Cuban-born Engineer Jose Enrique Rodriguez Pupo is the Managing Director of Juba Construction Company Nigeria Limited. The firm was incorporated in Nigeria in 2009 and actively involved in the construction industry. Here he speaks to Apex News in various issues. Excerpts:
Can you share what informed the establishment of your company in Nigeria?
Let me share with you this experience. Recently I was invited by the Cuban Ambassador to Nigeria, Carlos Trejo for the 45th anniversary and Nigeria Movement of Solidarity with Cuba. I was impressed with the number of people I saw there. Our Ambassador said our relationship is not only for 45 years, but way back 400 years. Cuba and Nigeria have almost the same culture and similar ideas on how we do things. We are here to join hands together in good and bad times and build a very good relationship between the two countries.
Share with us some of the projects that have distinguished you?
I must say that in Nigeria, there are really high-working people. What are trying to do is in the area of finishing and in keeping to the time frame of projects we undertake. There is no any project that we have started in the country that has been abandoned. All have been completed. Some of the projects that we have done are, for example, in Abuja there is a building handed over to Voice of Nigeria by the Federal Government, it was done by us. There is also a building that is under construction along Adetokumbo Ademola and Ahmadu Bello Way junction in Wuse II close to Keystone and Access banks. We made infrastructure at NISA Hospital and so many in lots of estates. We also work in teaching hospital in Kwara State.
You mentioned that all projects you started, have been completed and that is laudable. What is unique about Juba Construction that the public needs to know about?
Our uniqueness is in the area of good finishing in our projects. We can use any material, it doesn’t matter. We trained people working with us and impacted our experience and knowledge in delivering good finishing. This is the thing we think is missing in Nigeria in the construction industry.
There is no doubt that despite your wonderful achievements, there are challenges. What are the challenges that you are facing?
Normally, there will challenges. Perhaps the main challenge that we have in the country is that we came here to work and join hands with you and love your people and work together with you. The main challenge is that sometimes during the process of construction, we don’t get paid on time and it delays our project. Another situation we have is that sometimes, it so difficult to link with governors or people that will have solution to a problem but it is hard to get them directly. You need to pass so many doors to get them. But, generally, getting contracts and get paid on time is the major challenge we are facing in the country.
Looking at your background and experience, what is your assessment of Nigeria infrastructure? Do you think we are going at a very good pace?
Nigerian leaders should do more in the education and health sections. I think this is what the people require. There should be construction of low-cost houses so that everybody can get. If the leaders can continue like this, I think the country can go far and achieve more. Nigeria is working and making progress. Between 1960 and now, there are many achievements.
People see activities in the construction industry to be slow due to the situation in the country. How do you think this can be addressed?
I think this is a bad period that everybody knows and feel, but I have to tell you something, you know in Nigeria and all Africa. If you remember in 2014 when former President Goodluck Jonathan made a prediction. He said the price of crude oil will be $58 and somehow in 2015, it came down to $28, and then to $25. This is the main resource that you have, so without this resource, it means the economy of this country may collapse but somehow, Nigeria never give up. You go to Venezuela, you see what happened there, it collapsed. They have problems. Nevertheless, people have to be patient because if Nigerians continue to work as they are doing, in the very near future, the economy of the country will be fine. But we need to have faith and work for it.
What is your assessment of the procurement act?
You know every country has its own idea and how to put the procurement act to use. I want to say that we are spending a lot of money in the procurement process in Nigeria. There is a long process in the preparation of documents. We should minimize the quantity of documentation and make it easier for the contractor to be captured into the system.
In the next five years, where do we see Juba Construction Company?
We are looking to be the best in the country. We are looking at the leaders of the country to give us the opportunity to show that there are not only few companies in the country that can do good work but many others like us. We look forward to opportunities to partner with Nigeria engineers, to built capacity and build a better country. This is our expectation.
In the construction industry, there is this view that we lacked project management skills in the construction industry and that Nigerian engineers are not competent.
I want to disagree. I totally disgrace. I have been in this country since 2004 and to be honest with you, I have met with lots of engineers. The schools are good, the engineers are good. There are some companies that employ Nigerian engineers and are not giving them specific duties and don’t get what they want. What we are doing now is using very few expatriates. We are giving Nigerian engineers all they need to work and to be honest I am very happy and proud of Nigeria engineers. What they need is more opportunities and to be open. They are wonderful people with good knowledge.
If you say we have skilled engineers, but if you look at some of the problems we are facing in Nigeria, where we experience building collapse, project abandonment, some of these projects are being done by indigenous players. Then what account for project failures?
I think it is not only to indigenous engineers or companies but also too many others. Mistakes are made, accidents are happening. Sometimes the soil tests are not properly done and sometimes, the designs of the foundation are not proper. I don’t blame indigenous engineers I blame companies who don’t put professional aspect in the structure. But to be honest, I don’t have the too much experience but the way I see it, there is no only in Nigerian indigenous companies that is happening. In my country, it is happening a lot. The problem is that when supervision is poor, accidents are bound to occur.