The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, has asked local Engineers to take a long, hard look in the mirror and step up their game.
According to Mr. Hakeem Bello who is the Special Adviser on Communications to the Minister, Fashola charged homegrown Engineers to improve their capacity in order to fill in the void in the country’s infrastructure terrain.
The press statement from the spokesperson of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing is reproduced below:
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN, has called on Nigerian engineers to stand up and fill the vacuum currently existing in the construction industry saying it was because of such vacuum that foreign construction firms now dominate the nation’s infrastructure development.
Fashola, who spoke while hosting the President and other Executive Committee members of the Nigerian Society of Engineers at the Ministry’s headquarters in Abuja, urged them to develop capacity that would enable them handle the nation’s infrastructure development saying the country needs them at this period of national development.
He told the members, led by their President, “There is a vacuum and unless we honestly stand up and accept that there is indeed a vacuum and look in the mirror and tell ourselves honestly that we don’t like what we see, it will not change”, adding that there were hardly any Nigerian firm that could effectively take on any big construction in the country.
“I can tell you from experience if we are talking of rail, how many Nigerian firms design rail? I looked and I advertised when I wanted to start my rail project as Governor of Lagos and there was no response from any Nigerian firm. We advertised. Some of the biggest construction firms that I spoke to at the time said they don’t construct rail”, he said.
Pointing out that the foreign companies doing business in the country were not government owned, Fashola urged the engineers that the first step to building capacity was to first recognise the limitations, adding, “While we point fingers at government we must point those fingers also at ourselves; and that is why I said we must look in the mirror”.
Noting that the foreign private companies that do business in the country and out-compete the local firms get their funding into the system from their countries’ Export and Import loans, the Minister said the Nigerian Government could also negotiate such loans for the local engineers including the conditions.
“These are the kinds of funds the Chinese companies bring into Nigeria and it is true that there are conditions tied to those loans but they are conditions we can also negotiate”, he said adding that some of the countries cited by the Society’s President during his opening remarks were those that either have had a long history of development or good maintenance culture.
Fashola, who also expressed dismay that the engineers were not involved in building the nation’s airports, added, “I have just come here. All of you were here when the airports were being put up, did they advertise them, did Nigerian firms bid for the design, did Nigerian firms bid for the supervision?”
Recalling that as Governor of Lagos State, he used the Nigerian Society of Engineers to supervise all housing projects in the State, Fashola declared, “Any serious government that wants to do infrastructure, that wants to turn peoples life around, that wants to seek development and invest in infrastructure, must take its engineers serious but the engineers must step up the capacity”.
“If the equities were equal, clearly I would choose a Nigerian firm”, he said pointing out that as a matter of principle, Government has excluded foreign firms from competing for N250 million works in the country.
He cited, as demonstration of the commitment of government to look inwards, the laid down rule in the National Housing Programme whereby all the Housing materials that could be made in the country would not be imported while any of those materials brought in would not be used in any of the construction sites, but urged the engineers to step up and develop capacity.
He declared, “Let us stop talking and start doing. If it is a Nigerian product that I use, I know that any time I buy a new one I am keeping a Nigerian at work or employing a new one. Let us even see the untidy one then we will know we will get to a tidy one. Let us see the one that will get damaged in two weeks’ time then we buy another one and tell you to improve on it”.
Reiterating his call on the engineers to “Look in the mirror”, Fashola pointed out that the reason why the Chinese were in the country was because they started doing something. “They stopped talking; and we all started buying them, we used to call them fake. But they are no longer fake because even the giant manufacturers design in their own countries and go to manufacture in China”.