CED Magazine: “Construction Summit”, what is it all about and when did it all started?

Prof. Malawal: The Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI), makes it its responsibility to identify a topical issue every year and organize an international conference, where participants are drawn from the industry, academia, government, research institutes and cognate groups, professional and regulatory bodies and associations to come and discuss such a topic.

The international conference which started in 2011, had last year dealt with the issue of road transportation and safety, and within a month or two after the review of a particular topic a decision is made in advance as to the next topic. So it’s as far back as last year that the topic “Repositioning the Nigerian Construction Industry – Realities and Possibilities” was decided.

The primary reason for choosing this topic is because the construction industry is a very important industry to any economy. It leads to economic growth and also supports sustainable development. This is important in this era where over dependent in one commodity is causing a lot of problem in the country. We believe that the construction industry should be properly positioned to make it more effective, more efficient and better placed for the purposes of contributing to the GDP of the country. In addition, to ensure in the industry itself, there is growth, in particular as it affects the critical infrastructure for the social and industrial progress of the country.

CED Magazine: Speak on your achievement as a professional, since inception and with this platform (Construction Summit)?

Prof. Malawal:Well, we have contributed immensely from the view point of research and development, but looking at my general contribution in the industry. I believe I have practiced in the industry in Nigeria since 1978, and have led to the evolution of numerous capital projects.

In the road sector, I have designed roads, supervised construction of roads across many states in the country, in the expansion of the port complexes in Nigeria, such as the Warri Port, Tin Can Island Port, and Cocoa Port etc. I have also been involved in structural designs of numerous projects in the country. In the University System where I was very critical in most of the infrastructure, both for the national university commission as well as the university I was domiciled in Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi.

NBRRI as an institute, we have also looked at the water scheme expansion in the country and to a large extent I could say we have done a lot in this area. But for other contributions on my disposition as a teacher, I know I have been responsible for many engineers in the country, in generality and in modesty I could say around 5,000 engineers have passed under my tutelage, both in training within the classroom and outside it.

I have participated, numerously in various academic duties that have to do with the development of engineering curriculum, and have served as dean of engineering, dean of post-graduate school, head of department of civil engineering etc.

But in the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI) very specifically, within the last few years, we have been able to transform it from an institute that was almost closed down to the one that is to be contend with in every issues that has to do with roads, buildings, engineering materials and the construction sector. We have been able to transform the research complex in Ota, Ogun state and a lot of researches is been carried out at the centre. We have been able to increase the number of the research staff and also have changed the ratio from being in favour of nontechnical staff to research staff, of course that is the life wire of the system. And one of the benefits is the introduction of this yearly international conference which has been successful since inception. In addition, the post liner pilot plant of the institute at Ota complex will be launched later this year.

CED Magazine: As a research expert, what are your views on the state of research institution in the country?

Prof. Malawal: I think it’s very clear that there has been problem of funding. The funding in most of the cases does not support the mandate of the various research institutes. At times, many of the funding are for items rather than the research, if the funding come at all, that is why the national research council and the national policy for science and technology are important, because they attempt to source for funding for the research work. They also put up frame works for science and technology implementation and innovations in the country. This means that there are some set of guidelines and that there are some frame work suggestions on how we should progress from the laboratory to the field and not bringing out an innovations and it remains on the shelves throughout its life.

Issues of commercialization are very important, because the public needs to know that the purposes of these research institutes is to bring some innovations, because we cannot re-invent the wheel, but at least we can do something that could be domesticated in the country, rather than importing goods and services from other countries; which has continuously lead to flow of physical resources out of the country. For instance, the issue of artisans’ infiltration in the country, we believe from our researches that the construction industry is one area with huge potentials for employment and yet it has been ignored for many years. We know that many of the innovations are on the shelves, but if there can be enterprises that can partner with the research institute to commercialize them, it will create jobs, create wealth and curb the waste of resources.

CED Magazine: The construction industry all over the world is the highest employer of labour; what do you think could be done to ensure that we leverage on this opportunity?

Prof. Malawal: The first thing is that most of the complex projects we have identified which are solely in the hand of the expatriate is the most disturbing scenario when we think of our own independence and our ambition to empower our own people.

Therefore, government should strive to not only give small building projects to our indigenous contractors, but also some of the large complex projects like the bridge construction, big water projects, even the refinery construction, flyovers etc. In the past there has been a conscious effort made by Nigerian consulting engineering companies in these areas like Ette Aro & Partners, but gradually we do not see them anymore. I strongly believe it’s not as a result of incompetence, but due to lack of political will on the side of our leaders to believe and trust the indigenous professionals. But, equally believe that the present administration will change all that anomalies and bring a new life in this sector as regards patronizing the indigenous contractors.

