The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), has declared March 4th every year beginning from 2020 as World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development.
This day has a particular significance for World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), which was founded on March 4th 1968. The global body represents 30 million engineers and 100 organisations across the world.
According to President of WFEO, Dr Marlene Kanga, who announced the date at the World Engineers Convention, in November last year in Melbourne, if the world is going to successfully adapt to a carbon-constrained future and produce enough resources for all its inhabitants, engineers will be crucial.
Each of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a set of targets for 2030, will require engineering to be successfully met.
In response to this imperative, the 32nd President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Babagana Mohammed, in this interview spoke on what professional engineers in Nigeria are doing to help the country meet the UNMDGS in the remaining years ahead.
Why 4th of March was declared World Engineers’ Day
The 4th of March has been declared by UNESCO as World Engineering Day, the celebration is going to kick off that same day in Paris, the Headquarters of UNESCO. The essence of the World’s Engineering Day is just to celebrate engineers and engineering profession because engineering is life, it is development. Every part of human’s life is tied to engineering, as no aspect of human life or activity can go on without an aspect of engineering. So, UNESCO found it fit to celebrate those men and women behind these accomplishments. That is why they declared the 4th of March every year beginning from 2020 as World Engineering Day.
How Nigeria Society of Engineers marking the day
When we mentioned UNESCO, it means it is worldwide and various countries make up UNESCO and for our engineering group, we have what we call the World Federation of Engineering Organisation, and it’s been decided that we celebrate this day in our various countries.
In Nigeria we have lined up of activities to mark that day. First, we are to identify engineers in the engineering family. In the engineering family we have the engineers, artisans, technicians and the craftsmen. I am the head of engineering family in Nigeria. We are going to celebrate those that have done well in the field of engineering and we are starting with 60 renowned engineers who have excelled in life. This means I may not be part of it though I am the President of NSE. Some of those to be honoured are Professor Ayodele Awojobi, University of Lagos, the man that went to Supreme Court to explain why 2/3 is not enough to win election. We are also going on to recognise the first engineer in Eastern Nigeria, the first engineer in Western Nigeria, the first engineer in Northern Nigeria, the first woman engineer, engineers with innovative inventions, technocrats. These are the kind of people we want to celebrate. Some of them may no longer be in service or even alive today but we need to tell the world that these people have done their bits. There is a saying that you don’t need to allow your man to die before you celebrate him, if he has done excellently well, celebrate him while he is alive.
For instance, the man who created Nigeria Society of Engineers in 1958 in London, needs to be celebrated. Because if he had not had the thought at that time, we will not be seated here today and saying what we are saying. We have come a very long way and it is good to be celebrated.
It is not all going to be about celebration, we are also going to look at where we are, what have we done wrong, take critical look at ourselves again and address them.
How engineering and engineers contributed to Nigeria’s development
The contribution of engineering and engineers to the development of Nigeria cannot be quantified. Let me take you all the way before I was born, the foreigners came and build railways but after they left, who are those maintaining them? They are Nigerian engineers. You see refineries all over, you will not see any white man handling the maintenance, the engineers, technicians and the craftsmen are the ones carrying out the maintenance. Don’t we need to celebrate them? Some of the Nigerian roads were built before independence and the new ones that are coming up are being maintained by local engineers.
For instance, in LNG Bonny, 98 percent of their staff are Nigerians competing on the global stage. They are competing with Europe, America, Asia and still making profit, shouldn’t we be proud of them? shouldn’t we celebrate them?
If you want to take it further, go outside Nigeria you will see Nigerians excelling in every field of endeavour. In fact, engineers’ ingenuity has changed so many things in Nigeria. We are not where we are supposed to be, but we have played our part excellently well, but that does not mean we cannot do more.
Engineering regulation and implementation of local content law so far
I cannot be comfortable. I can only be comfortable when I see that 80 percent of the jobs here are done by Nigerian professionals. I would have said 100 percent but I am a Nigerian, very fair minded and honest person. Sometimes you need the foreign partners to bring in some new technologies that you don’t have. But the level we are in today, I am not comfortable to be very honest with you.
