Since independence over 50 years ago, indigenous operators in the Nigerian construction industry have been struggling for opportunity to tell the world that their skill and mental ability are not limited by the colour of their skin.
According to the operators, it seems nobody wants them, adding that they hardly see opportunity of a place to work and where they do, they operate under close supervision by their white employers.
Worried by this state of affairs as well as other factors, including lack of access to finance and very poor public perception which sees them as quacks and people who will never deliver, 13 indigenous construction firms have come together to form what they have called ‘League of Construction Companies’.
Nnamdi Agbim, the MD/CEO of Interkel Group, who disclosed this as a panel discussant at the 20th anniversary celebration of Construction Kaiser Limited in Lagos recently, also disclosed that the league has the support of DFID and Growth and Employment in States (GEMS), a special purpose vehicle for the promotion of indigenous skill and construction sector.
Agbim explained that the poor public perception of local industry operators magnifies other challenges of the industry such as lack of support and sympathy from members of the public in the event of default.
“The league is already in place and we have started with advocacy and sensitisation of the government with the aim of drawing attention to the league,” he informed.
In his keynote address at the event, Kadri Adeola, managing director, CPMS Limited, lamented that at 50, the best contractors in Nigeria are not local firms or operators, adding that many odds, including procurement policy, are against local industry operators, mainly engineers.
For him, the way out of this problem is to make access to finance by local operators easy and cheap. He said there should be a deliberate policy to open up the industry to multiple players, just like what happened in the banking sector which seems to have achieved a measure of success after many years of trials, failing and rising to try again.
Earlier in an interview with journalists, Igbuan Okaisabor, executive vice chairman/CEO, Construction Kaiser Limited, had stressed that time was ripe for indigenous construction firms to really come together as it happened in the banking industry where two, three or five banks came together to form a formidable bank and today they are reaping the benefits.
“People should allow their companies to have their own life and not to think of whether it is their son or daughter that succeeds them. For me, if my children decide to work here, they have to apply like anyone else and if they work hard to get to the top, so be it, but the company must have its own identity and life,” he said.
“We have got to a point where more business executives have to see it like that. This will cut cost. If, for instance, four companies come together to form one company, they will cut support services cost, enjoy economy of scale and be able to compete better.”
By: Chuka Uroko