ENGINEERING LEADERSHIP Feature – Engr. Mustafa. Balarabe. Shehu, FNSE, FAEng,

Leading the Engineering World

In this CED Magazine’s exclusive interview with Engr. Mustafa. Balarabe. Shehu, FNSE, FAEng, President-Elect of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), he speaks on the state of infrastructure in the country, the activities of consulting engineering in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general.

CED Magazine: The past seven years has been quite challenging for Nigeria, Covid-19, value of Naira, especially as it concerns the consultancy sector. Could you speak on the performance of the industry in the last seven years?

Engr. Shehu:  Well, in the past seven years the consulting engineering industry in this country and in other Africa nations in general has lived one of its turbulent times; even before the covid-19 pandemic which started in January 2020 which is about 2 and half years. The industry has been recording low performance generally speaking in spite of the fact that there is huge work to be done to make the Nigeria of our dreams. And we can only make the Nigeria of our dreams through the development of infrastructure projects cutting across all sectors of the economy.

   That notwithstanding however, some of us have been able to keep going irrespective of the challenges. All these are as a result of so many contributing factors responsible for the economic downturn in the country, such as lack of enforcement of government policies, individual decisions of some Chief Executives etc., contribute to the general low performance of the consulting engineering industry. But generally, the performance has not been on the rise but instead, it has been on the slow fall.

CED Magazine: The issue of Executive Order, especially Order 5 which is expected to give indigenous players some priority and good patronage to build capacity for Nigeria, it appears we are yet to see the effect. What is your take sir?

Engr. Shehu:  My take on this is that we the engineers and the leaderships of our professional and regulatory institutions have to take the blame for not taking the advantages provided in the Executive Order 5. Not even the engineers alone, but all other built environment professionals, because the Executive Order 5 is not about the engineering projects or the engineers alone but for all the professionals.

   There has to be more advocacy effort on the part of the leadership of all these professional organizations like the Nigeria Society of Engineers NSE, Nigerian Institute of Architects, Nigerian Institute Quantity Surveyors, The Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers amongst others in the country, together with their regulatory bodies, because an executive order to my understanding is an order given by the president of the country to make sure that certain things are done. So it’s in the place of the regulatory bodies to ensure that the order is implemented and followed-up by the ministries and agencies of government.

   The advocacy has to be done by the professional associations, while making sure that all concerned comply with the executive order, is to be carried out by the regulatory bodies. So our professional associations have to double their efforts to ensure that Executive Directors, Chief Executive officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors, Commissioners, Ministers and Executive Secretaries of government institutions are made aware of these policies because it’s one thing for a chief executive to be aware of a policy and another thing entirely for him to comply with the policy directive of the government.

   There is a general lack of understanding of the executive order 5 by the leaderships of our ministries, departments and agencies. The advocacy on the other hand has to a continuous exercise by our professional institutions. There should be a strategy on ground by both the professional bodies and the regulatory organizations to ensure that the policy is implemented to the fullest by all Government Ministries and MDAs. While there are obvious levels of compliance in some organizations, majority are not complying fully.  

CED Magazine: Further to that sir, now there is Executive Order 11 which relates to maintenance of public buildings and infrastructures; how can this be made to succeed?

Engr. Shehu:  The Executive Order 11 which talks about public buildings maintenance is much easier to comply with because most organizations have maintenance departments, even prior to this Order. But the Order has made it mandatory for ministries, agencies, departments, and MDA’s to have maintenance departments. We all know the importance of maintenance; if you don’t maintain your facilities or infrastructure very well, no matter how good it is constructed, after some time it will start deteriorating and the cost of maintenance will keep rising if you fail to address such maintenance issues on time.

   It’s a very welcome development and it means that the head of any agency of government could be held responsible if he fails to comply or adhere to that Executive Order. We are glad about the development as most maintenance of infrastructures are actually done by engineers. There are other professionals that partake in infrastructure maintenance too, but the level of involvement by engineers is much higher.