We also believe that by so doing it will positively encourage the local manufacturers of equipment used in this industry to do more, such equipment like the block making machine, concrete mixer etc. There is also the need for our people to consciously try and improve on the type of machine manufactured over the years, so that we can effectively compete with other countries of the world. The construction industry, no doubt has the great potentials as it is and as we have predicted that it is expected to play a major role in the issue of urbanization, housing development among others. The population is growing at a very high rate and the issue of housing deficit which is at 17million in 2015, cannot be overlooked. So we have a huge infrastructure deficit in this country, the road sector for example, we estimated that if vision 20-20-20 were realizable, we are expected to double the number of road we have in this country and then the railways are hardly there. The railway is a very major mode of transportation all over the world we need to revamp the rail sector. The airport infrastructure needs to be improved. Because, at present our airports are in a deplorable condition and cannot be compared with others across the world. In South Africa for example, their airport are three times better than our airports and our population is probably four times larger than that of South Africa. I think these are very important areas that the construction sector will continue to be important and capable of employing 20% of the labour force in the country.

CED Magazine: What are the major objectives of Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI), as an agency?

Prof. Malawal: It was established to build capacity and to conduct integrated and applied researches and development in the building of roads and construction sector of the economy. In this sense, the institute is supposed to carryout research and development and brings out innovations for local construction techniques that are suited for our environment. Look at roads that are best suited for tropical environment like Nigeria and ensure they are constructed in this country. Look at building that are specifically tailored towards our climatic conditions; participate in the evolutions of core specifications and standards for the country. Look at procedures in structural designs and bridge designs and all classes of engineering materials and method that are user friendly to Nigeria.
Basically, we have tried to look at the capacity building medium, the research and development medium and also extension services in the field, at least we meet various communities and try to provide an outlet for our technologies that will impact upon the communities.

CED Magazine: Speak on the state of science and technology applications in Nigeria?

Prof. Malawal: When you talk of science and technology, people believe that you are talking of something mystical, but science, technology and innovation is supposed to be the driving tools of the economy everywhere. For instance, in some countries during the UNESCO Forum for South-South corporation called east state, the Koreans were brought to do a presentation on how South Korea grew, and they said the issues of science and technology is quite critical in the political debate in their country. And to decide who emerges as the leader of the country he must appreciate science and technology. Now, science and technology basically injects new ideas, ensure we are globally competitive, incubate technologies that will lead to industrial revolution, looks at gaps in scientific processes and ensure they are filled. For example, the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) that provides a forum for peer comparison between African countries requires Nigerians to be there and while there, we noticed that there is need for them to be in Nigeria because it is a pan-African forum, where you train scientist in Math and Mathematical Sciences and you pick the best brains from African countries, only 30% from your country and then you train them in one forum, use an international process and an international resource persons to train them. When you do that you re-inject them into the economy. So, this kind of platform can only be provided by science and technology, because people need to understand what the forum is all about.

Basically, that is science and technology and that is why Nigeria has the National policy on science and technology which provides the sectorial guidelines about how to progress in agriculture, works and housing in various resources in the country, even issues of education and manpower planning, they are addressed in the national policy on science, technology and innovation. So, science, technology and innovation has a profound significance and importance in the evolution of any country from a basic role resources economy to an industrialized economy, because it’s supposed to provide the mechanics for transforming from a country that is so dependent on basic processes to a country that is not only self sufficient in finished processes, but is also in a position to export ideas and materials.

CED Magazine: What are your views on the state of indigenous professional in Nigeria, in terms of project execution?

Prof. Malawal: I still think there is room for optimism, most especially among the various professional, be it the architects, builders, engineers, quantity surveyors etc. Majority of them want to pull their weight in his profession and wants to be everything on site. This equally applies in the relationship between the professional and the technical cadre. In engineering, the technicians argue a lot about the engineers, but there is a role for everybody and these grievances among the professionals are basic habit, trait and characteristics, sometimes inherent in our state of development that need to be corrected with time. As we know Rome was not build in a day. If you are a professional, you need to go through some stages to mature properly and to perform creditably and to also minimize project errors. It is a general societal situation where people want to multiply their profit.

In the past Nigerian consultants were given opportunities, especially in the 70’s and 80’s and suddenly instead of the technology transfer, it look like a medium for profit transfer which is unacceptable.

