The political and security situation in Nigeria does not promote an enabling environment to carry out construction work. Everyone is concerned, particularly as the nation moves towards the general elections of the year 2015 but Neal Peckam, Security Adviser to Dantata & Sawoe Construction Company, says politics is politics for Nigerian politicians and many things remain unpredictable. In this interview, he talks about the challenges of working in politically charged environments laden with safety and security issues: Excerpts:
How would you access the security and safety challenges facing the construction industry in Nigeria?
Security and Safety goes together within the industry. They are synonymous, so when one is looking at the security of the projects and the staff on ground, we are considering the safety situations as well. We are running so many projects across the country and given the current security situation in Nigeria, one will need to initiate strategies to different areas, for example, the situation in the north is quite different from the situation in the south.
Are there any security challenges that have been encountered since the beginning of the projects?
Yes, looking at the southern region, we have a situation which is often similar to the big oil companies. A construction project is not something that happens quickly, we may be involved in certain projects for a number of years and that means that life camps are set up in a community and the project moves slowly such as when we are building a highway for instance, or a bridge. In the south we have issues of negotiating with the local communities about land rights and ownership, provision of jobs and ensuring that the local communities benefit while we are there.
On the subject of insecurity, is there any scenario you would like to share with us?
I can give an example of a recent issue which actually was an environmental, as well as a security issue. We were doing a small road project at Yenogoa which involved putting in new covets and making the road twice as wide. I witnessed a small protest where the local community had blocked the road with various cars, they said that Dantata, our company is responsible for the flooding in the area which was actually due to heavy rainfall that had flooded their homes. We had to go with our Public Relations officer to access the problems and proffer solutions. The local community leaders met with us and we negotiated with them. We did not want to ignore the problem. We were not looking at whose fault it was, we simply took responsibility. The flooding was as a result of the blockage of normal channels that the stream could have moved through. It was not our fault that the covet was not where it was supposed to be. This was the kind of challenge that we faced every day.
We handle security challenges in collaboration with the communities, police, Civil Defense officials and we do the same things with safety issues as well. Even while working, we need to consider the safety of staff and equipment. We employed security personnel to look after our yards and life camps, but we work very closely with the Civil Defense and military authorities to ensure that we are all able to continue with our work despite the security situation in the area. In the north for instance, we have the insurgency issue where construction companies have faced challenges of kidnapping in recent years. We hire armed escorts to move with our expatriates when they are travelling from their work sites to their homes and from their work sites to the Head Office in Abuja.
What kind of relationship do you have with the external security groups?
Their job is to keep the law of the land and maintain peace. We are there to carry out a project in the best time, with the best quality in mind. In a way, we want to do the job in time and move on to another job. However, occasionally, there are concerns and issues which require the view points of everybody who lives in the area including the state government and sometimes, we need to call on the authorities: the Police or Army to find a way through the issue and come to a common solution.
What is your view on the security situation in Nigeria?
Well, I am not going to go into the area of politics, Nigeriaâ€™s politics is a complex area and it is not an area for a construction company to get into. However, the issue of insecurity is not having any negative impact on construction work going on in the states. We are moving ahead with our work. We are asking our staff who work in different areas in seven different states of the country to continue with their work. Every state, every community and every part of the country is different. We have to try our best to mediate in some cases and do what we are asked to do.
Well, security and safety have to be maintained at a better level than where it had being in the country. Safety in particular is a major concern because many lives have been lost or injured as a result of poor standard of health and safety precautions. We want to do anything that can be done to bring the industry together and to raise and maintain higher standards for all concerned. Safety precautions are good for the industry because we are doing business continually and we do not pray to have to investigate incidents and accidents in the process of getting the job done swiftly. The work that we are trying to do is aimed at improving the infrastructure of the country. It is important that we work with the government. What the government needs to do is to ensure that we have the right environment that gets the job done.
Thank you for your time with us.
Thank you too.