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Wednesday, July 28, 2021





It is somewhat strange that I will be invited as the keynote speaker at today’s conference. Even though your invitation letter said nice things to make me comfortable, one of which was an acknowledgment of my decades of meritorious service at ExxonMobil, which you rightly noted as a giant, global, and engineering-based Corporation, what you did not know, and therefore failed to take into consideration is that given my poor performance in subjects relevant to your profession, I should have no business being here today.


Let me confess that I was one of those students who not only abhorred mathematics and the sciences but had a sustained impression that those of you seated here, who were adept in these subjects, had some unexplainable eccentricity. In secondary school, where the foundation is usually cemented for membership of this elite engineering club, I had classmates who did not only embrace a superiority mindset based on their knowledge of ‘’Maths-Maths-Physics’’, but had an unexplainable swag, sometimes walking like sailors off a vessel, including deliberately leaving their hair uncombed. I am sure some of you remember those days because you stood out! But let us admit it, you knew something that the rest of us did not know and where would the world be today if not for you? So, I thank you for being exceptional and for your many contributions to make our society better.


The last three decades of my life, especially as I climbed the professional ladder into leadership roles, have been quite exciting and enlightening. Given that the Corporation is a melting pot of persons from diverse nationalities, backgrounds, and disciplines, it was often fascinating in meetings to observe the mannerism and distinction of colleagues. I particularly became intrigued with Engineers; their thought process, sometimes layered with impatience, given the desire to cut to the chase. I witnessed their diligence and a focus on the flawless execution of tasks. Whether it was about drilling wells to enable the extraction of crude oil or facilitating its flow or the designing, building, and maintenance of the numerous complex and humongous operational facilities, the engineers were always at their best. I watched as similar diligence was deployed to ensure that the environment, and indeed personnel were safe and protected. So, I have been opportune to see your profession at its best. And truth be told, your colleagues contributed immensely towards making me a better professional and Manager.


There is yet another reason that I am grateful to you. Given that my interaction with your colleagues greatly influenced my behaviour and thought process, this had a domino effect back home, as it must have influenced two of my daughters to study Engineering. Aniekan is a graduate of Mechanical Engineering, a relatable course, which often makes our conversation pleasant. But with Mfoniso, a graduate of Computer Engineering, it is a different case as I feel she is always deliberate in making me feel uneducated given the densities of her language. After all, what do I know about writing codes? But each time I engage both, I come off thinking that maybe I had the innate ability to be one of you, if not for some environmental factors. We could revisit this discussion later, but, in this 21st century, the era of technology, we must make sure that no child is left behind in securing the fundamentals of S.T.E.M (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).


Now, to our subject! I thank you for picking a conference theme, which speaks to unlocking opportunities for your members given the trend in Akwa Ibom State towards infrastructure consolidation, expansion, and industrialization. And why not? First, let me state unequivocally that as an indigene of this resource-blessed state, I am exceedingly pleased with the efforts of Governor Udom Emmanuel, towards the industrialization of the state. That you have also acknowledged the same is commendable, because if successive governments continue in his strides, then within a relatively short time from now, we would have proven to cynics that there is nothing wrong with us; and particularly, that the Nigerian leadership is not jinxed. Secondly, I am happy that this conference will also focus on some of the ongoing projects, like the Ibom Deep Seaport; and may touch on the upcoming Ammonia plant, the expansion of Ibom Airlines and the Maintenance facility at the airport, as well as other infrastructure development programs, all of which you have a pivotal role to play. I know that you will be busy, adding value and making money as professionals, but you must keep your eyes on the ball so that there are no missed opportunities.


Before we proceed further, let me confess that I have asked myself why we should even be discussing the roles of engineers at this point in our history given that this body was founded 63 years ago? What happened to the cardinal mission statement, which amongst others, includes ‘’…collaboration with, influencing and providing quality advice to the various arms of government, industry, commerce, academia, and the society at large…’’? Should we not reasonably assume that by now, NSE should be at a glorious stage where nothing happens within the infrastructure space without its participation and approval? If that is not the case, why? There is no doubt that you have made significant progress over the years, just as it cannot be denied that there have been some missed opportunities. It is these missed opportunities that we must address to avoid having them on the agenda of future conferences. Going forward, we should be tracking efforts at meeting long-established targets not only for the benefit of the members of this noble profession but for the overall good of the larger society. All stakeholders, particularly the government must appreciate that your role is vital and therefore non-negotiable.


What do we mean by Sustainable infrastructure and industrial development?

