STILL ON ENGR. MAGAJI ABDULLAHI’S STATEMENT ABOUT ARCHITECTS. Published in Daily Trust Newspaper of Friday August 5, 2005.
By Ibrahim A. Haruna.

On the front page of Daily Triumph Newspaper of Friday, 22nd July 2005, His Excellency the Deputy Governor of Kano State was quoted as having said “he expressed dismay on how in many cases an architect plays and performs the role of other professionals such as building consultants, structural engineers, surveyors, quantity surveyors and a town planner in execution of a buildings of any magnitude.” This was at the occasion of the inauguration of the Engineering Regulation Monitoring (ERM) programme in Kano. These I find very difficult to believe could have been his words. I know him as a smooth speaker who does not run out of what to say under any circumstances, and could not have been forced to say that for lack of what to say. I know him as an icon of professionalism too well to believe he could make such a direct wild and unsubstantiated allegation capable of throwing fellow professionals into disrepute. Those who know him as a politician also do assert that he is someone who applies ‘engineering calculations’ to politics so much so that he weighs every word before he mummers it. Perhaps it was the draft of his speech writer which he never found time to edit before the occasion. This prompts my desire to react to that article.

His Excellency surely knows the history of architecture and engineering in the Nigerian context. Before architects become sizeable in number, most designs of buildings were done by engineers, and all the traditional responsibilities of the architect in construction industry were vested on the engineer. The old drawings and contract documents in the archives of the old northern region can confirm this. This placed the engineer foremost in the construction circle. Any body seen on site is called engineer. Even today many architects are called engineers generally. This has placed the engineers to an advantage over architects. More over, another advantage the engineers have over the architects is that of numerical strength. For every architect, there are at least four engineers. With all these advantages in favour of the engineers, how can one believe that the architects can out-smart them overnight and take over their responsibilities? If that is possible, then the architect must have been made of something special through training.

I would like to remind His Excellency that it is perhaps the other way round by giving verifiable examples of existing projects, including one for which His Excellency was personally involved. H.E will recall the history of Rock Castle at Tiga, where and when he served as a Senior Engineer at the then Ministry of Works. That big building was designed by Engr. Szabo, a Polish engineer who worked with the same ministry the early 70’s, and not by an architect. That perhaps informs why the structure failed to achieve the semblance of the ‘castle’ it was named, but rather stood like a match-box amidst that romantic environment. Another example closely is the Staff Housing for Kano Investment Ltd located at the Hotoro GRA o Kano, the commission of which was given to an engineer in 1980.

If H.E. really said that, he may not have realised it is more between one field of engineering and another, but not between architects and engineers. Perhaps H.E. may not have known the story of the PTF sponsored overhead tank at the Kaduna Polytechnics that collapsed soon after erection. The contract for it was given to a company wholly owned by a fully registered mechanical engineer with a ‘big’ name in engineering circle. Mere mention of his name will be a big embarrassment to engineering, and my engineer friends. Lust for maximisation of profit instead of professional aptness perhaps led him to use ‘mechanical’ sense in judging structural issues. If he had consulted his fellow, a structural engineer to design the stand and the footings, that disaster could have been averted.

H.E. should remember the whole problem is that of using the right professionals to do the job. Like in the field of architecture, where so many technicians parade themselves as architects, it is even worst in engineering, because every mechanic or craftsman calls himself engineer. To the common man, and even the elite whose eyes have been masked by the glaucoma of ‘cost saving’, such unqualified lots are presumed architects and engineers because they are cheaper to engage. The anxiety here is when H.E. who is a statutorily registered engineer of great repute refers to architect, no one will think he is not referring to statutorily registered architect.

Talking about using the right people to do the right job, one quickly remembers the endemic water shortage in Kano. When Kwankwaso, a water engineer who trained under H.E. did his best as evidenced by the his effort in boosting its source, and laying of huge pipes to take care of the distribution before exiting the stage, many hopes were raised when Engr. Magaji stepped in as the new deputy governor. Kano people were sure that the buck ends with him, at least for water. The ‘guru’ has stepped in to put finishing touches to what one of his boys started. Two years two months now into the new era, water problem is only getting worst. Even the creamy, sturdy and untreated drops which city dwellers christened ‘kunun Shekarau’ only trickled for few days and stopped. Rarely will people notice that the deputy governor’s expertise is not in any way involved in addressing the water problem. Those current in the events within Kano State know that the deputy governor has no assigned schedule, other than represent the governor in those activities that are not important enough to earn the governor’s presence. The deputy governor’s tremendous experience in the development of the large body of water which Kano State is used to be known for, is not seen as useful to the government he co-heads. But still he cannot escape being vicariously liable for the ineffectiveness of the sector, being in the system, like architects and engineers are joined together with those who claim to be.

We may collectively have our problems as professionals in a developing nation, and one of such problems is that of not patronizing only the statutorily registered engineers and architects. Even though the law is there, it is rarely enforced in the private sector. That perhaps informs why all the recently collapsed buildings belong to individuals in the private sector. Moreover, the issue of collapsed building is invariably a structural issue, which is engineering. The worst the architect could be liable to is failure to advise the client that he needs a structural engineer. In many cases private developers do not engage the services of architect and engineers for supervision of execution, and they more often than not shun any advice on the needs for such by believing that the ‘engineer’ they employ to construct it is experienced enough to know what to do. I do not see this as an issue of professionals washing their dirty linens in public. If washing dirty linens in public will sanitize the system and proffer greater sense of professionalism, let the dirty linens be washed on NTA (borrowing from NTA’s old slogan) ‘for the 30 million Nigerians to see’.
By Ibrahim A. Haruna, 82, Wudil Road Kano.

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