Engr. Umana’s Success Formula in Practice

CED Magazine: Can You Explain The Issue Of Engineering And Economic Prosperity Of Nations Against The Backdrop Of Current Global Economic Crises

Dr. Anietie Umana: I would like to thank you (Princess) for setting up this interview and will further crave your indulgence in permitting me to be pedantic when unavoidably, that is called for.

A nation or country is simply a group of people having things in common and inhabiting a given area under one government. The prosperity of nations from ancient times to the present day has been fostered by the ingenuity of man exploiting his environment for comfort, food, shelter, health, recreation, safety, easy movement, learning, production, preservation, exploration, communication, industry, etc. The list can be endless. Engineering has been at the forefront in achieving all these and more.

Engineering is constantly reinventing itself alongside with Technology, dispensing a myriad of products to support and enhance commerce and the overall advancement of humanity in all sectors.

Engineering and Technology play a most vital role in the economic prosperity of nations. But then for any thriving system to remain sustainable, the components must be kept in balance. The greed of man is what always upsets the balance and precipitates economic crisis. The root of the current global economic crisis has been traced to greed. In the new global economic environment, economies of nations are closely interdependent.

The timely cleanup of Nigerian banking sector through mergers and other advance fiscal fortification measures could not stem the hemorrhage of looting and diversion of public funds witnessed in the country during the regime of impunity and unbridled rascality. This brought about a most disastrous imbalance that virtually crippled most sectors of the economy and in particular the engineering sector due to failure to make payments on projects executed and services rendered.

Most projects were abandoned or discontinued. Massive layoffs occurred nationwide and a lot of avoidable deaths were recorded for inability of retrenched workers to afford medical treatment when sick. The massive layoff was earthshaking across the entire globe. The shock waves are still being felt across the continent of Europe as witnessed by the unabated migrations, over there and also from Africa with Nigeria always having representation fabulously. Back home, the currently unemployed have acquired the status of forced beggars ever ready to compromise against their wish.

The sincere efforts of the current Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari is being fiercely resisted by a well organized, extensively networked cabal of severely hardened and unrepentant Elite Class of longstanding looters and their cohorts. The painstaking efforts of the current administration are systematically unraveling the labyrinth of corruption in high and low places, even in our desecrated temples of justice. Soon the gangsters of economic terrorism over our nation shall be judicially captured and quarantined.

CED Magazine: Give Us Insight On Contributions Of Professionals, Expecially Engineers. And The Issue Of Procurement Policy, Local Content Policy And Government Support?

Dr. Umana: Contributions of professionals can be best discussed within the ambience of national development. The vast conglomerates of professionals infuse the entire fabric of our development. Just name any sector and you will find them playing full-scale roles in the delivery of every sectoral mandate.

A great majority of these professionals have come together to form Bodies under various nomenclature(s) like Societies, Associations, Institutes, Councils, Institutions, and the likes. Government has empowered most with legal backing through legislation and on the whole, there exists a cordial interface with all, irrespective of the level of impact and relevance. The collaborative efforts need to be strengthened and streamlined for more effective involvement of these professionals in national development.

My position on Procurement and Local Content Policies should not be viewed as controversial. Having these policies in place is a most welcome development, but are they efficacious? Have the existence of these policies engendered the much expected transparency in procurement or the holistic involvement of Nigerians in the Local Content considerations?

The bane had always been the unhealthy vested interests from the vanguards, makers, custodians and executors of these policies. Then, one should rightly ask why should the system make sound policies and then turn around to thwart their proper implementation?

We should hasten to overhaul our value systems to enthrone sanity, decorum and trustworthiness. This is the sincere wish of all God fearing Nigerians and resident foreigners alike, who venture into the business arena of our great nation. Government as an entity can always do so much, we must all put hands on deck to rescue our beloved country from the shackles of endemic corruption and extenuating compromise.

CED Magazine: Working With Private Sector And Working With Government, State Your Professional Contributions To Nation Building And Your Firm’s Contributions And Achievements

Dr Umana: In 1979 while waiting for the release of the A level results; I did a brief stint with the Nigerian Ports Authority as a Clerical Officer for a few months in Calabar. When I got my A level results (and while waiting for a scholarship to study abroad), I joined the services of the State Ministry of Agriculture in the capacity of an Assistant Executive Officer. Indispensable experience was garnered in office management and Public Administration for close to 2 years.

