•Assures of amazing 2022 World Cup, says Nigeria can change with visionary leaders
By Prisca Sam-Duru
Engr. Eugene Okosun is one of the numerous Nigerians in the diaspora who are doing massive exploits in their host countries and are willing to replicate same in Nigeria if given the opportunity.
The seasoned professional who hails from Esan Southeast Local Govt of Edo State, Nigeria, now in Qatar, flaunts decades of experience in construction, railways, roads/bridges etc.
In this exclusive interview, Engr. Okosun reveals how his journey into the world of engineering began, his experiences and current contributions for an amazing 2022 World Cup in Qatar and, so much more. Excerpts.
Could you share when and why you left Nigeria?
I started my early school (nursery school) days way back in Oyo state, primary school in Benin City at a Roman Catholic School and my secondary school was at missionary school in Benin City.
My tertiary education was at the then Edo State University now Ambrose Ali University, where I obtained my degree in Physics. I did my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in 1999, at Akwa Ibom state where I served in the Shell Development Company assisted school. I returned to Benin City to see my mother.
She was ill at that moment. Unfortunately, she passed away few days later and that drastically affected my perceptions about so many things. I just couldn’t understand after all the sacrifices she made for me; she won’t be with me to reap the fruits. Well, I guess that is life, we cannot question God, His ways are not our ways, but truly it hurts even till now.
May her soul continue to find peace in the bosom of our Lord. In such state of bewilderment, my uncle Chief, Dr, L.A. Ikpea, CEO of Lee Engineering took me in, guided me all through such critical and challenging times. I learnt a lot under him. His words still ring in my ear, “be strong, be strong…”.
I stayed with my uncle learning more about practical life issues and business. In 2001, my uncle decided it was time for me to progress with my studies and sponsored my Masters in Engineering at the United Kingdom. My appreciation goes to him till date.
You’ve done construction jobs in the UK, Egypt and Qatar, which came first, and how did you land such big contracts?
I would say my career started from Nigeria. I had my industrial placement during my university days at the very tender stage at the Escravos gas project owned by Chevron. This was a Chevron project; I was there under one of the main contractors during the civil (earth) works as an industrial trainee. I further learnt a lot working with my uncle Dr. Ikpea on various Engineering, Procurement & Construction, EPC, projects with Lee Engineering.
My arrival in the UK in 2001 was bit of a challenge in new territory; slowly combining studies and part-time work was not that easy as one thought. Eventually, I was able to settle into the system. I was intrigued seeing the safe systems of their transport networks, especially metro.
With this passion, I took few courses in health and safety, including construction management. After my Master’s degree, I worked with various construction/maintenance companies on the London Underground rail. I acquired more training in railway engineering, risk management and other practical courses which opened more opportunities in my field.
I worked diligently and gradually rose to the rank of track safety engineer. I proceeded and obtained my post-graduate diploma in Risk Management at the University of East London. In 2014, I was recruited by one of the executive recruitment firms in the UK to work in Qatar on their first metro project.
This was at the very beginning, so I was employed as Lead HSSE Auditor for the Doha Metro Green Line underground. On successful delivery at the metro project, I was drafted to head Lusail Stadium project as the head of Health and Safety on the entire project.
I would say this was one of the biggest challenges in my professional history. This was gigantic project with state-of-the-art technology never tried elsewhere. It was such fulfilling project without any fatality; the Project is one of the biggest FIFA projects and just marvellous to see the final product of such dedicated handwork by the entire teamwork.
Just as I was rounding up the most critical phase of Lusail stadium, I was approached by engineering and consultancy firm working directly with the Egyptian government on the first Light Rail Transit (LRT) which is part of infrastructure project for their “New Administrative Capital”.
I worked there as the Lead HSE manager consulting for the National Authority for Tunnels (NAT) in conjunction with Ministry of Transport. I finished my assignment in Egypt and was sourced back to Qatar where I currently work with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Engineering (MHI) as the Senior Risk Quality Health Safety and Environmental Manager. MHI is the Systems Maintenance Contractor (SMC) responsible for the maintenance of entire Doha Metro project.
Kindly share your experiences so far?
It has been mixed experiences which I must also say have been rewarding. First, working in these various countries and seeing the level of commitments they implore to see their nations advance, is so humbling.
There is so much evidence of continual improvements in every facet of these countries; I wish we could emulate them especially in terms of infrastructure developments. The UK is quite an advanced nation, but still the government continually seeks better ways to advance the nation and its citizens.
