In this Interview with BEN EGUZOZIE in Calabar, the UniCem Marketing and Technical Assistance Director, Vipul Agrawal spoke on the cement company’s pioneering training and certification of block-makers and builders, as a way of forestalling weak structures and buildings collapses, quality of its cement. Excerpt
Q: Recently, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) Director General, Joseph Odumodu visited and inspected your cement plant at Mfamosing, in what is seen as SON’s continuous quality assessment of major producers’ standard conformity. What did he particularly say about your cement company?
Agrawal: Yes The Director General of Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), Dr. Joseph Ikemefuna Odumodu paid a working visit to Cross River State and visited our United Cement Company of Nigeria Limited 2.5 million metric tons greenfield cement Plant at Mfamosing in Akamkpa Local Government Area of Cross River State on 3rd February, 2014. The SON DG said his visit and inspection was to reinforce the partnership between the SON and Manufacturers like UniCem, to provide quality product service to Nigerian. While in the Plant, the Director General inspected our UniCem Laboratory where our Quality Control and Assurance processes are carried out daily.
Q: Recall that in July 2011, in Calabar, your company sponsored what came as Cement Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria’s (CMAN) first collaboration with SON on the issue of cement quality. Tell us the situation till date?
A: That’s correct; it was in Calabar that Cement Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (CMAN) began the partnership with SON to propel quality assurance of all cement produced in Nigeria conformed to the SON standards. Since then, every quarter, SON assesses all CMAN to ensure their products met standards. Each manufacturer receives the MANCAP certificate. You can see ours on the wall here in my office. I am a civil engineer and the technical assistance director, as well as marketing director. So, it is my duty to ensure that UniCem cement products (UniCem CEM 42, 5N and 32, 5 conform to the Nigerian Industrial Standards (NIS: 444-1:2003). They have been certified by the SON as cement of high quality with the awards of the Mandatory Conformity Assessment Programme (MANCAP) certificates. I can also say this is the same with other cement producers under the CMAN.
Q: The SON DG commended your company for planning to train and certify up to 5,000 block moulders and builders, on the right application of cement products in blocks and building. How would this training be? What are the modalities? Where would there be trained and for how long?
A: We are the nation’s third largest cement producer by products shipped. We began training and certification of block-makers in the South-South and South-East region in the last two to three years. We carry out physical demonstrations with our team on the preferred cement for block-making. We realised that many of the block-makers did not know the right application of preferred cement in block-making. We educate them how to do that, to get a good block for a building that would last for long. We went out with our team of technical experts, civil engineers, quality experts, to block-makers in the streets. This year, we’re taking it further and bigger. At least 5,000 block moulders and builders across the country are being trained on the right mixture of cement, sand and water to get the preferred mixture for block making. The aim of the training of the artisans is to get them properly educated on the uses of right materials and equipments, in conformity with the Standards Organisation of Nigeria’s (SON) NIS standard moulds. So as to avoid the sad occurrences of buildings collapses, which has been a recurring decimal in the country.
The training and certification, though costly to our company, but, we’re doing it as our effort towards getting Nigerians to get the best performance from cement products in the country. Nigerians deserve the best, and should not be made to suffer due to the activities of unscrupulous elements in the building and construction industry.
The NIS standard for block is, NIS-87:2004, which includes: cement in its original package (UniCem); clean sand devoid of visible dirt like black soil or organic material with mixed particle sizes; clean and drinkable water, with no dirt in suspension, not salty water, not stagnant water or water from gutters, and NIS moulds.
Q: What is your company’s take on the ongoing argument that cement quality was among the main causes of buildings collapses in the country?
A: I speak for UniCem, and that the quality of cement is, and has never been the cause of poorly built structures and the attendant buildings collapses in Nigeria. Rather, it is due to the activities of some untrained personnel in the building industry, who misapply cement volume and other equipments into buildings, thereby leading to weak structures and eventual collapses. Cement must be rightly applied into block making or building, otherwise you would get a poorly finished structure. It is sad that we have to contend with this kind of development in country like Nigeria that has a huge population and a fast growing economy. The notion being created by a civil society group in the building industry that, cement quality was the cause of buildings collapses does not have statistical evidence. No study was carried out to determine this. I urge them to do a study on that before saying so. I know that all cement manufactured or imported into Nigeria are of high quality. They all conform to the SON’s mandatory conformity assessment programme (MANCAP), which the regulatory agency carries out quarterly.
I can state that UniCem’s Portland Limestone cement is manufactured to the specifications of Nigerian Industrial Standards (NIS) and under the supervision of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). UniCem CEM II 32,5R cement is characterised by its high strength and fast setting attributes, and conforms to the NIS Standard 444-1:2003, with the strength class of 32,5Mpa. UniCem CEM II/B-L 32,5R product has the attributes of durability, high strength at early ages, fast setting and nice finish,” stated Agrawal, while restating his company’s stand on the ongoing argument on cement quality and causes of buildings collapses in the country.
I commended the SON for the supervisory work on cement production in the country. At this stage all stakeholders in the building and construction industry, the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Council for the Regulation of Engineering practice in Nigeria (COREN), Nigerian Building Industry (NBI), Block-makers’ Association of Nigeria, should join the CMAN to tackle the menace of quackery in the industry.