Engr. Daudu Abdul-Aziz
A big congratulations to Engr S O Uwaifo on reaching his ninetieth birthday! It is, indeed, a privilege and a gift from God to come so far on this difficult and perilous life’s journey to be counted among the class of nonagenarians.
A lot has been said and written about Engr. Uwaifo in the past, and a lot more will be written about him in the future; the occasion of his ninetieth birthday may perhaps be a time for reflections but to many of his admirers, such as myself, it is an auspicious time to recall their impressions of the great engineer. This was the comment I posted after visiting him at his home in January 2017:
Engr. Solomon Omorodion Uwaifo is an elder statesman in electric power distribution engineering practice in Nigeria, in the real sense of the word. He had worked for the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) for about twenty years from the early 1950s. After that and for a number of years, he worked for the successor NEPA as a consultant. He is a graduate of Faraday House Engineering College and is Eisenhower fellow.
While he worked with the ECN, Engr. Uwaifo has had a well-rounded experience, variously as an Engineer and Manager, Distribution Planning and Design Engineer, Meter and Instrument Engineer, Senior Commercial Engineer, District Manager at Kaduna and Area Manger (North) also at Kaduna—the last position he held before he retired from the ECN on January 2, 1973 just prior to the consummation of the merger of the ECN and the Niger Dams Authority, NDA, that formed NEPA in the dying months of 1972.
On leaving the ECN, he teamed up with other like-minded Nigerians to form the company, Trans-Engineering Nigeria Limited, TEN, in Kaduna, before he relocated to Lagos where he formed his own Omo Uwa Partners, OUP.
Engr. Uwaifo takes the training of engineers very seriously; quite a few engineers that came directly under his supervision at ECN, TEN or OUP have gained from his rich wealth of experience. Others, like me, have done so indirectly from his newspaper articles and his books, for he is a prolific author. His famous book, Electric Power Distribution Planning and Development, is a standard reference in the field. His two-volume autobiography is a compendium on his struggles in early life, education, professional career and the evolution of the Nigerian power industry.
Curiously enough, for an engineer, Engr. Uwaifo is an accomplished writer, both fiction and non-fiction. He is no less prolific in this area and already has many titles under his belt. As an award-winning novelist, poet and playwright, the quality of his literary work belongs in the class of Chinua Achebe; he is that good.
I first became acquainted with him through the Google NSE Fellows Group in 2015 when he introduced an on-line magazine he launched, www.electricityinnigeria.com to help raise public awareness about the newly privatised electricity industry. For sure, there are lots of on-line media in the country reporting about the power industry. But all of them are limited in content, and are little more than conduits for regurgitating stale, warmed-up, overnight industry news and events reported in the general press.
The aim of Electricity in Nigeria, on the other hand, is higher. Apart from information, it seeks to educate consumers about the nature, complexity and cost of electricity service as well as providing Nigerian engineers a platform to express themselves. A key objective is also to introduce the industry stakeholders to the interplay of the nascent electricity market forces.
He decided to set up this website entirely from his own resources due to his passion for sharing knowledge and for aiding the growth of the electric utility industry in the country. This he has done previously through the ‘Public Utilities Watch’ column he had run on the pages of the Vanguard newspaper from 2002 to 2003. [It is sad to note that www.electricityinnigeria.com has since been rested due to a lack of interest or encouragement by the engineering community].
He invited me to contribute an article to the magazine and I responded. We subsequently became friends and the friendship soon blossomed into a relationship of mentor and protégé. And I started to adore him; his frequent lamentation and utter disgust with the poor quality of service in the industry and falling technical standards nowadays, compared to his time, fires my imagination, stoking the fire with the wood of possible things we could do to turn engineering practice around in the country.
Engr. Uwaifo particularly feels very strongly about the present state of the Nigerian power industry and doesn’t hide his frustration with the way engineers have allowed outsiders to highjack and virtually run down the industry while they stand idly by to watch. He is equally critical of the Nigerian Society of Engineers for failing to provide the necessary leadership and direction which is what is required at the moment to save the industry from collapse.
I recently visited the mid-octogenarian at his No. 15, Maryland Crescent home in Lagos. As usual, our discussions were frank, honest, and insightful, focused mainly on current industry issues—poor service, that is when it is available at all, lack of investment, a chaotic market and the clear lack of leadership and direction bordering on ineptitude, on the part of the regulator, NERC. This deficiency of NERC, he attributes to the fact that it has had only a sprinkling of engineers in the ranks of its commissioners; its pioneer and successive chairman were an energy economist and a lawyer respectively. [Five years on, a change of guard at NERC hasn’t brought about the sort of significant improvements in the sector Engr Uwaifo would wish to see].
If the privatisation exercise is to succeed, he argues, and if the electric utility industry in Nigeria is to survive and thrive, its regulatory and commercial organs must be driven by sound engineering principles. This can be done effectively by engineers and no one else. They are the ones who understand the system and know what is required to operate it. And being a distribution man, he believes NERC ought to have given the Discos some kind of ‘to do list’ about the network in their franchise area to prove their competence and readiness to make improvement.
Quite remarkably, even at such advanced age, Engr. Uwaifo still hasn’t given up on Nigeria in spite of his concern about the nation’s industrial backwardness—he is presently writing a book as his last hurray, according to him, to help galvanise engineers into action to save the sinking ship that is the Nigerian power utility industry. [True to his words, Engr Uwaifo has fulfilled that promise. The book, entitled “Conversations in Electric Utility Engineering,” published by HANON Publishers was released on August 2, 2018].
The Nigerian power industry owes a lot to Engr. Uwaifo for his immense contributions to the development of the industry. Apparently, the professional engineering associations have taken notice; both the Nigerian Society of Engineers and the Nigerian Institution of Power Engineers have conferred on him the status of fellow. Similarly, and in recognition of his professional standing, the Nigerian Academy of Engineering admitted him as a fellow in 2018 where he has since been an active member of the Power Committee.
Engr Uwaifo is energetic and in good health. By virtue of what he has achieved and the amount of work he produces every day, one can say Engr. Uwaifo has been able to squeeze-in several lifetimes in one, which is extraordinary.
I came away better informed and feeling happy and reassured about the future of the Nigerian power industry. It was a pleasant experience recharging one’s intellectual battery in the presence of the sage. He is a great inspiration!
May the Good Lord preserve your life to see your centenary and beyond.