Thursday, September 22, 2016

THE NIGERIAN ENGINEER FLYING AGAINST THE WIND BY ISQIL NAJIM


" The sad reality is that most of these graduates are becoming experts in negativity and why and how things cannot work..…”
..Isqil Najim


He went to school with intention of being a change maker and a problem solver. He was told that if he can be the best in his class he will build the best bridges, great automobiles and railroads. He was shown the images and works of great engineers and scientists of years gone by. Albert Einstein is just too exalted not to be emulated. The discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton brought changes to science worlds, just as the work of many more distinguished scientists, and technologists all over.

Then he thought of Bill gates, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur, Guglielmo Marconi and other innovators who had made their mark in tech industry. He pictured in his mind a glorious career path that can also bring him fame, money and respect. Driven by the inspiration of these great achievers and the promises therein, he went into school with resolve to work harder and deploy his intellect into study of engineering. He played and watched fewer sports programmes; he limited his social contacts and befriended his four figure table, calculator, and workshop suit….

As he devotes himself in his study, devouring books after books, sweating inside workshops and laboratories, and grinding metals after metals on different type of machines, to hone and develop his skills, his colleagues (in non-technical vocations) have extra time to spend on clubs and other social activities. He has little and he spares little. Drenched in his overcoat (most of the time), he learned to cope with heat, oil and dirt while fabricating one material after the other. He learned to dress lightly and live simple. He learned the concept of hard work and dedication to duty. His trainings are all designed with such rigidity and requirement for attention to details. Mistakes are rarely tolerated-not in technical works. By the time he graduated from the college, he has sacrificed most of his social life for the profession. Victorious, he knew that the future holds better promises, and he set out on a journey to the world…

Out of the college, he began another four-year race, where he is expected to work even harder and translate his classroom knowledge into reality. The challenge is harder here and the stake higher. He needed to work for his professional certification and also his pay-cheque. With higher responsibility involved, he again fraternized more with machine tools and drawings (basically his works) while the bulk of his associates are those in same profession. After all said and done, the typical Nigerian engineer is rewarded with lesser pay and put in a “dignified kiosk” called office. He can’t go on strike, and he has to work harder for every level he attains in his postgraduate career…

More embarrassing is the fact that in today Nigeria, engineers are gradually being reduced into second class citizens. Most of their works are handled by foreigners while most of the top engineering management positions are handled by non-engineers.

The man who has worked his way up to become an engineer soon discovers that that opportunity to harness the vast amount of skills acquired in schools are limited. Most ended in factory as operation engineer, maintenance engineers, supervisors etc; while most working with foreign firms are performing tasks designated for technologists, craftsmen and artisans. In this situation, the nation gradually kills most of her promising engineers. A skill not used for long soon become idle and gradually lost.

Some divisions of engineering are more affected and this makes me think there is need to revise our national curriculum to meet the reality of our national technological demands. Of what use is sponsoring youths to go through rigorous trainings, and spend the most productive years of their life in an undertaking, that the nation have no use of? It is like we are training our youths for the sake of it. We trained them and then ask them to go out and fend for themselves without providing the infrastructures and incentives for them to evolve innovate and contribute into national development.… Even when they have the skills we do not provide the environment for them distinguish themselves. There are many engineers who have developed one prototype or the others but can’t find a way to commercialize them.

I understand some youths still go to college to learn automobile engineering (it was my first choice) whereas the nation has no ambition to develop her auto industry! At most the automobile engineers in Nigeria will be assembling cars and tricycles already made in other countries. The rest of the jobs can be handled by the technologists and technicians. And where some engineers has taken gallant steps toward conceptualizing their vision for auto-industry, the policy makers have often been found wanting. What happen to the young man who made helicopter? And what happen to Nigerian domestic industry? The vast potential in revenue and trickledown economic effect of having a truly functional automotive industry has not been exploited. The nation appears to be more content at importing raw materials even when we have an undeveloped and under-exploited steel industry. All of which can create thousands of jobs for other engineering segments.

What about electrical engineering? How many of these highly skilled are given opportunity to apply their skills? As the nation reel in darkness and the businesses suffer (and now the recession), what policy has been put in place to encourage these talented engineers to solve the problems? It will presupposed that we have no qualified engineers to solve our energy crisis, and initiate productive enterprises, but when you take inventory of our homegrown professionals going outside the country only to make great impact in their host countries, you will understand the extent of the neglect at home. This is just as example. In telecom industry, electronics, etc same stories are all recorded.

Civil engineering has been faring better than others perhaps because of the nature of their works. However, this doesn’t mean they are better. They have more opportunities than their counterparts in mechanical and electrical engineering because most of the materials needed for their works can be sourced locally. And because it seems easier to set up civil engineering works in Nigeria than building machines and factories to start electrical or mechanical engineering facility. With right application of knowledge and mobilization of workforce, civil engineers can perform wonder. Another observation is the fact that since pre-independent Nigeria, civil engineers has been the forerunners when it comes to technology development.  Nigerian civil engineers especially in the built industry, road construction have no excuse to cry for lack of tools. But then, government has been overlooking them in many projects in favour of foreign contractors. Many are not paid for their services, while there are many abandoned projects across the country which all tells stories of brilliant engineers that are laid-off due to redundancy.