   We really appreciate the President of the federal republic of Nigeria for signing the Executive Order 11 into law, because the worst thing any nation can do is to build infrastructure without plans in place for effective maintenance of the structures. It will go a long way in ensuring our public buildings and infrastructures are well maintained and will last longer.

It’s also important that the professional institutions carry out advocacy to create awareness for the Executive Order 11 and the regulatory bodies also to ensure the departments and agencies of government comply with the executive order.

   Looking at it from another angle it will create employment for the artisans as well as other categories of skilled manpower thereby getting the youths engaged in the maintenance of such infrastructure. It’s when you get used to maintaining infrastructure of higher magnitude that you will be relevant in the sector and also be entrusted with bigger jobs too.

   It’s also important that the professional institutions carry out advocacy to create awareness for the Executive Order 11 and the regulatory bodies also to ensure the departments and agencies of government comply with the executive order. It’s also good for the industry practitioners because it will give them a lot of opportunities in terms of job creation for our young engineers.

   We all know there is a lot of work in maintaining a facility, such as the air conditioning systems, plumbing systems, Bore-holes, water storage and over-head tanks, generators etc. so all these facilities and equipment require proper maintenance to avoid a total breakdown and more cost for the facility maintenance. It’s a welcomed development and we appreciate the leadership of our country for giving that aspect of our life that attention by signing the Executive Order 11. 

CED Magazine: Your election as the President elect of WFEO; what impact and effect will the position have on Nigeria engineering practice in particular and Africa countries in general?

Engr. Shehu:  Firstly, I will say we have brought pride not only to Nigeria but to Africa, because this organization has been in existence since 1968 and many of the engineering bodies in Africa have been members of WFEO for quite a long time. For instance NSE has been a member for almost 40 years. But having been a member for such a long time we have not made a serious effort to be at the leadership level, over the years we have just been contented by just attending the conferences. Sometimes, because we have brilliant engineers we present fantastic papers at such conferences as well, but trying to be at the leadership of WFEO has not been an easy task over the years. 

   For us to have come all the way to this level of a Nigerian being the President-elect of this great organization, firstly, it’s a national pride to us as Nigerians because as it is now we have written the name of Nigeria on the global engineering map. Because when the names of the leadership is counted at any point in the future, the list will include that of a Nigerian as one of the leaders. 

   Secondly, it also sends a signal to the international community that when we are gauged alongside our peers globally, we are not in any way inferior. So the confidence this will bring to the international community will reflect on the way people are dealing with us, the way foreigners will want to deal with companies in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. 

   It also implies that we will no longer be undermined in the engineering affairs globally implying that our engineering and leadership abilities are also being recognized and accepted, because if you don’t accept somebody you will not allow him to lead you. So this has a lot of impact on us as engineers in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. The election success brought huge excitement to all African delegates at the general assembly/conference in Costa Rica. Members of different engineering institutions from Africa; South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leoneans, Chadians, Rwandans, Ugandans, Kenyans etc attended and they were all jubilating as if we are all from the same village.

   The pride this has brought to us Africans is huge because this is the first time such is happening, and as we speak many of the member African countries and their leaders are already planning or scheduling an appointment for me to meet and speak to the president of their countries. It is a thing of joy and pride for them to see someone from amongst them as the president of WFEO, so it will have this huge impact on all of us engineers and nations of Africa and increase our confidence level; serve as morale booster to the younger engineers on the continent.

This victory also means that we Africans could aspire to leadership positions in other spheres of life at the global level.     This is just in engineering there are so many other sectors that require our input and leadership skills globally as well.

   This victory also means that we Africans could aspire to leadership positions in other spheres of life at the global level.     This is just in engineering there are so many other sectors that require our input and leadership skills globally as well. 

