In this Exclusive Interview, Engr. Charles Adekunle Aladewolu, Chairman/Chief Executive of TECO Limited, Speaks on the success story and the strategy behind the company’s achievement since inception 36 years ago and the power of engineering in a developing nation.
Speak briefly on your professional background and TECO Limited?
My names are Engr. Charles Adekunle Aladewolu, I graduated from the University of Lagos, faculty of engineering far back in 1972, which is 44 years ago and later did my Masters Degree programme in Business Administration at the University of Warwick in the UK, and since then I have been in practice. I started my professional practice at United Africa Company Ltd (now UAC), where I worked for four years as workshop and mill engineer. Later I moved on to R.T.Briscoe and worked for four years as Projects Manager, from where I resigned in 1980 to set up my own firm TECO Limited.
The acronym “TECO” stands for “Total Engineering Concept”. In other words, here at TECO Limited, we have most of the engineering disciplines in house such as Civil, Electrical, Mechanical, Chemical and Petroleum engineers. This enables us to take any project on turnkey basis. It also enables us to ensure projects are delivered on time and meet all the standards required in engineering practice. It creates opportunity for all the engineers to make inputs and suggestions during project planning and execution and equally enables us to deliver jobs as at when due.
The company is 36 years old and by God’s Grace we have brought honour to our profession and satisfaction to our customers. We give the glory to God who has been our helper.
What do you have to say about the place of engineering, structure of government ministries and department and the appointment of the head of these agencies?
In any nation, what separates the under-developed from the developed is the development of physical asset and infrastructure. Engineering is the foundation for civilization and human development anywhere in the world. Just look around you; the clothes we wear, food that we eat, the cars we-drive, the roads on which we ply everyday have a touch of engineering in them. If not for engineering man would have remained like Adam in the Garden of Eden eating raw food and walking naked in the bush. The crude oil and other minerals that God deposited in our soil would be useless without engineering knowledge to process and refine them.
Looking at the economy and the federal ministerial structure, if we are to choose ministers according to their professional background, you will find out that 90% of the ministers will be engineers. For instance, in the ministry of justice, the minister has to be someone who qualified in law, in the ministry of health, the minister has to be someone that read medicine and qualified as a medical doctor or as a pharmacist. But when you are talking of other ministries like the ministry of works & housing, industries, science and technology, aviation, water resources, power etc it should be someone who qualified in engineering that should have been appointed minister.
These are some of the reasons why we are having problems in this country, people are not appointed to man the portfolio based on their qualifications and knowledge. We should put square pegs in square holes.
I am of the opinion that every ministry should be manned by a qualified professional that will take quality decisions and promulgate good policies that will turn around the growth of the country’s economy and affect the masses positively. No country can develop without engineering, because engineering is the basis for infrastructural development across the globe.
Enumerate some of the projects done over the years by your firm, and among them, which one is so dear to you in terms of challenges during the cause of delivery or the success story?
We have done a number of projects in different sectors of the economy since inception. The area I would like to talk about is in the design, fabrication and construction of palm oil mills. At independence Nigeria was the biggest producer and exporter of palm oil in the world. Then our production output was at 79 per cent of total world output, but today our output is 13 per cent, because when we discovered crude oil in commercial quantity investors abandoned agriculture and went into hydrocarbon business.
In those early days, we designed and supplied mechanized palm oil mills to replace manual processing of palm fruits. We are still in the business of local fabrication of palm oil mills to various oil palm plantations in the country.
One of the projects I would like to talk about is the palm oil mill in a place called Nsukwa close to Kwale in Ndokwa-West Local Government Area of Delta State. It has the capacity to process up to 20 tons of palm fruit bunches an hour. The most interesting thing about the project is that it was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, when he was the Head of State in 1983, and I was the engineer that conducted him round the palm oil mill. We have built a good number of mechanized palm oil mills in many oil palm plantations in other parts of the country since then.
In 1991, we commissioned our manufacturing factory in Ondo state where we fabricate locally, some of the palm oil mill equipment instead of importing all the needed equipment and materials from abroad. This enabled us to create jobs for young engineers and technicians.
