Doris Okechukwu Mbadiwe is the Deputy Managing Director of Inter-Bau Construction Ltd, an indigenous construction company in Nigeria that has been in existence for almost four decades and delivered notable capital projects including the Onitsha River Port Project, Utor Road and Bridge Project, and the recently completed Port Harcourt Airport, among others.

The female constructpreneur with over 15 years in the industry is a Tradeswomen Activist who believes that women should be well represented in all stages of infrastructure delivery in the construction industry, as women are also the main users and beneficiaries of infrastructure and makeup up to 50 per cent of the population in Nigeria.

Doris is a member of the Board of Trustees, Inter-Bau Foundation, a non-profit organisation established to train and equip women and youths with practical construction skills such as carpentry, painting, masonry among others while bridging the gender gap in the construction industry. She also provides mentorship and leadership training and has impacted over 4000 young women through the foundation.

As a lawyer, you are involved in running a construction firm and you are also big on development. How do you marry all these?

I have always said that Law is the foundation for everything.  I joined the construction company as a company secretary and legal adviser; in charge of contracts and agreements. I was doing all the legal aspects of the construction projects. As time went on, I got interested in the construction sector itself. I started involving myself in the technical aspect and I took courses in construction so, I am not just a lawyer but knowledgeable in the construction industry.

What of the development aspect?

When the company turned 35 years old,  we were thinking of what to do to give back to society and we thought of  Inter bau Foundation, dealing specifically with human development and capacity building. The foundation focuses on training men and women in a 40:60 percent ratio, in construction skills.

Recently, there was a structural failure in a building project in Lagos and no one seemed sure whose responsibility it was. As a lawyer working in this construction industry, with whom or which party does the buck stop in such matters?

The causes of every building mishap are different.  The only party that would know the exact problem is the people involved in the building.  Everybody else can do guesswork based on his or her expertise on the knowledge of why a building collapses.

From what I know about construction and buildings, there are a number of causes. The three major components of any building project include skilled workers, materials and equipment as well as the method. If any of those three is compromised, it compromises the integrity of the project and of the building.  A lot of people who are trying to understand why the building collapsed will definitely be around these three major components.

Either the professionals did not understand the skills of the workers billed for the job or the materials were not adequate and if they are adequate, they could have been used in a substandard composition. The method used may not be proper for that kind of building. It could be a foundation problem. There are many challenges attached to the building. But, the people who would know better are those directly involved.

Who are we to hold responsible? Government, people, or the regulators?

Most times, people would blame the building contractor. People do not necessarily blame the owner.  Most people would be asking for the contractor working on the project, after which they will be blaming the owner. And in terms of the regulators, their responsibility is to basically inspect the project. In other states where I have projects, the government’s responsibility is to inspect periodically to test the integrity of the building project , but I do not know what is obtainable in Lagos.  I might not be able to speak to the collapse of the building you are referring to.

There is a rash of new real estate developments in Lagos. Should we be concerned about standards?

Building collapse incidents compared to those that are standing is not alarming. Although for every building that collapses and lives lost, it is regrettable and should be avoided. In terms of the ratio, it is not significant.  We have competent contractors and there are lots of developments that are really credible. As long as humans are born and the population keeps increasing, there will be a corresponding need to provide housing. What should be considered is how to prevent reoccurrence.

And how do we do that?

The regulatory bodies and professional bodies will ensure that the workforce involved in the project is competent and knowledgeable.  The COREN institute of architects, engineers should be properly trained and skilled. They must abide by the rules and regulations that govern the profession.

Secondly, there must be monitoring on the quality of materials, composition of the materials and there must be a regulatory body holding people accountable.

There must be independent inspectors that inspect buildings that are over five floors.  The higher a building goes, the more attention should be given to the process and procedure of building. Government, professional bodies, and other experts in the construction industry have a part to play. There must be training and retraining of all bodies involved on new ways of building, new materials to be used. Once those things are put in place, there will be an improvement.

Lastly, there must be a deterrent meted to anyone that is not doing the right thing. so, people will be careful.

Like a sort of Black Box for collapsed building’s ….