The indomitable spirit of total commitment to excellence was overwhelming in all my endeavours. A combination of ahead-of-schedule delivery coupled with exquisite discharge of tasks and assignments always brought my work performance to the notice of top management in no time. For instance, I was co-opted once into the Recruitment Panel made up of Heads of Departments while working at NPA, because the Chairman of the panel (the Chief Personnel Officer), insisted that I be part.

As a Dispatch/Receiving/Filing Clerk, I always went beyond the bounds of duty. The CPO on three different occasions was spared terrible embarrassment over letters that were to be dispatched to the NPA Headquarters in Lagos. A Dispatch Clerk makes entries of Date, Addressee, Subject Matter and Signatory of correspondence to be dispatched in the Register and then addresses the envelop, inserts the folded letter, seals and records same in a dispatch notebook for the Messenger to execute. I used to first of all read quickly through the correspondence, no matter how lengthy, and in the process would politely refer errors in punctuation, syntax, repetitions, grammar and spelling back to the Signatory for correction, before dispatch. This thorough approach endeared me to a host of very senior officers in the Establishment, most especially the CPO.

As an Assistant Executive Officer with the State Ministry of Agriculture in Calabar, within just three months of resumption, one morning the intercom on my desk rang and the voice at the other end said “come to my office now”. I requested to know whom I was speaking with and the person said jovially “you must be the only one that doesn’t recognize my voice in this Ministry. I am Daniel Effiong Nyambi, the Permanent Secretary, come over now”. On entering his office, I gently closed the door and walked up to his desk and then greeted him. The PS then walked up to the fridge and poured a drink in two crystal glasses and handed one to me, stretched his towards mine and clinked and said “to our health and noble minds”. He then asked me to be seated. He told me that he wanted to meet me in person because he recently discovered that the bulk of the letters (signed on his behalf), sent out from the Ministry was signed by me. That this came to his notice through the “float” files containing copies of all letters signed on his behalf by various authorized Officers of the Ministry. He commented on the sheer volume of output, and that what captivated him most was the all embracing content, marshalling of points, arrangement of ideas, use of vocabulary and brevity (devoid of inadequacies) that characterized all my write-ups. Done with the preamble, he then told me that he had a very sensitive assignment that required a sound and confident character to handle.

I was then detailed to go to Lagos and arrange for a fleet of 500 Conference Visitors Unit (CVU) Vehicles that were to be deployed in Calabar during the 1980 National Conference on Agriculture. A return flight ticket was provided and I took my first flight to Lagos and got to the office to meet Official that was in charge. He told me regrettably that we had to deal with the Zonal Office in Enugu that was then headed by the Presidential Aide, one Dr. Ikedife. He then wrote out the contact details and handed over to me. He was done with me but I wasn’t done with him yet. I politely requested for a sheet of paper and where to sit down for a short while and was given. I quickly scribbled two short letters, each on the reverse side of the paper. One was addressed to the Presidential Aide in Enugu and the other one to my Permanent Secretary in Calabar. It was just a brief narration to the Aide that there was such a request and I have been redirected to him to handle the request and the other informing my PS of the new development. I was able to convince the Official to go through them, have them typed and signed for me. Armed with the two letters I succeeded in completing the assignment and reporting back to my PS with evidence. In appreciation I was assigned a brand new official car with a driver, a rare privilege beyond my grade in the Ministry. I had just turned 19.

From then on I was frequently assigned very sensitive assignments that were way beyond my grade. I was soon to join the Departmental Board meetings of the Ministry as the Recorder. This was one particular assignment that caused a serious stir of excitement, profound admiration and enduring appreciation among the top brass of the Ministry that came from the various divisions (Forestry, Fisheries, Livestock and Agric Services).

