Controversy surrounds status of safety professionals in Lagos state

With the number of Occupational Health and Safety Professionals increasing by the day in Nigeria, Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC) and Institute of Safety Professionals are at loggerhead on how to take control of the registration and regulation of the professionals in Lagos state

The landscape of the Occupational Health and Safety (HSE) in Nigeria has changed. What seems to be at the prerogative of the multinationals in Nigeria, and exclusively preserved to the Upstream and Downstream Oil and Gas companies, has at the evolution of institutions, progressive thinking and emergence of science and technology changed; is now an integral part of businesses, and every aspect of life. Whether in a plant site or corporate office, the new reality is that HSE has a place and role to play in Nigeria economy.

On the wake of HSE in Nigeria and the need to create laws and bodies to regulate the budding professionals and manage safety in the country, two different regulatory bodies, Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC) and Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPoN) are at loggerhead to take control of the professionals in Lagos state.

In May 19, 2014, ISPoN, formerly Nigeria Institute of Safety Professionals (NISP) a body of safety professionals incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act of 1990, then a technical arm of National Industrial Safety Council of Nigeria that has saddled herself with promoting and championing the cause of HSE in the country for over two decades was empowered by the ISPON Act 2014 to manage the affairs of safety professionals in the country. While at the state level, in 2012, the Lagos state government established a Safety Commission, which first operated as an Office of Public Safety under the Ministry of Special Duties and was saddled with the responsibility to ensure the safety of lives and property, also to safeguard valuable human and financial resources.

The safety sector in the state shared a common understanding and operation between these two regulatory bodies, as professionals have declared that the former Director General, Mrs. Odebunmi Dominga, had shared the Lagos state landscape with ISPoN and succeeded in raising safety awareness in the state to over 40% before leaving office. However, it has been perceived by safety professionals that the present Director General, Fuoad Oki is contending to have a total control of every professional who practices in Lagos state and has been quoted to have said no safety professional would be allowed to practice in the state without being registered by the commission.

On Saturday 13th February, during the monthly safety walk organized by The Safety Advocacy and Empowerment Foundation (The Safety Advocates), Fuoad, was quoted to have said that he is the only safety professional in the state and that, he does not know of any safety professionals existence in Lagos, since they are not registered with the government, and as a result had declined having a meeting with them.

On Monday 14th March, Engr. Jamiu Badmos, one of the directors of the Safety Advocacy group on their platform online, called on the safety professionals on the platform to go register with ISPoN and LSSC, he said, “have you registered as a Safety Professional in Nigeria in accordance with ISPoN Act 2014 S1, S2, S3… Have you registered as a safety Professional in Lagos state in accordance with LSSC law, 2011 Cap No.6 S9 (a-i) and specifically section 9k. Please, let’s do the two this month to promote our profession.”

Reacting to this, Akeem Mustapha, an HSE professional said that he is still wondering why LSSC would be the association for controlling safety practice and not ISPoN since the latter is an association and LSSC is a government agency, considering the fact that most of them do not work for the government.

“I feel government should be more concerned with regulations and compliance, while associations should regulate the practice of the profession. So, why must we have double efforts for a simple goal? The two bodies are independent for obvious reasons,” he argued, sighting the fact that NSE, NBA, NMA, etc., are not being controlled by any arm of the government.

Expressing his disappointment at the call to register with LSSC, Wale Bakare, Director, SMTS Nig. Ltd an Ex-officio, ISPoN Lagos Branch, notified the forum that the issue of registration with LSSC was during the past administration. It was condemned and done with and should not be revisited.

He said, “This issue of registering practitioners was broached during the tenure of the former Director General and it was roundly condemned for what it is – a misplacement of priorities and an attempt by the commission to overreach itself. It was resolved that the commission could register organizations and individuals who wished to be consultants to the commission. This had been laid to rest and it is personally disappointing to me that life should be given to this issue after how far we have gone.”

Citing ISPoN Act Section 2b, Engr. Jamiu Badmos stated that ISPoN is to regulate the profession and practice, and will collaborate with relevant government agencies. He argued that in Lagos, every professional is mandated to register with LSSC.

A cross section of the professionals agitated that it is an attempt at undue interference that should not be allowed to stand and be resisted.

Calling for a truce, Rita Obayioje, President, ASSE Nigeria Chapter advised, “The round table will be a place to discuss and the appropriate bodies will create implementations strategies. Let’s take our mind to HSE and OSHA. These are the government, consultants and various organizations. They serve as advisory bodies.”

She, however, revealed that ISPoN only acts to regulate safety practitioners and does not address safety issues in the country; hence she called for collaboration between both bodies.

Last month, Safety Record Newspaper Investigation revealed that Dr. Nnamdi Ilodiuba, President ISPoN, led his team of ISPON members to LSSC office to hold a round table meeting with the Director General, who was not on sit but sent someone to represent him.

When Safety Record Newspaper approached, Fouad Oki, Director General of LSSC, he confirmed that, at the safety walk organized by Safety Advocacy, he was not ready to have a meeting with a group he does not recognize their existence as safety professional, since they  are not registered as a practitioner with LSSC.

Fouad, however said that he was misunderstood to have said that he is the only safety professional in Lagos, which actually was not what he said.