Qatar in my eyes transformed within 5 years with no single metro system, road bridges etc, to now having one of the most sophisticated driverless metro systems, superhighways/bridges, stadiums, to mention a few. This was a nation that once sought help from Nigeria.
I was only particularly impressed with the level of development I saw in Egypt. My two years were another big revelation. Projects are planned and completed on time, on budget. The government is committed to massive development from construction, rails, roads, power, oil/gas and tourism. You can go and visit and see what level of advancements they have.
Aside the three countries mentioned, is there any other?
I had an opportunity to work with Oman rail same time I had my offer at Qatar, but Qatar came first because I was to be part of FIFA legacy for the first gulf nation to host such significant events. Lately, NEOM in Saudi Arabia is where I have been approached. NEOM is about building the first cognitive city, where world-class technology is fuelled with data and intelligence.
It is planned to incorporate smart city technologies and to function as a tourist destination. The site covers an area about 26,500 km², north of the Red Sea, east of Egypt across the Gulf of Aqaba, and south of Jordan. For now, we have critical task here to deliver an amazing FIFA 2022 tournament to the world from Qatar; all hands are on deck.
What does Nigeria stand to gain if it has functional rail transportation system?
Frankly, we have a lot to gain if we could have functional national railway network that covers the entire nation. Can this be achieved?
Yes, if we have dedicated and disciplined leaders. Go to Egypt and see how the government is aggressively revamping their railway network from LRT, monorail, high-speed rail. A functional national network will provide massive job opportunities for many Nigerians, reduce fatigue on our already dilapidated road networks including reducing road accidents, increase volume of business activities across the nations and more especially, generate good revenue to the government. Rail transportation is the bread and butter for many advanced nations and, many African/developing countries are slowly realising this.
What can Nigeria learn from Egypt, and do you think we can catch up?
We have a lot to learn from this great nation; from their security arrangements, healthcare, tourism, oil/gas including but not limited to railway transformation across the nation.
Egypt is a nation of about 105 – 110 million and the government is proactive in harnessing the strength of these number by engaging them to take ownership of their nation and be part of the development.
Nigeria should emulate Egypt to see how they are developing their railway transportation. They have a vision 2030 which is aligned with that of gulf nations to achieve a sustainable all-inclusive economy by 2030; railway network is key to this vision 2030 to link all the gulf nations including Egypt.
Power generation is another aspect we need to learn from them. In Egypt you enjoy uninterrupted power just like anywhere in the western world as well as superhighway road projects, solar power generation/exportation, good security networks. In fact, their government diversified their economy with multiple sources of revenue generation.
Looking back home and seeing the amount being wasted on our elections, it is sad. Money spent on elections is enough for us to launch a satellite to the moon and still have enough to carter for educational systems etc.
What are your future plans, and does it include helping to replicate what you’ve done abroad in Nigeria?
I am very optimistic about the future. I believe we can achieve whatever we dream of as humans and collectively as a nation. Nigeria is one of the most blessed nations in the world with so much untapped human and natural resources; all we need are leaders with vision and discipline.
The current social-economic vices in our nation are due to lack of infrastructure and unemployment. We need to engage our youths positively. There are many Nigerians both home and in diaspora who can be part of this great movement if given the opportunity. We need patriotic leaders and believe me, you will see what transformation they would bring to our great nation.
What amazing things should fans expect during the world cup in Qatar?
Qatar promised the world an “amazing” World Cup; truly they are not short of delivering that, you come and see…seeing is believing. This gulf nation from scratch built all the FIFA facilities (metro, trams, roads, bridges, hotels, leisure parks, aviation expansion/networks, medical facilities etc); all from scratch, I mean it is truly amazing.
Most developed nations will honestly struggle to achieve this. This is vision, great foresight by their leaders and we much commend them. So, fans should expect an amazing tournament.
Are there other Nigerians in Qatar who are also into construction or are they into crime? It’s quite unfortunate that we have been so painted negatively in the international scene. One could not but attribute this to what is currently happening in the government sectors in Nigeria with so much impunity and reckless governance of our economy.
Anyway, to come back to your question, yes there are many other progressive Nigerians here in Qatar, indeed other parts of world. There are Nigerians here in the oil/gas, medical, construction, hospitality, aviation to name a few.
These people have been so vital to the current development in Qatar which we all see, but unfortunately, such contributions are not heard but people are more interested in spreading the bad news.
I often tell people, in every nation we have the good, the bad and the ugly but some countries are smarter in consciously spreading the best part of their nation. So, in a nutshell, let’s re-calibrate our thinking and focus on the good aspects of Nigeria.
We are a great nation, and we must continue to see ourselves thus irrespective of the challenges.