For two days in the month of April, 2021, the leadership of the Nigeria Building and Road Research Institute, effectively supervised by Dr.Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology, engaged in a virtual conference and national discourse on need for effective resource utilization and campaign against waste in the building and construction industry in Nigeria.  

By Tobs Agbaegbu and Sonnie Nwosu

For two days, 27th and 28th of April, 2021, the leadership of the Nigeria Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI) , an agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria, in the Federal Ministry of Science of Technology , led stake holders in the building and construction industry in the country to brainstorm on wide range of issues affecting the sector. The virtual conference, was held at the headquarters of NBRRI in  Jabi, Abuja  under the theme : ‘’circular economy in the built environment for enhanced performance of Nigeria construction industry.’’

Emphasis indeed, was about ways and means of ensuring effective utilization of resources and eliminating waste as much as possible in the construction industry.  At a larger scale however, participants also addressed contemporary issues in the building and road construction sector and how to harness the expertise of researchers, scientists, academicians, relevant stakeholders and experienced brains in the built environment from within and outside Nigeria, to strategically reposition the industry

Unlike the first of its kind held by NIBBRI years back, the 2021 edition was a virtual conference and the DG explained that the reason for change of strategy was due to traveling constraints caused by Covid-19 Pandemic.  But some key personalities graced the occasion in person and adhered to Covid-19 protocols as proceedings progressed.

Those who attended in person included the DG, Professor Duna, Chairman of the Governing Board, Williams Wandi, Minister of State, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Barr. Mohammed Abdullahi and Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology.  

In a welcome address, Wandi identified the Nigerian construction industry as one of the fastest growing around the world, and expressed the opinion tha the impressive performance should be maintained and the industry repositioned in order to continue competing with its contemporaries globally. He also harped on the need for Nigeria to explore the boundless realities and possibilities of employing local materials, equipment and user-friendly techniques that can be better appreciated by the people.

In a good will message, Mohammed Abdullahi, Minister of state explained that the 2021 event is meant to provide concrete solution for eradicating wastages in the building and road construction industry. The purpose, he said, is to buttress the positive impact of the previous annual international workshops and technical conferences on relevant issues organized by NBRRI with the primary objective of raising the awareness of stakeholders in the construction industry.

Abdullahi also emphasized that the conference will not just enhance the performance of the construction industry but also boost the economy of the nation. He also listed other benefits as: increasing government revenue, improving the country’s GDP through viable research and development aimed at cost reduction, zero waste and income generation that would eventually translate to improved standard of living of the citizens.

The minister of state used the opportunity also to  implore professionals and experts in the building industry to study the contents of the Presidential Executive Order 5 and use the opportunities offered in the document to bring about the desired change and create an innovative driven economy as envisaged by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu

He also enjoined stakeholders to continue supporting NBRRI in the development of appropriate technologies and courses that would address housing and infrastructural deficiencies in the country using locally available resources that will meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal’s Target of providing affordable and decent housing for all. While commending the DG/CEO and the management team of NBRRI, he asserted that the forum is apt and is envisaged to expose stakeholders to the latest trends in the building sector that could reduce the dangers associated with erosion, building collapse and persistent flooding as experienced in recent times. 

Perspectives on effective utilization of resources and management of waste in the building and construction industry was also presented by Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu , the Honourable Minister , in his opening remark. Painting a picture of a regrettable paradox in Nigeria, Onu pointed out that the country has one of the largest deposits of bitumen and natural sands in the world, used in road construction. Despite this natural gift, he said the country has continued to import the natural resource from other countries.  

He pointed out that deposits of bitumen in Nigeria cover four states which include, Edo, Ondo, Ogun and  Lagos; and  that  it is estimated that bitumen reserves cannot be less than 42 million barrels, out of which 43 industrial chemicals, including heavy crude petroleum can be obtained.

The minister sternly counseled that it is not a good idea to have huge deposits of bitumen and natural sands in our land, and yet continue to import bitumen from other countries, an observation that gave him a sounding ovation.                               

He stated Nigeria spends so much on the importation of bitumen for road construction which results to drastic reduction in foreign exchange earnings for the country. He noted equally that due to the drop in the price of crude oil in the international market, there is the dire need to find alternative source of bitumen and to encourage the use of concrete in road construction.

Onu however commended the construction industry as an essential sector of the country’s economy that contributes significantly to national development. The minister also applauded NBRRI for its research and developmental efforts towards achieving fully paved roads using locally sourced bitumen, noting that its research efforts covered materials sourcing, laboratory characterization and field trials of materials.

Ogbonnaya Onu elatedly told the audience that the agency has also done research on the use of cement which is now produced from limestone and gypsum that are available in large quantities in the country for road construction, carried out research work on concrete roads, particularly in developing its mix design manual which was done in collaboration with the council for the regulation of engineering in Nigeria, COREN, and other relevant stakeholders in the construction sector.

In conclusion, he averred that they need to bring in the private sector to invest in local bitumen production;” all necessary incentives should be provided for this to happen”.

Academic and well researched papers were also presented on day one of the conference. Among these was a paper titled, ‘’using circular economy principles to drive research and development on alternative construction materials and technologies’’, presented by the DG/CEO, NBRRI, Prof. Duna. He described circular economy as ‘’an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and it involves the continual use of resources’’. He stated that by recycling plastic into pellets for making new plastic products is another example of circular economy.

NIBRRI Building

In his paper, Duna looked at issues relating to human population which he pointed out has been on the increase globally. He pointed out that as population increases; the demand to use materials also increases. He noted that Nigeria, with a population exceeding 200 million, is one of the largest producers of solid waste in Africa, going by United Nation’s estimates.

He defined solid waste as non-liquid and non-gaseous products of human activities, regarded as being discarded and could take forms as refuse, garbage and sludge. Prof. Duna stated that waste generation rate in some state capitals in Nigeria per person/per day is estimated at 0.65-0-95 kg. He said this gives an average of about 42 million tons of wastes generated annually and it is more than half of 62 million tons of wastes generated in sub-Sahara Africa annually, thereby making where and how to channel these wastes to become a huge problem for the country.

Furthermore, he stated that utilizing the “waste through economy system” provides an opportunity to address this waste which can be recycled into useful products as there are two types of economy namely, the linear and the circular.

He described linear economy as the one that follows traditionally the “take-make-dispose” step by step plan, meaning that raw materials are collected, then transformed into products that are used until they are discarded finally as waste.

He counted the advantages of circular economy to include; job creation for citizens, waste/population reduction, creating clean environment hence improvement in health of citizens, poverty reduction and giving opportunity for the private sector to come up with business opening thereby adding value to the economy.

Others are that it involves data collection, consequently creating room for government to come up with good policies/budgetary provision for implementation, reduces the depletion of natural resources mostly used as primary raw materials and also gives room for technological breakthrough, as well as the invention of machines for the production of new products.The DG of NIBRRI used opportunity of his paper to highlight the numerous interventions of the agency in designing alternative construction materials and innovations from recycled wastes.

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