Musa Yakubu is a private professional building practitioner based in Abuja and the National Publicity Secretary of Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB), in this exclusive interview with Sunday Isuwa & Linus Aleke, the image maker said government must merge ministries for cost effective. He also spoke on other issues, excerpt:
As a professional what do you think is the wisdom in merging ministries of Power, Works, and Housing and Urban Development by the incumbent administration?
One of the important things I want you to understand about merging ministries is to first of all look at the wisdom behind what the action of government intended to achieve in this era of positive change. To start with, merging the ministries does not entail reducing the professionals in the ministries. What government did was just to streamline administrative procedures. What do I mean by administrative procedures?
If you go to each of the ministries that were merged into one for instance, you will find out that all the departments, directors and professionals in the ministries were still maintained. The only different now is that you have only one administrative head which is the minister. I believe that the wisdom behind the government’s action in this matter is its attempt to cut cost in running government and reduce the over bloated cabinet for the benefit of the country. The president believes that it is not how large the government is but how efficient.
Is the new minister not a square peg in a round hole as some industry watchers had insinuated?
The new minister of Power, Works, Land and Urban Development Barr. Fashola is a seasoned administrator who had governed one of the most challenging and problematic state in the country and at same time performed tremendously well. So as far as I am concerned he is a square peg in a square hole. As governor of Lagos state, he changed the face of Lagos state to a modern and mega city in Africa. His records at least speak for him; therefore it is not about professionals occupying certain positions but competent person who is a technocrat, has broad idea and technical capacity in administration. Ministerial position is not a rocket science that requires the services of rocket scientist, it is more of administrative in nature so he does not need to be an engineer or architect or builder to function effectively in a position that is largely policy driven. The minister is a policy formulator while the directors and other retinue of staff carry out the major technical task in the ministry
As a professional, don’t you feel short charged to see professional from another field come to head a ministry that is largely construction driven?
Well, a minister like I said earlier is more of an administrator who helps to formulates policies, show leadership direction and coordinates the activities of professionals in a ministry. Besides, it is not only in the built environment that the right professional was not appointed to head the sector.
There are other ministries that professionals that are not in that ministries are there. Will you say that they are also short charged, in my view, government is trying to balance governance. A professional in a particular sector may feel that being a professional in that area he knows too much and may not give the best to the sector because he will not want to see things from other people’s perspective whereas an administrator who wants to succeed sees every opportunity as a platform to learn and make impart with the view to improving the system.
An administrator will accommodate new ideas, suggestions and inputs, synthesize them and come up with the best of the ideas that will help solve a particular problem in the sector. Governance is about result and not professionals occupying what positions.
I will only get concerned and alarmed when I get to the ministry and discover that the director for high-way maintenance or director of building services or the director of account is a trained journalist and not an engineer, builder or accountant. If for instance that happens, I will be concerned because it is what these professionals report to the minister through the permanent secretary that will inform his policy trust for the ministry. So what I am trying to say in essence is that the minister does not go to the field to get the work done, it is the subordinates in these different department that goes out to supervise the contractors.
How did we get to this sorry state despite the huge resources that had accrued to government from sale of crude oil?
I am happy that you asked this question, if you check the records the ministry of works, lands and urban development has previously had professionals as ministers and yet we are where we are today. Does it mean that the professionals did not know what they were doing? So it is all about policies and direction of government. One of the very bad cultures of Nigerians is that we have terrible attitude of maintaining our facilities. We are happy to award new contracts and get new structures, but we have no culture and deliberate plan of maintaining existing infrastructures in the country. If you go to most ministries, parastatals and organizations under them, you will wonder whether they actually make budget for maintaining existing infrastructure not bearing in mind that everything in a building or our roads have a life span. Take for example;if you build a road today, it may last between twenty to fifty years but if it is not maintained, it will certainly not last half its life span before it will be out of use because it will gradually get eroded. So the major problem we are having is not lack of providing infrastructure but lack of maintenance. However, except the professionals that we have begin to see maintenance as a major activity in our day to day economic life, we will not make any head way because even if we develop new infrastructure today and do not maintain them over time, we will still find ourselves stagnated in one place which is the reason why we are where we are today. I will give you a simple example, if you go to the Federal Secretariat buildings, you will see that some of the buildings are beginning to depreciate and no serious effort or plan are in place to maintain them. Before you know it, they will be deplorable and decomposed as you rightly pointed out and government will begin to budget money to build new one in a different location instead of carrying out routine maintenance of the old one. We need to change our orientation for us to be able to sustain the infrastructures that we have.We need to imbibe the tradition of maintenance and develop a comprehensive plan for it. As you know, there is routine, periodic and long term maintenance for every structure.
The current administration is planning to re-introduce toll gates in the nation’s road. Are you for or against the plan?