At this point I like to call the attention of the local, state and federal government, stakeholders, and investors etc to go back to agriculture and refocus interest in cocoa and oil palm plantation development. It will create employment and wealth for our people.
I was in Malaysia last year and you will be surprised to hear that Malaysia that came to NIFOR in Benin, Edo State to collect palm seedlings is now exporting palm oil to Nigeria. When Nigeria was producing 79% of world output, Malaysia output was 9%, but today Malaysia and Indonesia are producing 80% of total world output. Now that crude oil prize has crashed, and people are planning to go back to agriculture, the Malaysians are saying that Nigeria who is the largest importer of their palm oil may soon go back to the old ways of producing palm oil for their domestic use. What will they do with the huge quantity of palm oil they are producing?
To solve the anticipated challenge, Malaysian government set up 28 research institutes to look into what can be done with palm oil. As at now they have discovered 42 products that can be made out of palm oil and palm kernel oil. Even if we stop importing palm oil from them they will not be bothered because palm oil will form part of the raw materials needed by the oleo chemical industry to produce the 42 products discovered by their researchers. Another innovation is that they can build cars that will use palm oil refined to a certain grade as fuel.
God has blessed our country in so many ways and with so many resources. I think it is time for investors to look at the agricultural sector and massively invest in the sector. Our people should go back to the plantations, because there is nothing wrong in someone retracing his steps when he notices he is missing a direction on the journey of life.
Speak on consulting engineering as a driver of infrastructural development; how has this affected the level of employment generation in the country?
As we all know consultancy is where everything starts, physical development, environmental upgrade, good management of resources etc. It is the brain power behind any development. It is through consultancy that things are created out of nothing. In the universe, God is the greatest consultant because He made everything out of nothing. An engineer will sit back and think out of the box for solutions to human problems, and because there are many problems in the environment, consulting engineering will continue to thrive.
As I use to tell people the more the problem the more opportunity for business because the consultants are there to solve problems. So as a consultant, we keep dreaming, seeing what others don’t see, put them on paper, do the calculations making sure nothing goes wrong during and after construction.
In addition, I also believe that experience is important for one to succeed as an engineer. That is why we place emphasis on training. We also encourage young engineers fresh from the universities to come for industrial training. We give them the needed opportunity to learn the rope at a very young age, exposing them to the secret of engineering success.
Our staffs are also sent abroad for refresher courses on the new technologies and innovations that are evolving globally.
A qualified consultant after designing project will not want the project to collapse during construction and after commissioning. The issue of collapsed buildings in this country today call for concern and it’s as a result of quacks that are been patronized by our people and the use of sub-standard materials in construction including lack of proper supervision of projects. Every project should be well supervised till commissioning by a qualified consulting engineer. The power of the consulting engineer on projects cannot be over emphasized.
Local Content Policy: do you support its adoption in the construction industry?
The Local Content Policy is a good policy and it should be adopted in every strata of the construction industry, because it gives Nigerians the opportunity to participate in the scheme of things, especially in the construction industry. In our organization, in the past most of our installations were done with expatriate personnel, but at a stage we invited some of them to Nigeria and they spent two years here to teach our engineers on the fabrications and installations method and after the two years they issued us certificate, certifying that we have the knowledge and competences to do the jobs ourselves. We have not recorded any failure in our projects and operations in the last 36 years. We give all the glory to God.
What is your take on the plight of artisans with infiltration of foreigner into the country?
The Nigerian artisan needs training. The trade centers and technical training schools should be properly equipped. It is an eye sore to see tillers coming from Benin Republic, Togo to do tiling jobs here in Nigeria, whereas we have our people crying for jobs.
The major problem with the artisans in Nigeria is that they just learnt the jobs from people who are not properly schooled or certified, road side mechanic doing guess work, without really knowing the true concept of how the machine works. The artisans in this country need to be properly trained and exposed. They need a little bit of theoretical knowledge of the profession. The bricklayer needs to know the consequence if the mixture of cement and sand are not correct, most of them don’t know these things.
Peer review mechanism; what is your understanding of this?
It is very important to know that engineering is not localized. It is the same law that is applied here that is being used in UK and USA, the standard may be different because they take their environment into consideration, but the basic principles are the same. We are not living in an island, so we should be able to review the technology level from time to time. So in a nutshell peer review mechanism is very important in this profession and in construction industry generally.
