Professional Interview – QS Olusegun J. Ajanlekoko, FNIQS, PPNIQS, PPAAQS,

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IMPACTFUL PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE

QS Olusegun J. Ajanlekoko, FNIQS, PPNIQS, PPAAQS,

President Commonwealth Association of Surveying and Land Economy (CASLE) and Managing Partner, Construction Economists Partnership Limited, QS Ajanlekoko speaks on his recent recognition as distinguished Fellow of the International Cost Engineering Council (ICEC) and other issues relating to the constructions sector and the professionals

Speak briefly on International Cost Engineering Council (ICEC) Contributions to the member countries activities in the Construction and Engineering sector?

ICEC being a global organization first, is to bench mark best practices across the countries. And as knowledge based organization, it furthers knowledge of the member countries on cost management and cost engineering for the construction industry. In so doing, it helps to organize seminars, conferences all over the world, so that the member bodies can benefit from its present. So, their contribution to the development of professionals in the cost management field it’s of high value and is highly commendable.

Specifically, speak on your contributions to the ICEC activities over the years?

Ironically, I’m not really active in ICEC, so to say, but I am very much active in ICEC member bodies and that is the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), African Association of Quantity Surveyors (AAQS), where I have served as president. The ICEC as a global body collaborate with us at AAQS to organize events for the benefits of the member countries and the built environment professionals. The reason is because they do not have that strong base in Africa, so they leverage on our strength in Africa whenever we have an event they partner us in hosting such events like seminars and conferences.

    They equally use those opportunities to highlight and educate the audience at the events on their goals and objectives. So, when I was the president of AAQS I have always allowed them to utilize our platform to project their vision and I think that is what put me on their Ladder.

    The Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS) joined ICEC when I was the deputy President and off cause I support the idea of NIQS becoming a member of ICEC at that time and also encouraged members to attend their seminars and conferences across the globe.

    During my tenure as president of NIQS, ICEC hosted their first conference in Africa and it was held in Cape Town South Africa. At the conference that year, I presented a paper, which in their rating was selected as one of the best paper to be presented in that conference. So I have been attending their conferences regularly, and in Africa they know me as someone who could serve as a catalyst to further expand their reach within the continent of Africa in terms of awareness. So normally, as a body when you see such a personality you will want to recognize them without looking back.

    So, within AAQS, I am the second person to receive the distinguished fellowship honour by ICEC and because they are looking for strength and credibility they will not just pick anybody for the honour. And ironically, I am also the second person to receive the fellowship too in Nigeria; the first person being QS Mustafa Oladapo, who was once the chairman of ICEC, the first black man to attain such position.

    But why my fellowship selection was unique and different is that I am not actively involved with ICEC activities. To me this recognition is unique because most of my activities have always been focused on NIQS, AAQS where I am deeply rooted, and the Commonwealth Association of Surveying and Land Economy (CASLE); because there is a limit to what one can do at any point in time. So I would not want my intent to create more awareness of the quantity surveying practice in my country and Africa to be submerged. But it is a good thing that one exposes himself to the vital information on cost engineering from ICEC as a global body.

Your view on the Construction Policy issues in Nigeria?

The issues around the Construction Policy in Nigeria are too large, but looking at the laws, regulatory bodies and implementation methodology one will begin to wonder what sort of a country. As it is done in other countries, the construction industry needs the laws that can help it to work.

    To my best of knowledge there was an act that was been pushed within the national assembly, so that it can serve as a model for best practices in the country. The building code was once promulgated for the industry so that everybody can align to the global best practices; maintain global standards within the various professions. For instance, in the quantity surveying profession the measurement are expected to be the same all over the world, because there are acceptable standard which must be followed and use when preparing document and documentation.

    But nationally, I have always championed the good health of construction industry in my day to day dealing overtime. Again that put me on public focus all the time, because, if the construction industry is healthy then the country is healthy, reason being that the construction industry is the biggest employer of Labour all over the world. So if we have a strong regulation and building code it will help to enhance what we call build ability, good standard and then the issues of collapse building will considerably be reduced to the barest minimum. So it all boils down to deep sense of patriotism; how people see the professionals and how they want the professionals to contribute to the growth of the nation infrastructure.

    Over time when I was the president of NIQS, I have canvassed for the construction industry bank, but the government of the day at that time hijacked it and at the end they put themselves to shame for not implement it.

