Mohammed Yamusa Sulaiman is the Founder/Chief Executive Officer of ABS Blueprint Limited, an innovative construction company thriving on the reputation of world class project delivery. In this interview, the professional Quantity Surveyor and Executive Strategist whose organisation successfully delivered the Oriel Farm Complex called on regulatory authorities and construction industry professionals to follow laid down rules in order to end incidences of project failures in the country.
Yamusa said contractors need to acquaint themselves with the provisions of the Procurement Act, saying it will reduce the incidences of default.
The happily married CEO who takes pride in his ‘lovely daughter’ tasked the youths on integrity, saying that it is the key to sustaining trust and patronage in business.
He spoke with Kingsley Paul recently, in Abuja.
Kindly give us a brief background of ABS Blueprint Limited.
ABS Blueprint limited is a construction company operating in Nigeria; I am the Founder/CEO. Over the past decade, we have made our mark in the industry and have built a reputation of credibility and excellence in all our projects. We have also been able to embark on certain services that are integrated into the construction industry and related sectors.
What inspired you to form ABS Blueprint Limited and why did you choose to render services in the construction industry?
I drew inspiration from various areas. As a child, I loved to build things and then take them apart. So, that in itself was a basis that gave direction to my interest in life.
I grew up in an estate that was built by one of the indigenous construction firms in Kaduna. So I had the opportunity of admiring construction activities and the branded company vehicles and equipment that came my way. I was really fascinated by the brand name of the housing products of the construction company, and because of the remarkable reputation of the company, I developed interest in the industry.
In view of that, I chose Quantity Surveying as a course of study in the university. I fulfilled the requirements of Industrial Training in Bulet International Construction Company. While I was at Bulet, I acquired first-hand knowledge of the workings of construction industry.
Here in Abuja, Bullet international is well known as a competent construction company, and I was able to learn from them by understudying the workings of the construction industry.
So upon graduating from the university, I garnered additional experience by working in partnership with more professionals in the industry to gather more knowledge and experience. I thereafter decided to establish ABS Blueprint Limited, which is my own construction company.
I have my own peculiar vision and so I needed an organization that will be a trade mark of my vision. That’s how ABS Blueprint came into existence.
What has been your experience as a construction industry entrepreneur?
The industry is very dynamic because we keep learning as a result of moving parts and progressive developments in the sector. Some companies in the construction industry have high number of expatriates and we work with the government and the private sector.
But there are challenges because the construction industry is highly competitive. There are other companies who are also into construction and who may have an edge just like we also have edge over some other companies. So we are working with the mindset that we must continue to grow even as we are working. The process of becoming the best is an evolving process.
So we have been able to build a good corporate reputation. The construction industry is like any engineering practice, it is built on challenges that must be solved. Sometimes you have a plan that may not go as scheduled, that’s how the industry works.
What projects distinguish ABS Blueprint from other companies in the construction industry?
We are proud of all our projects and we recently completed an eight story multi-purpose structure that combines accommodation and office facilities in a single structure. It is located in the Central Business District, Abuja, and we provide the associated facility management services. It’s a big structure and we have a lot of parts to it.
We also recently completed a project for Oriel farms, a large agricultural company. For Oriel Farms, we built the infrastructure and plant facilities such as the storage silos, processing plants, feeder routes/access roads, the water storage and treatment system and the ancillary facilities. In addition we provided electricity, and the supplementary and national grid connection.
Building the structure for Oriel Farms was a good experience and it was quite challenging and we are proud of the feat. We have built a number of structures and we have had quite a number of involvements in real estate.
The Nigerian business climate is tough. How have you been able to surmount industry challenges?
It is true that the terrain is tough! It is tough because the construction industry is a market that has a lot of dynamics. Sometimes the market is buoyant, at other times it is not. However, we have remained in business.
In the recent recession, you will observe that there was a decline in the purchasing power of customers. Even government reduced the number of capital projects it was executing. So there are such challenges but we continued to command patronage because of our reputation of quality service and professionalism.
How have you fared with debts? Contractors are owed huge debts and sometime settlements come much later.
Whenever contractors are owed, it is as a result of a problem. It is either that the contractor failed to deliver the project according to the terms of the contract or as a result of bureaucracy associated with processing of payments which usually occurs in government. But I believe that there was budgetary provision for every project that was awarded. So those who have such problems can resolve it by addressing the root cause of it.
The contractor and clients need to do their part to ensure speedy and efficient delivery of the project. However, a lot of such challenges emanate from financing especially if the funds are not quickly available.
What do you think about the notion that indigenous construction companies cannot favorably compete with foreign ones operating in the country? Would you say there is a level playing ground?
I think there is a level playing ground. However the difference is that there are some companies which have higher level of competence because of their enhanced capacity to deliver complex projects.
I insist there is a level-playing ground because the procurement law does not discriminate between locally owned and foreign companies. The procurement law only requires that interested companies provide needed documentations and I think that does not reflect any discrimination. So, there is level playing ground.
However, in terms of capacity, some foreign companies are ahead and up to the task. It is up to us the indigenous construction companies to step-up our game and ensure that we pull the resources at our disposal to acquire equipment and technology required to measure up and enhance our capacity.