I think it is important to remind us that the concept of sustainable development has been on the front burner for the past decades and has gained popularity across various disciplines. The World Commission on Environment Development defines Sustainable Developments as developments that meet the need of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet its own needs. In this context, various authors have provided definitions of infrastructure, sustainable development, sustainability, and sustainable infrastructure. I align with the definition of sustainable infrastructure assets by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Canada, as those which:

1. Lower carbon and environmental footprints

2. Protect natural ecosystems

3. Prove resilient to changing climates

4. Optimize the use of natural ecosystems and their “infrastructure services”

5. Move beyond compliance with core labour standards and human rights

6. Trigger technological and industrial innovation

7. Increase investment in education and research and development (R&D)

8. Increase employment

9. Demonstrate financial viability 

10. Crowd-in domestic investors and businesses

11. Increase foreign direct investment

12. Bring value for money for taxpayers and investors

In a more general term, Infrastructure and industrialization developments must be executed by striking a balance between environmental protection, wellbeing, and economic prosperity for the benefits of both the present and future generations. The way we build infrastructure and industry in the 21st century will be a measure of our respect for our earth and ourselves and it will determine the quality of our existence and our children.

Additionally, Sustainable Infrastructure and Industrialization are central to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement, given that current infrastructure systems account for more than 60% of global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions ( Even though infrastructure is only explicitly mentioned in SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure), it underlies all the other socio-economic SDGs. It is important to note that countries, especially developing economies mainstreaming social and environmental benefits in infrastructure planning will achieve multiple benefits such as good health and wellbeing through clean transport systems (SDG 3), access to affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), sustainable industrialization (SDG 9) and responsible production and consumption (SDG 12). Sustainable infrastructure and industrialization will also contribute to protecting and fostering the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems (SDG 15). Similarly, better-planned transport infrastructure and improved connectivity could reduce inequalities within communities (SDG 10), as well as promote positive climate actions (SDG 13).


Engineers, being the key professionals in the infrastructure and industrialization sector must therefore create sustainable solutions into designs, construction, and operations of infrastructure and industrial facilities. They must also collaborate more actively with other disciplines in integrating the kind of green designs of global standards.


What are the drivers for sustainable infrastructure and industrialization?

Let us be reminded that sustainable infrastructure is a means to mitigate environmental, economic, and social risks, as well as to increase resource optimization and benefit creation. Infrastructure such as telecommunication networks, transportation systems, water treatment, and waste management facilities are necessary to ensure effective economic and social development. The importance of these basic needs cannot be overemphasized especially in view of the following key factors:


1. Population and Demographic Shift – Our population is growing at an alarming rate, and there is a significant demographic shift from rural to urban areas. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the number of urban-based Sub-Saharan African households is likely to grow at a rate of 4.1 percent per year until 2025. This expected growth demonstrates the need for better urban management, institution building, and a new paradigm for planning and implementing infrastructure projects.

2. Nature-based solutions (NBS) are progressively acknowledged as corresponding solutions that provide infrastructure projects with several benefits and expand their levels of sustainability and resilience. These solutions are specifically essential for Africa as we tackle our numerous challenges like access to clean water, waste management, energy and food security, herder’s conflicts, etc.

3. Innovation - Innovation and diffusion of new technologies are indispensable for economic growth. They lead to increased productivity and to the creation of wealth and economic well-being, including decent and green jobs. Advances in Additive manufacturing, Nanotechnology, Artificial intelligence, Blockchain, Robotics, among others are driving sustainable Infrastructure and industrialization.

4. Financial Incentives - In the tackle of the coronavirus global pandemic and the ensuing economic recession and financial crisis, governments around the world are prioritizing a sustainable infrastructure and industrialization agenda being led by the G20 nations who have pledged USD 5 trillion to support the global recovery. Additionally, according to the International Finance Corporation (2018,), the bank loan financing of climate-related investments needs will increase dramatically from an estimated 7% today to more than 30% by 2030.


So, what should you be doing?

I had earlier complimented you for your aptitude and ability to resolve issues that seem complex to a majority. But unfortunately, it does appear that society is not getting the better of you. Or put it differently, maybe our environment has succeeded in clipping your ability to soar. If it is the latter, you have my sympathy. Several years ago, there was an article titled ‘Where the Engineers are’ (WADHWA, VIVEK, et al. “Where the Engineers Are.” Issues in Science and Technology, vol. 23, no. 3, 2007, pp. 73–84), which brought to the fore the interest of some countries in promoting the engineering profession. Though focused on the USA in comparison to India and China, it showed how deliberate these countries have been in churning out engineering graduates, including massive investment in vocational training and research. For example, since 1999, China adopted a policy of transforming science and engineering education from “elite education” to “mass education”, resulting in a significant surge in enrolment. It also ensures that a researcher that publishes his/her works in an international journal is accorded a national hero status.