    So on the issue of policies in this country, I have canvassed for the elimination of land use decree, because it is deterrent to investors and so many other viable policy issues, but the bottom line is that our leaders do not have listen ears. Some of our Leaders can only listen to you speak, but they do not understand, reason being that they are not futuristic in their thinking.

    Presently, NIQS are canvassing for public health law which they are pushing through the national assembly, others include the payment for services rendered which is very vital because one cannot work and not be paid for services rendered. This is a country where everybody pays for virtually everything, so if you do any job you expect to be paid. So the government should lead by example by ensuring they pay the contractors for their services and in so doing the contractor and the private sectors pay their workers and the economy will be better for us all to enjoy.

    But a situation whereby the government refuses to pay the contractors, how do you expect the contractors to deliver on any project? And that is why there are a lot of abandoned projects scattered across the country, so if there are laws put in place for these purposes it will help our country to grow effectively. Most of my colleagues abroad laugh when they hear we are been owed money for the jobs that have been delivered. It is annoying to hear that a service that has been rendered for years, that one is still pursuing the payment.

    In other countries, most contractors and consultants make their budgets and plans based on cash flows and that is why their government doesn’t owe them. Before the commencement of any projects substantial amount of the contract fee is made and before completing total amount would have been paid because they know the contractor needs to pay the workers that execute the job and on time too.

    In other countries they have well structured economic plan and that is why their economy and their people are growing, they have time to research, because funds are made available for research, until we change the way we do things in this country, all from the top to the bottom we will not go anywhere development wise.

Local content policy; it thrived in the oil & gas industry over the years, do you support it been applied in other sector of the economy like the construction sector?

The local content policy, yes, it thrived to some extent, but to me the oil and gas industry is still been dominated by expatriate who are still operating in the sectors, either singly or solely run by them.

    The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which is not properly managed remains a problem of this country for many years. Our oil output is poorly managed and because of that the economy is suffering. A country that focuses all its attention on a single source of revenue will suffer when such source is not properly managed, and that is the case of NNPC and Nigerian. For instance in Malaysia and other counties of the world that don’t have a drop of oil are better managers of oil resources.

    In Malaysia they have one of the world best refineries and well managed. Here we have oil and gas in commercial quantity but we lack all the good things of life, due to mismanagement of our resources. It is a shame that we cannot manage our resources; we cannot refine our petroleum product, at least for home use, and one of our major problems is putting politics in all we do.

    Politically, we are getting it wrong; for example when I was canvassing for the construction bank, I met some investors who want to invest half a billion into our economy and also wants to build a refinery and that they have got a piece of land in Benin, Edo state as location to site it, but the president then told me to take them to NNPC and that why should they be the one to chose location.

    Then my question is why on earth would one want to site a refinery in a place far from the source of the raw material which is crude oil itself, all in the name of trying to satisfy some people’s interest, they call it federal character? We are all Nigerians; anything worth doing should be done with the interest of the people and the economy first, not for few.

    Such investors with good initiatives for development should not wave aside by leader who have the interest of masses at heart, government should encourage investors by creating enabling environment, because if such investment are allowed it will creates employment for our people, boost our economy development and curtail huge expenses we incur taking our crude oil out for refining and importation of the refined products back into the country. Personally, I don’t we are ready for emancipation yet.

What is your take on built environment professionals going into politics?

It is good for any professional that has the ability to go into politics, but I for one I will not go into politics. I am not someone who will play the deceptive role our politicians are known for these days. In politics one has to be with them to be able to make headway.

    My believe is that politics should be collaged and not by nomination. All strategic position in governance in the country should be manned by qualified people and not by mere nomination to satisfy self interest as it is being done.

    The qualified individual should be allowed to occupy positions. For instance in Brazil and some other countries of the world adopts the same method, but here you will see a lawyer being nominated to be a minister of health, works and housing; that is why things are not working and our politician are satisfied with such blunders.

    Competency and willingness to serve the people should be the sole ingredient for selection and it should be open for people to contest, not nomination as it is currently being done in our county.

    Since 1999 to date, we should have a pool of top notch personalities whether past governors, senators etc, that have proven themselves in their various state as governors who should be contesting for the presidential position, we should be voting for tested and proven candidates and professionals who knows what it takes to develop the nation.

    The current state of politics in Nigeria is what I call rat race, because it will be difficult for political parties with good agenda and candidate to beat the big political parties on this race. The likes of APC and PDP will always win reason is because they have the resources to establish their office across the country, unlike the smaller parties that do not have headquarter not to talk of local government offices.

