Exclusive Interview – Construction & Engineering Digest.
|Source: Construction and Engineering Digest (2016) Cover Interview: The committed Professional. July Edition, pg. 14-17.|
Engr. George Chukwulewa Okoroma FNSE, FNISE, FNIHE, JP, sits at the helm of a group of companies that has interest in Engineering & Technical Consulting services, Construction, Fabrication, Oil & Gas Installations, Logistics, Manpower Development, Hospitality, Real Estate, and Digital Technologies. In this exclusive interview, he bears his mind on his Professional Practice over the years and the need for all engineers to embrace technologies and collaboration in all facet of engineering practice.
Speak on your Professional experience
After graduation in 1981, I spent about four months in France and came back home, but before I travelled to France, as an engineering student I had my six (6) months industrial work experience with Taylor Woodrow (Nig) Limited – 1977. While on the job, I gained experience from the construction of science & engineering blocks at the Rivers State University of Science & Technology. I also worked with Zenith Dredging & Civil Engineering Company Limited in 1977. There I was involved in dredging, sand filling, sheet piling and construction of reinforced concrete retaining walls and paving slabs for Onne lighter berth terminal at Onne near Port Harcourt.
While in France, I worked for six (6) months with the Regional Works Dept (D.D.E.), Tarbe, France in 1981. I was privileged to participate in the investigation, estimation and super vision of regional highways construction in an erosion prone area with special attention on retaining walls and underground water seepage within Tarbe area in south- western region of France.
During my National Youth Service NYSC, I was privileged to serve briefly in the Rivers State Directorate of New Town in 1981. Our main area of activity, then, was the development of new town projects in the then old Rivers State (now Rivers and Bayelsa States). I also worked with the First Aluminium products Company Limited (then ALC A N Aluminium products). I was involved in the design, production and installation of all forms of long-span roofing sheets, cladding and flashings for industrial, commercial and residential developments for the entire Eastern Region from our base in Port Harcourt.
My working experience over the years as a qualified civil engineer cut across several sectors of the built environment, which started when I joined Gokon Nigeria Limited. And between 1982 and 1989, I rose from the post of a project engineer to a project manager. While at Gokon Nigeria Limited, I was involved in highways construction and repair for the Federal Ministry of Works. We carried out the maintenance of federal roads for the Federal Ministry of Works from 1982 to 1986. We were also involved in so many roads design and construction projects. The job exposed me to almost all the technical requirement in road design and construction.
By 1986-1989, I started thinking about becoming an entrepreneur with the experience that I had gathered working as a project manager. Around that time, the project director and the co-founders had issues. He left the company and I had to assume his role, which gave me the opportunity to learn how to run a construction business. So, by 1989 I started thinking of setting up my own firm because I already had an idea about what it takes to establish a company. Gambeta Nigeria Limited began operation 1989, and we started by providing engineering services to the oil and gas companies operating in the south-south region.
I did not stop there, we ventured into logistics and manpower development under the umbrella of Chilewa Investments Limited to support the growing need for heavy-duty equipment and light vehicles leasing to the Oil and Gas Companies. We are licenced by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity as recruiters of labour in Nigeria.
My third venture started when we approached some companies for jobs, and during the discussion, we discovered that they needed construction firms to work in some of the community base projects. As part of their corporate social responsibility, they were planning to build schools, hospitals, development centres etc. However, the community members wanted to do some of the jobs by themselves despite not being qualified. We saw the need to assist them in building these facilities by playing the role of a project consultant.
We did consulting services for them by contributing our professional knowledge to help them in actualizing the objectives of the oil companies. That was how Gapec Consultants Limited came into existence. We have gone beyond that and have rendered consultancy services to various agencies in Nigeria such as NNDC, TOTAL, E&P, Greater Port Harcourt Development Authority, Federal College of Education Technical Omoku, FMWR just to mention a few.
Today, we are a registered company authorised to practice engineering by the council for regulation of engineering in Nigeria (COREN), Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) and Association for Consulting Engineering in Nigeria (ACEN), which are the highest registration bodies for engineers and engineering practice in Nigeria.
Being a construction company, we started thinking about another area of business that will add value to our clients whose expatriate find it difficult to travel from Lagos and Port Harcourt where their head offices are located to the rigs that are in the Niger Delta region.
The business that came to my mind was hospitality, and my friend a French man encouraged me into this venture. Royal Fortress Hotels Limited came on stream providing oil servicing firms who send their workers to do some jobs in the region with accommodation. We are planning to expand to another location in Nigeria.
We have taken steps to encourage the production and refining of crude oil in Nigeria by setting up ChukChi Oil & Gas Limited, which at present provide services in Oil & Gas facilities, engineering, procurement, installation and construction and hope in the nearest future to participate in crude oil process. Burnsley Technologies is our newest venture providing innovative technologies to support the engineering and construction industry.
As an entrepreneur and engineer, I have used my wide knowledge and exposure to contribute to the growth of the society. Passion and excellence remains my drive in this profession and my advice is that all upcoming engineers should imbibe the same attribute because what you do today will outlive you and there is need to leave a legacy for the built environment.
Can you speak on digital engineering and the future for Gambeta?
The growing use of technology in the engineering and construction industry is very imperative, and this is driven by tougher market conditions and demand from clients for better value, reduced cost and innovation. Innovative technologies are currently being used to mitigate the risk involved in complex engineering projects. These technologies are often referred to as digital engineering, a combination of Building Information Management (the creation, collation and exchange of shared 3D models of the infrastructure’s architecture structure, and associated services) and Virtual Design and Construction (modelling software and techniques to design and evaluate possible construction processes). These technologies enable projects teams to Visualize and understand how to better undertake complicated tasks. Engineers can integrate data about a potential design, construction and function of an infrastructure to see the most efficient methods of delivery and operation.
We are also developing sensors in partnership with some international firms that will be used for preventative maintenance. This enables engineering firms to detect signs of trouble before they develop into full-blown problems. For example, contractors can embed sensors in wet concrete, where they send real-time data about the rate at which it is curing to a bespoke app. The data collected allows the contractor to optimize the curing time and take corrective action if sub-optimal conditions are detected. In the near future, real-time data about an infrastructure will be collected during the operational phase and used to optimize its performance. This data will then be combined with existing monitoring systems such as SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and BMS (Building Management Systems). One simple application in West Africa would be to monitor the use of federal and highways. This will enable the Federal ministries to better anticipate the development of defects-pot holes, fretting and cracking. Detecting these defects early will reduce the need for costly and time-consuming road resurfacing works. These digital technologies are bringing smart cities closer to reality. Therefore, we should anticipate a fundamental change in how people move and interact with their surroundings.
We are internally disrupting our businesses and rethinking our business model. Gambeta is positioning itself to gain a competitive advantage against international contractors. Achieving this will require more collaboration with indigenous domestic contractors within the nation.