CHIKA OKEKE examines the contributions of indigenous engineers in Nigeria’s journey to self dependence.
The role of engineers to the development of any nation is crucial especially as Nigeria craves for the diversification of non-oil sectors of the economy.
This is why Nigerian engineers have recorded landmark achievement towards the provision of infrastructure and technological advancement of the country as seen in the design and construction of refineries, oil pipelines and depots.
These struggle for deliberate utilisation of indigenous technology and industrialisation was pronounced through the engineering body, Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE).
The NSE which was established on February 6, 1958 after a brief ceremony in London, United Kingdom, was attended by representatives of the British Crown and the Nigerian government.
Six decades on, the Society has been at the forefront of promoting engineering education, research and practice generally.
Within the period under review, NSE has produced 31 national presidents, 75 branches across the globe, 25 professional divisions and 49, 000 members.
To commemorate the feat, NSE recently held the 2018 national engineering conference/ annual general meeting (AGM), with the theme, ‘Sustainable Engineering Infrastructure for Accelerated Rural Development’.
The event which also coincided with the 60th anniversary of the engineering body highlighted the need for federal government to fully embrace Public Private Partnership (PPP) as a panacea for funding the $3.1 trillion infrastructure gap.
It also drew the attention of participants on lack of consistent review and implementation of the National Rural Development Policy (NRDP) aimed at promoting integrated rural development.
Added to this, is the reason President Muhammadu Buhari had on February 2nd 2018, signed the Executive Order 5 ‘for planning and execution of projects, promotion of Nigerian content in contracts with science, engineering and technology based’.
He congratulated the society for not only being actively in existence since 1958, but for its continuous growth and positive contribution to national development.
Buhari stated that federal government through federal ministry of power, works and housing prioritised the construction and rehabilitation of federal roads traversing through major agricultural producing areas of the country.
According to him, “Budgetary allocations were based on a carefully worked out priority indices that gave preference to roads on critical economic routes on the federal road networks, followed by roads along the branch routes from the critical economic routes”.
He informed that his administration also prioritised construction of roads leading to the nation’s refineries, petroleum depots, major ports and mineral producing areas as well as roads leading to key agricultural producing areas, meant to boost agricultural production and distribution, enhance food sufficiency and minimise losses.
The president who was represented by the minister of power, works & housing II, Suleiman Hassan Zarma listed other priority as road projects funded from multi-lateral loans, general works on federal roads and road intervention in tertiary institutions.
He maintained that federal government is undertaking road works in all states of Nigeria, aimed at fast tracking development of the rural areas, which he noted has started yielding positive impact on the economy of the neglected sections of the populace.
This he stated is evidenced by the increased mining activities in the rural areas that provided more job opportunities, thereby improving the livelihood of the people and reducing rural- urban migration significantly.
The president disclosed that the introduction of National Housing Programme (NHP) last year which led to the construction of affordable housing in the capitals of the 34 States and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is intended to provide similar houses in all the 774 local governments to give the rural areas greater sense of belonging.
He hinted that the housing infrastructure initiative spurred the development and expansion of a value chain of cottage industries in the agriculture and mining sectors that fed the growing construction sub-sectors.
Buhari noted that his administration’s policies on wealth redistribution, viable economic activities and sustainability of programmes with special focus on key development sectors such as agriculture, mining and rural electricity supply would open up opportunities that would keep Nigerians busy in rural areas.
In order to strengthen the development policy, he maintained that federal government introduced Executive Order No. 5 that sought to promote the application of science, technology and innovation towards achieving the nation’s development goals across all sectors of the economy.
This is even as he mandated that all procuring entities should give preference to Nigerian companies and firms in the award of contracts, in line with the public procurement Act, 2007.
Buhari hinted that the initiative would discourage influx of foreigners into Nigeria for services dominant in the country
While he acknowledged the need for Nigeria to partner with the international community on projects, he said that it’s essential to protect national interest, particularly the indigenous investors and unemployed youths.
He urged the leadership of the NSE to exploit the opportunities afforded by the Executive Order No.5 in the overall interest of building the capacity of engineers to make huge impact on national development.
Lending his voice, the president of NSE, Engr. Adekunle Mokuolu informed that the most exciting experiences in his career was the provision of infrastructure to rural communities, adding that he is committed to impacting on the lives of rural populace through the Community Engineering Programme (CEP) of his administration.
The president noted that NSE embarked on electrification project at Juji community in Kaduna as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project, stressing that about five cluster communities such as Juji Yanma, Juji Gabas, Ajaita, Unguwan Madaki and Baba Saura would benefit from the project.
He lauded the tenacity of the head, civil service of the federation, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita for approving grade level 9 as entry point for engineers in the public and civil service.
Presenting a communiqué issued at the end of the conference, Mokuolu lamented the failure of engineers and related disciplines to initiate and participate in rural infrastructure in their communities.
He pointed out the gross underutilization of abundant natural and mineral resources as a result of lack of rural infrastructure and skilled labour for effective harnessing.
Mokuolu hinted that more than 60 percent of Nigerian population live in the rural areas with gross deficit of infrastructure, thereby making life miserable for rural dwellers and promoting rural urban migration.
Also, the minister of FCT, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello asserted that after delivering on city infrastructure, that the administration shifted its attention to satellite towns and rural communities by constructing 10 major roads in the territory.
Bello who was represented by the executive secretary of Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Engr Umar Gambo Jibrin pleaded with engineers to harness the business opportunities provided by the recent completion of the first phase of the FCT mass transit rail system.
Contributing, the managing director/ chief executive officer of Tricontinental group, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ashiru highlighted major issues in rural areas as low nutrition levels and poor health, neglected rural infrastructure and poor electricity supplies.
While calling on engineers to create employment opportunities, he disclosed that there are many untapped opportunities in the rural areas that could be harnessed through rural development.
At the Fellows forum, the acting director general/ chief executive officer of Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Engr. Chidi Izuwah disclosed that federal government needs to spend $15 billion annually to bridge the infrastructure gap.
To achieve this, he said that there is a need for additional capital through the private sector, adding that Nigeria is the first country recognised by World bank to unveil PPP portal.
Izuwa stated that the biggest challenge faced in Nigeria is lack of infrastructure, without which the country cannot advance further in terms of economic competitiveness and business.
He described the herdsmen/farmers clashes as an infrastructural problem, stating that with the right kind of infrastructure and ranching the clashes would end.