Interview: Nations need to trust their engineers, and engineers must do all they can to reduce carbon and deliver sustainable development for future generations, warns ACEN president.
Africa is at the sharp edge of climate consequences and few countries are seeing the dramatic scale of infrastructure investment that Nigeria is. So Infrastructure Global spoke with George Okoroma (GO), president of the Association for Consulting Engineering in Nigeria (ACEN), about how the industry is adapting to the scale of change presently underway.
IG: “Firstly, congratulations on ACEN’s successful half centenary. As one of the oldest consulting engineering associations in Africa, how important has it been to mark the industry’s expertise and growth at what has been a tough time for global economy?”
GO: “Thank you so much, Gavin. The 50th Golden Jubilee Anniversary celebration of the Association for Consulting Engineering in Nigeria (ACEN) was a very remarkable event for all of us in the ACEN engineering family for two specific reasons:
“Number one, it reminded us of our beginning, the vision, and the sacrifices of the team of 12 engineers led by Engr. F.A.O Philips of blessed memory who birthed the idea of having a body of registered independent private engineering consulting firms in Nigeria in 1971.”
“Number two, the anniversary celebration was a time for us to look at our scorecard as an organisation since inception, and use the details to better prepare, engage and improve in our delivery of services.”
“So, as one of the oldest consulting engineering associations in Africa, the ideals of our founding fathers were to have an organisation that is genuinely interested in providing top-notch engineering consultancy services to improve the quality of life of the Nigerian people. It was to do that by being the first point of call for government and the private sector on issues of resilient design, environmental impact assessments, construction, fabrication, operation and maintenance and rehabilitation of both public and private infrastructure. This is something that is so dear to us; and every day of our lives, we are pressing on toward the mark despite the unfavourable economic challenges that we are in.”
IG: And your anniversary coincided with a renewed appreciation internationally and nationally that infrastructure is the path to growth. How is the industry in Nigeria shaping up to that challenge and how able is industry to inform national decision-making in Nigeria?
GO: “It is my firm belief, Gavin that no nation can develop without engineering. And when you talk about development, you cannot but talk about infrastructure in all ramifications. From good roads to electricity, good water and other amenities like airports, seaports, military bases, manufacturing plants, telecommunication, housing, hospitals, parks, schools etc., you can tell that infrastructure development is indeed the path to growth. In a recent interview with THISDAY Newspaper on the 25 November 2021, I stated that “Engineering is life”; it is found in every facet of human existence, so infrastructural development is dependent on engineering.”
“our messages to the government have been the same: invest more in infrastructure”, George Okoroma
“Looking at the Nigeria ecosystem, you will see that a lot has been done in the past few years and there is a lot more that needs to be done. While we are pleased with the government’s policies on the Nigerian Local Content Act of 2010 and the Presidential Executive Order 5 of 2018 which are giant strides by the government outlining procedures for planning and execution of projects, promotion of Nigerian content in contracts and science, engineering and technology, we earnestly hope and pray that the process of implementation and enforcement will be internalised in all ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) of Government, international and private organisations across the length and breadth of our nation.”
“In all our programmes, we engage the government in ideal focused discussions. Through press conferences, seminars, meetings, workshops and press releases, our messages to the government have been the same: invest more in infrastructure. Give indigenous consulting engineers their due place and patronize them in issues of project designs, construction, operation, and maintenance.”
“We are shaping up and we can do better than we have done if we are intentional and resolute to improve the quality of lives of our people through engineering.”
IG: “Nigeria is presently undertaking an extensive transport investment programme, with finance announced for the Lagos-Calabar coastal line, the Lekki Deep Sea Port, the Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonshoki Expressway, and new airport terminals at Lagos, Abija, Port Harcourt and Kano. How does the industry adapt to this scale of activity and press the case for global best practice in delivering it all?”
GO: “These are indeed massive engineering projects, Gavin. And it is altogether fitting and proper that we do these now if we do not want to be left behind by other nations of the world. As the years unfold, our population is increasing, our cities are congesting, our roads and transport network are weakening and there is a need for innovative thinking to better manage the situation now, and we have to do it so well without compromising the ability of future generations from meeting their own needs.”
“engineering is the bedrock of the sustainable infrastructure development of nations”, George Okoroma
“Lagos State for example is the smallest state in Nigeria by land mass and it is the most populated state with over 20 million people. The number of people trooping in and out of Lagos on daily basis coupled with the hurly-burly of moving goods from Apapa Wharf for instance, to other parts of the nation by road, makes it clear that there is a sense and urgent need behind this investment, and there is no better time for it than now. We must diversify our transport systems and harness all possible options made available to us by nature. Our sea and rail system of transport are poorly harnessed. We can improve on that to open cities, connect villages and make it easy for the movement of goods and people from one place to another.”
“Engineering as I said earlier is development, and as important as infrastructure development is to our wellbeing, we are extremely careful in our discharge of duties because there is no room for mistakes. Though engineers do not administer drugs nor give injections, lives are entrusted in our care. So, best practices and ethical orientation of the highest standard is ensured in all of our project delivery. No matter how numerous the projects might be, with an eye for quality and the determination to pay for the best, we can deliver these projects for our people today and for the future.”
