Director-General of the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute, NBBRI, Professor Danladi Slim Matawal, a professor of Civil Engineering, in this interview with Remi Adebayo and George Onmonya Daniel, bares his mind on a number of landmark feats recorded by the institute in Nigeria’s road and building sector.
MA: THE GOVERNMENT OF THE DAY IS EXPECTING SO MUCH FROM THE POLICY OF ENCOURAGING LOCAL PRODUCTION, HOW DO YOU INTEND TO MEET UP SIR?
We appreciate the patronage of the government, in particular, the fact that the board of executive and legislature, both upper and lower Houses have been looking up as to meet a lot of requirements in constituencies across the country.
I just want to say that the institute has been up to the task, initially it was overwhelming but because we have tackled every assignment with professionalism with a lot of openness and transparency and with zeal to succeed, we have actually done far more than we can say is required.
MA: CONSERVATIVELY, IF YOU LOOK AT THE INITIATIVES AND INNOVATIONS FROM NBRRI SINCE YOU CAME ON BOARD, HOW MANY INNOVATIONS DO YOU HAVE ON GROUND?
We have flagship projects and I want to be very specific about some of them. We promised the country and initiated a process for producing the engineering map of the country and this has been on for a while. It is a program that is to ease engineering decisions with particular to reference to sourcing of materials; and on the 21st of January, 2017, we launched ATLAS. The format is available and we call it the first edition, I believe this was a landmark because it’s the first in Africa. It exists in many part of the world. We also initiated a program since 2012 to put Nigeria on the global map and along with African countries that know what pozolana is and are actually applying it. We have established the first pilot plan for pozolana in Nigeria. It was commissioned by the Honorable Minister of Science on May 18th, 2017.
We also commenced a program to meet the challenges of skill gap in the country. As a research institute, we, through some of our annual programs with stakeholders identified skill gaps in the country. We have the short term majors, medium term majors but our long term major was to have a training and a retraining programs for this country, on the same 18th May, we launched the curriculum learning guide in 10 artisan trades in the country, carpentry, concreting , masonry and block-work; painting and decoration, iron bending and safety in construction, plumbing and water, tilling and stone work, and all sorts, then not simply to have a theoretical program, we opened our first Artisan Learning Centre which is at our Ikoyi Office in addition to many training and retraining programs that are being run. Some zonal offices did it three times, some two times while some once in Jos, Kano and Lagos offices and on the 18th, over 122 artisans were certified after undergoing successful training in alternative construction techniques.
This is simply on flagship projects. There have been many other activities on conventional research as well as first principled research for instance the application of nano polymers in strengthening road and buildings and some have proven very successful, some have raised the strength of soil, for instance as much as 200 percent and some as much as 800 percent. This means the strength is eight times in a year; we have undertaken a sizeable number of other studies. We have the moveable house which was displayed apart from many other activities that are going on.
MA: CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT POZOLANA IS ALL ABOUT, IS IT AFFORDABLE AND HOW CAN NIGERIANS KNOW AND PATRONIZE IT?
We are looking into avenues to publicizing it. Pozolana is either naturally existing material or artificial material, particularly agro waste like rice, which has ash, groundnut which has ash, back ash which comes from sugarcane stem and quite number of them which when you introduce into cement and behaves like cement, becomes a cementation ability. The essence of the presence of cement in a certain percentage is to introduce the basic components required for the reaction to starts. Once it starts, it continues to react because cement is a binder when you mix it fresh it’s in liquid state but it goes through a process called hydration. It’s a combination of calsium hydroxide to give you gel that hardens with time ; that’s why the strength of cement keeps increasing to almost 2 to 2 years and the rate of decrease increases drastically after 28 days from day zero when it is liquid to day 7 to day 14, to day 21, to day 28. These pozolana materials behave just like cement in the presence of cement. We went to South Africa and they expressed surprise that Nigeria is not using pozolana; they said they have introduced pozolana since, far back as Cameroon from South Africa, they have used it for multi-billion naira projects in Namibia, solar power projects and many others.
