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‘NSE app will report state of infrastructure in Nigeria’

As activities geared up towards the preparation of the 2021 National Infrastructure Scorecard Assessment Report, BusinessDay’s TELIAT SULE engaged BABAGANA MOHAMMED, president of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), on the benefits the nation stands to gain from the report. Excerpts:

What benefits do you think Nigeria will get from the National Scorecard Assessment Report 2021 being prepared?

Infrastructure scorecard reporting is a developmental tool that people in developed countries use to measure how far they have gone, what they have done, and what they are meant to do, to be at a certain point. This particular issue also led us to where we are now because we have a lot of infrastructure decay in the system. We still have issues of people vandalising critically infrastructures. This tool will give Nigerians ownership of their critical infrastructures.

At every point, we expect somebody to see something and say something. At every point, somebody must see something and you must say something appropriately so that it will be captured and be on record that you said it. If government is going to take action, we know where the blame will fall on, we are open.

We cannot grow in such a society; you need to be guided; you need to have parameters that will measure your growth so these are parameters that we use to ensure our economy grows. When we say engineers, it is not only engineers, it is every politician, every Nigerian because we are for the betterment of the society. We know the cost implication but we are executing it because we are for the betterment of the all the citizenry in this country.

For Nigerians, that is why we are doing it not because we have any special interest in it. We all live here; we also engage with these facilities. And if they deteriorate, we are part of those who will suffer it more; my engineers took part in bringing them on, and I think they are deteriorating, we need to take actions that will restore them back to order.

When it comes to vandalisation, what kind of infrastructure policy do you think the government needs to bring on board that will not allow such destruction to occur in the first place?

Before we go to policies, we need to allow people to understand the importance of what is on ground. That means we need to raise our advocacy by letting people know that these infrastructures belong to them, and they should take ownership of them. They are all meant for public use. First, you need to understand these properties are your own properties; if you steal them, you are stealing your property.

Read also: Massive underinvestment in infrastructure, bane of Nigeria’s economic development

When you understand that you have to protect it and that is the first point. But why do our people leave Nigeria for Dubai? Why do we go to Dubai, or America? Are you an American? You are not. This is where we are; they were just like us before, they don’t have all these facilities but they sat down defined what they wanted at a particular time. They desired it and got it.

Who says we cannot do it? We can do it but there is a process, we need to start somewhere. Some people have to take the lead. People will experience some discomfort at the beginning, but going forward when things begin to take shape, someday you will be remembered.

In the past, this group had produced two reports. To what extent did NSE engage the government and what are the new things you are bringing on board now with the third edition that is about to be published?

Government engagement is a continuous process, and we engage them every day and at every stage. If they want, they listen to you. If they don’t want to, they will not listen to you. That is where we found ourselves, but, in a modern society, once the engineering group speaks, everybody listens. Everybody takes a cue from them because they are the professionals.

As a professional group, we can’t talk from both sides of the mouth. If we say it is one, then it is one. You can verify it, stand by it. In politics, one plus one can be zero. In engineering, you can’t say one plus one is eleven, five or whatever. In politics, people will tell you that one plus one can be any figure and it depends on how you prove it with reasons. We don’t use that kind of common sense in engineering, because that kind of common sense brought us to where we are right now. In engineering, we use engineering sense, which says something as it is.

We have different infrastructure categories according to this report, so what new things are you bringing now?

In the first edition that we had, we only picked some areas and started. It was just to test run and see to the acceptability of the report. In other words, it was to test whether the people will accept it being the first edition. But this time around, when we mention infrastructure, people just narrow it down to roads, and road is not only the infrastructure: traffic lights, telephone lights, railway lines are infrastructures. Aviation is infrastructure, too. So, we opened up by adding more areas that were not included in the first two editions. That is not all, we shall keep on adding until we reach where we are heading. We are now at the development stage, next year would be better than this year.

We will keep up adding other relevant categories until the report becomes one of the best in the world. And until we have captured all the relevant information you can think off. Things are happening under our watch. That is why we are launching our infrastructure app so that Nigerians will own it from where you are: in your village, you will take the pictures and upload in the app. We are all going to do this gradually.

Another program will lead us to technical audit. We need to audit the materials we have in this country and tag it so that everybody will know what we have at any particular time.

I understand that a significant aspect of this report is international comparison towards Nigeria for other countries that have excelled. Do you have some particular countries in mind and why?

Come to think of it? The Asian Tigers, at a point, we were all on the same level. Malaysia got cocoa seedlings from us here in Nigeria. Today, they are the world leading cocoa producer. What happened to us, in the ladder? I was in Malaysia for one and half years and $500 would be enough for living for one month. In Nigeria do you think it is possible? But what have they done special? Do they have two heads? They are not even as intelligent as we are, I have engaged them on projects, and they are not as intelligent as we are. What is our problem?

So, when you look at all these things, you would get angry. You see their roads doing fine; they don’t even use their cars. Let me give you another example. When I went there for a program, I rented a house. I was in a five-star hotel. Somebody saw me and called me out and said; Mohammed why are you staying in a hotel? He carried me to one apartment right opposite the company, the apartment, self-contain, three-bedroom flat with one extra room. I asked what the extra room is for and they said, when you return, you would rest before you enter your room, and then enter your room. I said “shege” and at what cost? I paid for one month in that hotel, my former residence, and I asked them to return my money to me. And with the money they gave me, I paid for one year in the new apartment. It is a service apartment; a woman is on standby washing my clothes for me.

We started on the same path with them but today they are better than us. We are not equal to any of them, in fact, we are no up to one-tenth of any of them but because they have planned their activities and they worked towards their plans and their plans have been actualized. We have not planned for anything that is why we are scattered. So, infrastructure scorecard reporting is important, it is the best thing that will happen to Nigeria.

Kindly talk more about the app that you mentioned earlier?

The app is a work in progress. The NSE app is to report the state of infrastructure in Nigeria. It provides where you are giving information – where you are, the latitude, and other coordinates of the location. If anyone argues, we simply say we are not doing politics, we are professionals. We tell the person to go to the location and prove us wrong.

What kind of encouragement would you like to give in support of this infrastructure report scorecard?

I want to appeal to Nigerians that they should support this idea. They should respond to the survey and ask for the scorecard report when it is out. The more the responses we get from them, the better the analysis and decisions they will make on the scorecard report.

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