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Thursday, July 25, 2024

STRENGTHENING ENGINEERING PRACTITIONERS’ CODE OF CONDUCT IN NIGERIA

Azibaola Robert

BEING A PAPER PRESENTED AT THE 31ST COREN ENGINEERING ASSEMBLY, AUGUST 2023 IN ABUJA

BY AZIBAOLA ROBERT, FNSE, FOUNDER ZEETIN ENGINEERING AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, KAKATAR GROUP

I started off in life as a Lawyer by Profession. After a sting in civil society works, I got involved in engineering, starting off as a carpenter; making doors and door frames, then branched into civil engineering, under the auspices of Kakatar Group, formerly known as Mangrovetech Nigeria Limited, where I created the slogan: ‘Nigerians Building Nigeria’, and proceeded to employ only Nigerian engineers in the building of major infrastructural works in Abuja. But for some misgivings and ill-advised political adventure, today, we all would have been proud to have the first Abuja District wholly and fully built by Nigerian engineers – the Maitama Extension District Engineering Infrastructure.
Later, I ventured into mechanical engineering, where my real and fundamental interests lie. I and my colleagues proceeded to build and equip the Zeetin Precision Engineering Factory, Idu, in Abuja.
All my life, I have been fascinated by the characteristics of materials, especially metals – malleable and un-malleable – and how their discoveries have advanced human society. I’m fascinated by how man has upgraded himself from carving and shaping wood, to carving and changing the shapes and circumstances of metals; from raw materials to billets, to flat sheets, blocks, shafts, pipes and even corrugation, which have been the cornerstone of the development of humanity.
However, I have been perplexed about the inability of our people, especially of my country Nigeria, to harness the benefits of reshaping metals by application of fire and the creation of mechanical contraptions that are helping humanity move forward in all ramifications; in agriculture, in mass movement of people, in exploration of the lands and the seas and even space.
It is my perplexity that inspired me to do something little, by investing in machines that help to reshape metals for the benefits of moving Nigeria forward. My push for knowledge, and an attempt to break the ice in both civil and mechanical engineering, got the attention of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) who awarded me with Honorary Fellowship – an honour that I’m most grateful for, which has also spurred me to do more in the Engineering sector of Nigeria.
So, on that note, I should be right to say, dear colleagues, welcome to the COREN Annual General Assembly 2023. I thank all of you and, especially, the President-in-Council of the NSE, for integrating me into your fold.
It’s on this trajectory that I find myself humbly invited by COREN to present a paper before you at this august gathering of the best of the Engineering professionals in Nigeria.
I have not come here to tell you what you have not heard before. Rather, I have come to add my voice to many things which you have known and probably better qualified in the profession to address my mind to.
I have been requested to speak with us on the topic: ‘Strengthening Engineering Practitioners’ Code of Conduct in Nigeria’. To effectively do this, I have done a holistic review of the COREN Engineering Practitioners’ Code of Conduct, as contained in the Official Gazettes of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2022. I will not be too legalistic, so that I do not make it some sort of monologue session.
However, I have been permitted to digress should I wish to, provided we remain on the theme of the conference. So, I have decided to do a little to the right and a little to the left and try as much to remain within theme.
I have spoken to few engineers, both COREN, certified and non-certified engineers, including technologists, tradesmen, artisans, etc; including those who graduated from polytechnics and colleges of education. It is upon this that I am doing my submissions. So, no matter how incorrect they may be, please accept my apologies in advance.
A Code of Conduct to regulate practitioners of any profession is a good thing. But we who impose a code of conduct must also owe a duty of care to those whom a code is imposed upon, including the promotion of the welfare of its members and transfer of knowledge to the younger generations. It is the only way that professional bodies can thrive.
It’s on that note that I can confidently say that the COREN has done a very wonderful job of putting together for itself and the entire body of certified engineering practitioners, a Code of Conduct that guides its members’ conducts and responsibilities. However, nothing can be too fantastic to improve upon. So, even this wonderful Code of Conduct is no exception!
Perhaps, that’s why I was requested to make inputs on how to strengthen it. The first thing which came to my mind upon review of the Code is that, it seems as though the Code itself is mostly pro-civil and -infrastructure engineering, to the diminishing of many other budding engineering divisions and the daily emerging frontiers of engineering (my apologies to the great civil engineers here and outside there).
It’s understandable that, as a developing country, we are more interested in infrastructural development: roads, bridges, public buildings, airports, etc. However, humanity would not have been where we are today without the great engineers who are at the backend, unseen by the public but doing wonderful work that leapfrogged us to modernity. Putting ourselves in a position that, once you mention I’m an engineer, everyone thinks of building of houses, and roads and bridges; it’s not good enough for the development of the engineering profession in Nigeria.
We should pay special attention to other interesting but challenging areas of Engineering, especially the new and emerging frontiers of Engineering, such as solar energy, powerful battery cells development, electric cars, AI, aerospace, space technology, electronic circuit boards, etc, so that we may not be left behind again by the rest of the world in 21st century technological and engineering advancement, just as we were in the 1st to 4th industrial revolutions.
Also, reading through the Code gives me some impression about the well-aged practice of putting responsibility on Engineering practitioners. However, it seems to me, rightly or wrongly, that the younger engineers have more burden on their shoulders than their older counterparts.
I agree with the saying that: “Experience comes with age.” However, this is tricky sometimes. It may not be as true as it seems in some aspects of practical engineering. Expertise in engineering comes with zeal to know and the practical application of that knowledge. It is a known fact that 90%, or more, of today’s world engineering inventions and innovations was made by young or non-engineers who were desirous of making complicated processes easier for themselves and others. Overtime, some of these audacious inventions became adopted by society as standard for resolving engineering challenges.
