There seems a bit of confusion on which is louder between the applause from the Monday, December 4, launch of the National Welding Policy by the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (FMSTI) and the outright rejection of the policy by many industry stakeholders.
While an attempt to launch a policy for national benefit is a good move, many stakeholders say, the policy in question that has just been launched has been rejected from outset on multiple grounds, hence it is a serious cause for concern how the ministry came about a policy that it termed as a national policy.
A representative of one of the professional bodies in the industry, who craved anonymity, expressed dismay about how the process was managed leading to the launch without ‘due process’.
The problem according to him is best captured by former presidential candidate, Peter Obi, who said, “There is Nigeria, but there are no Nigerians. Nigeria works for a few minorities, but it must be made to work for all Nigerians”.
“This policy is a typical example of Peter Obi’s quote,” the representative said.
According to him, there is overwhelming conclusion by industry and professional bodies that the process has been conducted in total secrecy with the coloration of gross personal interest.
“If this position is not correct, then I plead for a response on whether all the subsectors listed were represented in the committee expertise that developed this policy according to scope indicated in the policy.
“Do we understand the level of precision required in welding associated with aerospace, ship building, or bridges? In most cases the quality level requirement for aerospace and ship building are at par with core oil and gas standards.
“I am reliably informed that a number of bodies did formally respond with complaints on content of the policy. I do not have copies of the letter of complaints, but I also do not know if what I saw as a draft is what has been published,” the stakeholder said.
“Going further, it is well known, there are a retinue of professional bodies concerned with welding beyond the sub sectors listed. How would the specific interests of these sectors be accounted for in the resulting document?” he queried.
The stakeholder said that the Nigerian Institute of Welding (NIW), a frontline professional body in the industry, has been plagued by a protracted leadership crisis, which has divided the body and rendered it incapable of presenting a united front.
“Nigerian Institute of Welding (NIW) has been in the news for the last year about the dissolution of the board, and we were part of the stakeholders that witnessed the process of the dissolution of the board.
“In the publication informing of the launch (of the welding policy), we saw NIW. Who is or are the representatives of NIW that are involved in this policy? Was a stakeholders forum convened before the development of the policy? Also, was this policy circulated for comments among the various sectors and was there overwhelming acceptance of its contents before getting to this stage?” he queried.
In a chat with this reporter, a former Vice President of NIW, Engr. Clement Eribo said that relevant stakeholders were kept in the dark by the ministry over the launch of the policy, saying he only heard about the program two days before it took place.
This, he said, was one of the ways the enemies of the welding industry were sabotaging the development of the industry.
He said that while the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Chief Uche Nnaji, and the Permanent Secretary, Mr. James Sule, may not be aware of what is going on, other ministry officials could not claim innocence.
According to him, the minister’s eagerness to succeed in the position is causing him to be manipulated by those that do not have his interest or that of the ministry and welding industry at heart.
He said, “I can exonerate the minister and the perm sec but those other personnel at the bottom, they know what they are doing.
“Launching is just a mere formality. They want to launch something that has been approved. The thing started from drafting. They set up a committee to draft the policy. After it had been drafted, they now set up a committee to adopt what was drafted. The committee adopted it and they sent it to the Federal Executive Council for approval. For the launching, there’s nothing you can do again, because they’re launching a document that has been approved.
“Right from the drafting stage, they knew what they were doing.”
Eribo, who expressed serious reservations about the content of the policy, said even though it looked great on paper, it would be near impossible to implement.
“If you see the policy, on paper, it is very sweet. Both what is possible and what is not possible, they are all in the paper.
“Maybe when the minister saw it, he was very impressed and thought ‘If I can achieve these, then President Bola Tinubu will applaud me’.
“That is why the man is in a hurry to succeed, not knowing that he is digging his grave.
“I don’t blame the minister or the perm sec but now they need to listen properly before they go and put themselves into trouble,” Eribo said.
He added, “The policy, whether it is good or not, is not what I am after now. What I am after is the implementation, which is dead on arrival. They want to make money at the expense of the youths who want to enlist into the (welding) programme…
“Welding is not like tailoring where two people can work together, and one person can say, ‘Yes, put the thread that way.’ In welding, once you put on that your shade (safety goggle), you’re alone.”
On the crisis rocking the NIW, Eribo took a swipe at former President of NIW, Solomon Edebiri, accusing him of turning the institute to personal property.
He explained that he was elected Vice President while Edebiri was elected President of NIW in 2006 for a three-year term as specified by the institute’s constitution.
He added that they were re-elected for a second and final term in 2009 to terminate in 2012.
Since then, Eribo said, Edebiri has refused to leave the position, allegedly unilaterally amending the constitution numerous times to keep himself at the helm of affairs.
He noted that the NIW was established in 1980, and not by Edebiri.
“Until they call him to order, tell him to hands off,” Eribo said, NIW will not experience peace or development.
On the way forward, Eribo advised the ministry to come out with a different committee, call a meeting of genuine stakeholders, and set up a committee for the implementation of the policy.
“If the policy itself requires modification or review, then it can be reviewed. That’s the best way to do it,” he said.
Our correspondent reached out to another stakeholder in Warri who pleaded anonymity to clarify news about the NIW.
