Though, an architect by profession and a member of Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA); Ebiwene sees the Maritime Sector as an avenue of so many potentials and possibilities that will always interface with the work of architects, to bring about the desired dreams of our country. He stressed that Architects are the keys to unlocking the dreams of our future. In this interview with the Editor-In-Chief of National Momentum Newspaper, Blaise Elumezie; Arc. Ebiwene O. Bozimo, the Assistant Project Manager, Rainbow Town, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, described Maritime as the eyes, ears, and mouth of a country, while calling on the Nigerian government to redesign Nigerian Ports to also serve as a tourist attraction and not just for containers, among other issues. The excerpts:
May I Meet You Sir?
I am Arc. Ebiwene Bozimo, I currently work as the Assistant Project Manager, Rainbow Town, in Trans Amadi Industrial Lay-out, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. I have been an Architect for the past two decades, we are happy to be putting the trade we learnt to the disposal of this project.
How Has The Architecture Business Been In Regard To Challenges?
You know the biggest challenge you have as an Architect is people, not fully understanding what you do. I say this because as an architect, we jump into our work with so much enthusiasm. We actually don’t slow down to explain the processes to our potential clients and to our actual clients. So, you often have this misunderstanding that sometimes come-up when they do not want to go through all the processes. They do not understand that you are there to guide them through that process to their own best results or in their own best interest. It is a challenge and somebody like me; professionally, I am working very hard to make sure that things are done the proper way.
This thing I am telling you happens for both private clients and public sector; where we have misunderstanding between us and even government, when they want to go ahead with a project without understanding that there are steps that should be taken to assure the client at the end of the day of a very good outcome. But we work on it every day.
Are There Jobs You Have Handled Prior To The One You Are Working On Presently?
I have been involved in a variety of projects actually. I have worked on some residential buildings. That is the first thing every architect does, working on somebody’s house. Your uncle, your father or family houses and I have done some telecommunication jobs. I have done some health care projects and factories, what we call gas plants, schools and different projects at different spheres that I have had the privilege of handling, both here and in the U.S.A where I used to work.
One of the challenges we have in Nigeria is that it falls on me as an architect to establish order in the environment. Architect’s product is in the establishment of order in our collective environment. An architect starts from the site he is given, the project must fall into the context of what is around him. If you look around us, we have challenges in our built environment, that is because the architect has not yet done all he is trained to do; not that he does not want to do it. But, like I told you earlier, people will say, don’t worry about that. It is the architect that can analyze the traffic pattern that will give you the best design at the end of the day. We have a long way to go in our built environment, but that means we have plenty of opportunities, both for professionals and the owners to benefit from.
There Have Been Accusations On The Part Of Architects As Regards The Incessant Collapse Of Buildings In Nigeria, What Is Your Institute Doing To Curb This Menace?
Building collapses are actually the last part of a long series of wrong steps. Building a house is merely a physical expression of a process. Many times, the process goes wrong right from the start. I make bold to say that there is no single collapsed building in Nigeria that actually had a registered and licensed architect on that project, as well as registered and licensed professionals. Because the architect will have a team of well trained engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, quantity surveyors and so many other professionals. But the architect starts the vision after meeting with the client and then you begin to elaborate it.
You work with other professionals before the final project. If you work with properly trained and licensed professionals, I must stress at this point that the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) is the body that groups all of us together. Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON) registers us. We all have a code or number, then NIA is the body formed to move policies and our profession forward. So, we work hand in hand. Now you will find out that every architect will pass a series of exams to become an NIA member as it is. By the time you become an NIA member, you don’t joke with your profession, because there is a social consequence to failure. I know when we look at a collapsed building, we think of the block, not people, but someone of course died.
Even those who did not die are maimed for life, and when a client says, oh let me save some money for not using a ‘professional’ and pay him properly. You find out that he breaches procedures and cut corners. It is not only contractors that can cut corners, an owner can cut corners. When you cut corners, the first thing you do is to eliminate the fees you pay people. I ask clients some times, can you compare the amount of money you give to a professional to the cost of a dead body? It is a hard question, but it is the truth. If you use professionals, we have code of conduct, we have training, most importantly what we are selling to you is not even the drawing that people can say to you, I can draw a house.
What we are selling to you is liability. We take responsibility; that is what a professional does. So, we have been hearing this story of collapsed buildings. The Nigerian Institute of Architects is coming out with a very strong position, because a lot of these buildings collapse in the wet season and in a place like Lagos, where you have soft soil.
If you are doing analysis very well, before you build on the land, you are supposed to do a soil tests, you have to pay for soil test. The architect will recommend that you pay for it and based on that, you will now look at the structure of the building. The design has to be right and the structure of the contract has to be professional. Despite that, you need certain people to oversee your money, so that you are not wasting money. And government’s role is to be the police, the regulator in our system.
Maritime Has Been Described As Second To Oil, In Terms Of Revenue Generation, What Is The Role Of Your Institute In Nigerian Economy?