   In addition, one of the things this victory will bring to us, as we all know for some time now, we have been pursuing the status to be signatory to the Washington Accord; that is if we becomes a signatory our engineering degrees and engineers here will be recognized anywhere in the world, most especially by those countries that are already signatories to Washington Accord which is global. As we speak, only South Africa from the whole of Africa is a signatory to the Washington Accord and that is too bad for a continent like Africa that has about 55 countries. I believe in the next few years many African countries will join and become a signatory to the Washington Accord. The WFEO under my leadership will facilitate that.

I advise our people both engineers and other professionals not join any organization just for no reason or just be an on-looker, but to try and participate actively in all activities including the aspiration to be part at the leadership positions of such institutions. All these are some of the few gains we are getting as a country and a continent.

CED Magazine: Speak on the state of African engineers in terms of innovativeness and capacity building in practice?

Engr. Shehu:  African professional engineers are not in any way inferior to our colleagues internationally. In terms of innovativeness Africans have done a lot recently, for instance there is an invention done by a Zimbabwean who developed a circuit that is used to energize a television set without being connected to either battery or to a national grid. It uses radio frequency to power the TV. So, there are so many of such innovations around Africa.

   The challenges we face here is that we pay little or no attention to innovations and inventions done by our people and its discouraging; not enough financial support and no deliberate policy to promote and patronize the products of such inventions.

   A visit to our scientific research institutions like NASENI, Universities, Polytechnics you will see a lot of innovations and inventions, but these inventions need to be promoted and exposed to the world. We need to have deliberate policy developing such inventions to products that are marketed at least in-country before we start exporting the products abroad. 

   At the WFEO level we have standard technical committees for many sectoral issues; one of which is capacity building. For the past 10 years the standard technical committee has been chaired by Africans, so if we can go to the extent of chairing a standard technical committee on capacity building at the world level, and our input and guidance is being respected globally, this means we are really performing greatly.

   The WFEO relies on and works through these standard technical committees like Information & Communication, Capacity building, Energy, Environment, Innovative Technologies, Women in Engineering, Anti-corruption and Water Committees. They are  targeted to tackle so many sectoral issues and one of it is capacity building which is also led by Engr. Martin Manuhwa from Zimbabwe. This committee comprise members from different parts of the world, and they organize programmes across the world to promote and improve the capacity building of engineers globally.

   While I can that we are doing much to improve the standard across board, but honestly there is still more work to be done as there are infrastructural deficits, lapses in engineering education, unemployed engineers, technical training to further and improve on their capacity to work and maintaining infrastructure in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general.  

CED Magazine: Especially, looking at the power sector, 5000 mega watt in almost 20 years, is the sector growing at all despite the huge investment and several reforms compared to other countries across the world?

Engr. Shehu:  Truth be told, one cannot say we are growing when we have been talking of generating around 4000-5000MW for the last 20 or even 30 years. Moreso, the power supply has not been stable in most parts of the country. You do not need to compare us with any country in the world in this perspective. We must admit we have problems regardless of whatever situation other countries face. 

Over the years, different governments have come up with different interventions to grow the power sector and tackle the challenges, but I think what is lacking is the central coordination of these interventions. If you observe closely, you will find that the power sector has so many masters and offices and often duplicating responsibilities.

   Over the years, different governments have come up with different interventions to grow the power sector and tackle the challenges, but I think what is lacking is the central coordination of these interventions. If you observe closely, you will find that the power sector has so many masters and offices and often duplicating responsibilities. At any time, there are so many projects going on in the power sector, explaining the huge investments in the sector, but for the lack of central co-ordination, the effect of such investments is not noticed by the public. 

   The second factor that contributes to this, is lack of consistency in funding the power projects. Many projects started but for lack of funding, have been abandoned. There are projects that were started in the last 20, 15, 10 or 5 years but have not been completed due to non-funding. If you add up the costs of these uncompleted projects, they run into billions of dollars, but you cannot utilize any component of it, unlike road projects, unless it is completed. 

   The third factor in my opinion that contributes to the condition we find ourselves in the power sector is the poor performance of some of the privatized entities in the sector (GenCos and DisCos) and apparently no appropriate step is taken to address their actions or inactions. This result in huge payments by government in terms of the differential between payments to GenCos and payments received from DisCos. 

