The Chairman of the House of Representative’s Committee on Local Content Affairs, Emeka Azubogu, reflects how the poor application of relevant laws is making Nigeria over-dependent on other countries on things that could be produced locally. Azubogu, who is also the deputy chairman of the Committee on Capital Market, spoke with AZIMAZI MOMOH JIMOH. Excerpts:
HOW would you relate your clamour for adherence to local content law in every contract award to the allegation that local contractors either abandon projects after collecting money or do not pay attention to standards in the execution of projects?
I disagree with those who feel that Nigerian contractors are not competent. It is an excuse they play up to justify their failure to patronise local firms. They prefer foreign companies that make it easier for them to collect largesse. Once we can put up our own institutional framework very well and ensure that all arms of government function well, things will move well. You cannot say that because one or two Nigerians fail and you take it as an excuse to blacklist other Nigerians. We have a problem with our leadership but will that be an excuse to be colonialised again? They are under developing Nigeria and that is why we have lost so much grounds.
Every country that wants to develop closes in on itself; admit the truth, promote skills and trade and development will come in. India at a point decided to close in on itself; used India made clothes, vehicles etc. Today, Nigerians are importing cars made in India. We have a vehicle manufacturing plant in Nnewi but some people would tell you that the vehicle is not good enough. But what our people fail to realise is that it cannot be good unless we patronise it.
Hitherto, it was said that Nigerian engineers could not handle projects for oil servicing companies, but because many are making forays into oil and gas, we are developing capacities that are at par with global standards. All we need is the challenge. Unfortunately, successive leaders have failed to appreciate and recognise Nigerian engineers and involve them in projects. We need to change this trend.
Is there any law that can or should take care of these things?
There are laws. We have good laws, but the problem we have is applying those laws to what we do as a people. Non-application of our laws is holding us back. We need to strengthen our institutional framework. We must ensure that any engineer whose work is substandard is prosecuted. In countries like Japan and China, if an engineer does any work that is considered substandard he is prosecuted. If any contractor fails to follow the law he will commit suicide rather face the punishment. Our system has encouraged some of the failures we have seen among our engineers.
What do you mean by saying that the system encourages local firms not to deliver standards?
Corruption is endemic in our system and that is why somebody can have the courage to collect money for projects and refuse to execute the contract. Most of these companies engaged in construction are not engineering firms. Even government officials incorporate companies to siphon money. It is only in Nigeria that non-engineers practice engineering. We should involve engineers in policy making that concerns everything about construction, manufacturing etc. If an engineer engages in unethical behaviour he can be stripped of his certificate or license. Government must strengthen the institutional framework for the nation to get a better result.
How do you relate your clamour for increased recognition of local engineering firms in the award of contracts to the claim by lawmakers from the South East that road projects in the zone were awarded to local firms lacking capacity?
The contracts were awarded to foreign companies people brought to defraud Nigeria. Some of the companies are not Nigerian companies. Who are the promoters of these companies in Nigeria?
When they want to give contracts to Julius Berger for example, they give them at their cost but when they want to give to the some other contractors that would not do the work, they give them at a lower price that will not do the job. What is happening on the Onitsha-Owerri road is an example. The company that could not do the Owerri road job is still in the country. The price Julius Berger often quotes is always double the price of the other companies. But the issue is not the cost price but the capacity to do the job.
What we are saying in the East is that the roads should be designed properly and the contractors should be allowed to bid without the double standard we are seeing. Sometimes it is not that some of these companies, if challenged cannot do the work, but because they are used to fraud they take the amount that cannot accomplish the work. And there are Nigerian companies that can do the job if well supported.
We have to stop all this double standard if we want to move forward as a country. They know the right thing to do. Sometimes you see them telling Julius Berger to start work even before the negotiation is done, before the company brings its bill. But all of us know that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, local firms need to be encouraged and supported as well.
You are seeking the passage of the local content law without addressing the issue of corruption that is involved in the award of contracts. Don’t you think that this may defeat the objective?
It is a major problem but we are trying to address it. What is happening in the nation is frustrating. The National Assembly is doing a lot to tackle some of these things but they have continued to blackmail the National Assembly. They are saying that the National Assembly is always demanding for money. A lot of the lawmakers are working hard to change the negative impression about the National Assembly, they may not be more in number but they are there. I believe that if we will have a situation in Nigeria where something drastic would happen, things would change. But there are many lawmakers who are working hard to have things changed from the way they used to be. The National Assembly we had in 1999 is not what we have today; the new lawmakers are joining in the crusade against corruption. If we sustain this it will get to a point where everybody becomes an anti-corruption crusader.