Hitherto, the minutes of board meetings could not be ready for distribution earlier than two weeks from date of meeting. The procedure involved first recording the minutes in form of notes, latter developing the notes into a cogent form of minutes, having it typed on stencils, vetting and making final corrections on stencils, then moving around several scattered locations trying to track down the various Heads of Divisions to append their signatures on the stencil, obtaining the complete signatures from all the Heads, then getting the stencils cyclostyled into required number of copies and then distributed. In taking up the task as a Recorder, I was able to deploy a novel technique of multitasking, of almost simultaneously taking down notes and developing the minutes alongside, intermittently having them typed on stencil, vetting/correcting and presenting for signatures shortly after the meeting, during the refreshment/entertainment session. The minutes of the meeting always came in ready and were distributed right there on the same day. After appending their signatures on the stencil, they were always willing to wait and pick up their copies of minutes and even go through before leaving. The comprehensive capture of all deliberations and the concise presentation in the minutes always evoked a sense of marvel that they could not hold back but pass remarks of awe amongst them, even to my hearing. Having the minutes of the departmental board meetings ready the same day, among other things greatly enhanced performance and productivity and also infused the system with a greater sense of seriousness and achievement. It was at such a meeting that they unanimously agreed that my name be included in the protocol list for Government House functions.

I recollect with overwhelming nostalgia that most of them made out time to be communicating with me through personal letters after I left for further studies in the then Soviet Union.

After I obtained a scholarship, I spent 6 years (September, 1981 to August 1987) in the former Soviet Union and obtained an M.Sc degree in Engineering.

I did my NYSC in Lagos and was part of the Supervision Team for the erection of the 10-Storey Petroleum Inspectorate Headquarters Building. During the construction works, an unforeseen challenge presented itself at the piling stage during foundation works. Within minutes, I presented a robust technical solution backed up with sketches and dimensions to be considered for continuation of the works. I was ignored as was wont for a Youth Corper, baselessly viewed as a greenhorn. The French Contractor referred the problem to their home office in Paris for expert assessment and solution. The recommended solution that was flown in from Paris after three weeks turned out to be an exact replica of what I proffered. What they failed to reckon with was that, I was already licensed to practice as an Engineer before my return from the Soviet Union.

My technical acumen found further expression when I joined the services of an Israeli company (HFP Engineering Ltd, Lagos) where I was assigned the supervision of their Independent Power Station project at Ikota, Lagos, early in 1989. On the first day of resumption, about 8 other Engineer Colleagues of mine told me at the senior staff canteen to start looking for another employment because the management had previously sacked several Engineers (about 4 of them) within a 2-month period on the same project which they code-named “the graveyard”. The project though very complex in nature was successfully delivered ahead of schedule. The Italian Power Plant firm that later handled the installation of the steam turbines, stayed back in Nigeria for another 2 weeks after installation and testing, waiting hopefully that I would be located and brought to them to take up a lifetime contract. I couldn’t be found because I did not leave any forwarding address after I left and took up employment with the Federal Ministry of Works & Housing. I was later told that the Italians remarked that in their several years experience of moving round the globe, installing similar plants, the shortest it ever took them was in Brazil where they spent 14 days on installation and testing, but in Nigeria it took them just 2 days. The execution of the Structural and Civil works was absolutely error free under my charge as the Project Site Engineer.

It is appropriate at this point to mention that the training within the Soviet School curriculum to become a Professional Engineer was as demanding, rigorous, exacting and thorough as a military training. Punctuality and 100% attendance at all lectures, tutorials classes and laboratory/ field practicals were compulsory. Tests were conducted in every tutorial class and of course your exam permit had to be acquired through a satisfactory performance at a mock trial on each subject course before you could be allowed to sit for the exams proper. Every professional subject course statutorily had a course work/project component that had to be executed and submitted in the regulatory and approved professional practice format without exception and within a very tight time frame. Ultimately you had to defend your degree project thesis before a panel of half a dozen professors and hardcore professionals in a mix. When you succeeded in scaling through, you were awarded an M.Sc degree in Engineering with an embedded licensure authorizing you to carry out independent professional practice in your field of qualification.

Opting for engagement with the Federal Ministry of Works & Housing was a strategic decision. I needed to position myself in an environment where mega projects with a stamp of versatility were being undertaken on a regular and endless basis. My broad-based training craved for expression in the domain of Building Structures, Geotechnical Engineering, Environmental impact assessment, Remodeling of Structures, Surveying, Architecture, Engineering Quantities/Evaluation. The cycle of Design, Costing, Construction Supervision and Project Management was an imperative for regular intercourse.

My 10 years in the ministry afforded me the opportunity, space and time to sharpen my professional practice.