In the last three years, it has been widely published and I am hoping that we now know what caused the building collapse, especially the recent one. Of course, we can put measures in place to prevent another one.  I am sure that they would have tested the materials, the foundation, and the project itself so as to know the cause.

Why do you favour women more in the deliberate attempt to help more people take advantage of opportunities in the construction value chain?

The construction sector is lucrative. The industry is bombarded by men and a few women. There are lots of construction works going on but the major players are men.  Right now, we want the percentage of women to be increased and they should be accessing the opportunities in the industry especially as there is a high rate of unemployment among the youths. Construction used to have a structure that accommodates high levels of unemployment, although right now, it is Agriculture.  There are more entrepreneurs now than there used to be. Construction has the capacity and potential of absorbing lots of unemployed youths because of its nature. For us, it is an opportunity.

Most women do not know that there are opportunities in the construction sector.  Almost all professionals can work in a construction company.

There are lots of women who like tools.  They could become construction artisans. All the opportunities in the construction industry are very lucrative.  The carpentry business is a multi-billion dollar industry; painting is another aspect of the construction industry that is lucrative. There is no house that does not have paint.   Instead of being jobless, women can access these opportunities by learning vocational skills in the construction sector to make a living. And that is what we do at the Interbau Foundation.  For every position in the construction sector, there is an Assistant.  We have Construction Managers that manage construction projects apart from Administrative Managers. Anyone who has studied Business Management or Human Resources is also needed in the construction sector.  Doctors and Nurses are also needed at the operational site. Lawyers are also needed to ascertain the terms and conditions of engagements. There is no profession that is not tied to the construction sector.  There is also the need for a caterer.  There are direct and indirect means to access the opportunities in the construction industry. There are consultancy opportunities also. In other words, what men have been enjoying, women can also benefit from as well.

As an indigenous construction company, how have you coped with the big internationals?

The grace of God and the God factor. It opens you up to be competent and diligent and how to form and sustain relationships. You have to be good at what you do and be able to convince someone else of what you do. This is our 38th year of existence. We have survived the military regime and we are still surviving.  Of course, you do not start big; we started small in Delta State, the former Bendel State.  There was a need for construction at that time, and so we started with small roads construction and from there we started building capacity. From the roads to housing and we upskill.

We started learning how to improve and build capacity.  Integrity is also very important. The owners of the company understand the need for integrity. They want to abide by the rules, regulations, and standards to which the organization was set up.  As an indigenous company, we do not compromise professionalism and integrity.

It is better to encourage indigenous capacity because the income and every other thing are circulated. It is not exported.  We have indigenous talents in the country and there is a need for us to build our indigenous capacity.

Is there a way to monitor the skilled artisans to be registered, monitored, and periodically upskilled?

We have the institute of builders, architects, estate surveyors, engineers, and in all these institutes, we have the women’s wing. We have an organization that houses artisans.  This means anyone who would be employed to build should show a certificate of membership with any of the institutions. Even the professionals would be registered within the institutions. For Engineers, we have the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, COREN. 

A principle should be implored in the process of registering any of these people into the institution thereby making it difficult for anyone to fail short of the decision of the institutions.  This will ensure that every work on the project is competent.  The institutions will be in charge of training, retraining, and upskilling. There should be an upskilling course to be taken by every member of the institutions.  Right now, in the construction industry, the law requires that you must have an engineer as one of the directors and that was not the issue before.  Going by this development, stringent requirements will be put in place in case of any building collapse.

Most people would rather prefer to engage foreign construction companies instead of indigenous ones. What are you doing differently?

We have proven ourselves and we have shown that we have the capacity to take on projects that foreign firms cannot do. We have the human, financial capacity, and technical know-how.  We have done projects that foreign firms could not do. We have constructed an international airport, inter-port in Lokoja. We have constructed buildings. We do more road, bridge construction, seaports, inland structures.

For us, it is not a matter of doing things differently but doing things the way they should be done.  For us, the God factor is supreme at Inter bau. We try to be professional in everything we do.  We try to be cost-efficient. We are mindful of knowing the new ways of building, learning, and up-skilling. We are constantly learning, researching, and consulting on better ways of constructing. And that is what is sustaining the business.

