Home > Electrical/Electronics > Countless Projects Have Been Abandoned Due To Poor Community Management– Olalekan Abdulatif

Countless Projects Have Been Abandoned Due To Poor Community Management– Olalekan Abdulatif

Engr Olalekan Abdullatif is a seasoned Project Manager with core competence in Community Relations Management. He has traversed the oil-rich region of Niger Delta handling projects for the IOCs successfully sometimes not without the need to manage community crises. Engineers’ Forum had an interactive session with this Community Relations Expert and he delved into crisis management and also proffered solutions to the teething problems in the region.

Let us start by asking; what is the concept of Community Relations?

Community relations refers to the various methods companies use to establish and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with the host communities in which they operate. The company develops relationships to help foster its good name while the community receives support from its initiatives. So, the concept of this relation in any host community is primarily to help in reducing the level of poverty in that community via direct labour, transfer of technologies etc.

How do we relate this to the engineering projects?

Most of the engineering projects carried out especially in Niger Delta region or what’s known as offshore is for oil and gas facilities and they require the services of trained personnel /experts to safely deliver. But that does not mean that there are not some of these activities that can be handled by the community workers as they are fondly called. Engineering projects can be broken down into 3 categories: Highly skilled, Semi-skilled and Un-skilled.

At the commencement of a new project, the company is mobilized to site with its highly skilled and some time with semi-skilled staff; they are fondly referred to as Company Project Staff.

Through the Community recruitment centers, the head of the project staff employ other project staff from the host community and these community workers are headed by their representative known as Community Liaison Officer, CLO who will be their mouthpiece throughout the project.

Sometimes, due to the responsibilities placed upon the Project Engineer by the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, NCDMB Office via the Project Engineer’s company, he is bound to employ some semi-skilled workers from the host community and they will be attached to company Project Staff and it is expected that before the end of the project the community workers employed and attached to them become knowledgeable on their specialized skills via  the job training, hands-on training, workshops etc.

Can we, therefore, say that most time this concept is not applied and that is what causes restiveness in the oil-rich region?

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Executing engineering projects successfully in Niger Delta region requires not only the technical know-how of the job but delves into a personal relationship and crises managements knowledge of the Project Engineer.  A celebrated project engineer will likely be messed up by these community workers if all he has is technical know-how of the project without sound personal relations and crises management skills.  And also, a good crises manager with little technical know-how might do well-executing projects in the Niger Delta region because he has other highly qualified technical personnel working with him on the project.

Most companies believe that carrying out a project in Niger Delta region is all about money, yes, money is involved but what count most is the ability to withstand pressure as they come from these community workers.  This pressure mostly comes due to language barriers, level of understanding, tolerance levels etc.

Over the years, I learnt that many companies failed in Niger Delta because they submitted less competitive quotes without considering the cost of managing the host community workers and their demands. After winning the contract and mobilize to site the realities will  be dawned on them and in a way to play fast one on the host community workers, these will result in restiveness.

Are you saying many projects have failed because of poor community crises management?

Countless number of engineering projects have either been abandoned or failed due to poor community management

What are the tools deployed to achieve an efficient community relationship?

Firstly, Integrity – as a project engineer/site engineer try as much as possible to build trust in your host community workers. Never promise what you know you cannot fulfil as they will surely hold you to it at the end.

Secondly, fairness – give them what is due to them if not 100% but at least above average. Never play on their intelligence.

Thirdly, be accessible – be a good listener and accommodating. Yes, they are not the same set of people you are used to but they are human beings so treat them as such. And don’t openly place your core project staff above them. Rather treat them fairly and equally.

What are the roles of National Contents in engineering projects in community relations development?

National Contents as established by the Federal Government is doing wonderfully well even though there are still rooms for improvement.

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The NCDMB  should always be ready to support the companies when they run into problems while executing their projects in terms of commercial variations. Some of these companies quoted far below what is needed to do the job successfully not because they intended to but because of their inexperience working in that region.

Given the roles of the Community Relations Manager in crises management, should it be seen as a major career path and not lump up as function of project manager?

Community Relations Manager is a career course and should be treated as such because of the roles they perform in project execution especially in a more challenging environment like the Niger Delta. Recently, I led a team of engineering personnel comprising of Instrumentation Engineers, Civil and Structural Engineers, Mechanical and Electrical engineers to install a 24″ Coriolis meter at Bonny Oil and Gas Terminal for SPDC which has been commissioned. There I doubled as a Project Manager and Community Relations Manager for more than 3years that the project execution lasted. Given the enormity of the work involved, it would have been better to separate the two but then we were able to achieve success.

How can the government utilize the expertise of community relation managers to bring about lasting peace in the region?

I will say experience and confidence come over the years; as mentioned earlier sending an inexperience project engineer to work site will always lead to chaos. This experience is not only about the technical know-how of the job but crises management and personal relationship skills. Such persons with such experience should be identified and use appropriately in projects that demand their inputs.

Recently, you led members of your community to carry out some community development projects. How did you manage to convince the people to be part of the road rehabilitation project?

Nigerians are good followers what we lack is leadership with an element of integrity. What happened in my community during the lockdown says a lot about who we are as an individual. The road has been in that dilapidated state for years and so the opportunity presented itself for me to serve. It requires trust, transparency and accountability. The community ended up rebuilding the whole length of road with culvert and drainage. We ensured that we rendered the account daily and with this; we were able to remove fear  and build confidence among community members.

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