Looking at the consulting engineers in Nigeria in what way do you think they have contributed to the economic development of the country?
Consulting engineers have contributed immensely to the development of Nigeria in so many ways. They cannot be overlooked in any developing country like ours, because they generate the ideas and develop the ideas that would eventually become reality. People don’t see what they are doing until they see structures rising, but structures will not come without the consulting engineers. It is important to say that they are contributing immensely to the development of Nigerian economy and also they are the change agent of development across the world.
What are the major challenges facing the construction industry in Nigeria?
Well, to start with I could say it is lack of patronage by the government, that is one of the major causes of the challenges facing the industry, most especially when it comes to the award of mega projects. One of the reasons they proffer is that it is easier for the foreign companies to get funds to execute projects than a local company that depends solely on government to fund the project from the onset till completion. But whatever the case may be it is better to patronize the Nigeria companies and a situation where the company lacks the resources to do the job, the company in question could source for resources from within and outside the country to get the job done. Give us the challenge and we will surprise you.
So I appeal to the government to always patronize and encourage the Nigeria companies, because if the mega projects are awarded to the foreign firms, most of them will bring in their people into the country to do some of the projects. All these are some of the reasons the foreign exchange keeps rising. Our people will remain unemployed and when people are not engaged, criminal activities will be on the increase. The environment itself will continue to suffer as a result of negligence.
Expatriate will never spend their income in Nigeria, for the facts that they are not paid in local currency, their income will go back to their country of origin.
But an indigenous company will first of all create employment opportunity, most especially the qualified professionals and also engage the local artisans. All these people will be paid in local currency which will be spent within the country, and in so doing will ensure money circulates within the country. It will also enable our people to improve on their professional practice as well as gain experience. So it is very important that the government encourages our people by awarding some mega projects to the indigenous companies. China today was built by the Chinese, why can’t Nigerians build Nigeria?
Construction and engineering sector is the highest employer of labour all over the world, how do you think it could be applied in Nigeria to cushion the effect of unemployment in the country?
Construction activities attract employment and one of the reasons is because no major projects succeed without the input of other professionals. In any construction site, be it road, housing, bridge construction etc, artisans are there to do the manual jobs, food sellers are there to hawk their food as well. But a situation where there is no project awarded by the government, local, state and federal government what will be the fate of the teaming masses?
It is widely accepted all over the world that the construction industry is the highest employer of labour. This year’s budget has less than 30 per cent allocated to capital projects which to me are too small. The roads in the country are in bad condition, housing deficit is on the increase, power supply needs surgical operation and our industries are not working. So the government should spend more money on capital projects than on recurrent expenses.
Yes! The country is going through difficult times now; the oil prize is nose diving on a daily basis, it is now about 50 per cent of what it used to be. The quantity we produce has gone down from 2.4 million barrels per day to 1.6 million barrels per day and all these are affecting project financing on the side of the government. Most state governors cannot even pay the salaries of their workers; there is agitation from different ethnic groups across the country.
We pray that this government will find a way out of these challenges and award contracts for infrastructural development, because it’s through construction that the economy will be revived. So my word is that construction industry is essential in cushioning the effect of the unemployment situation in the country.
Are you comfortable with the government policy in this industry, For instance (procurement, contract concessioning etc)?
There are procedures for procurement, but are they really following the procedure? There should be proper advertisement of contracts and it should be open for all qualified firms to participate not a situation whereby contracts have been awarded to some people before advertisement is placed in the dailies. And contracts should be awarded to those who have the competence and integrity to do the job, not to family members and friends, so as to curb bribery and corruption in our nation.
On project concessioning there is nothing wrong with it. Concessioning of projects is usually as a result of lack of funds to finance projects. It is very good for public private partnership (PPP) provided it is properly planned and structured for the benefit of both parties involved and the masses as well.
Some of the advantages it brings is that roads will be properly built and maintained for up to 20 years before the roads are handed over to government. Some of the challenges it encounters is the inconsistency in government policies and political instability. Any company involved could suffer loss of funds when government changes. Another challenge is long litigation like the Lagos – Ibadan expressway and MM2 concessioning saga which is still fresh in our memory.