Our responsibility is to empower Nigeria with this research and applications that are available in other parts of the world. We have gone a bit farther than that; we have attempted to replace cement 100 percent instead of having partial replacement. We need to source for celsium hydroxide, we looked at carbide, a product of welding that is wasted all over the place, we tried it and it was successful.
We have introduced two things in the industry, pozolana and we have tested it ourselves and we have specifications. We developed a small handbook which will be printed in due course for application. We have attempted pozolana working on its own with other waste products.
About cost, it can replace cement sometimes as much as 40 to 50 percent and because it’s a waste product, it reflects approximately the cost effectiveness. You can have cost effectiveness as much as 30 percent less if you use pozolana and if the replacement goes higher.
MA: YOUR INSTITUTE HAS WORKED WITH THE CONSTITUENCY PROJECTS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY. WITH ALL THE CONTROVERSIES AROUND THAT, HOW DID YOU HANDLE IT?
Initially it was controversial, but we looked at it from the viewpoint of padding because it’s been seen by the executive as more like a confrontation when the executive prepares its budget and the National Assembly worked it, but they have come to explain this as the statutory right, that is their constituency project. They looked at the institute and said we research on cheap road, cheap housing, they have looked at the Win-Win situation as well as the National Assembly, they look for their constituency fund, they domicile it here and we design with our technological imputed and it is implemented at relatively a cheaper cost because for instance some places, our cost is as much as 30 percent. We have done this and it appears that it has been hugely successful. There has been criticism especially about payment because we don’t have enough staff. As we speak here now, there is basically little as the legislature is quite reasonable, they looked at the department which primarily affected their constituency projects and made answers for it.
MA: WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESPONSE OF STATES IN PARTICULAR TO EMBRACE YOUR INVENTIONS, IN HOUSING ESPECIALLY, TO MEET THEIR HOUSING SHORTFALL?
We would love them to patronize us. We have no problems at all with housing, we have been doing model housing in Ogun state, in Bauchi and Yola and quite a number of other scenarios.
We have attempted to advertise our programmes, we have made a presentation at the request of Benue state in respect to applying our technologies to housing in Benue. We went into a collaboration which pronounced that in every housing estate, every 10 percent should be made of these technologies, so I don’t see why state governments should not patronize us.
MA: ARE THE PRIVATE INVESTORS BUYING INTO ALL OF THESE?
There are two phases to private sector involvement. The first is that our mandate empowers us to intervene if there is innovation in private sector. We have seen a few innovations, we went very far with someone from Jigawa state, another from Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi; there is also a former minister who has an innovation in housing here in Abuja. We have been attempting to embrace innovations that look to have potential for this country, look at it but leave the rights to the innovator, probably use our facilities to see how we can enhance the innovation and look into the area of publicity.
The second one, our movement to Benue state was at the instance of the private sector. A private sector was involved in one of our projects, they admired it and spoke with Benue state government and insisted on presentation.
The bottom line is that most of the projects in the country are government related, so the involvement of private sector is important to us.
MA: HOW CAN NBRRI HELP IN TAKING SOME MODERNITY INTO SOME RURAL AREAS?
As a matter of fact, we have pronounced zero tolerance to mud houses; that includes the thatched houses at a certain stage. We are very worried as an institute and from the humanitarian viewpoint, as a person, I am very worried. I’m not only worried about the physical structure of housing not only in rural areas but in the urban slums, am also worried about schemes that will bring some humanity into those people and that include planning, because we have made some studies on some urban slums and know that they are dehumanizing, not only that, there are reasons why those people are living like that.
Government has the responsibility to intervene in many dimensions through local and state government; the federal government may have a limited reach but every rural area, every local government headquarters in the country needs to be planned out, we should move urban slum out of our country.
Either Malawi or one of these African countries have made away with mud housing and by implication thatched housing, why should Nigeria not do away with it?
Actually it requires a very big national program, people are entitled to some major of comfort, mud housing should be removed and if there should be any thatched housing, it should be by choice not because of abject poverty and even the thatched should be some synthetic processed once that will last a long time.
We have innovation called ruff tiles; we think if we can have patronage of commercialization, where these ruff tiles are produced in mass, maybe they can be adopted for rural housing because we already have technologies for walls.