    So in a nutshell, if we are to produce the best leaders in this country we must revisit the political structures in the country. Someone like Donald Duke who has thrived as governor of a state in the past should by now be contesting for the post of a president, but the political structures in the country will not allow such personality with good vision to surface.

    So, my position is that those built environment professionals who have the ability should go ahead and be a voice for the professionals, because our voice is been swallowed up by those who do not have the interest of the masses at hearth, because we are not there to correct the anomalies in the political sphere in the country things will continue to be the way they are and it’s not good for the future of this country and our unborn children.

Educate the professionals: by speaking on project management methodologies for efficient delivery.

    Project management has three key issues, produce on Time, good Quality and best Price. If these ingredients are well managed you will have good projects, because when you are considering time for delivery you will look for a good hand that can work based on your target, some of the ingredient can be identified during projects bidding processes, but reverse is the case here where you find all sort of persons bidding for projects without the right knowledge and experience to execute the projects.

    So successful project management is dependent on the three key elements, time management, quality that is who the best fit for the job, and for best price and if the price is properly managed during the course of project execution you will monitor and cost manage and that is our area of operation.

As one of advocate’s construction bank for the industry; do you think it is still relevant now?

Any day anytime construction bank for the construction industry is still relevant, the construction industry needs a sympathetic bank. The idea is that there should be a bank that can work within the arm bit of the construction industry and that can offer two things; a loan with single digit interest and with long gestation period.

    The construction industry needs long term loan and funds to be able to deliver the kind of housing project that best fit this country. The population of this country is growing astronomically, but our leaders are not thinking about where these people will reside and it is a huge problem. According to the United Nation (UN habitant) we need to build at least 1 million houses per year and for the next 30 years for us to meet our housing demand and take care of our homelessness. And today the empirical data says we are building 15,000 houses per year and that is why a lot of our people are living in shanties.

    All these is because the funds that are available cannot meet the demand for housing and the commercial banks are not helping matters, loans are being given with 20% interest rate and to make the situation worst at a short term, that is why the houses being built by developers are expensive and the houses are targeted only on the high class individuals in the society; celebrities, politicians who can afford the houses.

    I have a friend who wanted to build 5,000 houses and he went to take a loan from one of the commercial banks within one year the commercial bank was on his neck and because of that he quietly delivered 1,000 houses and returned money to the bank and that is how he forgot the idea. The commercial banks are not meant to give loans for housing projects. I’m not trying to spoil their business but that is the truth, because projects like housing requires long term loan and with single digit interest rate.

    The commercial banks loans are meant for trading short term borrowing not for the real estate sector which needs long term funding that can take at least 10 to 15 years gestation period, we need corporative funds, external funding, government infusing funding to thrive in the housing delivery in this country.

    During the Obasanjo government we proposed the idea for construction bank and the government bought into the idea completely and gradually we were going, but all of a sudden the president thwarted the idea on the ground that the commercial banks are recapitalizing and by so doing they will be financially capable to give long term loan to fund the housing projects across the nation, but it failed because commercial banks are not capable of giving out loan at a single digit and still survive as a financial institution.

    In this country except government builds houses and how much does government have to build the houses that will meet the housing deficit in the country. Lagos state for instance that is making more money through its IGR cannot build more than 5,000 houses a year, reason being other area of governance like security, transportation etc will need attention.

    Another area that would have helped was the pension funds and unclaimed dividend, but because of corruption that eminent in our government, our leaders will prefer to have the funds kept with the commercial banks so they can be using it for their selfish interest. Why not use such funds to build infrastructures that will benefit the citizens? Instead they will prefer borrowing from china and by so doing mortgaging the future of the nation. It is pathetic to talk about this country and our leaders.

    Some countries like Malaysia and Singapore they have surplus housing for their people upon the facts that they don’t have land but we that have land are struggling to build. Over there they have sympathetic bank set aside solely for the construction industry and it is working for them, why can’t our politicians emulate them for once and do things right.

    In Africa, Rwanda is also getting it right; in Rwanda anybody that is working can have access to loan to build a house on a long term period. And because nobody wishes to loss his or her property they will do anything possible to pay back the loan. When a person can own a house it makes such one to be responsible, your working ethics changes the moment you have a house of your own. Having a house of your own revolutionizes attitude of the citizens, changes the mind set and working habit of an average individual.