Personally, I am in support of government plan because I do not see anything wrong in collecting toll from road users as far as the funds generated from the toll will be used for the purpose it was collected. If you remember very well, it was because the proceeds from tolling were being diverted into private pockets that the administration of President Obasanjo decided to cancel the tolling system. Meanwhile the original intention of tolling system as is obtained in other climes is for maintenance of the road network which in turn enhances the durability and good state of the roads. Don’t also forget that all these heavy duty vehicles that ply the roads with heavy loads contribute in no small measures to the deplorable state of the roads yet, those who haul goods to different parts of the country with these truckscontribute nothing to the maintenance of the roads. So they need to contribute to the maintenance of the road network that they contribute to spoil. Therefore I see nothing wrong in government looking inward to raise funds from road users as is done elsewhere in the globe to fix many of those roads begging for attention. Nigerians should learn and cultivate the habit of appreciating the services that government renders to the people. it is just like saying we make calls free without buying airtime from telecom companies, how will they continue to render services? Therefore the road users should also pay for using the road so that the road can be put in a better shape to serve the public better.
In what ways will you want the new minister to partner with your institute so as to succeed in this new assignment?
It is very important for every administrator to understand that he needs professional bodies to be able to succeed well. As an administrator, you need advice from those persons that have the specific knowledge, understanding and technical knowhow of the field he is superintending over. I think that the minister should create a platform where he will bring together all the professional bodies relevant to his ministry and have a forum of interaction with them so as to seek and tap from their reservoir of knowledge. He is just an administrator who may not have the technical knowhow of how to go about certain issues in the ministry. We at the Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) are available to work with him. This is because our input in housing development is very crucial considering the huge deficit that already exists. We well be delighted to contribute our quarter in whatever capacity that will be required to solve the problems of quackery and infrastructure decay. We want the new minister and the administration of President Muhamadu Buhari to succeed in delivering dividends of democracy to Nigerians.
What is your contribution in reducing unemployment in the country?
You are aware that the construction industry is the highest employer of labour in any given economy if adequately harnessed. Take for instance if government or a private developer wants to construct an estate, professionals ranging from surveyors, to quantity surveyors to architects, to engineers to builders will be engaged to get the job done. This is in addition to the artisans like Iron benders, brick layers/mason, electricians, painters, carpenters, tillers, POP, as well as other unskilled laborers who will help do the manual labours such as dig foundation, load and off load building materials and also serve the artisans. Food vendors and other things like soft drinks and consumables will provide support services to the site are not left out. Those producing building materials will need to engage more workers to produce more when the demand for the products increase in the markets, so the circle of employment generation in construction industries is monumental hence the need for government to give it the necessary attention it deserves.
What are the challenges that private developer encounter in FCT in the cause of their day to day business?
FCT is actually a model city that you cannot compare any of the states with FCT, and so a lot of things have been structured in FCT to be special from land acquisition to approvals to the kind of building you are expected to erect on the land. That makes the challenges quite enormous. The amount you pay to acquire land for mass housing is high and so is the cost of providing quality infrastructure which is actually supposed to be the responsibility of government which is never available by the time the estate developers complete the houses in the estate. At the end, when they are provided by the developers, the cost is transferred to the up takers who will not be put into consideration as the houses will then be above the income bracket of the buyers. This is the more reason why you see many unoccupied houses in Abuja, it is not because people do not want to live in those beautiful mansions but because it is out of their reach and such situation is either not good for the developer or the up takers. So there is a huge challenge confronting some of us in the estate development business.
A professional builder have never been involved in building collapse in Nigeria despite their crucial role in the built environment, how were you able to maintain such clean record?
I am very happy about your observation and that shows that Nigerians especially the members of the press are taking account of happening in the construction industry. It is true that there is no collapse building that had happened in the country that a builder has played any role in the construction. We are proud about that but that is not to say that there are no bad builders. The ethics of our profession is fashioned in such a way that put every builder in check and compels them to always discharge their duties diligently. It is also true that builder play crucial role in the construction environment. A builder is actually responsible for the management and production process of any building project. He is a ”jack of all trades and master of all” as he must understand the role and work of all other professionals in the built industry to be able to interpret their designs and put them into reality. However, lack of awareness on the part of the public and the clients on the roles expected of each professional in the built environment is encouraging many professionals to accept jobs made for other professionals. But if clients understand that an architect’s role ends in the design, just like a structural and mechanical engineer’s role also has to do with the engineering and mechanical designs, they would not be engaged to manage the construction of his building. He will engage the relevant professionals at every stage of the construction. However the regulatory agencies of government are not also helping matters because they lack the capacity in terms of adequate manpower to function effectively in addition to paucity of fund to move round every site in the country to enforce compliance as they are the police of the industry. If they are living up to their responsibilities, professionals will not encroach into other duties other jobs and quackery will be eliminated in the industry.
What is your assessment of the current administration?
Well, the administration is moving in the right direction, even though there is hardship in the country; we are beginning to witness the promised change. Meanwhile there is nowhere in the world where you will witness a change from bad to good without witnessing some temporal pains that will eventually give way to blissfulness. A lot had gone wrong and it will take time for those anomalies to be corrected. You can see the level of corruption that is being exposed by this administration.
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