……… Urges them to fill the vacuum that has made foreign contractors to dominate Nigeria’s infrastructure development
…….. Says FG ready to partner with local engineers in the area of Power , other sectors
- ………. Advocates a revisit of Public Procurement Act to fast track infrastructure development
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.
Earlier in his presentation the NSE President , Engineer Otis Oliver Anyaeji, had cited the need for foreign countries to establish plants in Nigeria as done by Boeing in Ethiopia for aircraft maintenance, but the Minister explained that the compelling reasons for such undertaking must be available for such investment to be viable and attractive, adding that the various sectors in the Ministry he supervises actively promotes local participation.
He explained further, “Companies like the Ethiopian Airlines, there was a vibrant aviation business there that was why Boeing invested there; it was not necessarily because anybody negotiated anything… The South African undertaking that you also referred to, South Africa had run along the times when we were running a Western maintained rail facility. They continued to run and maintain what they had while we ran what we had aground”.
According to the Minister, the absence of captive capacity even made Nigeria’s case even more challenging because, “If there was a captive capacity it would then be easy to invest to use that captive capacity”, adding, “It is that captive capacity that we must develop in order to shape up”.
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”.
“That is why I have told all those who care to listen that wearing Made-In-Nigeria is not just wearing something green at a ceremonial event, it is a way of life. So we can wear what we like. Even the Chinese have dropped their Kimono, they now wear suits but the suits they wear are made in China. So it is a way of life”, the Minister said.
He said although projects like Mambila were awarded before the administration came on board, the Ministry was proposing to construct six dam projects as well as other works such as consultancy that would be used for survey, quantity surveys, valuation and that it would be ready to partner with the engineers if they showed capacity.
Reiterating that the focus of the present administration was on completion of uncompleted projects across the country, Fashola added that the administration had been grappling with the problem of unpaid contractors since assumption of duty a little over a year ago, saying government has been trying to pay its contractors and consultants.
“We have very rigorous details which I will share when I make my report on it for the Ministry, how many contractors have been paid, how many people have got what and so on and so forth”, the Minister said adding that government has also endeavoured to comply with the Public Procurement Act in all its undertakings.
He declared, “Under this Government, compliance to law and order is a precondition for governance and we will continue to comply. You will observe in periodic reports that I have had to brief the public after FEC Meetings, approving certain payments or variations on prices on scope of works; those initiatives are done in compliance with the Public Procurement Act”.
“You will also notice that in the implementation of the 2016 Budget, there have been copious advertisements for the new works we intend to undertake especially in regards to our Housing project , and they were very detailed, whether it was in Works, whether it was in Power projects or Housing”, he added.
Fashola, however, stressed the need to revisit the Public Procurement Act in terms of its impact on National Development pointing out that legislation of procurement has sometimes stood in the way of urgent intervention to deliver infrastructure across the country.
According to the Minister, “The truth is that in a developing economy like ours, we have over legislated procurement and some of the fast track procurement systems that we need, given also our weather cycles, have stood in the way of urgent intervention to deliver infrastructure and we must revisit that impact on our National Development”.
Noting that the procurement laws were put in place to deliver value for money, reduce incidence of corruption among others, Fashola argued, “ The truth be told, let us do a review and see what have we delivered and let us look back to 20 years before when these procurements laws were not there, what did we achieve”.
“In this recession, if the fiscal plan, if the stimulus plan, if the intervention to reduce infrastructure deficit is going to mean anything, we cannot be procuring and advertising for six to eight weeks, reviewing tender for another six to eight weeks, that is already about 12 weeks or three months in a construction cycle that has four good pace of dry season of barely another six months; so we must rethink all of these things”, he said.
Again calling on the NSE “to look in the mirror” in order to brace up to the challenges of the nation’s infrastructure development, the Minister said the nation’s Engineering firms would have a good opportunity to demonstrate capacity when the small hydro-dams being planned are advertised.
“So for me, we are ready to work with you and if you run side by side with us, there are so many things we can do together”, he said.