He said that the crux of the crisis confronting the NIW was the insistence of Solomon Edebiri in perpetuating himself at the helm of affairs of the institute.
He said, “I am not a big man, but I can tell you that until an annual general meeting is conducted to bring in a new executive, all these paparazzi are fruitless efforts. Which system, executive board, committee or members will implement this policy?
“How can one man stay as president for sixteen years and when the people politely tell him to go, he changes himself into Secretary of BOT. At which AGM? Who did that nomination and appointment? What does Secretary to BOT have to do with management? Are we even thinking as a nation?
“Which government agencies and who are the persons in these government bodies supporting these brazen illegalities and criminality? If this continues, I will not be surprised when the case finally gravitates to EFCC and becomes total shame.”
He added, “On selling this national policy, at the moment, there is a caretaker committee headed by Engr Bijimi Gaiya. A very senior practitioner with extensive experience in welding that we all respect. This was the consensus position by stakeholders so I am very sure that selling the policy and whatever fine tuning it needs through the chairman of the caretaker committee will be a wise move.”
When this reporter reached out to Gaiya, his response mirrored that of other stakeholders interviewed: he faulted the process leading to the launching of the National Welding Policy.
Gaiya, who is the Chairman of the Caretaker Committee of NIW, said there was no proper communication from the ministry, hence many stakeholders who lived outside Abuja could not attend the launch of the national policy.
He said that some NIW members who lived in Abuja were able to attend the launch despite the short notice.
Gaiya said that welding is central to many developmental projects across the world, including in the oil and gas, construction, manufacturing, and other industries.
“Welding is so important in our day-to-day lives that you don’t just sit somewhere and craft some things in the name of policy without involving the actual operators, and the actual operators in this case are the stakeholders. You don’t do that.
“When you enact a policy, who is going to use it? Who is going to operate it? Therefore, operators should have naturally been involved.”
He said that apart from NIW, other stakeholders like the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE), and Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) should have been properly informed in writing.
According to him, the newspaper publication put out by the ministry to announce the launch “was not sufficient”.
On the drafting of the policy, he said, “You don’t put up something you’re not familiar with. For instance, I have spent over four decades in welding activities in this country and many people thought I schooled in Europe. I did not.”
“That meeting did not cover the interest of the entire stakeholders,” he stressed.
“I don’t think any welding activity should take place in this country that I should not know, and I speak for people like me that have spent tremendous time in the industry.
“If there is to be a formulation of a policy concerning welding, there are some key people that should be involved.
“The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation cannot just wake up one morning and put up something they don’t know.
“For me, they did not do their due diligence well.”
On the crisis rocking NIW, he said, Gaiya said there has been “serious problem” in the leadership of NIW.
“There has been a leadership issue for a while now. The previous leadership has been dissolved because they had spent about 13 or 14 years and one guy does not want to go.
“He has spent eight years and added another five, making 13 or 14 years. This guy does not want to leave.
“So, the institute said, ‘No. Go! You have finished your term.’
“So, they set up a caretaker committee.”
He said removed took the case to court and the court gave an injunction for stay of action.
Gaiya acknowledged that the leadership crisis in NIW could have contributed to the ministry’s failure to carry the institute along.
However, he noted that besides NIW, other long-time players in the welding industry, including the likes of Dorman Long Engineering, Niger Dock, and others, were not carried along.
This reporter reached out to another key stakeholder in NIW, Mr. Ayo Adeniyi, who we were told was present at Monday’s launching, to clarify the news in circulation.
He said, “I try most times not to talk to press so that they do not magnify my comments. I have absolutely no comment against the ministry. It is commendable that the ministry has shown commitment to work with the industry to address core industry issues for the benefit of the economy. Maybe one or two things to address but I appreciate the ministry and I think such relationship should be nursed.
“On whether I was at the event today, I was in company of some other duly recognized representatives of both the institute and the stakeholders. I am careful to avoid some use of some words because showing up was a mandate by the stakeholders to show up at this event and correct some issues.
“Again, to your comment on whether the person involved with the policy that is now being questioned represents the institute, I did start with a commendation for the effort of the ministry. I would therefore not outrightly assent to the statement that I, in particular, am questioning the policy. I would rather focus on the NIW and its apparatus that has been involved with the ministry.
“For clarity, they do not represent the NIW. They are members of the erstwhile board that was dissolved at a general assembly and stakeholder meetings on the 8th of November 2022 due to gross ineptitude and financial malpractices. The communique was published in the dailies so it’s a public document. If you want it, I can send it to you so that you can do you findings, you are a journalist. You do not have to just take my word, go underground and clarify or verify according to Peter Obi.”
He wondered why Edebiri has been parading himself as Secretary of the Board of Trustees (BoT) and Executive Director of NIW, offices he said is alien to the institute.
Adeniyi said, “A vote of no confidence was passed on the erstwhile board following key issues vis, illegal extension of tenure, manipulation of constitution, fraudulently filing constitution that was rejected by the totality of members, personalization of a public institution and financial mismanagement.
“I repeat again that the communique was published in the dailies. It is at the disposal of everyone to verify the details and ask the persons involved. One fact I can easily tell you is that all relevant stakeholders in the welding industry were invited to the general assembly that dissolved the erstwhile board, including the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. This was done for objectivity reasons.”