In his very word, “It was at the event where the miss-representation happened; where we had the monthly safety walk with some safety professionals, where I was invited and I participated. I was asked to speak to safety professionals in Lagos state and I said I don’t know them. I don’t know them because they are not in government register and I also said until I know them I will not hold any meeting with them. I also invited their attention to the law establishing the Lagos State Safety Commission and I told them clearly that section 9(k) of the law states that, the commission shall register Safety Practitioners in the state. I did not say that I am the only safety professional, I did not.

“I said, I recognize the fact that they are safety professionals, but they are not Safety Practitioners, and they need to regularize their professional status with the Safety Commission. All I know is that if they want to practice in Lagos state, they must register with the safety commission.

The Director General who on appointment to office, has shut down several organizations for bridging safety in their establishment, maintained that LSSC has the power to regulate any safety practitioners that must practice in Lagos state.

“The law is very clear, to work in Lagos state as Safety Professionals , you  must be an accredited practitioner, it is very clear and I will tell you something today , for those out there who profess to be professionals, am now saying it to them that they are not. They are not because they know they are not; and that is why they find it difficult to register with the Safety Commission as provided by law, most of them will tell you I have ISPON, I have this; ISPON is an association, there is no compulsion to be members of ISPON, am a Safety Professional, and am not a member of ISPON and I know of so many people who are not members of ISPON.

“ISPON does not have such accreditation to examine professionals. It is the world body like NEBOSH or IOSH. For you to be a safety professional you must have that International Accreditation, it is after that, you can join ISPON or any other safety association. The Safety Commission is the regulator of Occupational Safety and health matters in Lagos state.

“ I heard some of them saying what right does he has, I want to invite them to Schedule Two; Sub-Section 17-19 of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution, ‘the power to regulate is concurrent, whereas the federal ministry of employment and labour represent the Federal Government and the matter of federal safety and health including industrial labour matters and indeed every state in Nigeria empowered by that section of the constitution to establish its own Occupational Safety and health regime , ditto local government’, it is a concurrent thing; I invite most of them to read the constitution clearly.

Fuoad told Safety Record Newspaper that plans are underway to begin the enforcement of stopping any professionals not registered with LSSC from working in any establishment in Lagos.

In his words, “am in discussion with NECA, MAN, NCCI and NASSIMA and we are starting our routine, that is Occupational Safety and Health Inspections; where ever we go and we have companies who are flouting the law by working with safety professionals who do not have accreditation to practice in Lagos state, we will take appropriate steps and measures. To practice in Lagos they must comply with the law.”

The Director General however informed that the governor Akinwunmi Ambode led administration of Lagos state is ensuring that people work safely, live safely and have a very safe environment and that they are not compromising the standard.

“It is getting too late by the day and our objective is to ensure that by the 2018 end of year, we will invite the International Community particularly UNEP and other united nations agencies including ILO to come and certify Lagos as a safe place to work. Lagos is much secured today but we are not safe, we are not too safe because we have quarks who call themselves professionals, we have people who do not possess the requisite training and qualification who call themselves professionals, hence their refusal to register as safety practitioners with the state.  The determination of Lagos State Government is to ensure that we clean the mess and you get professional to practice in Lagos state,” he said, disclosing the state objective.

A source very close to the National Executive Council of ISPoN, called the bluff of the Director General of LSSC, saying he should stop bringing politics into the profession.

Our source referred him to section 3 of ISPoN Act where the power and functions of the institute lies, he quoted, “The Institute shall- (a) conduct examinations and award certificates and diplomas as well as advise on matters relating to qualifications for the practice of safety management in Nigeria; (b) conduct research into all aspects of safety management;  (c) organise lectures, seminars, workshops and otherwise provide training  for persons aspiring to qualify and practice as Safety Management Professionals; (d) establish and maintain a register of persons entitled to practice as Safety  Professionals and publish from time to time the list of those so registered; (e) perform such other functions, as may be necessary for the advancement of the institute, and the safety management profession; (f) acquire and hold such movable and immovable property as may be necessary or expedient for putting into effect the provisions of this Act; (g) demand and receive from any course participant, student member of the Institute such fees as the board may from time to time prescribe; (h) have power to affiliate with any University or other Tertiary Institutions for the purpose of offering degree programmes; and (i) have powers to regulate the practice of safety management in Nigeria.”

Stating that LSSC does not have the right to ask ISPoN members to register under LSSC, he said it sounded more like asking the Federal Minister Of Labour to be registered with the Lagos state Safety Commission.

“We deal with federal government ministries and states that are willing to cooperate. That is the truth because we have been empowered by the federal government; we are in a federal system, so it is con-current that is why he has power to operate in Lagos, but while it is operating within Lagos, he should ensure that he carries the law establishing other agencies with him. He should collaborate and synergise with other professional bodies so that he would be able to succeed. It is an advice really; and I am advising him to collaborate rather than inviting professionals to a combat, because it is a fight that he is bound to lose.

“We expect him to collaborate with the institute. I know what relationship existed between the former Lagos state Safety Commission under the former director general and ISPoN, that I am aware; we have had several meetings, we argued out a lot of things and we came to a compromise, that we are to work together in ensuring that the profession is moved forward and in ensuring that people practice the way they should practice,” he said, advising the DG to tow the line of the past LSSC administration and not play politics by inviting the institute for a battle.

Several attempt to reach Dr. Nnamdi Ilodiuba, President of ISPoN, through his phone lines proved abortive as he could not be reached before press time.

Post Author: Paul Mbagwu