For women who are considering a switch into construction,  especially those who are into a particular profession; how do you think they can start?

It is either direct or indirect engagement with the construction company.  But, it is better to start small and do things indirectly. You can become a subcontractor.  We have post-construction cleaning and women can key into that.  At Inter bau, we are always excited to see women accessing some of the opportunities in the construction industry.  Any woman who has the capacity to do post-construction cleaning will be given the opportunity. We want women to use the female capacity to access opportunities. Curiosity is the only factor for anyone to break forth.

We started the foundation fully last year, although the initiation started in 2020 COVID-19 hampered it.  We are doing mass awareness and sensitization programmes for public and private secondary school students. We have impacted over 4000 females in Lagos. The German government sponsored the programme and we have been doing it in partnership with Lagos state. The Lagos government, through the education ministry, gave us permission to go to the schools. We listed all the opportunities in the construction company and we also gave the students papers to guide them. We also went to NYSC camps to sensitise our new graduates on the opportunities in the construction sector.

Our facilitators educate the community leaders using different languages of communication.  In the process, we discovered new technology. Some of our artisans are now entrepreneurs.

It is better to encourage indigenous capacity because the income and every other thing are circulated. It is not exported.  We have indigenous talents in the country and there is a need for us to build our indigenous capacity.

Is there a way to monitor the skilled artisans to be registered, monitored and periodically up skilled?

We have the institute of builders, architects, estate surveyors, engineers, and in all these institutes, we have the women’s wing. We have an organization that houses artisans.  This means, anyone who would be employed to build should show a certificate of membership with any of the institutions. Even the professionals would be registered within the institutions. For Engineers, we have the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, COREN. 

A principle should be implored in the process of registering any of these people into the institution thereby making it difficult for anyone to fail short of the decision of the institutions.  This will ensure that every work on the project is competent.  The institutions will be in charge of training, retraining and upskilling. There should be an upskilling course to be taken by every member of the institutions.  Right now, in the construction industry, the law requires that you must have an engineer as one of the directors  and that was not the issue before.  Going by this development, stringent requirements will be put in place in case of any building collapse.

Most people would rather prefer to engage foreign construction companies instead of indigenous. What are you doing differently?

We have proven ourselves and we have shown that we have the capacity to take on projects that foreign firms cannot do. We have the human, financial capacity and technical know-how.  We have done projects that foreign firms could not do. We have constructed an international airport, inter-port in Lokoja. We have constructed buildings. We do more road, bridge construction, sea ports, inland structures.

For us, it is not a matter of doing things differently but doing things the way they should be done.  For us, the God factor is supreme at Inter bau. We try to be professional in everything we do.  We try to be cost efficient. We are mindful of knowing the new ways of building, learning and up-skilling. We are constantly learning, researching and consulting on better ways of constructing. And that is what is sustaining the business.

For women who are considering a switch into construction,  especially those who are into a particular profession; how do you think they can start?

It is either direct or indirect engagement with the construction company.  But, it is better to start small and do things indirectly. You can become a subcontractor.  We have post-construction cleaning and women can key into that.  At Inter bau, we are always excited to see women accessing some of the opportunities in the construction industry.  Any woman who has the capacity to do post-construction cleaning will be given the opportunity. We want women to use the female capacity to access opportunity. Curiosity is the only factor for anyone to break forth. 

We started the foundation fully last year, although the initiation started in 2020 but COVID-19 hampered it.  We are doing mass awareness and sensitization programmes for public and private secondary school students. We have impacted over 4000 females in Lagos. The German government sponsored the programme and we have been doing it in partnership with Lagos state. The Lagos government, through the education ministry, gave us permission to go to the schools. We listed all the opportunities in the construction company and we also gave the students papers to guide them. We also went to NYSC camps to sensitise our new graduates on the opportunities in the construction sector. 

Our facilitators educate the community leaders using different languages of communication.  In the process, we discovered new technology. Some of our artisans are now entrepreneurs.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.