   Another important factor that has been taking us backward in the sector is the issue of leadership of the sector. The power sector is very complex, and it should go without saying that you consistently need an engineer with proven track record of success in his previous assignments to head the ministry. Often this factor is ignored, and people are brought from any background. This category of leaders often spends two or more years studying the system before they pick up. Within this tutelage period, a lot of damage is done, time and money wasted.

   The issues are many…. 

   However, there is a renewed effort by the Ministry recently to co-ordinate the activities of the sector to ensure that all the sector players complement each other to avoid duplication and optimize the investment done in the sector. I believe this approach together with interventions like the Presidential Power initiative, will get us to the desired destination in terms of power supply availability, sufficiency, and affordability. The approach taken by the Ministry in this direction is because the man at the helms of affairs has the dedication, engineering background and record of success in previous leadership positions. 

   Going forward, if the government will continue to appoint the right caliber of persons to lead and the Ministry and the Ministry continues to co-ordinate the sector in this manner, things will get better in no distant future. It is not an unsurmountable problem. 

CED Magazine: Sir, speak on the infrastructure sector’s performance in the past seven years, roads, rail, airport and waterways infrastructure. We know you are quite vast, especially as a former president of NSE with hands-on experience and knowledge in the performance of the industry.

Engr. Shehu:  Yes, I can say generally that there has been improvement on the road infrastructure nationwide in the past seven years. That notwithstanding, we still we have many portions of the roads that are really bad and require maintenance. 

Other sectors like the aviation sector; the airports even though the government is trying to make sure the runways are expanded to accommodate bigger airplanes, more still needs to be done in that sector across the country. The sizes of the airports are still inadequate when you compare with our population and passenger traffic. We have to be futuristic in all our plans and implementation strategies in this sector because our population is growing at a very high rate. We need to start rebuilding some of the airports and even construct new and bigger ones too to complement the older ones. The previous government has done its best and I implore this and the incoming governments to prepare to improve on the facilities.

   As an engineer I am happy that there is a lot to do because airport infrastructure constructions are the work of the engineers, yes we are happy but the government need to ensure our engineers are engaged to do the work because we are capable. They should challenge us by giving us some of the contracts to do.

CED Magazine:  Now to MBS ENGINEERING LTD: as a leading player in the construction industry, especially in Consulting Engineering, the company emerged among the Top 20 Consulting Engineering Companies in Nigeria based on the research and survey released recently by Natafamdavid Consulting Nigeria Limited. What is the company doing differently to ensure consistent performance and growth despite the challenges in the industry?

Engr. Shehu:    As the chairman of MBS Engineering Limited, firstly, I am greatful to God for keeping us alive, and also the wonderful crop of professional engineers we have assembled over the years. In addition, we are also grateful to God for the firm to survive in the past 27 years since it was established. It has not been easy to sustain a company for that number of years in an environment like ours, we thank God.

   I have been fortunate to meet very good people, honest, competent and dedicated professional engineers over the years, and the firm has recorded successes over the years because of these humble and dedicated professionals and I am very proud of my team of staff. One of the things that have kept us going smoothly in this firm over the years is that we honour and respect one another. We don’t joke with our obligations to the staff and we go the extra mile in making sure they get all their benefits and have a sense of belonging in the company.

MBS Engineering Limited is a national brand having executed landmark projects in different sectors of the economy across the country for over 25 years, so our target now is that, we want to be an international brand if not anything, now that I am the president elect of an international engineering organization.

   The concept of the company since inception is that any staff can attain any level of leadership position in the company irrespective of who you are and where you come from, provided you have what it takes to contribute to the growth of the company. As we speak there are people who have been with us for the past 20 years. And as a private company it’s not easy, but I could say the older staff are still here because they have seen the sincerity of purpose, dedication and the prospect for growth in our day to day running of the company’s activity.