I will score Nigeria’s local content policy only 40 percent which is just a pass mark.
Implication of patronising foreigners to the detriment of Nigerians
Let us be very clear, nobody will love your country more than you do, take it or leave it. Nobody can come from neigbouring Chad and say he loves Nigeria more than me. I disagree. The next point I want to make is that nobody will develop Nigeria more than Nigerians. If I am given a job to do, I will do it passionately even though you are paying me for it. Assuming you are bringing somebody from Cotonou, are you not going to pay him? But he will not be as passionate as I will be because it is not his country, I have a stake, that is the difference.
Is it like a vote of no confidence on Nigerian engineers when Federal Government awards contract to foreign engineers when you are there?
Certainly, I am not happy with it. When you are making preposition, you have to be honest in your analysis and you have to be honest with yourself. Yes, I need to develop capacity I don’t have issues with that, even those foreign companies you are talking about passed through stages to get to where they are today, I don’t have issues with that. Assuming since we started, any contract given to a foreign company, certain number of engineers were attached to him to understand that particular job, we will not be where we are today. Go to Saudi Arabia, Dubai in particularly, how many are they? The indigenes don’t work but whatever you want to do in Dubai, whatever you bring, an indigene must be the chairman of that company, they must take a larger percentage of income on that site. What does that translate to? Ownership, all the people getting engaged, money in the hands of their indigene, empowering them and in the process, they are also doing the work, acquiring first class knowledge on the job.
Tomorrow, if there is any shift those of them who are in the system will grow and occupy the seat. That is the essence. In Nigeria does it happen like that? The answer is no. That again takes me back to patriotism. We just have to be patriotic. Knowledge is not what you develop in one day, skills are not developed in one day, its stage by stage, one level at a time. If you cannot give that to your people and you want them to just wake up one day and go to the moon? The idea of America going to the moon was born in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy. Everybody was looking at him as a mad man, well after his death America went to the moon. It was just a thought, he had dreamt that it is possible. A lot of billions, human beings were lost in the process during the testing period, you don’t hear the names of those that died but ultimately three astronauts landed in 1969. And that is what they are using now to recover all the money they have lost, installing satellite and others. That is good planning. So, we need to plan, our leaders need to plan and you need to deliberately put a policy to empower your people. The best part of empowerment is not giving out money but to give the people skills and knowledge.
Why Nigerian politicians should have a second address
I did not say politicians are not patriotic but they need to do more. On professionals getting into politics? Yes, I don’t have issue with that because, the understanding here is once you are a professional you are an ethical person, an ethical person in government will follow the ethics and do the right thing. It might go the other way. It is a two -way street but that is the understanding. But the best bet is, politics is a very serious game and should be ran by serious people not mediocre. I agree that people must have a second address. Who are you? I am a politician. He is a nobody, he is a liar. Who are you? I am an engineer and a politician. I have a second address. If there is no politics, I will go back to the office and do my engineering. If I am a medical doctor and a politician, an accountant and a politician that is excellent, I have a second address. Those who say I am a politician, this is where our problems lies and are being compounded day by day. People must have second address, you must tell us what you are doing because governance is a very serious business and it needs serious people.
How to overcome menace of collapsed buildings and how we sanction erring engineers.
You see when you mentioned the issue of collapse building, should I laugh or keep quiet?
You can do both…
Okay then let me laugh but I will also talk. I am a Nigerian and I want to put things in the right perspective and be honest with everybody. Once there is building collapse or structural collapse somewhere, the first name you will hear them call is the engineer. Nobody wants to know what happened, who and who were involved, nobody cares about that. All you hear is where is the engineer, the engineer is the first point of call which is okay, we are happy that we are being recognised. At the point of collapse everybody looks for the engineers but at the point of building, nobody remembers to involve the engineer. It is still okay and we are happy with it also. But as I am talking to you, only two cases of building collapse are Nigerian engineers involved. Those are the ones before us. All the cases of building collapse you are hearing, engineers are not involved. That will now take us to the point where we define who an engineer is. If you must define who an engineer is then you must start by saying what A, B and C are doing. If you don’t know what A, B and C are doing then you will lump everybody together and say they are engineers.