IG: “Some of the historic issues ACEN has sought to address for industry in Nigeria, have been procurement policy weaknesses, loss of engineers to other sectors, and limited understanding outside the industry of how consultants can save overall project costs. A lot of that is not specific to Nigeria, but how is the ACEN tackling these challenges today?
GO: “A major challenge that we are facing in discharging our duties aright as consulting firms in Nigeria is the government’s and Nigerians’ unrepentant penchant for foreign-made goods and consulting services. This has led to low patronage of the services of consulting engineers in Nigeria as we now have to compete for contracts with foreign companies in Nigeria. If our government and people cannot trust us their own to be able to execute their projects according to standards and specifications, then, consulting engineering which is the bedrock of sustainable infrastructural development of nations has a long way to go in Nigeria.”
“As I said earlier, policies like the Nigerian Local Content Act of 2010 and the Presidential Executive Order 5 of 2018 are noble initiatives by the Nigerian government outlining the involvement of Nigerian content in the planning and execution of infrastructure projects.
“What we are asking for is for the government of our nation and our people to give indigenous consulting engineers their due place and patronize them in issues of project designs, construction, operation, and maintenance. If need be, we are willing to collaborate and partner with foreign consulting engineers in areas where we lack or need more expertise. What we are seeking and advocating for is a situation of net-zero foreign content in engineering consulting contracts awards in Nigeria.”
“we are blessed with abundant sunshine, water, and wind. These energy sources can be harnessed”, George Okoroma
“Also, there is the issue of limited understanding outside the industry of how consultants can deliver project on time, within budget and in scope. Many do not even know the vital role of engineers in project siting, impact assessment and advice on the best tools and materials to use, and so they just site projects in any available space, use any available material and employ the services of quacks. A byproduct of this is the issues of failed structures and building collapses that we are facing in the industry.”
“To address this, we are improving in our advocacy through press conferences, press releases, publications, meetings, and seminars to engage the government of our nation on the need to patronize indigenous engineers and consulting firms in project design and delivery. We also enlighten the general public on best practices and the need for them to engage the services of a professional consultant to lend them professional counsel on their projects. By so doing, we are managing the issue of quackery and poor patronages of indigenous engineers and consulting firms.”
IG. “All of this comes against the backdrop of climate change and COP26. The UN has asked countries to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reduction targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century. What does industry most need to see from policymakers to help ensure that can be delivered on the ground?
GO: “The issue of climate change and COP26 as recently highlighted in the Glasgow conference, are issues of global interest worthy of urgent attention. With increases in sea levels, recurrent disasters like flooding, heavy rain falls, bush fire and excess heat, we must work together to save our planet and our people from the adverse effect of the activities of man on climate. Of alarming consequence in the COP26 is the all-important issue of carbon emission and the desire for net-zero carbon status. Due to legal and illegal industrial activities in oil and gas exploration, automobile engine combustion and self-generated power sources, we are emitting a lot of soot and carbon into the atmosphere.”
“To achieve net-zero emission in the coming years, ACEN is leading discussions with industry leaders and the government of Nigeria to subscribe to green energy. As Nigerians, we are blessed with abundant sunshine, water, and wind. These energy sources can be harnessed to power structures and to cut down on carbon emissions. As we move on in life, we are hopeful that in no distant time, we would transition to using electric cars and solar powered plants.”
“We are also championing sensitisation campaigns for engineers to deliver projects that meets the needs of the present without impacting negatively on the wellbeing of the people and planet.”
IG: “And finally, the UN has also warned that our climate is already changing with devastating effects. As a densely populated and coastal nation, Nigeria faces particular challenges with climate impact. So, what needs to be done, or is being done, to better ensure adaptation, resilience and environmental impact is embedded throughout new infrastructure capacity?
GO: “The impact of climate change is obvious to all of us. Nearly all communities are seeing more hot days and heat waves. Deserts are expanding, water is becoming scarcer in more regions, there is flooding and landslides, storms, and rising sea levels just to mention but a few. As a densely population country, we have our share of the impact of climate change. They are deleterious. And if these changes continue, we might get to the point where we would not be able to produce enough food to feed ourselves due to loss of agricultural lands to drought, our cities are becoming unhealthy, and another pandemic might emerge.”
“When we all play our individual roles well, we would hand over to the next generation a planet that is safe, healthy, and better.” George Okoroma
“To better ensure adaptation and resilience, we are gravitating towards green cities and green energy. There are bodies set up by government to monitor indiscriminate oil and gas exploratory activities, deforestation, and proper waste management.”
“In the engineering profession over here, we are advocating for resilient infrastructures with in-built capabilities to withstand possible disasters, and we are teaching engineers to design with sustainability thinking. That is, they should not just design for immediate profit alone, but they should consider the futuristic impact of their designs on the people and the planet in years to come. We hope to encourage our engineering consulting firms to work on reducing carbon load in their engineering designs and construction processes.”
“Safeguarding our planet from the impacts of climate change is the collective responsibility of all the inhabitants of the universe. The government has a role to play, our institution of higher learning has a role to play, religious institutions have a role to play, professional bodies like ACEN has a role to play, and the family has a role to play. When we all play our individual roles well, we would not only have a good place to live in, but we would hand over to the next generation a planet that is safe, healthy, and better.”