   Here at MBS Engineering Limited, everybody is given latitude to bring out his ideas and equal opportunity for growth in the company and in the industry. It’s not all about the boss or owner of the company but for all that is contributing positively to the growth of the firm. The well being of the staff during festive periods and end of the year are also taken into consideration, though not mandatory, but provided the company does well in the year.

   We equally ensure our staff are sponsored for professional upgrade training, both within the country and outside. We also sponsor registration of our staff with their various professional associations and regulatory bodies as well as to attend conferences and trainings organized by these professional institutions. These are some of the little things we do because the company values continuous professional development of our engineers to keep them abreast with the new trends and technological innovations across the world.

CED MagazineSpeak generally on your company’s core areas of focus vis-a-viz vision, mission of the firm?

 Engr. Shehu:  Our vision is to see that we grow to the standard of an international engineering company offering services in the engineering sector, especially in the energy, infrastructure, and oil and gas sector of the economy. MBS Engineering Limited is a national brand having executed landmark projects in different sectors of the economy across the country for over 25 years, so our target now is that, we want to be an international brand if not anything, now that I am the president elect of an international engineering organization.

   We are equally aspiring to have branches in other parts of the world, like our colleagues at the global level; they do have big companies with branches in so many countries of the world executing multi-million dollar projects. These are our targets in the next few years and I know it’s achievable.   

CED Magazine: Please speak on some landmark projects the company started and finished, maybe some ongoing? 

Engr. Shehu:  Well, for the fact that the company has been in existence for the past 27 years, talking about the projects delivered, they are so numerous to mention, but say by sectors the firm has participated. Institutionally, we did a lot of projects for so many Universities in the country like Umaru Yar’ Adua University, Katsina, Ahmadu Bello University and University of Lagos, Gombe State University, Kano State University of Science and Technology, Bayero University etc.; the firm has done a lot of construction of several building projects for central bank of Nigeria branches across the country. We also did a lot of projects during the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) era in so many states of the country.

   In the power sector, we have done so many transmission line projects and transformer substations and in the renewable energy or hydro-power stations which are on-going in Tiga and Challawa in Kano and the Independent Power Plant IPP Projects in Sokoto. In Abuja for instance we have done so many projects too numerous to mention; the BUA Housing Estate in Kado area, it is about 200 units in which we started from scratch to finish. We also did some for industries like cement manufacturing companies like BUA cement factory at Okpella in Edo state.

   In a nutshell, it’s our desire to do more in the country and sooner or later we will pass the baton to the younger ones as I will be retiring soon. The current managing director of the company is really doing well, sourcing for projects, executing and also pursuing the payment as well. I am really proud of the team of professionals in the company for their efforts. The succession plans now that I have a global responsibility in my hand have already begun, for most of the projects the company is executing now, I only get reports from the team, that they secure a contract and that I should come and sign as the chairman of the company.

   My staff are honest and dedicated to the company and to our clientele, which is very important for the growth of any company. One of our policies in this company is to maintain good customer relationships, we don’t joke with it and we are happy that none of our clients ever complained of a job not delivered as specified or projects unduly delayed.

CED Magazine: Are you happy with the level and quantum of capacity you’re building for the industry, knowing that many professionals have benefited from your experience and the company?

Engr. Shehu:  My greatest joy is that through this humble effort of mine some people are developing capacity and at the same time making a living. Because most of the staff presently in the company actually started their professional practice here, from the managing director down ward. So it’s a good thing to see people believing in your vision and also running with it.

   Most of them have grown to become big guys in the field of engineering, they can stand tall anywhere in the world, speak to a congregation of engineers at any gathering both locally and internationally. It’s really a thing of joy to see engineers start with you and grow to become masters in the profession, commanding respect from others because of their competence and credibility.

   But on the other side I would have been happier if we had up to 600 to 1000 or more staff working in the company. That notwithstanding, I am satisfied and thank God for the blessings. 