On resumption of duties I was deployed to the Bridge Design unit. My first assignment was to vet the submission made by JB on a bridge design. You cannot imagine how elated I was to be served my favorite menu that I had missed for a long while. I settled down to work and in a little below 3 (three) hours I had pored over 36 sheets of size A0 drawings of the bridge design, penned down my comments on 22 errors discovered, made recommendations with corrections and proceeded to return the file to my boss, Engineer David Okuoimose, who was the Chief Engineer (Bridge Design). On getting there a group of newly employed Engineers were present, receiving lectures on bridge design as I quietly sneaked in and dropped the file in his tray. As I turned and headed for the door, he bellowed at me to come back. He then thrust the file at me and said….. “take this file away and work on it, this file was sent to you just this morning and you brought it back and dump it on my table?, you this young boys, you don’t want to work”. I calmly told him that I was done with the assignment and he said that, that was impossible in less than a week, and bluntly insisted that I should take the file away. In the seeming confrontation that ensued , I stood my ground and respectfully said….”with all due respect sir, even if the best Bridge Engineers in the world were to go through the design submission that I just checked, I doubt if they might be fortunate to fish out as many errors like I did while vetting it”. Now that sounded very challenging, coming from a just employed ‘young engineer’ but it definitely got his attention and he decided to open the file and read my comments/recommendations. There were 22 points raised. My comments were laid out in the most lucid technical manner, smacking of mature professionalism with appropriate descriptive cross-reference of the drawing page and error position(s), properly indexed. By the time he got to the 3rd point, he excitedly announced that the lecture was adjourned. He picked up the file and politely requested that I take him to my office, where he painstakingly went through all my comments and recommendations. As soon as he was done he raised his head and beheld me for about a minute in a speechless mood, then he mentioned the names of the two topmost (Bridge Engineering) consulting firms and asked me which one of them I came from to join the ministry and for how long I had been working there. I told him that I had worked with an Israeli construction company before migrating to the ministry and prior to that, had rounded up my National Service year with NNPC. He then insisted that I must have obtained my doctorate degree in Bridge Engineering of which I refuted.

A very strong professional bond was forged between us for a period of about 2 decades before his transition. Engr. David Okuoimose was a world renowned Bridge Engineer, a Chartered Engineer who regarded me as a thorough bred professional colleague in less than 3 months of working together.

About 3 months after joining the ministry, one fateful morning my Deputy Director stormed into my office and summoned me to follow him. In his office, he directed several questions at me which I answered with all willingness. After the quiz session he said to me, pointing to the clock on the wall, “look at the time now is 6:45 AM. Apart from the Cleaners, there are only 3 of us already at work”. He intimated me that the then Works Minister, Late Maj. Gen. Mamman Kotangora (Rtd) requested for an aide to be chosen from amongst the about 300 Engineers that were recruited under the Employment Relief Program of President Babangida. The Deputy Director at the time (Engr. Onadeko) told me that I most convincingly met all the criteria set down by the Hon. Minister, in terms of punctuality, regularity, academic qualifications, good command of English Language, physical fitness, professional standing, honesty and integrity.

An interview was scheduled for me with the minister and this took place on a Monday. During the interview as we got talking and he got to learn that I studied in the Soviet Union, he harshly exclaimed derogatorily…. Russia?, and asked if it was because I couldn’t gain admission into a Nigerian University that’s why I went to Russia? My ire was seriously provoked but I put a tight rein around myself, bridled my lips and simply stared painfully at him and then quietly asked him if I could please have 5 minutes and I will be right back and he gladly acceded to my request. I then rushed to my office and came back with a file that contained all the originals of my credentials, schooling/scholarship documents, report cards from primary school, reports sheets from college(term by term and class by class) testimonials, awards, sport certificates etc. I had opened to the file page that was the original JAMB admission letter and placed the file on his desk and then said “this is my admission letter that came after I had left for Russia” and that the entire file contained all my original documents. He spent quite some time going through my file page by page, an exercise which he repeated twice over and then closed the file and handed it back to me. Then he said “very good, very good, so you have been an excellent student right from your primary school days, no wonder you gave me that hard look, you must have felt extremely insulted by my remark”. He then apologized and said that he will get back to me before the week ran out. That was on a Monday, by Friday as at 3pm without hearing from him, I made up my mind that as the last working day of the week, if I don’t hear from him by 3:25pm (5 minutes to official closing time) I will go to him and find out why.

