Thursday, January 14, 2016 10:14 pm
Kabiru Gaya, an engineer and former Governor of Kano State, is the current Chairman of the Senate Committee on Works. Being a professional, while he was governor he ensured close monitoring when he gave out construction and other contracts that required engineering skills.
Consequently, the indigenous firms which were his preference for handling such jobs never failed to deliver. ‘’Though they were local engineering firms, we gave them the opportunity and they performed,” Gaya said during an interview in Abuja earlier today. However, he went further to lament the fact that things have changed, with foreign engineering firms practically taking over the terrain.
Gaya is worried about the trend which has deprived indigenous firms of the opportunity they need to build on their skills which would put them in good standing when they have to compete with foreign engineering and construction firms to bid for major contracts. The Senator posits that the situation is quite unfair since it has been established that the foreign firms that end up securing the biggest road, building and other contracts particularly from the Federal Government have always enjoyed complete funding from government coffers. According to him, it amounts to capital flight since these foreign firms that have lately been predominantly Asian-return home with huge funds taken out of the Nigerian economy. ‘’At the end of the day, it is still our government that gives them the money to do these jobs, and if you don’t expose your own people to do the work, how will they perfect their skills?, ” Gaya stated.
In 2015, foreign firms secured contracts in the country worth almost N2 trillion. But indigenous firms could only muster contracts with a total value of about N260 billion. While the foreign firms rake in huge amounts from executing the major contracts, indigenous firms are miffed about the fringe contracts, mostly on maintenance that they are given after the foreign firms have departed.
Nigerian engineers are also displeased about the fact that foreigners who are not better qualified, always end up with fatter pay packets even when they perform the same task on site. Industry sources disclosed that usually, foreign engineers and technicians are paid in dollars and their wages are at least three times higher than what any indigenous worker on similar projects can ever hope to earn. Yet, the foreign firms always require the skills of indigenous workers to get the job done.
On his part, Engr. Usman Emoabino, Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Highway Engineers says indigenous engineering firms have been contending with sundry hindrances that have limited their progress, capacity and status. ‘’Issues of registration and regulation should be properly handled so that the good engineers that abound in the country would be given the chance to perform and consequently enlarge their capacity,” he said.
He pointed out that assertions that often emanate in some quarters about indigenous firms being incapable of delivering top quality projects because they lack equipment is false. ‘’The real issue is that the government prefers to deal with these foreign firms that actually buy all their equipment when they have been given part of their contract sum by government. This is the kind of support indigenous firms never get,” Emoabino said.
According to Gaya, Nigerian engineering firms should not be blamed for sometimes being unable to adhere to specifications. ‘’Every contract given has specifications, but for Nigerian companies, since they have to pay a large percentage of contract sums as kickbacks and bribes, they are sometimes forced to lower these standards and specifications. We have to stop collecting 10-15 per cent of the monies meant for contracts and allow the indigenous firms to do their work well”, he said. He emphasized that corruption should be properly tackled concerning the award of the contracts.
Allen Egbe, an engineer who has been handling government contracts for over three decades also insists that contract awards are always skewed in favour of foreign firms. ‘’These firms always have the cost of equipment built into their contracts, but Nigerian firms do not have such luxury, and worse still, even for some of us with equipment, there is still little or no patronage,” he laments.
Gaya suggests that government must begin to encourage Nigerian firms through proper financing that can be made available through banks. And in Emoabino’s view, rules must be amended to ensure that Nigerian firms are no longer screened out by the frustrating requirement that their turnover must exceed a certain threshold as qualification for handling some huge projects.