The point here is that we need to do something about incentivizing our engineers, just as the engineers must help solve our numerous problems. After all, the role of the engineer is to look inwards and find solutions to our problems. And we have a lot, and in almost

every sector of the economy: education, health, agriculture, security, power generation, etc. It is in this regard that I must salute the courage of Engineers like Jerry Isaac Mallo, who started manufacturing ventilators from locally available materials during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, with support from the Plateau state government. Similar production was also undertaken by the Nigerian Military’s Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON), an organization I believe can do a lot more for the country. Only recently, a team of engineering-based multidisciplinary researchers, under the aegis of the Laboratory of Industrial Electronics, Power Devices and New Energy Systems (LIEPNES), has generated 500KVA of electricity using a locally fabricated gasification plant for the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (The Guardian Newspapers, March 31, 2021). The leader of the research team, Prof. Emenike Ejiogu, of the Electrical Engineering Department, must be commended for this bespoke solution. How can I forget the award received by Wisdom Eyoh, a Mechanical Engineering graduate of the University of Uyo for building a prototype of a 3D printing machine which won the 1st position in the 6th edition of the Nigerian Universities Research and Development Fair, held in Awka in 2016? There are many other sectors begging for intervention, and our engineers must wake up to their calling. Just as they must be encouraged and supported.


Akwa Ibom State and Infrastructure Development:

Developed economies worldwide and the United Nations (UN) agree that when innovation exists in an economy and the necessary infrastructure is provided, it can spur the economy of a nation to bring about employment, additional income, and growth. Akwa Ibom state is not an exception. Thus, we need adequate and necessary infrastructure to be provided for our economy to work and provide benefits to teeming Akwa Ibomites and Nigerians at large. We need good and adequate roads, targeted at developing industrial areas, farming neighbourhoods, and commercial areas. We need roads that connect towns and communities. We need an adequate and steady power supply to spur more industries, more commerce, and provide a stable base for manufacturing and production. We need communication infrastructure that meets the needs of a modern economy, provides room for growth and, is a backbone for innovation. We also need support services, water, health facilities, ports, other transportation options, improved air transportation facilities that are easy to access and available to all, as we strive to modernize and improve our economy; just to mention a few areas. These infrastructures must be strategically sited where they are most needed and targeted at industries, services, and processes that require them to impact our communities in the most practical ways possible.


The big question is how does Akwa Ibom get to achieve all these? What is the current state of play and what is the role of engineers domiciled in the state, in growing its economy to guarantee wealth creation for the citizens and increase employment for the teeming youths? What should you be doing to make Akwa Ibom an enviable state where people seek to reside, do business, and is respected for its forward-looking and healthy economy?


While the measurement standards for development may have been blurred in Nigeria, given what some sections of government claim as dividends of democracy, I believe that any objective mind would acknowledge the vital achievements recorded in Akwa Ibom State. Truth be told, particularly given the country’s current difficult circumstances, it takes an audacious mind to dream big, and drive the execution of life-changing programs. Herein lies the accomplishments of Governor Udom Emmanuel. With a plunge in crude price, twice within the 6- year period of his regime, two recessions, and a devastating Covid-19 pandemic, this governor has been able to forge ahead with projects that will not only unleash the economic potentials of the state but will create an oasis out of a region of despondency. But what does it take for you to play a crucial role in this development space?


In answering this question, we must seek refuge in one of the mission statements of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, which is the commitment to collaborate with, influence, and provide quality advice to the various arms of Government, Industry, Commerce, Academia, and the Society at large, to uplift the country. Given that this is so broad in scope, it also implies that the footprints of your members should be evident across the landscape. If it is not, then you must honestly interrogate the factors holding you back.


A 1984 article by Arunsi Chuku, in the European Journal of Engineering Education with the title: The Engineer and Nigerian Society: Crisis of Definition and Perception remains germane to our discussion today. While the article acknowledges the limited understanding of who truly is an engineer, the author was also quick to point out that such misunderstanding is not limited to our clime. However, we must admit that it has become increasingly worse here because even those who should know better have chosen, despite the regulation of the profession, and its pivotal role in society, to patronize unqualified persons, assigning them tasks that should be restricted only to the most qualified and competent among you. Sometimes, such persons become gracious by offering you a role, not necessarily a primary one, just to ensure that appropriate signoffs are obtained. 

