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We can check building collapse — ACEN boss

Dr. Temilola Kehinde

The 15th President of the Association for Consulting Engineering in Nigeria, Dr. Temilola Kehinde, speaks with NIKE POPOOLA on possible solutions to building collapse in the country, among other issues

Why are there frequent cases of building collapse in the country?

Other countries build houses; we don’t have them collapsing as much as buildings collapse here. We have done investigations into some of these. When buildings collapse, we have panels that go there to find out what happened. Usually, the man who is building is building with incorrect materials. Sometimes, designs are not done or are not done well; sometimes the projects are not supervised or not supervised well. These are all areas where engineers should be active in. As engineers, we do our business prospects, but if the client says he would rather use his money to buy cement and sand and pay you N100, what can you do? Perhaps, what you can do is to advise him. So, there is the need for a lot of enlightenment, and we are going to do a lot of that in the next one or two years.

What other proactive approach is ACEN taking in this regard?

We have a committee right now; we call it a committee of safety. It looks into collapsed buildings, to investigate them, to apportion reasons and blame on why it happened and ensures that that the incidence continues to come down overtime. I am not aware if there is any building that has collapsed that had an ACEN member involved in its design or its supervision when it was being built. By training and background, we ensure that incidence of collapsed buildings is a rarity. Building structures collapse everywhere there is mistake, there is error everywhere. I have a magazine here where we listed buildings, 12 storey hotels that had been built and when it was going to be opened, everybody was getting ready to go in, in America, it just came down. There was a bridge sometimes in Washington America where the bridge collapsed; such things happen but they should not be the order of the day, the way collapse building is becoming in Nigeria. We will do a lot of enlightenment on why it happens and what you can do to ensure that it doesn’t happen, we are relating with various stakeholders to ensure that we do some of the things that should be done before the buildings even start.

Are you working with government in this regard?

One of our programmes involves a liaison with the Lagos State government and we are just starting with Lagos State government, we will extend it to all state governments and even the Federal Capital Territory. One of them is to support them in the town approval processes. We have already discussed with the Lagos State government. We are just working on the final details now. Some years ago, I was in charge of the Ministry of Physical Planning in Lagos State and I knew back then that we had about two or three structural engineers to look at the designs, and other things so that those buildings should not collapse. They were being looked at by structural engineers, and those three we had then were really technical. It was taking so long; plans that were coming in every year were maybe 10,000, and only three engineers would go through them. So the process was being delayed.  Also, we were not too sure of the quality of what would come out after you must have had your buildings approved. We are saying to the state government that since we don’t have these facilities, at least for now, why don’t we have an arrangement for our members to look at these things for you? It might be here, it might be in their offices to look at them at a very little cost, so that we can deploy easily, perhaps 100 or 200 structural engineers to look at those things, and in a quick time confirm that these are okay to be approved.

Is it not costly involving consultants?

Consultants are not expensive; they are actually money savers to anybody who engages them, whether it is the individual, government or the company. They are money savers; they let you do your thing in the best way so that the building will not collapse, and that it will be functional and serve the purpose for which you want it.

Why did you have to keep changing the name of the association over the years?

ACEN is about 35 years old and for most of the period of time, we were known as the Association of Consulting Engineers in Nigeria. At a point in time, it was an association of individuals practising consulting engineers. Then, we had individual membership. About five years ago, we recognised that we needed to change our name, our focus and our structure because we are essentially a business organisation of those who practise consulting engineering. What we set out to do largely is to promote, propagate and enlarge the business interest of our members. We then decided that perhaps, we should reflect a new arrangement which would take in only firms and companies, limited entities, in order to change and move from individual to a more corporate set up. The name changed to Association of Consulting Engineering in Nigeria. We are the primary organisation that is responsible for issues that deal with consulting engineering in Nigeria. Right now, we have about 200 active firms. There was a time we had about 250 firms, but this number varies for various reasons due to the boom or bust in the economy. For about 20 years, we have belonged to the world body known as the International Federation for Consulting Engineers, which is present in about 100 countries.

Do you support the consolidation of engineering firms in the industry to make them bigger and be able to compete better with their foreign counterparts in the country?

That is a challenge not only in engineering but some other sectors. For professional services, we are perhaps, going through the first or second generation of most of those businesses, and they are usually being run by the owner managers. Owner managers are usually small people. Over time, they grow and they become huge. Right now, you are right, most of our firms have five engineers, maybe some have perhaps, 20 engineers. I am sure we will have one or two that have maybe 60 engineers. But I doubt if we have any member of ACEN that has 1,000 engineers. Abroad, we have consulting companies that have 4,000 engineers who are huge and big. We keep on telling ourselves that we must collaborate and that collaboration necessarily does not start from the step of collapsing 10 companies and making them into one company. That could have a problem; it could be problem to collapse 10 companies. The people have been managing their things nicely and enjoying themselves and you say 10 of them should come together; there will be problem.  Those things have to be a planned evolution.

What option is available apart from consolidation?

What we are doing now is what we call project-based informal collaboration.  This company, my company, another company will come together when there is a big business and we can do it together. We share the job and present ourselves to the government together. I was at a meeting with one of our past presidents recently who had a very big project. He called my firm and called two other firms in his office. He asked what areas each of us would be able to do and when next to meet. Now, if we have done such things together on that basis and we have worked like that for about two or three years, chances are that we would see the benefits that are inherent in our evolving into one strong organisation. So, it will come, but I think it will be gradual.

Do the small mushroom firms also enjoy this kind of collaboration?

It is not all tiny companies that are mushroom. As a matter of fact, you could have a consulting firm that is just one person only with the secretary, his computer, the driver, and he is doing fantastically well because he is rendering the expertise that is inside his brain. The challenge to him is: does he know the limit of his capabilities? Does he know when he must collaborate with others? The idea is that let us collaborate, let us work in groups. Where you do whatever you are doing and you are not too sure of the quality of what you are doing, we have a system that will avail you voluntarily of support service by other members who are experts in that area. So our theme really now is not so much to evolve rapidly huge big size companies, but as small holdings, to be able to do two things. One is quality job as well as anybody will get anywhere; and secondly, recognise where we need to come together. Hopefully, it will evolve overtime and companies will then grow. If we rush it and we do it too rapidly, the risk is high.

What plans do you have to develop engineering in the country as ACEN’s new boss?

I am the president from 2014 to 2015. Whatever I am going to do is going to be in line with what the executives before me have done. I will build on that. We have created a dual theme for the next two years which had been on board. One of them is local content in consulting engineering, which means Nigeria should be self sufficient in solving its problems using its consulting engineers. The second is the strategy for participating actively in oil and gas industry. We have not been active in that area. But government has created some laws to encourage us to be active in that industry. We will also work on advocacy, membership development. We have over 1,000 practising consulting firms in Nigeria and we would also build our permanent secretariat.

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