interviewBy Tony Adibe
Enugu — The Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) held a one-day workshop in Enugu. The group's Registrar, Engr. Felix Atume in this exclusive interview with Sunday Trust spoke on why structures collapse soon after construction, and measures taken by the council to check the menace. Excerpts:
What is the essence of this gathering?
We are here in Enugu to publicise the activities of the Engineering Regulation Monitoring. The Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) has the mandate to ensure that the profession is practised according to the laid-down standards. So that on any project, there is value for money in that project, and you can only get value for money in the project when the right calibre of people are involved. And the right calibre of people here are those that are registered by the council for the regulation of engineering in Nigeria.
They are supposed to operate ethically; they are supposed to ensure that standards are maintained and they are supposed to ensure that the general public derive value for money spent on these projects. We have established Engineering Regulation Monitoring Zones around the nooks and crannies of Nigeria. Enugu is one of those zones, and we are holding a workshop here in Enugu to sensitize our engineers who are involved in monitoring projects to ensure that projects executed in Enugu are properly done; the infrastructural projects such as roads, water, electricity, buildings, bridges are properly done; that is why we are here.
What is the impression of COREN when you consider a situation in which buildings collapse after being erected; bridges crack after being built or roads collapse even when the administration that constructed them is still in office?
This is our greatest worry. Projects are supposed to be done to high standard, so that if we have a design lifespan of a road for 15 years, within these 15 years the general public will enjoy the services of these roads.
However, we have noticed, very painfully, that the engagement of contractors is not rigorous enough. On many projects, we have discovered that the selection of contractors is quite faulty; there is no rigorous approach to the selection of consultants. There are consultants who get these jobs that have no business at all in getting these projects. For example, a contractor that doesn't have adequate manpower in terms of registered engineers, adequate equipment; there's no way he can construct a good road. What we have seen is that, sometimes, due to political patronage, these wrong people are engaged in infrastructural projects.
However, on the part of our own engineers, we have set up an investigation panel, that any engineer involved in a shoddy job is sanctioned very severely, and this is what COREN is doing , and this is what COREN is set up to do. Recently, we came up with technical audit of all projects. The technical audit means, we get to a site of a road project - this is being pro-active - we get to a road project and say let us have the design standards of this project. Then our own engineers will now crosscheck whether they are meeting the standard project, not to wait until there's a failure. And this is going to be carried out very strictly to ensure that what is designed is met.
On collapse of buildings, it's quite pathetic that we still experience collapse of simple buildings in this country; simple buildings in the sense that some are just three-storey, two-storey buildings while in other climes, there are structures of 50-storey, 30-storey standing.
The major problem here is that what is designed is not what is put on ground. The developers will carry out the correct designs of these buildings involving registered engineers. They will go to development control authorities of states and get approvals. When they now go to the site, they will not involve the engineers in the design; they will not involve registered engineers; they will now bring quacks, people who have no business in the sector, who don't even understand the design, to be involved in the actual construction.
How do we stop this? Well, the only way to stop it is that the development control authorities across the country; they must come up with strategy to ensure that what is approved is exactly what is put on ground. COREN has held several meetings with them. They were told that at the point of approval, the developers should bring the engineer who is going to supervise that project. The engineer will make an undertaking that he is going to be the one to supervise the project, so if there is any failure, we will hold that engineer responsible. That is the new strategy we adopted. But in the long run, the development control authorities must ensure that they employ more engineers to supervise their projects or give out to consultancies. For example in Enugu here, they can say in New Haven, this is the consultant that will supervise all the approvals we have given in the development control to ensure that what is approved is what is put on ground.
What does COREN advise the authorities in terms of hiring quacks in the execution of projects?
We are advising everybody including journalists that if you see anybody calling himself or herself an engineer, ask him or her, what is your COREN registration number? Because for you to get the money to build a storey building, you must have struggled to get that money, then why do you now hand over that money to a quack? If that person gives you his/her COREN registration number, you can go to any COREN office around to verify. So our own advice is that only registered engineers should be involved in building projects.
How does COREN sanction erring engineers?
COREN has an investigation panel. If you report an engineer for a shoddy job, we invite that engineer to a COREN investigation panel. The investigation panel will now, after investigation refer to the COREN Tribunal which has been set up by the Chief Justice of the Federation. It has lawyers and it is equivalent to High Court of Law. The tribunal adjudges the erring engineer, and imposes a stiff sanction where necessary. One of such sanctions is to de-register and engineer and he will no longer be an engineer. The other one is to refer him to the appropriate law enforcement agents.
Can you give us the likely figure of those who have been affected by the sanctions?
I can say many; we have de-registered a couple of engineers; some cases are with the investigation panel but some were referred to the tribunal and it is because if they were referred to the tribunal, it takes a long time to ensure that the accused also has adequate opportunities to defend himself.
What level of awareness is COREN creating in respect of Nigeria's dams?
That is a very good question. Quite frankly, so much emphasis has been laid on collapse of buildings and roads; but if you look at it, the nation's dams they are quite essential infrastructures, and so much money has been spent on building them. Over the years, most of these light dams have been ignored; they are not properly maintained and in some cases, they are even disasters waiting to occur, because if, God forbid, a dam collapses, anybody downstream is going to be wiped away.
We have called on the federal ministry of water resources to carry out adequate maintenance of dams across the country. It is something I would like the press also to highlight; the dams are not maintained. Sometimes the sleeve doors get open and when there is a lot of water, the flooding, you cannot even control because the gates are not opening. And this is a very, very serious matter. There should be adequate maintenance of dams across the country to check flooding, to ensure that the purposes for which the dams were built are achieved.