SQUARE HOLES AND ROUND PEGS AS HURDLES FOR PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT
(A speech at the Inauguration of Engr Adedamola Falade-Fatila as the 25th Chairman, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Ibadan Branch)
I imagine I may need to give some explanation of the subject matter of this short speech, as it may bring some confusing, however unintended!
When we take a plan view of a hole, we do not see a square, but a circle, and we say it is ‘round’. For a peg, what we see is a ‘square’ ( well, a rectangle strictly speaking) and not a circle. So the metaphor in the coination of my subject matter is to emphasise ‘misuse’ and all I want to demonstrate is that misuse of available human resources, even when there is adequate expertise, are hurdles to scale in building sustainable public infrastructure.
While it is common parlance to use the term “square peg in a round hole” to describe misfit, that is not my intention here. I distinguish misuse from misfit just i say that ‘square holes and round pegs’ does not say the same as ‘square peg in a round hole’.
Arguably, Nigeria has never really had any remarkable development of its public infrastructure. However, the fact is not lost on anybody that our founding fathers of the independence era had very clear ideas of how to prepare the emerging nation for greatness via infrastructure-build. When they decided to establish the independence-era regional Universities, they ensured that the Universities commenced training in engineering. And that was how the universities then at Zaria, Ile-Ife and Nsukka and later Lagos, had Faculties of Engineering very early in their lifes. Ditto for Benin, much later.
It is necessary to ask ourselves if, almost sixty years later, any good use has been made of that vision.
I am not playing the game of grumbling or complaining about our present situation here, but to generate a discussion on an enduring malady, which can only be confronted if recognised, and hopefully make future office holders at the very top of Governments at all levels, do things differently.
Infrastructure build requires that a MODEL be identified, and GUIDELINES be set for development to be achieved. China appears to me the best example of how a country which correctly identified itself as infrastructure-deficient built models, systems, and processes to address it. Building infrastructure is all about engineering, and China is known to have insisted that its leadership in governance at all levels, must be sufficiently informed and equipped in engineering, for it to attain its goals. China has done very well with its policy of insisting that 70% of those leading governance must be engineers or those with engineering background. You may want to fact-check this statement!.
A corollary is to say that everybody in China drifts towards engineering. It didnt come by accident. It was desired, designed and delivered.
I have always believed that political heads of government Ministries should be chosen from amongst COMPETENT MANAGERS, as they are ultimately responsible for implementing the policies and programs of government. It was after studying the Chinese model that I reached the conclusion that we might not have been right after all. And what is worse, if truth be told, the requirement of ‘COMPETENCE’ has never really ruled in our circumstance. The emphasis appears to have been on SPREAD (geo political spread especially) and PATRONAGE.
Surprisingly while we have convinced ourselves that the background of political heads of Justice and Health Ministries must be technically relevant, we do not appear to see the need for same application for infrastructure-related Ministries like Works, Technology, Transportation, Water, Energy and Communication.
With a plethora of highly-qualified folks in all areas of engineering in Nigeria, it is a matter for serious concern why the political heads of our Communications, Energy, Transport, Works, and Housing ministries are all lawyers as we speak.!
I know a few may say that the present government is not known for employing the best candidate available for doing anything, we still have to look back and see if we have really done better on matters of policy, model and guidelines for infrastructure development at any time in the past.
This is why I consider it necessary to raise the issue for public discourse so that those who emerge after this regime may have the challenge to consider doing things differently.
Going by the promises of those independence-era initiatives of our founding fathers and our experiences of recent past, the results have always been there to tell us that we have never done things right, and at no time has this been more glaring than in our current situation, where the consequences have been most noticable. This is not an attempt to challenge individuals who occupy infrastructure-reated offices, but to make us wonder how far they can go without professional background in engineering, which leads me to believe these folks are possibly overwhelmed by the responsibilities of their offices.
In concluding, I posit that our infrastructure deficiency should be noted; and those who head Ministries that deal with infrastructure development must be engineers or those with such background.
I hope I will not be read to have said that the only qualification for those who occupy such positions is being an engineer. No i have not said so. I have only prescribed the minimum requirement.
I congratulate my new Chairman, Engr. Adedamola Falade-Fatila. May you take us to higher heights Sir.
Titi Omo-Ettu FAEng. FNSE.
February 23, 2018.