In colonial days, major works on the construction and maintenance of Nigeria infrastructure were handled by foreign firms. With the approach of independence, the promoters of these firms were apparently apprehensive that a cordial relationship with foreign interests may not be taken for granted, given the militancy of the likely successors to power. In order to present a united front, seven of these foreign firms founded the Federation of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors in Nigeria (FOCI) in 1954. The seven foreign firms are Costain (W.A) Ltd, Cappa D’Alberto Ltd, Borini Prono & Company Ltd, G. Cappa Nigeria Ltd, Richard Costain Ltd, Poletti Brother Nigeria Ltd, and Taylor Woodrow (West Africa) Ltd. Subsequent developments after independence, in particular the indigenisation laws, accelerated the emergence of local participants in the construction industry. Today the organisation is a mixture of indigenous, indigenised and foreign enterprises. The name of the group has since been changed to the Federation of Construction Industry – (FOCI).
The development of the Nigerian transport system has been closely connected with the economic and political history of the country. The colonial government constructed a rail network as the major means of accessing the country for administrative and commercial purposes. As the network was mainly north/south oriented, the need for a reliable road network became more pronounced and the construction companies became partners with the government in constructing the road network, which now stands at 200,00 kilometers. This partnership is of course continuous, as most of the roads are steadily being upgraded to match national progress on the social and commercial fronts. In the area of water-borne transport, member companies of FOCI have been involved in dredging channels for ships, building jetties and deep sea ports. They are also rendering infrastructure support so the oil and gas rendering infrastructural support to the oil and gas sector, both on and off shore.
It is fair to say that FOCI members have been largely responsible for most of the major building structures all over the country. The magnificent new capital of the nation, Abuja, bears eloquent testimony to the contribution of FOCI members to the country’s buildings and infrastructure programme. They have also been involved in the nationwide development of new towns, estates and housing schemes.
INDUSTRIAL STABILITY AND GROWTH
With over 56 years of construction experience in Nigeria, FOCI has become a reference point for sustained excellence in the construction industry. Interaction with member companies has resulted in the maintenance of sound practices, respect for ethics and stability. By their nature, members of the Federation are competitors in the same market. They have however realised the urgent need to co-operate in bringing more stability to the construction industry. There was a pressing requirement for a common basis for conditions of employment and remuneration, terms and conditions of contract, treatment of the day work rates, the setting of minimum standards, and even stabilising the prices of key construction materials.
FOCI provided the platform for tackling these common problems in the context of competition between members. All members agree on the need for sustainability in the industry. Conditions of service in the industry are regulated by the National Joint Industrial Council (NJIC), the forum where the employers and the junior/senior workers’ unions meet periodically to regulate terms and practices. The NJIC has been responsible for maintaining industrial peace and stability for about six decades, enabling the companies to focus on their direct business.
Common issues involving dealing with government and parastatal bodies are also tackled through the platform of FOCI, which has minimised the areas in which the major clients might be able to exert undue pressure. This was particularly noticeable in tackling problems that arose over implementation of the Structural Adjustment Programmes of the Banbangida administration, which introduced a new foreign exchange regime that devalued the currency by over 600 per cent, and made it impossible to proceed with ongoing jobs on existing prices and payment conditions. The formula for paying for ongoing and future jobs was negotiated under the umbrella of FOCI, and the accumulated debts were pursued through the same platform.
FOCI also provided the platform for producing common instruments such as the Schedule of Day Work Rates and the Construction Industry Materials Price Index, which are normally cleared with the Federal Ministries of Works and Housing and are routinely developed as tools for handling the issues to which they relate. FOCI represents the construction industry in multilateral agencies such as the Nigerian Employers’ Consultant Association (NECA) and the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC).