The action we take mirrors our minds and points at the direction of our resultant movement whether intentional or not. Nigeria is a nation in dire need of infrastructure development in order to rescue her citizenry from the grim pangs of poverty, youth restiveness, insecurity, high interest rates, spiraling job losses, and unemployment. It’s high time we confront these challenges and the best, quickest, and easiest way to achieve these is by putting round pegs in round holes. This requires the apportioning of responsibility to ability which starts with fixing political appointees in offices related to their education and practices. This is where the present administration of President Mohammadu Buhari and Professor Yemi Osinbajo are getting it partially wrong by snubbing engineers in highly technical appointments that now more than ever require the professional touch of engineers.
President Mohammadu Buhari on the 8th of November inaugurated his attorney-studded ministers which out rightly gave the jobs of engineers and allied technical professionals to lawyers and graduates of humanities. This is a government upon which a lot of hope is been vested to bring about a quick but enduring change premised on massive creation of social amenities and massive infrastructural drive. I agree that political allies need to rip the fruit of their labour but to what extent.
While the leadership cum administrative abilities of former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN and some others may not be in question as to their personalities, it is quite glaring that the appointment of lawyers to head core engineering ministries like power, works, housing, transport, communication, and mining is an unmistakable disregard for engineering and allied professionals if not a slap in the face. Countries that are in dire need to develop the real sector usually turn to engineers in shopping for most of their cabinet members especially at the critical moments where national development is quite a necessity like that of Nigeria is at the moment. Check out countries like Iran, China, Malaysia, Russia, Germany, The Koreas, and Indonesia and so on who made their giant techno-economic leaps by having engineers in the saddle of respective areas or as cabinet majority. Are we now surprised why we are still standing where we have been for decades while the aforementioned nations have since left us behind to join the global elite economies? We must put our money where our mouth is or else we may never stop crying. This is no professional chauvinism but a commonsense analysis of our national situation.
The issue is not just about the immediate ministries but about professional representation. How do you develop the real sector when the requisite professionals virtually don’t exist in your cabinet? How will the decision making be done especially now that lawyers have penetrated the real estate sectors thereby pushing the trained estate practitioners to the background and even owning most of the construction companies. In a cabinet of over ten lawyers with only two engineers how can the government make progressive decisions like restricting lawyers to only advisory roles in areas outside the legal profession? There must not be sentiment in this if we choose to progress as a nation.
Not using the real professionals as heads of sectors is partly why even gurus of global economic expertise have failed as finance ministers to transform the economy despite their brilliance. The real sector must be on ground upon which the service (or paper) based sectors can build. The right expert should head the right ministry.
Engineers, architects, surveyors, and allied professionals as top government and political appointees make the best choice for lifting Nigeria out of the quagmire of global infrastructural embarrassment and catalysts for economic transformation. Bringing in paper shuffling professionals to run our critical ministries meant to drive national development in place of the REAL experts could be a tacit retrogression. A colleague from Chevron recently argued that the former governor of Lagos State will perform as the Minister of Power, Works, and Housing. I asked him if the Ex-Governor of Lagos state wouldn’t perform if made Minister of Health and he equally expressed optimism that Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN will perform if made Minister of Health. I once more asked him if the government will dare to make him Minister for Health so we wouldn’t have to travel abroad for treatment his response was no because the medical doctors will down tool. In fact the Federal Government wouldn’t toy with that idea. Similarly, no one will make a doctor or engineer a Minister of Justice irrespective of their administrative capabilities because the Nigeria Bar Association will fight them ugly. Every misnomer in society stems from an unanswered question of injustice and self-deception.
The shortage of competent handymen and qualified artisans in every technical fields in Nigeria, today results from the neglect of the engineering profession in our national life. If the engineer- a high caliber skilled personnel is disregarded what comes of the ordinary technologists and craftsmen under his or her watch? Hopeless! Many of the few qualified craftsmen will rather work as commercial motorcyclist operators than to be disregarded and underpaid as technicians. Today lesser students are showing interest in engineering degrees with more opting for law and the social sciences. Why drain your brain and stress the hell out of yourself for a profession that is neither respected by the government nor accorded their rightful place in the society yet only some of the brightest students in secondary schools are expected to study it? In the course of my career I have trained many brilliant young engineers who today have diverted to the financial sector for the aforementioned reason thus rubbing the nation of future innovators and aeronautic, power, and other high technology experts to drive our technological advancement. Almost everyone knows a bright engineer who has lost taste of the profession and is now in to other disciplines in order to make ends meet, reduce stress, and make more money.
Christian Okwori MNSE, C.Eng. NIMechE is the Technical Secretary of the Nigeria Society of Engineers, Victoria Island, Lagos Branch. He writes in from Victoria Island.
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