At the nick of time, exactly 3:30pm I stepped into his office and approached him, he was busy writing. He looked up when I stopped beside him and I bowed and he then asked “Yes, Who are you?” I reminded him that he interviewed me on Monday and gave his word that he will get back to me before the week runs out, that officially the week has ended as I speak. He then said that, that was the last lap of the interview. He stood up and shook hands with me and congratulated me, adding that if I had not showed up myself as I did, that I would have failed the interview.

The protocol unit provided me with a flight ticket and I jetted out of Lagos late that evening on projects monitoring as assigned by the Hon. Minister. That Friday afternoon, after the Hon. Minister shook hands with me, congratulating me for making it through the interview to become his aide, I knew that opportunity had located preparation. I couldn’t be more thankful to God for that special defining moment in my annals of existence.

You needed to have known the man, Major General Mamman Tsofo Kontagora, an icon of purpose and achievement. A great administrator par excellence, a selfless and indefatigable Public Servant, a trail blazer and pathfinder. How do I describe this great Nigerian, a humble leader and motivator. A workaholic of good repute and a goal getter with unwavering focus, stable and undaunted by criticisms or any form of discouragement. A man of sterling integrity devoid of extremism, compromise and all forms of religious or tribal sentiments. A refined professional soldier, and a worthy gentleman. A rewarder of superlative performance and an astute manager of human and financial resources. In one word let me pause by saying “peerless”.

As aides we use to report for work from 7am and at times he will request that we report by 6:30am. Every working day, there will be a Review and Agenda setting meeting between 7am to 8am with all his senior aides directly in his office. The discussions were usually very brief but incisive. We all had to rub minds together over pressing issues affecting the Ministry, ongoing projects, areas of emergency intervention, feedback from previous assignments, assign task and set goals for the day and consider matters arising.

The Minister had a consuming passion for seeing to it that all projects undertaken by the ministry were properly and timeously executed. The burden of responsibility of regular monitoring of projects nation-wide, substantially fell on me. This afforded me of the lifetime opportunity of getting involved in mega projects of diverse nature. They included Public Buildings, Highways, Bridges, Water works and Erosion Control Works. I was a team Member of the Implementation Committee on Army Projects and also served as the Secretary of the Federal Highways Toll Committees on the launching of several policies like the National Housing Policy, National Environmental Policy, and National Construction Policy etc.

Inspection of ongoing projects was virtually on a tri-monthly basis by the Minister whom I had to accompany to produce reports for further actions. One day he called me and solemnly told me that I will always be the one to vet and sanction his written speeches that he delivered at any public forum; That the final copies of the speeches were to be handed to him by me, only at the point that he was about to deliver them. It was my responsibility to proofread what the typist did and ensure that it was staunchless?

He was a very deep and brilliant man who wrote all his speeches, personally irrespective of his very hectic schedule. A deliberate man that did things with deliberation.

My choice as the one to handle speech vetting was arrived at by the Minister through a selection process. One morning during one of the review meetings, he distributed a 13-page type written speech to the 10 of us (aides made up of 2 Special Assistants, Chief Press Secretary, Chief Protocol Officer, 3 Staff Officers consisting of a Civil Engineer, Electrical Engineer and a Quantity Surveyor, One Architect, One Press Officer and myself), We were asked to go and study, vet, make corrections, expand, compress, as each of us will find necessary. We were all assigned about one hour each. We all worked on the script individually and submitted back to him. In carefully reading through the 13-page document, all I did was to swap and interchange the position 4 staggered pages. By God’s divine grace, I was able to decipher the subtle disconnect in the flow of the write-up and realign the pages correctly. That was just all what was required to be done.

After he left as Minister, I was reabsorbed back into my parent department of the Federal Highways.

The legacy of professionalism that Gen. Kontagora left behind was soon to be whittled away, by some other minister whose erratic approach could not find any point of anchor, neither to anything logical nor to anything humorous. All projects under his tenure were either structured or restructured to fail. Existing ongoing contracts were reviewed downward with just a wave of his red pen and fresh contracts would be signed with a note (in red ink); Award at 30% of contract sum for instance. Such percentages ranged from 25% to 60%. Upper limits for close pals. Contrary positions were not tolerated leaving the Permanent Secretary and the Directors in a very awkward position.

Things started falling apart and I had to weigh my options critically. That is when I reached the decision to quit the extensively desecrated workplace where professionalism no longer mattered. So on the 2nd of August 1999, exactly 10 years of service, I put in the letter of my voluntary withdrawal/retirement from service.

Migrating to the Private Sector from the Public Service re-energized my will to continue my professional practice. While I was in the Ministry, my love for the game of chess brought me in contact with Arc. Goddy James, a practising Architect in Lagos, then. He got me involved in most of his projects as a Structural Engineer on design of several new private buildings, churches and remodeling of existing structures for expansion.

All the jobs that I handled in my private capacity were always undertaken after close of work and during weekends and public holidays. I was able to cope because of the rigorous training I had while studying Engineering in Minsk, also the remuneration was a very great incentive that enabled me to build up and constantly upgrade my personal Library with current Reference Materials for world class delivery of projects as a Consultant.

Over time, the best bookshops in Lagos identified me as their most regular and biggest customer and voluntarily placed me on “first consideration” whenever they had selected new consignment. Armed with the best and latest Professional References, I became a recognized solution provider to most Professional colleagues.

Shortly after I left the Ministry, I became a Consultant on the Design/Supervision of the Rehabilitation of 102km of Saminaka-Kataf-Kafanchan Road in Kaduna State for the same Ministry. Represented Amana Consortium in Abuja (on ad hoc basis) as a Liaison on PTF matters.

In Handling the Structural Design of the Bayelsa State Liaison Office and Governors Lodge in Abuja sometime in the year 2000, the Contractor, Strabag Nigeria Limited ill-conceived the idea that the size of the foundation footing provided for in my design was too big. I tactfully suggested to them to invite a Structural expert for arbitration requesting that the expense should be deducted from my fees if my design was found wanting. The two Structural Experts that flew in from Germany a few days later, confirmed from their independent design calculations (based on my adopted structural scheme) that the footing size could not be reduced as it was the perfect minimum size required and that if anything was to be done, it would be to increase it slightly. The imported experts excitedly shook hands with me and commended me for my thoroughness and the Team Leader of the entire Consulting Group on the Project treated us to a dinner at Nicon Nuga? Hilton over the face-off that ended in our favour.

It was during this dinner that the Consultant Quantity Surveyor and the Architect, who had done quite a lot of major projects, encouraged me to take a foray into my State (Akwa Ibom) as a Consultant or Project Manager. My professional contributions across the various disciplines they claimed were phenomenal and they were really curious to know which of the integrated or related disciplines I actually studied.

Most Architects I have worked with on project conceptualization and execution are always left confused as to whether I am an Engineer or an Architect. Same goes for other related disciplines like Project Costing/Evaluation, Surveying, Project Management, Geo-Technical engineering.

In coming to Akwa Ibom State in December 2001, I sold my home in Abuja and relocated completely. I had previously used the proceeds of my gratuity from my 10 years sojourn with the Federal Ministry of Works to register a Consulting firm, a Construction Company and two other Technically Oriented Concerns. I promptly engaged a firm of Chartered Accountants to prepare Operational Manuals/Policy Documents for the Companies and various concerns, and a well-tailored business plan that I followed religiously. The due process of obtaining all the Registration and Regulatory requirements was followed; Operational office was rented and equipped. Recruited staff? were given orientation and appropriate training. Jobs were sought for and gotten on the basis of readiness to perform and satisfactorily meeting up with Tendering requirements. Also my track record of verifiable experience and integrity stood me in good stead as the CEO.

With the benefit of hindsight I can justifiably state today that there is no magic to success other than the Biblical injunction given by the Almighty God …”that whatever thy hands findeth to do, do it with all thy might”. No one is born with experience. As the years go by and you fail to engage yourself practically on a given vocation to gain proficiency, it will be criminally misleading to lay claim to the length of years as your years of experience.