That is not right and must be vehemently resisted. But taking your rightful place is not going to be through the lobbying process, as has been the practice for decades. Neither would the threat of enforcement through the law courts ensure a robust success. You need to do some soul searching, ensure professionalism in all your offerings so that your work speaks for you. It is called differentiation! You need to walk the talk when it comes to the cardinal objectives of promoting and enforcing high standards in performance and professional ethics among your members. You need to impact society positively so that your offerings are roundly appreciated. The era of failed roads, collapsed buildings, incomplete and or abandoned projects, unjustifiable cost variations, etc. must go away, and those members who act otherwise need to be publicly sanctioned.


Additionally, you need to have conversations that would:

1. Guide the government on what types of infrastructure to provide, location, standards and specifications, budgets, and execution duration.

2. Encourage innovation to promote economic growth, generating employment and income for our people. You must therefore be versatile with the latest versions of engineering innovation tools and best practices. Technologies are changing rapidly, as the world converges towards more sustainable solutions, and the only way to keep abreast of technology is through continued education.

3. Exploit the numerous opportunities in biotechnology, renewable energy, blockchain technology, agricultural tools/agricultural mechanization, information communication technology, etc.

4. Continue to partner with our tertiary institutions to improve the standards of engineering/science education, and ensure that the curriculum is particularly tailored towards the needs of Akwa Ibom state.

5. Promote projects with greener footprints and advocate for the execution of the same using the most environmentally responsible approaches.


You must always think about your contributions to solving the challenges that exist today because by so doing, you bring to the fore the importance of your profession, in addition to making some good money. Never be afraid to start something. Start small, experiment, and allow solutions to grow naturally.  Understand that a lot of industries, new technologies, and solutions of today started small, and some started in someone’s garage, backyard, or bedroom.



As I conclude, I will be remiss not to offer a few words of advice to our young ones, whom I also encourage you, the veterans, to be deliberate in mentoring. Despite the gloomy picture about Nigeria, I know we have some very talented youths who are ready to excel if given the right support. In this state, I have encountered thousands, especially those mentored through the instrumentality of the Inoyo Toro Foundation. And my message has always been for them to imbibe the following values if they want to succeed.

1. Hard work:

We all must admit that we have a poor work culture in this country, a sure barrier to our competitiveness as a nation. This must stop. People must be reminded that they do not need to be the best but should always give their best in all circumstances. This was my winning formula in ExxonMobil, and I was rewarded appropriately.



2. Discipline (and punctuality)

This really speaks to how engineers carry out their tasks and it, therefore, requires no extensive discussion. It is also about the HOW and not WHAT. You may have completed an infrastructure project, and we commend you, but how did you go about it? Will that project stand the test of time, or should we anticipate a failure? We must be reminded that the result is not more important as the means, by which it was achieved, and it is only a disciplined approach that will birth and replicate excellence. We do not need to look too far but reflect on the several moribund companies littered all over this state which were crippled by indiscipline. Imagine where we would be today if all of them were booming? Imagine how busy your members would be if a well-thought-out intervention agency like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), was functioning well? I am pretty sure that there would not have been a reason for us to hear ‘’please off the mic’’.


3. Integrity:

Anyone who has established a business in Nigeria, no matter the scale, must have experienced the lack of integrity by some staff. This is becoming a major impediment for investors wanting to come to Nigeria. In some cases, the frustration begins right from the exploratory meeting with all sorts of persons, private and official, scrambling for a cut. The majority of them have left, never to come back, and those still around are groaning. Things are so bad that it almost appears that the only Nigerian who is not corrupt is one yet to have an opportunity. We must work hard to change this narrative. And the young ones can help change this painful narrative.


Finally, let it be clearly understood that Akwa Ibom State holds boundless opportunities (human and material), but these must be thoughtfully harvested for the good of its entire people and not just a few. But it would require working together to get there. Collaboration with the government, the Education Sector, Industries, Investors and Businesses, Finance entities, and anyone willing to bring new technologies is therefore critical.


As the industrialization efforts continue, there is a role for each of us, and my prayer is that we can see beyond any despair and play our part devotedly for tomorrow’s joy. Those who know me well will attest that I have always strived to be part of a solution wherever I find myself; focusing on matters that uplift rather than degrade, building capacity instead of stifling growth, and creating wealth instead of wallowing in consumption. Akwa Ibom state is poised for greatness, and you must be part of that journey. I am already a part of it.


Thank you for listening.

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