    In abroad for instance, everybody is busy, they don’t play with their work because they know their mortgage must be serviced monthly, so they have to work to maintain the mortgage repayment plan, unless if you have money you can pay outright, but over their there is no room for corruption as it is rampant here.

Speak on your company Construction Economist Partnership Limited, history, challenges, success stories and strategies for breakthrough over the years in the built environment?

I could say I was lucky to be one of those professionals to be trained abroad. When I completed my education, before coming back to Nigeria I already have a template on what to do. Because when I was in England, I worked with one of the biggest quantity surveying firm set up in 1897, so it was one of the top generation’s organization. So I saw good and best practices how it was been run, so coming to Nigeria with that kind of background I already knew what to do. I was looking for an area where I can harnessed my competences, and off course the common service that was been rendered by quantity surveyors here was the preparation of bill of quantities and government was majorly the clients everybody was pursuing at that time. And because of that you will find out most of the jobs were been lined up for those the government people know and mostly the elders in the profession.

    At that time too, most of them were paid with Mercedes Benz car for the services they rendered. But I find out that the profession is moving into other realms outside the country, like project management, facility management and our people were not thinking in that aspect of the practice.

    My partner B. Harris, I could remember, what he said to me then, “there are three things you must not do, do not go into a big practice where your relevance will not be seen, don’t go into government because it is professional suicidal and that because you are good in what you are doing give yourself 5 years and go into medium size services and start your practice” and I followed his advice to the later and today it’s a different story of success.

    At that time I actually know where I was going because then more people are been qualified and the jobs are getting fewer by the day, there is already a rat race for the few jobs coming from the government and what was the jobs to prepare bills of quantity, but for me, I went into project management, facility management and project construction.

    That time banks were looking organizations and people who can monitor their capital expenditure they put into projects, so I was getting jobs, from banks and was expanding my firm, so that was the beginning of Construction Economists Partnership Limited.

    And of course I chose the name of the firm properly, I did not use Segun Ajanlekoko, so that people will not say it’s because your father is popular that is why you are getting jobs. Instead I named the firm base on my vision “Construction Economist” which defined the role of quantity surveyors in the construction industry; we are the economics in the construction business, so it gives us a far wider area of operation.

    So I started the firm in a relative area that was new to the industry, with little bit of quantity surveying core area of practice as well. And because of our experience we handled a lot of banks head offices in the country, hospital facilities, hotels etc. Most of these projects were financed by banks and because of the busy schedule of the banks they needed a firm that could monitor how their money where been spent on the various projects across the country.

    We have been on since 1986 as we are 33 years now and we also render other services as well. When the need arises to infuse associates from outside the country, I have the network to ensure such partnership is carried out at ease.

    I could say it has been a success story since inception, but not without challenges too. In terms of payment of fees, it is sad as we have been owned so much, but we have to keep doing what we know how to do best irrespective of the challenges. But often times the government wants to have free services. They want you to just come and render services without payment and that is the reason why some people take short-cut either to quickly enrich themselves and in so doing it affects the quantity of the products and services rendered. But as a professional who does not want his name to be rubbish will continue to forge ahead.

    So presently, at the firm, I am grooming young professionals who will take the firms to the next level, those that will continue from where I will stop. I am building a firm and structure that will outlive me, not just to run a race and kill it at the end. We are lucky and God has been so merciful all these years as we choose jobs that will guarantee us income.

Congratulations! What are your take on the Fellowship you received, “Distinguished Fellow of the International Cost Engineering Council (ICEC)”

At my institute level they call me president emeritus, I have been lucky, as I have not canvassed for most of these recognitions. At NIQS when I was to become president, they said to me” you are due to be president of the institute”, and I was quietly doing my job when the call for me to be president came and the elderly ones gradually pushed me to the fore front. Firstly, I became chairman of Lagos state branch of NOQS, and then became president of NIQS; all these were based on people who felt they need my leadership.

    At the international level, I became president of Africa Association of Quantity Surveyors (AAQS) and I did not canvassed for it. Off course because they saw my commitment at NIQS and I became the first black man to head AAQS as president.

    And back home, at the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN), I never competed, but the elders again thought it wise that I’m fit for the role as president of APBN, and their reason was that I have performed so well at my institute level and with good leadership for the built environment industry. And that I have to duplicate that leadership at APBN and I had no option but to abide by the plea. At their first approach I rejected it, the day of the election I was outside the country, but they still went ahead to nominate me to be the second vice – president and you know once you are elected at that level automatically you have to be attending the council meetings and you will become the president.

