Engr. Nasiru Dantata is the Executive Director, Dantata & Sawoe Construction Company Nig. Ltd, an indigenous Construction giant in Nigeria; he is also the President of Federation of Construction Industry FOCI. In this interview he envisaged the industry becoming an integral part of Nigeria’s growing economy in the next ten years.
How has the economic recession affected your company operation, and what measure did the company Dantata & Sawoe take to remain afloat, taking into consideration that so many companies went under during this period?
As far as Dantata & Sawoe is Concern, as a Company we are over forty years old and we have established our self in several areas across the Nation, though mainly in the North, but in the last ten years, we have quite a good presence in the southern part of the Country.
When the recessing of the Economy hit, we all know that all the major Construction Companies were affected, especially those that have big exposure with Federal government, most of those Projects stopped. We laid off staffs and had to put hundreds of equipment on standby or idle.
What really helped us was combination of some State government Projects, or I should say the diversity of our portfolio. Whereby we have projects with Federal Government, State Government and some Private Clients, so as much as the economy is down, there is always one or two priorities either with the Federal or the State or some of the Private Clients. Especially those in the Industrial Sector, where most of those constructions continue throughout the period.
What this means of course is that, some equipment that are specially for highways re kept idle for a longer time than those meant for building or industrial projects. It was a challenge of course. we had employees that we had for a long period of time. it was not easy to say good bye to many of them. Luckily, we are in a way coming back. Though slowly. but there are signs of improvement. Operations were badly affected in several ways and you know once you have a setup whether you work or not, there is a certain cost that you have to incur.
It has been a challenge and it is still a challenge, we hope that if the recovery is sustained, we will be able to recover and hopefully forget what had happened.
The Federal Government Issued or signed Executive Order 5, with an intention of giving Nigerian Companies and indigenous time the opportunity to participate In National development like never before. What deliberate attempt has your company made to actually train our local engineers to compete favourably with other company that are bringing in more to foreigners to the country?
Well, for Dantata & Sawoe, we only bring in foreigners where it is necessary, in fact we have more foreigners in our workshop than in the ﬁeld for engineering, if you look at all the equipment we use, none is manufactured in Nigeria but we have to service all our equipment and these companies such as Caterpillars and the rest, they do not have any certiﬁed workshop in Nigeria that you can access, so we are having to establish our own capacity in terms of maintenance and so on.
On the site level, we have Nigerians understudying the expatriates that we have and each time we identify a capable engineer, we are willing to give the person the opportunity to grow within the company. We have Nigerian Project Manager at the moment with some expatriate supervisors under him handling our Kano Project, where we have two Federal Projects and some State Government Projects.
Sometimes, it is a challenge that when we build some staffs and after some years, they have capacity and some Companies easily poaches them to give them bigger roles to play in smaller Companies or maybe they establish their own Company. We see that as part of our own contribution to the national capacity building and it does not stop us from training new engineers to take up such roles.
The executive order is good as it is, but the signiﬁcant part of it already exist in several other regulations or laws or constitution, what we need more is in the aspect of enforcement of such existing laws and now for the packaged executive order, we need compliance at all levels and these will really encourage Nigerians so that we will have in-house capacity and besides that we have a lot of people unemployed for many people to graduate now as engineers, the opportunities are really limited.
I hope to see that this executive order is followed up by enforcement whereby, we can clearly identify those who are doing the right thing and those who are not because, construction is outside. It’s done on the street, it is not something that is done in a closed factory whereby you can hide, even the public can see which company is using which can pacify to execute the project.
Still on the executive order 5, the Intentions actually is to help our local Industry especially Construction Industry grow but we still see a situation whereby most of the railway Projects are given to the Chinese Companies, you double as the President of FOCI, what effort is government actually making to shift some of the Project so that other Companies can participate in the railway project?
The issue of the railway and some major road project, I think has to do with ﬁnancing arrangement, terms and conditions. It is like the Chinese government is funding part of most of these projects. It is possible that within the agreement of the funding arrangement, they are the ones to choose the Contractors.
This is a challenge for many African Countries and some are looking at it more closely than others. I can say that this issue also applies to the airport terminals that are under Constructions, we need to look deeply into the terms and conditions, we do not participate in the bidding, like I said, because it is a different kind of arrangement. It is unfortunate because if you look at some of these structures, it is not like the Construction Companies do not participate, but you can clearly see that our architects do not participate.
Otherwise, terminal building in Lagos should not look different from the one in Abuja. The layouts are quite different, am sure Nigerian architects would have produced something we can call Our own. Beyond construction, other professionals should have been more involved in this kind of project. It is up to the government to now take this order 5 and apply it to even projects where there is external funding. If a country or entity is willing to give Nigerian ﬁnancing, it should be under our terms and conditions of contracting, since we are trying to build capacity in-house and I think this is very possible.
Also, a big project like that will have opportunities for sub-contracting, even if there is a general contractor, there should be an intentional breakdown of what can be sourced locally to be able to improve the capacity in Nigeria; maybe issues like blasting of rocks, installation, anywhere you are looking for labour we have capable hands whether men or women that will be able to handle any complex task that may be assign, either Civil, Electrical or Mechanical.
I believe that there are many opportunities in different circles. Let say as FOCI, we are propagating such thing, but also, we have Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE, COREN, we need to come together to be able to propagate for Nigeria this kind of regulations so that when government is bold enough to make those regulations, we now hold them responsible at all levels to be able to follow up with the regulations so that it will not just be in the books but practically seen, so that we will be able to handle our affairs.
Over the years, funding for Construction Projects are sourced from Commercial Banks and this to a large extent ls stagnating construction execution. What Is your Company doing to explore other alternatives of ﬁnancing her projects aside loans from banks? What ls the way forward?
Thank you, you know for large Infrastructure Project, the burden of financing really lies with the owner of and rest, and if we are active in all part of the country, they can also be used for intelligent gathering and so on. because we see what is passing across on daily bases, I hope that with the effort of the Government to increase security we could also be considered as part of the package. government and clients to give us enough so that we will be at full capacity also, be able to employ capable Nigerians.
I see us in the next 10 years being an integral part of a growing Nigerian economy and a force that will not have a start and stop, that we normally have, especially during the elections period. Now that we have had a change in the ruling party successfully, in terms of the politics, I hope the next thing will be a successful change of government without any economic disturbance. In the next 10 years there will be at least 2 or 3 elections, and hopefully by then, elections will not be something that companies will be worried about halting activities.
I hope there will be capacity building in terms of what we can do by ourselves as Nigerians, also from the university and technical schools hopefully, there will be this coordination I talked about; so that we can move Nigeria forward. What they can contribute most is in the area of research because most of the technology we use is something that is developed outside Nigeria and I believe in the capacity of our student and academics (researches) to be able to come up with perhaps, mixed of materials of course everything is created of Nature, but we have our own type of soil as well as other things.
I know there may be something we will be able to come up with and introduce to the world in term of construction. Hopefully, such coordination can lead to more research and more locally sourced materials and technology for Construction activities.
This article was originally published in the Nigeria Construction Digest Vol 1 No. 6 July 2019.
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