MA: IN MEETING THE HOUSING DEFICIENT IN NIGERIA, IS THERE A WAY NBBRI CAN HELP WITH MOVEABLE HOUSES IN THE NORTHEAST AREA?
We have been invited several times by the Adamawa and Benue state government, the current Benue state government wanted to hand over a technical school for us in Bruno where the workshops are abandoned; we empower the people and train them in fabrication. Aldo help them to fabricate some of the machines for producing some of the components of building . He came here and summoned us literally because we are enthusiastic to make an imprint, we have made a presentation to him in somewhere at Asokoro . The other one has been from the Adamawa state government who invited us to move the break walls in other to look at the mulls of the machines and actually redesign them and re-fabricate them to produce interlocking box. We have on our own designed at expense of minimum cost without removing the old part of the building which is suited for this kind of temporarily living so that we can start model schools and it’s out of the moveable house concept. We have people in the IDPS in mind to change their lives.
MA: WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED SINCE YOU CAME ON BOARD?
We have faced tremendous challenges of space and we want to thank the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Assembly because as we speak, we have our own structure which is being ruffed, very huge space we are going to move to. We met the place in a cramped in Wuse Zone 2 and within a few months, we moved to where we are now and in about a year’s time, we are looking forward to moving to a bigger space. We will continue to appeal because a research institution is not simply all about laboratory work, but training and retraining; there should be a training outlet in Abuja where whatever have been researched both conventional and non-conventional can be reached in workshops and classroom and in another training avenue so we still need more space in that regard.
We have our international conference which is yearly which has been very successful. We have conventions particularly with the view of developing case histories like if a road section collapses, we should be able to move fast to the site before an intervention and take a study of why it collapsed, and proffer a solution. If there is too much accident spot on the road, from the research viewpoint, it is our responsibility to study the reason of the accident and proffer a solution to it.
We need enough funding in that regard so that we can have flexibility. We have the capacity for rapid research response within the shortest possible time. We need a lot of research officers, we don’t have money for training and retraining of staff, we need the support from the Federal Government.
MA: DO YOU MONITOR FAILED ROADS IN THE COUNTRY?
We like to monitor every road but I don’t think we have the capacity to so. If a road collapses, we study it and present a technical report.
It appears that the number of building collapse in 2017 have been very embarrassing, we thought we have nipped the problem in the bud because statistically, in 2012 there was 33 collapses in Lagos alone, 22 in Abuja, we held international conference on building collapse, looked for short term measures, medium term measures and long term measures, the campaign started immediately in 2013, there was zero building collapse in Abuja, Lagos reduced from 33 to 17 and subsequently the number of building collapse reduced in Lagos, scantly, you find in Port Harcourt, Awka, Umuahia, Onitsha, Islamic School in Jos, a pedestrian bridge in Kano. Abuja has been free from collapse until the one that happened in 2016 and others followed.
We have reports for people to see the records of what happened, why it happened and avert future reoccurrence by observing the technical issues.
MA: IS YOUR AGENCY ALSO INVOLVED IN ADVISING THE GOVERNMENT ON HOW TO TAKE CARE OF CRATERS IN THE COUNTRY?
Pothole is a failure of a road, if you compare the oldest roads and the current roads; you will find out that the current ones fail constantly. There are issues of supervision, application of correct specifications of material; the planning that used to take place no longer takes place. There should be a substantial amount of money set aside for road designs, we must not underestimate the requirement in the sector, whether we have the railways, airways and waterways, our roads will continue to be important. There are values for these roads in commerce, trade, tourism, and other needs; the economy is dependent on them in addition to what railway need to do.
MA: DOES THE NBRRI EXERCISE REGULATORY FUNCTIONS ON BUILDING AND ROAD MATERIALS IN PARTICULAR?
We are purely for research, we don’t have a regulatory role but we are happy that the regulatory bodies listen to us. We want to commend the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, COREN; the Architect Registration Council in Nigeria, the Town Planning Registration Council; the Nigerian Society of Engineers and in fact most professional stakeholders, they collaborate with us fully. The issue of regulation particularly with cement, Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, takes to our consideration each time there is a new Code, we vet and see if it’s correct; and there is no better way to be taken into cognizance. We should be taken into confidence for certification on things used in the industry.