What measures do you think can be applied in sustaining procurement standard in project execution?
There are laws and frameworks guiding procurement policy in this country, and if we are to maintain and sustain procurement, the standard set must be met, funding of projects must be timely to avoid increase in prize of materials and variations in contract price. The designs of project must be right and tailored to suit our environment and it should not be too sophisticated that it could not be maintained. Every item procured and imported into this country must be installed and maintained for at least 5 years by the contractor.
In the area of quality control as a professional engineer, what is your take on this?
Quality control in construction and engineering practice is important because if we fail to control the material, process and construction there might be failures. In fact engineers should first of all control themselves for integrity purposes.
In TECO Limited, we have quality control department that checks all the design works before construction or installations start as the case may be. This is to ensure that there is no failure. The materials for construction must be tested in the laboratory to meet the right standard and during the physical construction and professional engineers must take responsibility on site. So quality control is essential in this industry.
How can professional ethics be maintained in engineering practice?
During my days in the University, my professor used to say “doctors bury their mistakes while engineers are buried by their mistakes”. If an engineer builds a bridge and it collapses tomorrow, it will take a long time for him to get another contract. But if a sick person dies even when it is as a result of the doctors’ mistake they will just confirm the person dead and the dead must be buried. So we have to be very careful as engineers as we practice the profession. The professional bodies like Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) and the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) are there to monitor and guide all the members, reminding them of the ethics of the profession periodically. The professional bodies have disciplinary committee who ensure all members adhere to the ethics of the profession. Integrity is important in whatever you do. For an engineer it ensures that you are upright and you don’t abuse the trust your customer has in you.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): How has your firm felt over the years?
Here at TECO Limited, corporate social responsibility is part of what we do. We ensure the environment where we work is safe for the people. We have a full time HSE (Health, Safety & Environment) manager. We also contribute to the development of the society. We assist some parents to pay the school fees of their children and wards. At times we go to the extent of sponsoring them up to the university level.
We also employ people and not just give them job, we ensure they receive their salaries as at when due. We equally support the less privileged homes around and to that extent we are doing our best.
Hard work, Excellence, Integrity and Righteousness; what is your take?
In every organization there is what we call core values. Here in TECO Limited, everybody adheres to the core value of the organization which is:
Hard work – it means you are not just looking at your clock, once its five o’clock you carry your bag and go, but ready to be committed to your work. It means you must be happy and passionate about your work. So we ensure everybody is carried along on any project we are working on.
Excellence – it starts with the design work, construction and after sales services. We make sure the customers are happy from the beginning of project to the commissioning. We equally visit our customers unannounced to see how the factory is running, making the customer succeed in his business.
Integrity – is the key for every successful business, so for us to be in business for 36 years it is our watch word. So it is part of our core values. Integrity is an asset in business.
Righteousness – righteousness exalts a nation and a business too. We believe that God is in control of everything we do and we are responsible to Him. We ensure all we do are in agreement with God’s plan and He has been so wonderful. So it is part and parcel of us here to pray at least 15 minutes every morning before we start work and we have been doing that for the past 36 years to date.
What are the areas your company is venturing into?
Because of the huge interest in poultry farming, 5 years ago we started investing in poultry processing technology. We have built processing plants for small, medium and large scale investors in the sector. Instead of doing the processing manually, it can be done mechanically.
Two years ago, precisely in 2014, we built and commissioned a plant with the processing capacity of 2000 birds per hour for a customer. Now that the government has banned the importation of frozen chicken, more people will invest in this sector.
Presently, the same customer whose processing plant was commissioned 2 years ago approached us again to double the processing plant capacity to 4000 birds per hour and it was successfully commissioned early this year. This customer can satisfy only a small fraction of the market demand.
We equally worked out a rendering plant which takes care of the waste that are generated from the processing plant such as the feather, blood and the intestine. The rendering plant turns the waste to cat, dog, and fish meal. It is a simple technology and we are proud that we are making our customers richer.
Our vision is to be the best and leading local provider of excellent engineering and technical services in partnership with reputable global manufacturers of equipment for our customers’ business success in Nigeria.
God bless you.