For three days the egg heads in petroleum engineering and those in the ivory towers gathered at the Petroleum Training Institute, PTI, Warri to rub minds on the very important issue of maintenance culture in Nigeria. The gathering was organised by the Petroleum Training Institute, PTI and sponsored by Acro Petroleum Engineering Company, NNPC and Ashland Oil Company.
Several people and organisations saw the gathering from different perspectives.
The gathering at PTI was aptly put by Mobil Oil. In its advert in the programme of the opening ceremony, it simply said, Mobilising Nigeria.
It actually brought the message of the seminar home for the fact that this was the very first time a seminar that drew partipants from across the spectrum of the nation was organised.
The topic itself was timely and most appropriate now that the economic chips are down and every household is being seriously hurt by the tough economic measures of Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP.
During the good times, the Nigeria economy was characterised by the replacement syndrome. The money was available and people could afford to replace their fitting, structures, cars, industrial equipment and many other items easily.
The issue of maintenance is two-ford. Interesting enough, Nigerians hold dear their personal belongings and treat such possessions with reverence that they have long life span. This cannot be said to be true of public properties called collective goods.
Because of he Nigerian attitude towards public properties, they are either stolen, deface or destroyed with reckless abandon.
The non-challance of government officials who perhaps for negligence refused to report a situation that need immediate attention to appropriate quarters, or the big boss who refuses to approve money for the repairs of damages done to structures or roads. Is it the promoter of a project who given the specification deviated from it, or the engineer who designed projects without making provisions for future maintenance? How about the end users of the project who refuse to make proper utilisation of the facility.
The reality of the situation now is that at no time in our national life has there ben such a compelling need to look closely at the way our engineering designs, construction and equipment selection are made. In Nigeria multi-million naira projects are designed and constructed very often, but most of the times adequate consideration is not given to maintenance costs that would arise from he use of the structures.
For instance, it has been widely reported that the National Arts Theatre at Iganmu, Lagos constructed at a cost of N90 million would require about N100 million for rehabilitation because of the swampy nature of the land on which it was built. This perhaps would have been identified at the design stage. It is also to learn that the air-conditioning system installed at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, has broken down. As the system is now obsolete it will require a huge sum of money for its total replacements.
The importance of maintenance to industrial survival has continued to gain more credibility in Nigeria over the past few years. One of the factors that make for a good maintenance management philosophy is a clear understanding of the machinery characteristics and behaviours.
As a developing nation, it is understandable that our industrial development is still undergoing a lot of changes. The metamorphosis had however appeared to be quite rapid in the past few years.
With tight fiscal and monetary policies being in the place and the subsequent such squeeze in the Nigeria economy, there has been a clear upturn in maintenance consciousness. The hitherto, replace and throw away mentality has gradually given way to a repair and maintain posture.
The maintenance engineer is gaining more recognition from industrial managers and maintenance engineering can be undergoing similar development in Nigeria as it did during the second world war in Europe. In every part of the country today, workshops for cars repairs abound. Shoe mending, clothes‚Äô patching, etc, have becoming a way of life to repair and maintain what we have rather than replace and throw away. That is as it affects the individuals. Maintenance therefore is the act of maintaining, supporting or defending continuance.
As for public places, there is still much to be done to bring in the much talked of maintenance culture. What are the problems in the ways of maintenance in Nigeria?
One of the problems that runs through the technical papers presented at the seminar is that in Nigeria, designs of projects are made without adequate regard to the need for effective maintenance and the environmental condition.
Some consultants have model design which are insensitive to particular conditions. There are cases when they cannot be blamed especially when they do not have for example long rainfall data to enable computations for the design of the storm drainage systems.
For instance, in highway construction, the storm drains for them are designed to handle, runoff for 5-10 years frequency rainfall intensities when flowing full. It is a common knowledge that pools of water collect in the middle of some of the Nigerian roads resulting in their early damages after construction. When potholes are developed, maintenance costs set in which government can hardly afford.
Whenever new projects such as highways, which are most visible because of public access to them, buck passing becomes inevitable. The promoter or client blames the consultant and sometimes the consultant blames the contractor.
The truth is that it could be any of the parties. The client who has limited resources to span effective 20km for example will require a road that will connect five adjacent villages which could be 40km. This may end up in a road without a drainage consideration in the design. Here is a situation where there is no planned maintenance. Room is therefore created for corrective maintenance.
The Nigeria maintenance situation particularly as it affects the industrial sector present a hollow and bleak future. As of now, most spare parts are imported from abroad. There are no founderies that make such essential parts. What we have is import order for broken down equipment. Most of th time these equipment parts have to be specially ordered because the model have been phased out in the industrial world.
This is course does not allow a continuity in maintenance especially in the test periods such that the economy is passing through now. Most of the time obsolete equipment are imported into the country without regard to their model and make. In the end they cannot be maintained.
Coupled with the above is the importation of technology in bits. Like most of our industries use highly sophisticated equipment in certain parts of their operations while the others are simple tools. At the end of the day, these various part fail to fit together.
Often the sophisticated ones get under-managed and breakdown. No one to repair it, no parts and engineers have to be flown in from the home country of the machine.
This is course cost money and with the hard times with us the economy can no longer afford it or support such undertakings at the macro economic level.
Equally, important is the lack of support some venture receive from management.
Very often, adequate budget provision is not made for maintenance Instead of having preventive maintenance, corrective maintenance becomes the order of the day. It is time enough for various decision makers to come up with planned maintenance. This could be through adequate management maintenance departments and proper cost allocation.
One very vital issue taken for granted in this country in designing projects is the end user. His interest is never taken into consideration. For instance, in designing and constructing for youths, their attitude, inclinations and behaviourial pattern must be taken into account in selecting the kind of material to use.
In Nigeria, the cultural attitude of the people is never taken into consideration, hence, the frequent breakdown of public properties.
The continuous theft of railings on highways and bridges is enough to make designers change their future design plans to suit the socio-cultural background of those they design for.
Finance has always been the bane of all human ventures. Most of the time, ostentatious projects are embarked upon without adequate financing. More often, these projects are either abandoned completely or altered along the line to suit the financial capability of the promoters. The result is defective projects that breakdown in relatively construction.
Equally true is the award of projects to engineering consultant who instead of designing what the promoters want, come up with substandard design that eventually fails to meet engineering standards and specifications. This has always resulted in such projects breaking down and require maintenance immediately they are completed.