The years do not stamp the experience on you. Experience is only acquired through engagement on something. Engaging with the sole aim of being your best and having an indispensable mastery, grasp or fluency if you like. You become dependable, reliable, tried, tested and trustworthy. People get to know you and can beat their chest and vouch for you. In my own case, when I ventured into the private sector, God orchestrated things (in line with his principles) such that there were always credible people to vouch for me. I did not and never disappointed them in anyway.

My Consulting firms got several commissions with various MDGs (Federal Ministry of Works). The Presidency arms of NDDC and DMO, Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Works, Ministry of Housing and Urban Renewal, Ministry of Environment, Banking Institutions, Bureau of Special Projects, Private Developers and a host of Private Clientele.

The jobs undertaken as a Consultant were mainly on design of Roads, Bridges, High-rise Structures, Jetty, Housing Estates, Erosion Control Works for coastal Communities, Bank Building, Markets, Stadium (M&E) and Residential Homes.

Our Construction Company AEC WORKS LIMITED, handled several Road Projects, Market and Residential Buildings and Private Complexes. Our workforce was just below 400 at some point in time as against about 20 workers at inception.

The Corporate Headquarters of the Company AEC Works Limited in Uyo, today stands as a great testimony of a purely indigenous initiative, holding forth hope for our patriotic professionals who are sincerely committed to nation building and stemming capital flight brought about by the unnecessary over reliance on multinationals.

CED MAgazine: Engr. Otis Anyaeji, President Nigerian Society Of Engineers, Has Not Only Promised To Implement The Communique From The National Conference Which Includes The Implementation Of The National Infrastructure Master Plan, In Addition To Collaborative Strategies. What Would You Suggest To Him As A Way Of Achieving The Objectives And How Will That Impact On The Nation And The Professionals?

Dr. Umana: The current President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Engr. Otis Anyaeji is a staunch advocate for a better Nigeria, an accomplished professional of repute in the Power Sector with a bubbling interest that spills over into other related sectors. He is very conversant with the issues relating to the development of Power Infrastructure over the years in Nigeria and I strongly belief that given his antecedents, he will do all that is required to get things working.

However what I can chip in here by way of suggestions would be to obtain a sort of legal backing for the NIMP, by passing it as a bill through the National Assembly in order to forestall deviation and abandonment.

In drafting the legislation, cognizance must be given to the active involvement and unhindered participation of core Nigerian Professionals in the sector who have the requisite training, qualifications and experience. Thereafter its holistic implementation should be jealously guarded and pursued.

Serious consideration should be given to delivering power as priority one. Steady power is achievable. I will recommend a systematic approach of first delivering steady power in chosen pilot locations like F.C.T and some selected states in the six geo-political zones of the nation. The success that will be recorded in the pilot steady power delivery schemes is bound to gradually spill over and engulf more areas and subsequently the entire nation. Using the approach of achieving steady power in phases will create an encouraging success syndrome that will definitely break the jinx of unsteady power currently experienced everywhere nationwide.

Our relevant experts who are making waves abroad in similar endeavours should be sought out and brought back to team up with their counterparts’ resident back home.

Nigerian Professionals in the sector should be given enough room to function and grow. A well articulated succession plan must be put in place through mentoring and strategic training of new entrants in order to ensure that there will always be a steady and unbroken stream of the needed professional workforce to guarantee sustainability over an endless period of time.

The manifold impact of emphasizing the use of, and fully involving Nigerian Professionals in the execution of the NIMP and even other sectors of our national development, is so extensive and inexhaustive?. In the first order it will address the issues of underemployment/redundancy, unemployment, over-reliance on multinationals, capital flight and to some extent the value of the naira and our depleting foreign reserves.

Very vital intangibles are bound to emerge when ultimately our nation comes round to realize that major and sensitive projects can be conceptualized and executed by our wholly indigenous Nigerian Professionals without involving a single foreigner in anyway. It will be to the pride of the nation to be able to say that a given achievement or breakthrough was recorded solely by the initiative and expertise of its citizens. The professionals so involved will be consolidating their practice in readiness to take up more complex challenges as they come. We will naturally begin to command serious regard from The International Community and a greater sense of responsibility will be increasingly fostered and festered amongst the Professional rank and file.

It is quite irksome to contemplate that our indigenous core professionals can be so sidelined in the scheme of things to such a contemptuous extent that most have been forced to abandon their practice and veer into other things for survival.