In this era of Internet and social media, it’s unarguable that the younger ones are more likely to find solutions to engineering challenges than our old, experienced selves. The Code and the entire engineering profession should, therefore, make conscious effort to shelve the notion that the older the wiser in preference for competence based on informed global views. Engineering, apart from the application of aged-tested theories, mathematical formulas and calculations, is the art of mastering logic and sequencing (though not totally as simplistic).
In this era of internet and social media, younger people are mastering logic better than we were at their age. Younger engineering professionals should, therefore, be considered and encouraged to play roles reserved for ‘elders’.
As it were, there are many strictly Engineering departments in the country headed by mostly Engineers who are subject to the Code of Conduct of COREN. Many, not all, have, with our certifications by COREN, converted ourselves to the consultants in the organisations in which we work and supervise. We prepare and draw clients’ designs for ourselves to approve while leaving our younger colleagues in the cold. Because this is not our seasoned occupation, they are horridly packaged and poorly done – typical cut-and-paste fashion. You go to the ground to implement, and they are impracticable to do so or eventually are poorly implemented. This leads to collapse of structures, pollution of the environment or/and water channels’ blockages which then affect the entire community. No one can legitimately and honestly critique and/or evaluate himself/herself.
Once you or your boss is the consultant who designed and approved the structure which you have to supervise as a regulator, then you have lost the moral ground to sanction any violation. The Engineering Code of Conduct needs to put stricter responsibility on those whose duty it is to make approvals that eventually impact on public safety and/or losses to citizens. This is not about the Nigerian engineer only. It is about our larger society.
Our attitude to success in life now is about the money rather than professional accomplishments. Perhaps, those who approve structures, in addition to the Code’s clear provisions on conflict of interest, need to sign a sworn oath of non-participation in the draft design submitted, which they vetted and approved. Such oath needs to state clearly that they, their associates, or any persons remotely associated with them have no hand or interest in the design of the structure which he/she has vetted and approved.
It should be mandatory on the engineers holding professional engineering positions to organise refresher courses for upcoming engineers in the private sector and those who aspire to do business with the institutions they govern.
The Code must make it compelling for Engineers in responsible positions in these institutions to be their brother’s keeper in the profession by not cornering jobs meant for them.
In spite of these, there are enduring Engineers who are making the practical practice of the engineering profession a goal for emulation. It will be a noble accomplishment for the professional body, either at NSE level or even at COREN, to endow a major award of excellence to seasoned practising engineers. A code without a reward system cannot be complete.
If the overall goal is for even playing field and the advancement of our country, then we must use practical examples of accomplishments to encourage people to be diligent, innovative, and hardworking, and be celebrated as such. This is the best way to encourage the practice of Engineering and grow this country technologically.
I would also want to touch on a sensitive issue of the dichotomy between the university degree holders and polytechnic/colleges of education engineering graduates, as it impacts on the practice of engineering in Nigeria. Engineering Practitioners in Nigeria, as it should be, include technologists, technicians, craftsmen, and engineering consultants. However, these sets of practitioners hardly have a sense of belonging and equal stake in COREN.
It appears that they suffer some form of handicaps and are subjected to more arduous requirements to be certified to practice fully as engineering practitioners. Something needs to give! I do think that it is the right time to short-circuit the pathways of HND holders and other technologists to become COREN-certified engineers, based on their track record of professional accomplishments. Rather than following through the present requirements where, I understand, that in some cases, one needs to undertake additional two-year educational studies to become COREN-certified after graduation from polytechnic. There should rather be an assessment system where the candidates submit their accomplishments to a team of assessors for their certification by COREN, if this is not already the situation.
As an aside to this paper, I cannot end without touching an area which has become of much concern to me due to my adventure into mechanical engineering. We all know Nigeria has been left behind technologically due to our inordinate Wait for the miracle of Ajaokuta Steel complex. Since 1979, Nigerians have waited for the mirage called Ajaokuta Steel Mill to propel us to be creative with metals. Unfortunately, this has not and will never happen. As we speak, the Ajaokuta technology has become obsolete and bogus for a meaningful enterprise without Government subsidy.
We should, as a nation, erase any notion of Ajaokuta, as it is designed, ever coming upstream and leaping us to technological development. Yes, our lifeline for development is in technology, but it must be through other options not peculiar to us as a nation. Many technologically advanced countries don’t produce any metals. But they have developed, nevertheless. They rely mostly on importation of raw metals and converting them to other complicated shapes and re-exporting them as spare parts.
As we all know, many nations that refine crude and export to us petrol, do not produce crude oil. In most cases, those who add value to raw products derive more profits than those who mine the raw materials. Nigeria has the human resources and tech brains. A true nation will score their human resources and innovative development over and above natural resource exploitation and exportation. If our national goal could change to importation of processed metals, such as stainless steels and aluminium shafts and blocks, as we already have value chain for mild steel sheets widely used in the building industries, we would, at least, have commenced somewhere.
If we could import the raw materials and add value to them instead, no matter how rudimentary, we will be on the pathway to home-grown technological advancement as a country.
Irrespective of our shortcomings as a nation today, I do pay tribute to all of you. Engineers and engineering have been in the fore of development of humanity from creation. Humanity’s advances made with materials engineering have been breath-taking.
Someday in the future, through the works of physicists and engineers, we may eventually find out that man has a near-neighbour in the Universe some millions or billions of light years away, more intelligent than us.
Thank you!
– Azibaola Robert
azibaola.com
[email protected]

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