An interview with the 26th President, Nigerian Institute of Architects, Tonye Oliver Braide, President-in-Council 2015-2017.

How has it been holding the Office of President of Nigerian Institute of Architects in the Past One Year?

The journey so far has not been easy. Very tasking, but quite satisfying. Satisfying I would say for each time I step on the podium to deliver a speech at one event or the other, I see hope in the eyes of a multitude of young aspiring Architects who are anxious to contribute to National Development. This cuts across the entire Country. What the young person is seeking in Yobe is exactly the same in Oyo to Anambra to Rivers to Benue and back to Zamfara States. So, we have developed a team of forward thinking Architects who are dedicated to re-engineer architecture to become the main driver of the Nigerian Economy and an invaluable resource and we are working very very hard to make this happen in so short a time. Unfortunately, this positive change has come under very serious challenge by individuals who belong to a different era and not in tune with the concepts of modern day living. These individuals are not aware that we are now in the Information Age and our youths are waiting to exhale. They hold theories that span all the way to post independence era. Unfortunately, the vibrant young Architects who they so wish to regulate were not even born in that era and do not even understand what the Regulators are talking about. There is therefore a big disconnect. This has made our work to institute positive change into Architecture in Nigeria very difficult. But with the help of God we shall achieve our objectives beyond credible thresholds and the rest will be self-propelling.

What programmes have you conceived so far since you became President

When I became President, I first looked for programmes which could be sustained so as to maintain a continuum from the past then gradually introduce a transition into modern day architecture. This could not be found for there had been a continuous process of shutting down every initiative of previous Presidents to the detriment of the Profession. Naturally if the Profession was weak, then Regulation will be strong. Since Regulation had resisted change and was evolving into perpetuity, everything was set on a trajectory of doom. All that could be salvaged was the “Distinguished Lecture Series” by Past Presidents. I vowed that this must be preserved and made even bigger. It is technically a Valedictory Session, by which time you should let go and let your children become adults. We have maintained the programme, held one in 2016 and will hold a bigger one in 2017. Then we decided to set out on our programmes that were targeted at creating a bridge back to society and restoring a position of relevance for the Nigerian Architect. The general impression of the Nigerian Architect had deteriorated to a position of despair. Nigerian Architecture was seen as non-conformist and anti-everything. Doors in the public sector were constantly shut to a generality of Nigerian Practices and opened only to a few. Day by day, several Architects were not just getting the jobs while external Practices breezed in at will and picked up that which could be picked. This was because we had conducted affairs in a manner that we were not ready to protect ourselves but ran a policy of exclusion and serious reduction in our numbers. This opened our flanks to very serious incursions. It was going to be impossible to repair what had taken 10 years to destroy. So, we had to change course and come up with the unexpected. We conceived programmes that bordered on the immediate problems of the public sector knowing fully well that solutions to these problems will end up in architectural jobs. That is why we came up with a tourism programme in Bauchi State. The first part has been executed and the second part which was due in Q4 2016 will come up in Q1 2017. This is due to internal resistance to progress and conspiracies which have now been surmounted. We have run a programme on housing and new construction methodologies in Akwa Ibom State. This is set to get into the pilot stage and we should soon execute practical real time low cost housing. When we say low cost, we mean low cost. We are in touch with the Minister for Power, Works and Housing and will present prototypes of our ideas for roll out across the Country in 2017. We have developed a template to execute local content in Architectural Products. This will create an Architectural Value Chain which will drastically reduce the cost of developing housing in Nigeria. In addition, the West Africa Architecture Festival has been established which shall be a permanent feature in the City of Port Harcourt. This will be developed into a World Class Brand to put Nigeria on the World Architecture Map. You can therefore see that high impact events had to be used to dislodge the highly negative perception that was beclouding the profession in Nigeria. We had a good run in the last administration a Vice President, 4 Ministers, a couple of Senators and Deputy Governors, but for some unexplainable reason the Profession was in low ebb. In 10months we can now seat on the high tables and not left to the background. Some may say we are grandstanding, but I may ask: “Where would you rather be? At the Grandstand or at the Turnstiles?” If you are at the turnstiles and the Stadium gets full then you get locked out. If you are out, you get no food. If you get nothing to eat, you die. But, if you are at the grandstand, it puts you on the high table. There you get served first and have lots to eat and drink. Where would you rather be? In or out? There was no alternative. I did not come as a President to lead my people to poverty. We are still less than 4,000 Architects after 56 years as an Institute and we have over 25,000 persons with cogent training in Architecture outside. If Government was to subject all Projects to proper Architectural commission, Nigeria will require over 20,000 Architects. We have to engage with Government to make this happen. But because we do not have this critical mass, we have opened our development to foreign incursion. The programmes we have put in place will evolve into projects and become instruments of job creation. Because they will create the right relevance to Government. At this time of a biting recession, we stand a very good chance to open new partnerships, which will be beneficial to our National Development at this point in time.

What has been your major Challenges so far?

The main Challenge is to get Architecture back to its leadership position in our Country. This challenge we can see and have developed strategies to face it head on. But there are unseen challenges which are very difficult to tackle. Much of these come from within. As plans are put together to get things going, there are non-architects who burn the midnight oil to stop at all costs what we want to do for common good. When asked why, they say no reason. So, there is an unseen force which is evil trying ceaselessly to kill Architecture in Nigeria. This is a challenge all of Nigeria should rise and vanquish. The value of a Country is determined by the quality of its Architecture. If we cannot propel good Architecture, then we seek the back seats in the comity of Nations. Is this what we are worth?