The taste of the pudding is in the eating. This is a clarion call to our leaders and policy makers, “LET OUR PROFESSIONALS PROOF THEMSELVES”. The bulk of the expatriates are improperly educated workmen who had acquired hands-on job experience and nothing more.

CED Magazine: Your Achievements Have Continued To Receive Commendations From Far And Wide With Several Awards. This Must Have Placed On You The Burden Of Top Class Performance. Speak On These Achievements And The Effort To Keep Up The Standard In A Country Like Nigeria.

Dr. Umana: There exists one of the cardinal principles of law (“Nemo judex in causa sua”), which holds that “you cannot be a judge in your own case”. Many independent bodies and Institutions have over the years deemed it fit to bestow awards on me. About 6 months ago in October 2015 for instance, I was honoured with three different awards and recognitions namely;

– Award of Doctorate Degree (Honoris causa) in Business Administration by Cornerstone University and Theological Seminary, Jerusalem, Israel.-
– Induction into Nigeria Construction Industry Hall of Fame.
– Kwame Nkrumah Pan African Meritorious Award for Exemplary and Proven Leadership towards Development in Africa.
There are over 30 Awards and Recognition, but I will mention just a few more;-
– Excellence Award by Nigerian Top Executives (top 2 percent) in Architecture, Construction, Real Estate Industry (2015), Washington DC.-
– Centenary Award of Recognition as one of Nigeria’s Top 100 Development Professionals and Industry Leaders of the Built environment (2014).
– Nigerian Legend of Courage Award for the contributions towards the Development in Nigeria (December 2013).
– Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award by CCLP World Mission in Nigeria in recognition of exemplary services and contribution to the Socio-Economic Development of Nigeria (2012).
– Distinguished Leadership in National Development Gold Award (D’LINGA), for contribution to the Socio-Economic Development of Nigeria (June 2011).
– The Nigeria Democracy & Development Award for Star Excellence in infrastructural Development by African Leadership Awards (2011).
– Development in Nigeria Merit Award for Engineering Services.(September (2010).
– Excellence Award for Engineering Practice by NSE for outstanding Contributions to Engineering Practice and Nigerian Society Engineers (November 2009).

Those are the most recent in the past 5 years and I would say that they express the independent verdict on my achievement. Talking about the burden that the awards place on me is somewhat out of place because excellence to me is a way of life.

However, maintaining a standard of professional practice in the Nigerian environment goes beyond the individual. It takes two or more to tango. It is a very intricate situation that involves a wide range of players (Regulatory Bodies, practicing Professionals, Clients, Manufacturers, Product Vendors, Artisans and what have you), who must be determine to carry out their roles without all forms of compromise.

Keeping and maintaining standards is a chain process and as the saying goes “No Chain is stronger than its weakest link”. Talking more on this will only land us in a conundrum scenario, so away out of it is to simply agree that all the players involved should carry out their roles with utmost integrity.

On my own part there can never be any form of compromise, even in contemplation. As a member of the prestigious “Order of the Engineer”, I owe solemn obligation to my profession. During our induction into the Order in the US, we were made to read out a pledge and also sign a written one. Among other things, “we pledge to practice integrity and fair dealing and to uphold devotion to the standards and dignity of our profession and as Engineers to participate in none but honest enterprises”.

CED Magazine: Let’s Discuss Infrastructure Development In Nigeria, Akwa Ibom State And Advice On Sustainability.

Dr. Umana: Infrastructure Development in Nigeria is gradually working its way out of the woods. Much has been said. Much has been done. So much more remain to be done. Mega cities like Lagos and Abuja are in the lead, followed by some state capitals and so on. MDAs or Federal and State governments are battling to get there.
– Grandiose plans abound awaiting proper implementation. – Public and Private Partnership initiatives should be explored. – Proper maintenance culture needs be cultivated.

Strategic Forward Planning must be done with due consideration to the dynamic and ever changing local and global circumstances. All relevant and interconnected MDGs should be structured for seamless interface to achieve the desired synchronization for hitch-free delivery.

CED Magazine: Final Word.
Dr. Umana: Nigerian professionals should rise up to their bidding and take their rightful place in National Development and Politicians should respect professionals and realize that professional codes and ethics of practice are sacrosanct.

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