I am glad that we have come to this topic, because the maritime sector is the reason why Singapore exists. Singapore has no natural resources, they are geographically positioned at the junction of many seas and water ways and with that, their economy has exploded. Maritime sector has many components to it. It has goods as the main thing, taxes, duties and so forth. They also have facilities themselves and the architect is fundamental to the proper functioning of those facilities. Just building a jetty, warehouse without a proper consideration on how the vessels should be moved, how goods are loaded and off-loaded. How they are conveyed to and from the port without a proper input of an architect to articulate and plan the processes, will cause mayhem at the port and that is one of the problems we are facing.
Our ports are not properly organized, the best thing an architect does for a society, whether in maritime, health care or tourism is to organize the processes and environment in which everything is done. Architecture is life, not one of us at the end of the day that do not need any form of enclosure or shelter. Whether it is to sleep or where you do your work. You can be in your office not being productive, because ninety percent 90% of your energy is spent battling the sunshine, or when rain falls. When an Architect has done his job properly he has considered your environment, the climate and all that, ensuring he has put his maximum effort.
You talked about the economy, the best architecture results in the best workers and the best workers are the most productive and most productive enhance the country’s economy directly. So, maritime sector is also a sector where you have so many opportunities. Let me say ecstatic beauty, where you have water, land and transition and any time you have transition you have opportunities. So when it comes to facilities, our ports should be places where even ordinary people who visit should go, not just about containers.
When I visited Hong-Kong, I saw how they have used water as a backup for an economic life style. At night, they put on lights reflecting the whole place. It is beautiful; people come there to see the illumination. Of course, when you are there you are going to sleep in a hotel, you are going to eat and the economy is growing. So, the maritime sector is like eyes, ears and mouth of a country. So many goods come along and how those goods are received and distributed rest solely in the hands of an architect and other designers, who organize that interface.
Just Recently Your Institute Had A 5-Day Architecture Week In The City Of Port Harcourt, How Would You Measure The Impact Or Out Come Of That Event?
That program was Architecture Week, organized by the Rivers State chapter and we were fortunate to have a lot of people that attended within and outside Nigeria. We had an excellent series of lectures. You see, Architects in Rivers State and the larger country are preparing for the development that must come to Nigeria. We don’t have a choice. Nigeria shall be developed to a country of our dreams. When you hear of a budget, government reads a budget of about forty billion, N40b that is an abstract number. It is the architect’s work to convert that N40billion into what we popularly call dividends of democracy, by converting that budget into shelter, a place, school, furniture, market, an event centre, a factory etc. So, architects in Rivers State are prepared to produce the right quality and standard of work that will transform our society. That program was well attended, well received and we shall be doing some review, so that we internalize all we learnt and apply it in our various practices and on our various jobs; where ever we work. So that we can get, better.
There are professionals who people go out to import. If I am a client and I look at what an architect in Nigeria produces and I look at what an architect somewhere produces. I might be inclined to get some other person, but when someone looks at what an architect in Nigeria has produced, he sees that the quality is excellent and that the person being here is not asking for a flight ticket or a few thousand dollar, pounds, or rand. Then the job will stay here and we will employ many more people and you know what employment always means, economic improvement. When I employ a young man, he gets his salary, he pays his tax, the state get tax and its Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, gets up. We cannot be relying on what lies beneath our feet, but on what lies between our eyes. Our head is where the real gold is, not underneath our feet, black gold is not gold.
Do You See Any Synergy Between Government And The Body Of Architects (NIA) That Could Drive Home The Talked About Or Desired Green Architecture In Nigeria?
There has been synergy, to an extent, but may be because of our profession, we continuously see tomorrow. Where we are is not where we are supposed to be, so we have to enhance our collective thinking, collective visioning and collective action. Government is a key stakeholder in every profession in Nigeria. It is now not how much you spent that matters, but how well you spent it. Architects are the keys to unlocking the dreams of our future. The vision is right here with us, we are able to transform it and we as architects have to take our work very serious. It is not just about the fees, but the legacy that we are giving to the society in which we live.
What Word Do You Have For Up Coming Architects?
Up-coming Architects? I am one of them ….laughter. Every architect is ensuring that his next job will be the best job. So, we are up-coming, but as you said for the younger ones, they have a tremendous opportunity to affect a society. See, many of the western societies where people always dream of, almost everything has already been done. You can go there for a few jobs here and there, just to renovate things. Here, we have green fields. It is up to me and up to them to design how Nigeria will look like tomorrow. What an awesome responsibility, what an awesome privilege. So, for the younger ones coming up, the world is at their feet, they must prepare themselves to the highest contemporary level. They should get the right software, the right training and everything needed; so that when they stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world, there will be no differences between them. At that point, it will be an advantage that they are very familiar with the territory in Nigeria, and Africa that will make them the natural first choice among equals.