Indigenous companies could collaborate to form partnerships or consortium in order to be able to do more. I believe we can synergize to build on our strength. If we do this, we stand the chance to become even bigger than the foreign companies.
One thing is sure; every great company started from the scratch and grew over time. So we must plan our growth and development and ensure that we faithfully commit to our plans. As you grow, your reputation grows and your capacity increases. So it is up to the indigenous companies to plan for their own development.
There is the opinion that we lack project management skills in Nigeria. As an experienced industry expert, do you share the view?
I would not say there is lack of project management skills in Nigeria because the skills are out there. Rather, there is lack of utilisation of the skills. For example Nigerian educational institutions produce some of the best graduates in the world but the country may not have been able to get the best from these very resourceful graduates.
So clients need to emphasise professionalism in project management.
You have said Nigeria lacks no project management skills. What then accounts for the common project failures in the industry?
Building collapse is more of a failure on the part of the contractor who handled the construction of the structure, but that should not be generalised. Project failure could also arise from the failure of the regulators to monitor the buildings while they were being built. There are laid down processes that ought to be followed by the contractor while there are also regulatory authorities mandated to ensure compliance. When both or anyone of these groups fail to do their job, there would be project failure.
If it was a problem that legitimately came up during the project, it can be addressed because Nigeria has professionals and consultants who are able to detect the origin of the problem. So it is easy to trace the problem.
If you review the collapse of buildings, you will agree that it is the result of failure on the part of the human being who built the structure. It has to do with people who fail to do the right thing. It could be that the professionals are cutting corners or the failure of clients to follow the laid down rules and regulations.
Construction is a science and there are implications for carelessness and lawlessness in construction. A carelessly built structure can collapse.
To avoid these, there are rules such as Soil Test which must be carried out early enough to ensure that bearing of the solid is strong enough to carry the load of the proposed building. It is expected that structural calculations are carefully carried out to ascertain safety.
Apart from these, regulators are required to come and check the level of compliance of the contractor while he is still in the process of building the structure. So the regulators ought to come at various stages of the building process to verify compliance.
Projects are abandoned or buildings collapse when there is failure in compliance. If the regulation is tightened, there will be higher level of professionalism and it will be a lot better for the sector and the public.
While some experts commended the Procurement Act for various reasons, others have called for its review saying that its provisions are difficult to implement. What do you think?
I share the view that the Procurement Act is good and it is one of the best things that has happened to contract procurement in Nigeria.
Government is not relenting; however it needs to address the challenge of bottlenecks militating against the realization of the advantages of the Act. Bad eggs have a way of working against good processes put in place to ensure transparency. So government needs to combat the bad eggs by putting in place a strategy for effective implementation. This can include sanction for defaulters.
Most contractors know little about the Procurement Act and this should not be. I got a copy and studied it in order to comply with the law.
So a lot of problems will be solved if contractors acquaint themselves with the provisions of the Act. When a contractor knows the law governing procurement in the country, he would know what is expected of him. The contractor would also have an idea of what to expect from the government or client, this gives him leverage.
In view of high standards set for all companies by the Procurement Act, how do you think new entrants into the construction business can compete favorably?
The system is designed to favour capacity; it is designed to ensure that companies with high capacity to deliver get the contract. This may be justified because in order to address project failures, you must ensure that the contract goes to the best and most experienced bidder.
Construction is a science and has very limited room for experiment and this has its own costs. For example if a new and inexperienced company gets a huge project, he is not likely to implement it as smoothly as an experienced company would implement it.
What does Nigeria’s infrastructure reflect about the country?
It tells our story; it shows that Nigeria is not yet where it should be. Infrastructure is the nerve of every economy. Every nation needs to have certain infrastructure in order to develop its economy.
Nigeria has had a lot of resources but the resources have not been channeled to building our infrastructure.
Development of infrastructure needs a lot of time and resources. For example government has been trying to build the railways but it has taken many years to implement because it involves highly technical processes. So Nigeria needs to give more priority to infrastructural development by increasing the funding available for it.
What is your advice to government on infrastructural development?
Government should ensure that it dedicates more money to capital projects. In the past there were instances when recurrent expenditure outweighs capital expenditure, which is an anomaly. We should have a high percentage of our budgets focused on development of infrastructure. When this is done, we will be able to do other things.
A nation which develops its infrastructure would grow other sectors of its economy. This is because infrastructural development would have a trickle-down effect on other sectors of the economy.
What makes ABS Blueprint unique, and what is the message of confidence you wish to pass to prospective clients?
ABS Blueprint takes a lot of pride in excellent delivery of all its projects. In the construction industry, ABS Blueprint has become a brand synonymous with distinction and innovation.
Innovation is key, and so we focus on research in order to evolve innovative construction techniques that will continue to distinguish our products as a unique brand.
What is your advice to young Nigerians watching you?
We all have to be hardworking. The youth should not have a mindset of entitlements, they should use their brains, energy and vibrancy to work and earn responsibly.
The youth have broad minds and they should take advantage of this to exercise creativity. They should dream big and pursue the realization of their dreams.
They should not forget that integrity is key. One of our problems as youths is that when we are given opportunity, we fail to exhibit the integrity needed to sustain confidence.
In business, professionalism and integrity are important because you need to sustain your customers.
Of course you may make some honest mistakes, but you should learn from them and move forward.