By AYO ALONGE
Adefemi Kamaldeen, an engineer, is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Periscope Engineering Limited, a construction company handling some road and housing projects for Lagos State.
Kamaldeen frowns at the tendency of awarding contracts to non-professionals who end up doing substandard jobs and blamed it on sheer corruption that government must look into. In this interview, he also emphasizes the need for infrastructural development in the country.
Could you give us a rundown on the administration of your company?
We are a consulting and construction company trying to create our own niche in the construction industry. We basically get contracts from Lagos State Government. We have well educated and seasoned engineers that manage our projects for us.
What challenges did you face while starting up the company?
They’re same challenges anyone would face while trying to set up a company in Nigeria. Number one, in getting construction contracts, you need to know the who-is-who in the society. We are registered with the Nigerian Society of Civil Engineers. I’m a certified practitioner with a Master’s degree in my kitty and starting my PhD soon. With that, I can say I am fully grounded in Civil Engineering. But it is not just about education and professionalism. In Nigeria, it is also about links. We have a couple of big projects in Lagos State and these are projects that speak for themselves in terms of quality and delivery. If the likes of Julius Berger would get a loan, they can easily get it at a single digit interest rate, because they might be sourcing it from abroad. Getting the needed equipment is also a huge challenge and you may have to hire some, which are very expensive to rent. Hiring is also very difficult but our personnel is there and well trained.
Annually, the University of Lagos calls me to take some students from the Department of Civil Engineering and train them. I am an alumnus of UNILAG you know?
Have you ever encountered the challenge of trying to break into a system for a contract?
I consult for one of the major banks in Nigeria. You find out that some of the key people that eventually get the contracts are not even engineers. They are just into the industry simply because they have the money or so. When you try to submit your proposals to compete with these people, you find out that it becomes pretty difficult. It may even turn out to be that the contract would now be awarded to a nonprofessional who is just interested in his profit margin. Whether we like it or not, we can’t shy away from the truth. Some of the projects you see out there are not even awarded to professionals. Some even go to politicians who would now call on professionals to help them execute them.
So, how were you able to get the contracts you got from Lagos State government?
The projects we got from Lagos State government came from Lagos State Development and Property Corporation (LSDPC). I served there as a corps member and when I was with them, I personally developed two projects for them. Major schemes were to be constructed in Ikorodu and Badagry and I designed them for LSDPC. So, they have always known that I know the job. We started with consulting and later, we started getting projects from some private organisations. Our first contract in Lagos was awarded by former governor Babatunde Raji Fashola. We were among contractors that built Lagos Homes and we completed them even before the deadline. At present, we are executing two projects in Ikorodu. We just finished one. The one we did at Shogunro was rated among the best. Once you are able to throw in a profile of the works you have done, you are okay.
What do you have to say about the anomaly of some road contractors getting the mobilisation fee but doing substandard job and the road begins to deteriorate soon after commissioning?
I won’t lay the blame solely on the contractors’ doorsteps. A lot of intrigues play out before the jobs are awarded. People behind closed doors demand bribes in some cases before the contracts are issued and contractors wouldn’t want to go back home without anything. The project may suffer from that.
Who’s to blame?
It’s all about corruption and without it, local contractors would deliver. Some of them would say that local contractors cannot deliver the jobs but when the contractor finally gets it, they still want to get their cut from it. Contractors should be able to stand their grounds and say their integrity is at stake too. You cannot deliver well when this is the issue.
How about the tendency of winning a contract but not having enough funds to execute it, especially when the client is not willing to pay your mobilisation fee promptly?
Lagos State Government, LSDPC, Total Nigeria are our major clients. For every project, our clients mobilise us with at least 30 percent. I have never got any contract from Lagos State without getting 30 percent mobilisation fee. During evaluation, when they see we have even executed the job beyond the 30 percent mobilisation fee, they would definitely pay us, except when you default. We have never had a cause to approach any bank for a loan to execute any project.
Really? Not even once?
We have never had cause to do so. Our clientele base is defined and our clients always mobilise contractors.
As a professional, what do you think people need to know about Civil Engineering?
The word “civil” is from “civilization’. You cannot talk of Civil Engineering without talking of water, agriculture, road, soil and environment. It cuts across all walks of life. The major issue in this country is that if we do the right things, there wouldn’t have been any cry over recession. If we have good roads, potable water, sound telecoms sector and their corollaries, there wouldn’t have been any recession. Any reasonable government would pump money into infrastructure, if you are looking for real development. Nigeria is rated as the fastest urbanizing country in sub-Saharan Africa. What urban people are rushing into is not even well developed. When you think anything, you think Civil Engineering and let me just say that Civil Engineering is life.
What can we do as a country, to cause a revolution in infrastructural development?
I think the present government is moving in the right direction but a lot still needs to be done. The honourable minister of power, works and housing said something quite profound about that recently. We need to start pumping money into infrastructure. This is the first time we would be putting more money into capital expenditure. If you are not putting more money in capital expenditure, then you are not looking at the area of development. I travel the Benin/Ore road regularly and I can tell you some of the projects the present government has embarked on. If you have to revolutionize Nigeria, you must be looking at infrastructure.
Work-in-progress is often abandoned by successive governments and this is a major issue to be addressed. Do you think so too?
It has always been so. What we should be looking at is whether the project is meant to serve the people or not. A major cause of this is corruption, because they would be thinking of getting their cut from an existing project. Tinubu started the paper works on BRT transport and Fashola finished it. That is the right step in the right direction. There are some projects that Fashola couldn’t finish that Ambode is continuing. Jonathan started rehabilitation of the railroad and Buhari completed and commissioned it. Contractors have been mobilised to go back to site on the Lagos/Ibadan expressway. Also, on Oyo/Ogbomoso road too, contractors are back on site. That is why I said the present government is moving in the right direction.
Do you support government going into bilateral relations with other countries over capital intensive infrastructural projects?
It is not always necessary. A couple of months ago, Qatar, a very wealthy country, paid $622m to the US just to have a share in empire building. I don’t think bilateral relations for capital projects is a bad idea. We need to go into such relations sometimes and we cannot always run from them.
How do we checkmate contractors that default?
As long as you can establish that after receiving mobilisation fee, the contractor still defaults, you should punish such contractor by blacklisting him and making him refund the money. It is not just enough revoking his contract.
What is your assessment of Nigeria’s infrastructural base compared to most developed nations?
There is no basis for comparison at all. The question is do we even have good roads and potable water? The infrastructure is not just there. The honourable minister of finance has just mentioned that there would be low cost housing units valued at between N2.5m and N2.8m. I think it’s still very affordable. I think that’s good subsidy for Nigerians when looking at rent-to-own housing schemes. Since the era of Jakande, I don’t think we have ever had any housing scheme at a low price.
Maybe we should just say government only builds for the rich , because most of the housing estates are hardly affordable to the poor…
Yes, some of their cronies buy the houses but the former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola proved cynics wrong by making it very transparent. You just fulfill some criteria and they do the balloting in the open.
In your capacity as the CEO of Periscope Engineering Limited, what are you doing differently from your competitors?
Two things. There is the belief that local contractors cannot perform as good as foreign contractors. I try to prove this wrong. It’s about integrity. When we built for Lagos Homes, our buildings were adjudged among the best and I must tell you, I know of some contractors who didn’t do a very good job. We were also one of the first that met Governor Ambode’s deadline. One is timely delivery of projects and two is delivering up to standards to meet international best practices.