Many (technical) sectors of the economy remain underdeveloped. Petroleum sector however is doing fairly well due to the strategic importance to the nation’s economy. But the sector is still dominated by the foreigners. Railways sector is in comatose. Despite its importance to the nation’s development, no single university can boast of specialization in this sector in Nigeria today. Our best railway experts are either old or trained abroad while the sector itself is only beginning to get the right attention to thrive. The opportunity in the sector is grossly underutilized.. It will look as if Nigerian railway sector has been doomed to remain in the past despite being the pioneer in transport sectors and despite it relevancy in Nigerian economy today.

Shipping industry is being championed by the Navy and they are doing quite okay. We have couple of fabrication companies that are making us proud. Aeronautical and space engineers are trained outside the country. Many new technologies entering the country are not treated in Nigerian universities and polytechnics; yet, we graduate thousands of engineers in saturated disciplines and continue to wonder why we are not developing.

When I first pen this article; I was looking at a publication in which one of the State’s first ladies is promising jobs to graduates in the state. The jobs to be created are barbing, fashion designing, shoe making and jewelry! I cringe at the thought that among the participants will be talented engineers and scientists with strong technical background. God forbid that to happen again!

Here is a state with many minerals and uncultivated farmland: A state with fertile land for cultivation of sugarcane. In their cluelessness and lack of idea and innovation, they fail to see the connection between sugarcane and renewable energy. They fail to understand that if they can develop a strong programme for sugarcane, they can build and develop Ethanol industry and even earn foreign exchange. They failed to see the high earning that is accruable to the state and the number of jobs that can be created from agricultural processing. Like sugarcane, they can easily look deeper and challenge these idle young professionals to create and develop the land. They have failed woefully in identifying potentials and their only escape is to stick to the duplication of jobs in areas already saturated.

Who does not know how to shave or have haircut? And how about developing the local textile (Aso Oke/Adire etc) and challenging the local engineers, technologists and scientists to develop machines and techniques that could make the works of the producers easier and more profitable?  I was even told that in another state, some of the beneficiary of the new jobs are turned into environmental officers where they will be busy making sure that road sweepers clean the highways and housewives wash their hands before cooking! If this is the road to attainment of vision 2020, then it is a sure road to servitude and job crisis. 

Some of those engineers with first class grades are being gracefully accepted into banking and allied industries. Where they put all their knowledge into use! What a way to midwife our nation into technologically developed country!

As I meditate on this, I realize that we are all guilty. The schools, the individuals and the professional bodies are as guilty as the government and policy makers. Nations make progress when all concerned share the vision of the progress. No nation will make progress when more talks are recorded than their works.

In concluding this, I opine that we must come back to basics and look inward. The universities, the professional bodies and regulators must urgently together and look into our technological needs and chart a way forward for the nation development in the next 20 years. There is surely need for revision of our schools’ curricula unless we want to continue to produce sophisticated graduates that we do not need. The sad reality is that most of these graduates are becoming experts in negativity and why and how things cannot work. They trade blame and lament their abandonment by the system and the profession they love so much. It is not uncommon today to see them look at their fellow professionals in Law and Medicine and rain abuse at their leaders for neglecting engineering.  

The Nigerian engineers cannot continue to fly against the wind. The nation cannot afford to be spending so much on training of engineers only to deprive them the opportunity and environment to put their skills to use. The excuse being made is that some of them lack experience. But what about those that have these experience? The foreign nationals that we invite were allowed by their home countries to develop and make their mistake and yet rectify it. Engineering is a profession that self regulate itself where there are standards in place. There is no excuse.   As with engineers, so are scientists and technologists affected in this general neglect.

Engineering is the bedrock of development of serious nations, when engineers get it right, the scientists will have the hope that their inventions and discoveries will be put into good use and the society will have the hope that all those theories are translated to useful concepts and techniques that benefit them all. In the end, everyone will benefit from the final works as community move forward; to greatness, to better quality of lives and social stability.

We must find a way of harnessing the talents available to us and ensure they work for the good of all. We must resolve as a nation that our engineers and scientists are going to be encouraged to play prominent roles in our development. This is where we can truly say we have evolved as a nation. The world of productivity is at the feel of the engineers and scientists. They are the permanent road out of our current recession and toward enduring economic prosperity and social development. To make Nigeria truly great, it is time to challenge her engineers to show what they are capable of. It is an illusion to expect other nations to come and develop Nigeria. They cannot love Nigeria more than Nigerians.


Isqil Najim is a Mechanical Engineering Graduate. He currently works as Business Development Analyst at An award winning oil and gas engineering design, construction and procurement firm in Lagos. He is also the Technical Assistant to National Chairman, Nigerian Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He is a technology enthusiast with unrepentant passion for developing young engineers and advocating engineering for community development.  He is a member of Editorial Board of Mechanical Engineering Magazine at National Headquarter. He tweet at @isqilnajim 


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