   Having started MBS Engineering Limited that engages people, makes me happier than being the president of NSE, FAEO or even WFEO, because as a president of those organizations it’s more about yourself than anything else. You are seen as someone who has really succeeded in life. But impacting people’s life is much more paramount to me than the various positions one is holding. Contributing positively to the life of others brings much more happiness and joy.

CED Magazine: Looking back now sir, I trust you will be happy with the performance of the company, meanwhile, I believe there must be something, looking back that you thought you would have done differently. Could you speak on those things if any?

Engr. Shehu:    Looking back I don’t think there are any regrets at all. I am a kind of person that learns from my mistakes, so I’m where I am today because of my ability to move on in life irrespective of the challenges facing me. Generally, I could say I am very happy with some of the decisions I have taken in the past on behalf of the company, and in my capacity as the president of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) and Federation of Africa Engineering Organizations (FAEO) respectively.

   The most critical decision I have taken in my life that I will look back on and thank God is the decision to leave government employment to establish my own company. I have no regret at all; instead I’m happier because if I had continued with the government I couldn’t have developed the boldness and confidence to lead the NSE, FAEO and now heading to WFEO.

My greatest joy is that through this humble effort of mine some people are developing capacity and at the same time making a living. Because most of the staff presently in the company actually started their professional practice here, from the managing director down ward. So it’s a good thing to see people believing in your vision and also running with it.

   I remain grateful to God for making things possible for me, because there are people who took certain decisions with great vision to do great things but somehow their vision never sees the light of the day or attain their desired goals. In my case, God has made it possible and easy for me to attain many of the goals I set for myself. 

CED Magazine: As former president of NSE and a professional that has his footprint in many landmark projects, your take on the performance of engineering professionals in the areas of education, capacity building and professional collaboration across the industry value chain?

 Engr. Shehu:  With my exposure as past president of NSE and as a practicing engineering consultant, I can say Nigeria professional engineers are very knowledgeable of infrastructural development and are really doing well in the profession. I implore the government to challenge the Nigerian engineers and Nigerian engineering companies with any kind of project and you will be surprised that they will deliver. Let the government also continue to challenge the Nigerian engineers with the leadership of the engineering based ministries and MDAs. 

   One of the reasons why we associate with some of these international engineering organizations like FAEO and WFEO is to make friends with the experts in different fields of engineering, acquire more knowledge and collaborate with the foreign professionals, so when we get job that require expatriates we can easily get one to ensure the work is done. Because we have a network of experts on any field of engineering in Nigeria I advise the government to always have faith in Nigerian engineers by giving jobs to us.

   I also encourage my fellow engineers to always deliver any project given to you diligently and honestly to bring out your competence and credibility. It’s by doing that all other professional engineers could get job. In a nutshell, Nigeria engineers are well educated, have capacity to deliver on any project and they do collaborate with both indigenous colleagues and foreign experts and I’m really proud of Nigerian professional engineers.

CED Magazine: Final word on the industry and some key suggestions on how executive orders could be made workable and the professional growth and industry development?

 Engr. Shehu: My final word on the industry is that we engineers should know that any project assigned to us is a privilege and honour. So we should try and deliver as at when due knowing that your capacity to deliver pave ways for other Nigerian engineers.

   We should as a matter of deliberate policy, stop creating negative impressions by not delivering on projects given to us. We should be honest at all times, develop ourselves professionally through continous training and improve on our competencies according to the emerging needs and technologies available and avoid being referred to as out-dated engineers. Because engineering is dynamic, we should continue to learn and ensure we keep abreast with the technological trends across the globe.

   My humble advice to our leaders in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general is the lesson we learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic should not be a wave of hand. They should desist from giving most projects to foreign firms. They should encourage us to believe and improve in ourselves. We can only develop and improve on our competencies by consistently being engaged. Many companies for instance have the capacity to engage younger engineers, but they need the projects they can work on.

   So I appeal to the leadership of our country; government at various levels to always give projects to the indigenous professionals and by doing so it will reduce the pressure of unemployment on the government.

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