What would you say is the State of Architecture in Nigeria today?

Architecture can be developed into a key driver in National Development. We have limited our focus to urban centres, neglecting the development of the rural areas and the low-income families. Our practice has not been people oriented and there has been little input into the development of the linkages within the city. The beautiful houses that adorn our cities stand in isolation as there is little connectivity. We have not addressed the urban skin. This is due to the absence of a city architect in our development Control Units. There is nobody to examine the façade, the vistas and the points of focus and interplay of space as you move within our urban space. So, our cities have not been able to develop charm and exude unique identities. Architecture should not be seen as a standalone presentation but a totality of a complex whole. We have to build up on our capacity to recreate our cities, we have to make Nigeria beautiful. We have to improve the liveability index of our cities. We also have to bring good design to our schools, health centres and farm settlements. Every Nigerian deserves a good life. Architecture holds the key to making this happen. We are very far from achieving this but if we can respond to a call to arms to come together and bring our best resources to bear, Architecture will be the driver to transform our lives.

There have been publications in the National Dailies by a group of “Concerned Professionals” on matters related to Architectural Education in Nigeria. What are the issues?

The issue has been over blown by those who want to build empires. The stakeholder parties are governed by their respective terms of reference. For one it is an Act of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the other it is its Constitution. These documents clearly define who does what and who holds different rights and privileges. If one party feels that its territory is too small, simply go to the National Assembly and adjust your boundaries. To unilaterally adjust and print laws without recourse to due process is very dangerous. There are greater laws of the land which frown seriously on this dangerous behaviour. We must all remember that we are governed by the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and as Citizens must be subject and obey the laws always. Now if the Federal Government and State Governments have committed huge resources to train thousands to acquire knowledge in Architecture, what is this professional content that is subject to the whims and caprices of a few? This country is very big. If we are to count all Senators, House of Representative Members, Governors, House of Assembly Members, Minsters, Commissioners, Permanent Secretaries at Federal and State Levels not to talk of Local Government Chairmen, we have a consortium of leadership totalling almost 3,000 persons. These are the people who serve under the guidance of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who superintends over the allocation of our commonwealth. Now Government commits billions to provide the right educational infrastructure to train persons to meet the focus of our National Development. A few cannot therefore sit over the aspirations of the collective will of 170 million people. When you put one Architect through school, from primary to secondary to university or polytechnic, you are taking a share of the resources of 170 million people to train this man. If we bear this in mind, it is callous to state that such a man after maybe 10 years of exposure to the industry only has an equivalent of a Secondary School Certificate. Ironically the same group run a remedial programme on certain subjects which have no accreditation with any recognised Examination Body. So, this is a matter that should be put before the Nigerian people. If you say a man’s qualifications are deficient then create a tangible remedial mechanism to complete the acquisition of professional knowledge. To throw a multitude of graduates to professional destitution is an outright affront the Nigerian Educational System, a direct confrontation to the Governments that have funded these Institutions and an attempt to bestow continual degradation of the professional class in Nigeria. This will only continue to create lack of capacity and open our doors to perpetual foreign incursion. This is why the so-called “Concerned Professionals” are giving their voices to the trends of underdevelopment being perpetuated by a few. If the true intensions are to uplift the quality of our Education, then there should direct engagement with Government to bring about this change. We must be able to talk to Government rather than place estoppels on the careers of vibrant young men and women ready and willing to serve their country.

There have been complaints on fresh graduates who only produce attractive 3D Drawings but have little knowledge on how to execute the designs. What is the Institute doing about this worrisome development?

This is the point we are talking about. There are supposedly strong regulations to place architectural training on a sound footing. But despite repeated visitations after visitations, the end products only end up acquiring the required knowledge in the field. This has raised questions on the quality and objects of inspection tours to Schools of Architecture. Over the years, a core group have toured the entire country on these visitations but the output of fresh graduates continues to drop. This calls for some concern, more so that the Institute intends to uplift the quality of our Architecture to meet global best practice standards. The future should lie in our youths. Surprisingly, when students are exposed to the freedom of design competitions and design charettes outside the classroom their output is at par with any standard in the world. So, there must be a problem either with the curriculum or the personnel. Again, these are the issues regulators are supposed to detect and bring to Government. The Institute will run robust Short Design Programmes for Student Architects and seek to get students engaged with Architectural Firms or on Government Projects during vacations. This will be run alongside a Mentorship Programme currently under development to track the progress of students over time. This will create a platform to relate theory to practice and add current techniques and applications which may not be available in the classrooms. This programme will be run by the Students Affairs Committee of the Institute and will seek collaboration with the Industrial Training Fund. The Institute will seek training exposure for academics and collaborations with foreign Universities. This will attract Visiting Lecturers and Summer Study Tours for Nigerian Students. To get this to be effective we will have to review the curriculum and align with international standards as technology is fast changing the way we design, and the way buildings are built has moved from the methods of our first decade as a Nation. Our students have to be trained for the future. This is the synergy the regulatory bodies should develop and maintain with professional bodies. If we cannot train our Architects to be ready for tomorrow, then when tomorrow comes we will still be on the back seats and if we seek to build buildings to global best practice standards, then the totality of our development process will remain in the hands of others. This will be a big disservice to our dear Country. Nigerian Institute of Architects will not let this happen.

By Marc Philips