In Search Of Skilled Artisans

by Uche Nworah

Hank Eso already discussed the issue of our bricklayers, vulcanisers, carpenters and other such artisans in a 2005 article titled “Oga, make we mange am so”. But one still can’t help but wonder how long we can go on accepting substandard services from our so-called artisans when really, it is almost the same amount of effort, resources and time expended in producing a sub-standard work that could be expended on achieving an excellent work.

Those who have funded any type of construction work will readily admit their frustrations with easily available artisans whose sole mandate it may seem is to frustrate the project funders with the low quality of work they do. Such people have had to resort to tearing down some parts of their building projects and re-building same at higher costs.

Starting from the tailors to carpenters, painters, bricklayers etc, the list is endless and the services seem to be getting poorer by the day. Take for instance the masons working on a friend’s project in the village. Because my friend lives in Lagos, it wasn’t possible for him to directly supervise the project as he would have loved to, and so he appointed someone else to do the supervision. You can imagine my friend’s anger when during a visit, he met half the beams supporting the building slanted to one side. I accompanied him on this occasion and couldn’t understand why anyone would not see the crookedness of the supporting beams. Both the project supervisor and the bricklayers working at the sight failed to see what the fuss was all about, to them, what my friend was complaining about wasn’t any ‘big deal’. They suggested to my friend that the problem could easily be corrected during plastering where sand and cement will be used to ‘chuck’ and align the crooked sections.

I couldn’t understand why anyone in their right minds will suggest such a stupid solution as remedy to a fundamental flaw in house construction. My friend didn’t need any more prompting and sacked both the supervisor and the masons from his site.

I was in Jos recently for the NIPSS Course 30 graduation. We had arrived Jos on a Friday for the graduation ceremony which was scheduled for the next day. Unfortunately for us, we did not make any prior accommodation arrangements and spent the better part of the day hunting for suitable hotels where we could spend the night.

Due to the NIPSS event on Saturday, all the hotel rooms in Jos were taken. We were almost toying with the idea of spending the night inside the car when someone directed us to Jikrit Ultimate Suits, a hotel along Bauchi road. When we arrived, we observed that from the exterior, the hotel looked decent, not that we would have cared anymore as we seemed to have run out of options.

Our first shocker was at the reception area where it seemed as if a tribe of cattle herdsmen were having a meeting to plan their next route. All manner of people were milling around in unkempt clothing, they chatted away in their dialect oblivious of guests arriving waiting to be attended to. I wondered who these people were and what their business was at the hotel at that hour. They didn’t look like regular hotel guests. Finally, the presence of our four-man party caught the attention of the multiple receptionists on duty. They confirmed to us that they still had rooms available and we at least breathed sighs of relief.

The hotel, a multi- story complex still looked like a fairly new hotel but as we climbed the stairs to our various rooms, there were several tell-tale signs which indicated that bad workmen had been there and left their calling cards. The plastering obviously was anything but smooth, and the paint had started to peel off in some sections of the wall. As we landed on our floor, it was difficult to see as the whole place was in enveloped in darkness. The porter who led us up then volunteered to turn on the light in a tone that made him out to be a superhero.

I asked aloud why they didn’t think it wise to do so hours ago. I probed further to find out if there were other guests staying on the floor and the potter confirmed that there were, to which my friend then asked what manner of people the guests were that they cared less about light in the hallway.

As I entered my room, i could see an attempt at interior decoration but still the effort looked like somebody’s nightmare. The tiles were so badly laid that they looked like the work of a toddler imitating Picasso. Having traveled all the way from Abuja, I was tired and needed to rest, but first I had to answer the call of nature and there I witnessed what I may describe as another wonder of the world.

How the people that built the hotel expected anyone to actually make use of the convenience provided is baffling. With all the space in the world to play with inside the toilet area, they thought it best to place both the wash basin and the toilet bucket at more than close proximity. You probably have to task your brain to fathom how you could comfortable seat without having your head slamming against the wash basin. I came away with the impression that this probably must be the worst toilet ever in any hotel in the world as the picture here shows.

As I looked up, I saw a light bulb dangling out of its casing and I almost screamed blue murder. Unfortunately it was already late and there were no more hotels available anywhere in Jos. I later found out from my friends that their rooms were equally in poor shape. We all wondered why someone will bother at all going into the hospitality business without assuring guests minimum comfort in the least, or should we not blame the owners, and blame the artisans instead?

In Nigeria today, there seems to be an upsurge in the preference for skilled artisans, craftsmen and masons from Togo, Ghana and other African countries. This is a serious indictment on our people. Perhaps there is an urgent need for government to re-focus its interests in technical colleges and polytechnics as there is now serious dearth of vocational skills in our country to service the construction sector that is gradually picking up. I recently heard of a Nigerian man who brought home an Indian mason from the UK to work on his project in the village but dare say that we can not continue like this.

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