But I believe there are still some Nigerian firms that are struggling and doing well and the government needs to encourage them and be patient with those that are still producing result, upon the challenges facing the industry. The government also needs to support those that show some element of potentials in what they do as an indigenous construction company. We have had some good indigenous construction companies that grew to a certain medium size and they fizzled out, reason being that the owners went into politics or due to government delay in payment of contract fee and other interest that crept into the scenario. Some delved into road construction project without having the needed financial strength, no equipment to handle road projects and if there is any little delay in payment you found out that all they have saved over the years is swallowed up. These are some of the cases that have made some companies to collapse, so the government needs to recognize, encourage and be patient with them. Being patient does not mean they should be condoling bad practices. What we have also observed over the years is that the turnover of any construction company will increase if there is planning in execution, if time for implementation are observed, so as to increase profit and win public confidence and acceptance.

CED Magazine: As a professor of civil engineer, speak on the incessant collapse of building in Nigeria; what are the causes and solutions to this challenge?

Prof. Malawal: The issue of building collapse to me looks like a simple problem, because many Nigerians understand structural engineering very well, to be able to curb this problem of collapse of building, but since the intervention of this institute and the professional regulatory bodies in 2011, we have seen some drastic drops. For example in 2012, there were 33 collapses in Lagos and 22 in Abuja in one year. And as a result of that we had some fora in which drastic decisions were taken for short, medium and long term solutions and as a result of that in 2013 there were drastic reduction of collapses in Lagos which was 17 and in Abuja there was no issue of collapse of building and in subsequent years after 2012, we have witnessed zero collapse in Abuja up till date and the digit in Lagos are now single figures. In 2015 it was only 6 collapses that was recorded, the records are there for verifications. So we have identified that the reason for building collapse is simply abuses on site that leads to reduction in particular cement in concrete, some malpractices in foundation which is sub-structural and people reduce their sizes. In most instances nobody cares to go and investigate the site before a foundation is done. For instance, the building that fell at Pape in Abuja, actually it was constructed on a waste dump site that was still consolidating.

This tells us that supervision is lacking. It also tells us that the town planners and municipal authorities are not doing their work because if they are doing their work, the issue of collapse of building will not exist.

The regulatory authorities need to sit up and ensure the professionals and developers build based on the approved drawings. The quackery in the system must as a matter of urgency be stamped out of the system and the artisans also should be given thorough training by the approved authorities.

CED Magazine: Nigeria as a nation is very good in policy making, but implementation is a challenge; what do you think are the major causes?

Prof. Malawal: To me lack of continuity in governance is one of the major causes of failure in policy implementation. This we have noticed in so many years. For example, the policy on the vision 20-20-20 was set up with a projection and plans of action to be followed stage by stage but as we speak there is no action on the projected plans. In the housing sector, there was projection for various housing units to be built across the state in the country, but another government came and jettisoned it. The road sector for instance, there was plans for expansion and dualization of major federal roads in the country, but it was jettisoned due to policy inconsistencies and failure in implementation by successive government. Primarily, this is one of the reasons that policy don’t translate ultimately to where designed to take the country in terms of infrastructural development. Even the national development plan has not survived a successive government. Every regime comes with different development plans and at times this development plans are not achievable. All these are what is disturbing our policy from materializing into growth for economic stability in this country.
Sometimes we bring Nigerians who are experts all over the world, for a particular project and once that regime is gone they go away. We need to look at areas of excellence and encourage people who have excellence in certain areas and keep them as implementor of some specific task for the purposes of the development of the country.

CED Magazine: Local content initiative; how can it be adopted in the construction industry?

Prof. Malawal: To be sincere, yes it worked in the oil and gas industry, but on a personal note I need to know and study how it was applied and how it worked.

The Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and well meaning stakeholders in the industry have been shouting on this issue of local content in the construction industry. Local content also involves personnel, materials and equipment. Materials we have them, equipment very difficult to get, but it is unfortunate that we are operating in a liberalized economy, where citizens are free to import any equipment of their choice provided it gives the desired result. There is need for us to involve a mechanism that forces a certain percentage of materials that are used in any engineering construction are sourced locally. We also need to monitor some of the multinational construction companies in the country to ensure they adhere to the policy in the area of personnel engagement and also to ensure their employees of these companies are well exposed to some secrets of the success stories of these multinational companies.

CED Magazine: Sir, you will agree with me that roads all over the country are in a bad state; do you support concrete road to asphalt roads?

Prof. Malawal: To me concrete roads last longer than the asphaltic or flexible roads, but who needs road that will last for 100 years, when their capacity would have been exceeded in 20 to 30 years.
Roads are designed for a specific projected volume of traffic. As we all know people will prefer to ply a particular road 3 – 6 times in a day in order to avoid traffic congestion and even try to avoid portholes in another road that is in a bad condition. So the traffic volume on an improved road will be exceeded, so there is need for maintenance, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the roads.
The life span of a road should not be the yard stick for one to support the notion that we should completely just out of the blues go for concrete roads. There should be a combination of both concrete and flexible roads because there are terrains like in the Niger Delta where the roads in the town are made at rigid pavement. The terrain should be the determinant factor for any road design.
The issue of longevity of the road depends on a number of factors, one of which is proper control of the construction materials at the time the road is been made. There is design issues, soil used and the mixture of material for the surfaces, drainages, both internal and external surface drainage need to be well channeled to achieve a better result, but having said this, I want to say that we don’t have enough access roads in Nigeria.

