The need for and the importance of building and road research in Nigeria was recognized as far back as the colonial era. The initial focus was however on building research. Indeed in 1952, the West African Building Research Institute (WABRI) was established as a Sub-Regional Building Research Centre to provide services to The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Gold Coast (now Ghana) and Nigeria, with its Headquarter in Accra. As soon as Ghana gained political independence, she withdrew from WABRI in 1962. The WABRI substation in Zaria was subsequently transferred to the then Federal Ministry of Works and Survey. Interestingly, the Zaria station failed to evolve as a national research centre in Nigeria due to a number of reasons which included the fact that the research programme developed by the expatriate staff did not appear at the that time to further Nigeria’s national goals and, secondly, the fact that there was lack of qualified and experienced Nigerian staff to run the station after the departure of the expatriate staff.
No significant progress was made towards the establishment of a national construction research institute until 1970/71 when the then Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (FMWH) sought for technical assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The UNDP engaged the services of Mr I Small, a former Director of WABRI to prepare a report that would form the basis of the request of the Nigerian Government to UNDP (Special Fund). The report recommended the establishment of a National Construction and Road Research Institute (NCRRI). Unfortunately, the project was not given a high enough priority and was not included in Nigeria’s request to UNDP.
In spite of the development, the FMWH persevered. After a technical visit by Dr A. O. Madedor (then a staff of the FMWH) to the Building Research Station in Garston and the Transport and Road Research Laboratory in Crowthorne, Berkshire, both in the United Kingdom in 1970, a report was prepared which formed the basis for another submission to the Federal Government on the subject matter. The Federal Government directed the National Council on Science and Technology (NCST) established as an advisory body in 1970 to review the subject matter. After a series of consultations and a national symposium held in 1973 on all aspects of Science and Technology, recommendation was made for the establishment of a National Construction and Road Research Institute (NCRRI) to study the problems of road design and construction in Nigeria.
It is noteworthy to mention that with the recommendation and review of NCST, the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (FMWH) submitted a memorandum to the Federal Executive Council, which eventually approved the establishment of a National Construction and Road Research Institute (NCRRI) on 24 July 1975 under the aegis of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (FMWH). Unfortunately, little progress was made by FMWH to get the National Construction and Road Research Institute (NCRRI) immediately operational. This was due to the reform which the Government undertook to empower the FMWH to directly execute Government road and housing programmes more effectively.
Meanwhile, the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) was established to replace the NCST which had advisory role and lacked executive powers. NSTDA had executive power and took over the direct control and funding of Federal Government-owned Research Institutes. Thus, NSTDA took over NBRRI under NSTDA Decree 1977 Research Institute (Establishment) Order 1977, supplement of Official Gazette No. 49, Vol.64, 13 October 1977. Under this decree (now Act), the NCRRI became simply known as the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI) in harmony with similar organizations in Ghana and Sudan. NBRRI became operational on 1 April, 1978 with the appointment of Dr. A. O. Madedor as its pioneer
From 1978 to date, NBRRI has operated under the aegis of different establishments. In October 1979, NBRRI came under the purview of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST), which replaced NSTDA. It remained with the Ministry even when the Ministry in 1984 was merged with the Federal Ministry of Education to become Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. NBRRI still remained with the FMST when the Ministry regained its full ministerial status in 1985. In January 1992, the FMST was scrapped and replaced by the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) which took over NBRRI. Under NASENI, the mandate of NBRRI was expanded to include R&D in engineering materials related to the construction industry. It was then known as Engineering Materials, Building and Road Research Institute (EMBRI) for a brief period. On 26 August 1993, the Federal Government re-established the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, which took over some of the research Institutes (including the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute) that were originally under it. This status quo has remained till date. In summary, NBRRI has since inception in 1978 and up to 1993 operated under different establishments indicating an unstable pattern.