    So I did not canvass for all these recognition and positions, but I thank God that I did not disappoint all the elders that believe in my leadership, both within and outside the country.

    For instance, when the Commonwealth Association of Surveying and Land Economy (CASLE) were to pick their president in Africa, they also told me that, they had no other person in mind other than me and that was how I became the president of CASLE. And after my first three years, the council asked me to continue, that they will not leave me until they find a suitable successor to take over from me.

    It’s the same at ICEC, I support their activities and I don’t give them priority over quantity surveying organizations like NIQS, AAQS, but I support them as a global organization that has a generic umbrella for cost management.

    So when the institute said I am the one that has been nominated for the distinguished fellowship award I was not surprised, because for some time now they have been hinting me to come and be ICEC chairman and I told them no way that I’m not the only one in Nigeria.

    The lesson from all these recognition and leadership position I have attained in my career is that, as a professional your work should speak for you at any point in time and you will have little resistance. I believe that merit is the only ways that can make Africa develop not political patronage.

    This so called democracy has a down side, because popularity does not mean meritocracy, and until we move to where we situate leadership with merit and quality, then we will continue to struggle and stumble and we will not move forward.  For me ICEC was like an Icing on the cake for all I have been doing in the global cost management field and they want somebody that is worth it.

   And ICEC is a limited group, because we are just few blacks there, it is a limited class and that kind of club strives on what one has contributed and have done to help sustain your profession and cost engineering, so I cannot but give thanks to the Lord who permitted me to be where I am and be doing what I have done over the years for the industry at large. And I can only help by nurturing the younger ones in the profession that the path to greatness lies in steadfastness, commitments to work, honesty and integrity.

As the current president of CASLE, briefly tell us about its vision & mission

The Commonwealth Association of Surveying and Land Economy (CASLE) for short is an umbrella organization in commonwealth that was built along our independent to house all the surveying profession namely; land surveying, estate surveying and quantity surveying. So it is an umbrella organization that is open to member bodies in various commonwealth countries, so NIQS, NIESV, and NIS are member professional bodies in Nigeria.

    It is not an individual organization and it’s to enhance the profession of surveying, to collaborate together as built environment professionals and work towards establishing a global standard and encourage best practices across the commonwealth nations.

    It also publishes materials with vital information that will enhance the practice of the profession. It is a body that proffers professional development, helps lecturers to know the latest development, technologies and how to align with it within all the surveying profession.

    So the commonwealth is the origin of the surveying profession in world, and within the CASLE, because we the member bodies have the same heritage, the same education we can help one another to grow the practice within the nations. So that is why it is so relevant in all commonwealth countries.

    When I became the president, I made the commonwealth member countries in Africa benefits by organizing conferences within the continent of Africa. For instance, recently we had one conference held in Zambia on “professionalism and development” and about 30 papers were presented in different topics to enhance the practice of the profession in Africa.

    The conferences and seminars also help lecturers to increase their status, encourage the professors to produce more books for the profession. We have been to Tanzania, Ghana, and Nigeria. I made sure the African countries benefits. For instance, when I visited the queen of England she was happy for what we have been able to do through CASLE and she encouraged me to continue, having in mind that commonwealth is one family with like mind believe and value system. And in the true sense that is what CASLE is all about, we can relate with each other and help to promote the surveying profession within the member countries.

Speak on your achievement since you assumed office as a president of CASLE

I have ensured that students of the member’s bodies have access to scholarship; we’ve been having seminars and conferences within the African countries, so that the professionals can update their knowledge. I have ensured that those who needs further research works, that is the lecturers can have access to sponsorship for further post graduate development, so that they can come back and be more equipped for the future generation of professionals and also be useful to the universities.

    We have produced technical journals to further development which what most of our professional colleagues needs to further their knowledge of the profession. As a professional you must continue to update your knowledge and know the current ways of doing things in your profession.

    I have also been a leader who has succeeded in merging all the surveying profession strongly within the Commonwealth of Nations. My leadership has been able to move CASLE further from where it was before I assumed office.

Your final words?

I have always said that you don’t get to the roof top without working to get there, that is to say there is no shortcut to success, you must work continuously, meticulously and steadfastly to get to where you want to be in life.

    And for a professional you must not depend on god fatherism, your work must speak for you. In addition you must show commitment to that profession, your calling and you must be ready to learn, be honest and have integrity in all that you do if you want to get to the leadership position. There is no two way to it. 

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