We need more roads; what we have presently is approximately 200,000 kilometer of roads. It should be expanded to 400,000 kilometer of roads before 20-20-20 if we can achieve it. We need to dualize and create more express road. Most state capital in the country should being linked with dual carriage ways, if not expressways. We also need to open up the country side. We also need to bring more innovations into the city road networks; so that traffic can flow easily which will be neatness and sanity in our cities.

CED Magazine: Do you support public private partnership (PPP) in our roads?

Prof. Malawal: Honestly, if it can lead to a better management of the road and proper maintenance of the roads. PPP initiative is business and whoever goes into it will have one thing in his mind, how to recoup the money invested in the road and the mechanism in getting the returns involves toll collection, taxes on the road. As far as I am concerned if there is a private interest on any of our road like Lagos – Ibadan Expressway and the terms are properly worked out I don’t see why we cannot concession some of our roads as long as it does not become over bearing on tax payers.

Public Private Partnership (PPP) is a good outlet and process, because most of the capital projects are funded by government and we specifically mentioned that PPP should be encouraged in order to provide counterpart funding and as well as help government bear the brunt of construction in this country.

CED Magazine: The current budget set aside 30% for capital project; do you think that is enough with the state of infrastructure deficit in the country?

Prof. Malawal: Certainly, it is not enough because as a developing country, we need to continue growing in all areas such as roads, housing, agriculture, water irrigation etc. if we are to mechanize agriculture in this country the 30% will not be enough. If we are to build hospitals and equip it to international standard the 30% will not be enough.

The reason is because the cost of building a dam, procurement of hospital equipment and housing is enormous. In particular, the housing sector with the deficit at present I don’t think any state in the country have the capacity and budget to start the 50,000 housing unit as stated by the president for each state. We have not talked about the road maintenance, reconstruction and expansion, all these involves capital expenditure.

We need to transform ourselves from a raw material base to a finished product. So, if I have a farm of tomatoes because it’s perishable I will need to have infrastructure for preservation. So everything involves capital expenditure for it to grow economically, so allocating only 30% of the budget to capital project is not enough.

CED Magazine: Safety in construction; what is your take on this?

Prof. Malawal: You know it took a lot of campaign to get people in Nigeria to wear seat belt, but when it came suddenly everybody try to do it. Now it has become a norm in the society. On safety, there is need for us to carryout campaign in the sector and training among the professionals.

Apart from Abuja, maybe Lagos where you will see a construction site with proper safety netting, which protect the workers from falling, wearing of goggles, safety boot which are important. Another area also is the transportation of construction materials such as gravel, stone, iron rod, cement etc, there is need for proper regulation in this area. So I am of the opinion that a proper frame work, regulation and enforcement of laws should be carried out in this areas. We need to embark on a thorough campaign as well so as to safeguard the workers on construction site.

CED Magazine: Housing design in the country; do you think what we are building is what we need?

Prof. Malawal: I think there is a lot of exotic provision and wastages in our designs. The kinds of houses we are building in this country are too exotic for the low income earners. Most government workers lives in Abule-Egba in Lagos, while those in Abuja lives in Maraba that is to show that most of the houses are not affordable. In NBRRI, we have brought out some innovative designs that suit the low and medium income earners in the country. The affordable housing scheme is where you set aside 30% of your income for affordable housing.

Our professionals need to look critically in these areas and change designs to accommodate all classes of people in the society. The institute has done well in this area, and the dismountable house for the internally displace persons, machines for building.

CED Magazine: Your vision in the next few years as Director General of Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI)?

Prof. Malawal: There are many simple things I want to add to the institute in the next few years. Once the implementation of this year’s budget starts, we are set to equip our laboratories to a centre of excellence status. So that most laboratory facilities needed for specific research purposes in the country can be found in the institute. We have work a lot on the staff moral, but many staff now are been encouraged to train and go for further training. Some have been sponsored to do their postgraduate studies. We are also going to launch soil space plant the first of its kind in the country (sub-grade soils maps of Nigeria). This is used to test soil before they are used for construction.

But more importantly, we think the institute should identify with the plight of the people, contributing towards training at very ordinary level for people to empower themselves with good knowledge of the industry.

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