Government Alone Can’t Meet The Housing Needs Of Nigerians — Arch. Umaru

In this interview with DAVID ADUGE-ANI of Leadership Newspapers, National President, Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON), Umaru Aliyu, spoke on the worrisome building collapse syndrome and other challenges facing the building industry in the country.

Tell us about the mandates of the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON).
The Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON) was established by the Architects (Registration, etc) Act CAP A19 the Laws of The Federation of Nigeria 2004.

The Act specifically mandates the council to: regulate the training and practice of Architecture in Nigeria; determine what standards of knowledge and skill are to be attained by persons seeking to become members of the architectural profession and raising those standards from time to time as circumstances may permit; register persons and firms entitled to practise architecture in Nigeria; establish and maintain a register of persons entitled to practise the profession and the publication from time to time of lists of those persons, as well as perform other functions conferred on the Council by this Act.

Who is qualified to be called an Architect in Nigeria?
Subject to the provisions of the Act, a person shall not prepare or take full responsibility for the erection or commissioning of architectural building plans or practice or carry on business other than that having relevance to ship construction, or to landscape under any name, style or title containing the word “architect” unless he is a Nigerian citizen and registered with the Council.

How does the council regulate the activities of its members?
There is a Code of Conduct to be adhered to strictly by registered members. Any member who violates any section of this Code undergoes disciplinary measures and appropriate sanctions applied where found guilty.

What are you doing to discourage Nigerians from patronising non-professionals in the industry?
Yes, what we do is to publish the names of architects and architectural firms entitled to practise architecture in the Federal Republic of Nigeria in two national dailies on annual basis.

This is aside from the publications of the registers of architects and architectural firms which are usually circulated to the various planning approval offices nationwide, states ministries responsible for the control of the built environment etc.

The essential reason for these publications is to guide the public to patronise genuine and registered members. This process allows for control and discipline should a registered member be reported to the council in case of any infraction.

The council has also introduced the issuance of ARCON Project registration numbers for all building projects, before submissions are made for planning approval. This is to ensure that planning applications are made by duly registered professionals. This is in addition to producing a copy of the ARCON Practice Licence. The licence is issued to each practising architect on an annual basis.

Sir, building collapse has become a major problem in the country in recent times. What measures are you putting in place to stem the tide?
The incidence of building collapse in the country is quite worrisome. Aside from the concomitant loss of lives, there is also economic and psychological trauma. These are enormous challenges.

To this end therefore, every building project is expected to have a signboard clearly stating the name and description of the project, which should include names of consultants and contractors engaged on that project and the ARCON project registration number.

At the plan approval stage, the approving officer is expected to look out for the following items: the stamp, the seal and the ARCON project registration number issued by the council to the registered the architect who designed the project. The drawing must have an ARCON security stamp affixed on each page of the design and the signature of the architect signed across same.

Finally, the approving officer must sight the current practice licence issued by the council.

What is your position on paper qualification in relation to the ability to excel on the job?
Well, every profession has a level of training to be attained by members before registration. Our profession is not different. That is the reason why we have departments of architecture in the nation’s universities. The polytechnics also have their departments of architectural technology. These are benchmarks for registration as architects.

We have therefore, tried to maintain standards in these schools, despite the paucity of resources available to them, by constantly paying accreditation visitations to these schools. Through visitations like these, we are able to ascertain, first hand, the problems being faced by these schools and help them to ameliorate same.

In a nutshell, our training is not only based on paper qualification, it also takes cognisance of the fact that graduates from our schools of architecture are also professionally trained to meet the demands of the clientele.

My attitude therefore to paper qualification is that all profession must first and foremost address the issue of quality control and assurance from the point of entry. The point of entry in this case is through the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board. The National Universities Commission (NUC) and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) along with the professional bodies are to continuously monitor, regulate and control the knowledge and skills to be acquired.

The question of regulating the training and practice of architecture starts with the schools. First, the law empowers us to draw up the course content. Then the course content for the schools would have to be planned to produce graduates of architecture. So, on a continuous basis we have done that.

We are trying to move away from the current system of department of architecture to faculty of architecture, because a faculty of architecture increases the quality and number of architectural graduates.

So when we develop the curriculum we move round the universities to find out if they are following the curriculum and also if they have the necessary facility as well as the required number of staff members. What is the ratio of staff to students? What is the ration of staff to student as well as facility?

Then when that is done, we will now say whether that programme is accredited or not. This is to ensure that whatever programme we approved, they go strictly by the curriculum. This is because our programme is professional, not academic.

After they graduate, they come and sit for examination, which the Nigeria Institute of Architects conducts on behalf of ARCON.

So when they do that, ARCON then registers the individuals, and unless you are a Nigerian and fully registered by ARCON, you are not qualified to practise architecture in the country.

Presently, we have only about 12 universities in the country that have our approval to run department of architecture. However, there are many universities that churn out graduates from unapproved departments of architecture in the nation’s universities. It is unfortunate that some vice chancellors in the nation’s universities start architectural programmes in their schools without clearance from the National Universities Commission (NUC) or an approval by ARCON.

We have such universities almost everywhere in the country today but we have only 12 universities in the country that have the approval of the council to award first degrees and masters’ degrees in Architecture. Let me inform non-accredited universities that their graduates will not be registered by ARCON to practise architecture in the country. This is because doing that would amount to endangering the life of the citizens.

We are trying to collaborate with the NUC to stop this. Any institution that we do not approve its department is illegal. The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) would henceforth stop sending candidates to such universities.

Recently, the Department of Development Control in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) accused ARCON of refusing to approve the use of soft copy in the submission of building plans in Abuja. What is your reaction to this?
Yes, our refusal to accept the use of soft copy in submitting building plans are anchored on the fear that our intellectual property are not being protected by the department. Look, when you give hard copies you are not safe. Your drawing is copied and anybody goes there to take a copy of it for his purpose.

Our copyrights are not protected by the FCT Development Control Department with the hard copy we currently submit to them.

The problem with the department is that they reproduce these copies and sell them to other people.

Up till this moment they have not called architects, engineers and even the town planners, to discuss how they are going to protect the copyrights of our intellectual property contained in the building plan document

Rather, they talk to us as if we are pigs or we are from the moon. What you are saying is that all my investment since we came into this profession should be changed to suit you. Do you know how many billions you are wasting? It is not done. Come and let us discuss on how our intellectual property can be protected.

What is your relationship with the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development?
The Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development is directly responsible for the supervision of the Council’s activities.

What is your assessment of the current administration’s policy on housing?
We all are aware that there is a competing demand for scarce resources by the various sectors. The housing sector is not an exception. A lot ought to be achieved under this sector but for funds to meet these challenges. The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and other institutions are rising to the challenges. Suffice it to say that government alone cannot meet the housing needs of our ever increasing population.

What I can say is that the issue of land acquisition to build houses for our teeming population has to be addressed. It is only when this issue is fully addressed that a new vista of hope would opened for our nationals to own their own houses devoid of the series of problems we currently face. There is a lot of ground to cover in this regard.