and economist.

How did you find yourself in fire engineering?
Good question. When I finished school, the first place I worked was at a fire engineering company and I became the general manager with the company called Banjoko Fire Safety. It was then I developed interest in this industry. I left the company for a financial institution but then, I was not really into it because of the interest in the fire engineering business. I left the finance house and went back to where I started, got more training and also travelled to the United Kingdom to get more training about the job. Now I am passionate about it and it has now become part of me. It is my life.

Do you relax at all?
I relax when I want to. I am member of Lagos Country Club. I play lawn tennis and squash.

Recently, you treated your wife to a lavish birthday party. Why?
She is a wonderful woman who does not disturb my life and who is very humble to a fault and manages my home very well. God gave her to me. There are ways God does His things. She is a gift to my life and that was why I thing she deserved everything we did that day.