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‘FUPRE in need of meaningful support’

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Ibhadode

Ibhadode

The Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE) is the first institution of its kind in Africa, and one of only six worldwide. In this interview, vice chancellor of the school, Professor Akii Ibhadode, apprises J.K Obatala, of opportunities and encumbrances at the institution. Established in 2007, the school still grapples with perennial budgetary cramps, as well as suffer an identity crisis, wrought by its youth and proximity to the older Petroleum Training Institute.

You recently complained that neighbouring Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) is “overshadowing” FUPRE. Is there a rivalry?
No. There is no rivalry. When I say we are being “overshadowed,” I mean the government has not given the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE) enough attention. The focus is mainly on PTI because it is much older. The little support FUPRE gets, comes only from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund).

Government has not really keyed on us, as a specialised petroleum university. That’s the point we are trying to make.
But both are federal institutions?
Yes. But the government has made massive investment in PTI in support of the type of training it does, which is good. Yet, we also need meaningful support, to carry out our mandate of producing high-level manpower for the oil industry.

We’d like FUPRE to be centrally important to oil and gas industry training in Africa. We want to capture that sector. This means the Petroleum Training Development Fund (PTDF) should direct most of the postgraduate level students it sponsors, to FUPRE, and send few abroad. Government should invest, maybe, a tenth of what that is costing in FUPRE. It would make a world of difference.

We are very happy, that the chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), agrees with us on this issue. He too wants to localise training in the oil and gas industry. In fact, the committee is bringing out a legislation that will compel PTDF to empower local institutions like FUPRE, to train at the postgraduate level. The bill has entered its final stages, in the National Assembly, and a joint committee is harmonising both chambers’ versions. Thereafter, it will go to the president for his assent.

Why would the government create an institution, such as this and not fund it?
It’s baffling! I really don’t understand. It doesn’t make sense to me. Possibly, it’s the “Nigerian Factor.”

What is the difference, between what you do here and what PTI does?
There’s a world of difference. PTI trains at mid-level and awards Ordinary National Diploma (OND) and Higher National Diploma (HND). But FUPRE offers bachelors,’ and starting this term, postgraduate degrees. We impart a higher level of skills to our students and prepare them to hold higher positions.

What are your areas of concentration?
In our bachelor’s programme, we are concentrating on the sciences and on technology. We are also going into the management aspect of the petroleum industry. Our science courses include the basic disciplines, which are quite relevant to the oil industry.

FUPRE offers physics (where you get into petro-physics, and all that), as well as chemistry, mathematics, and computer science- all very basic.

Then, there’re geology and geophysics classes. These earth sciences are very relevant, in terms of exploration. That is where the public lecture, which Professor Chidi Ibe just delivered, for the Nigerian Academy of Science, becomes pertinent because he discussed petroleum “source rocks.”

We also have courses in environmental management and toxicology. They are concerned with management of the environment, in which extraction activities occur. This is crucial, due to the environmental degradation that the Niger Delta has suffered, as a result of oil industry operations.

Our courses are designed to target the industry, with regard to content and the projects students carry out. Within the College of Technology, there are five degree programmes including Chemical Engineering; Electrical and Electronic Engineering; and Marine Engineering among others. We also offer compulsory General Studies courses, including a basic course on “Oil Industry Operations,” which started this session.

How many of these classes involve field trips?
All courses have mandatory field trips. Then, we are also introducing a compulsory class on safety, under General Studies. That way, students can be certified if they wish, by the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria, when they graduate from the university.

Sometime ago, a small political problem arose from a move to make PTI part of the University of Benin
Yes. Well, at that time, when I was Dean of Engineering, the University of Benin ran the College of Petroleum and Gas Engineering at PTI. That was under the Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration, which also established FUPRE. The thinking then was that PTI should be upgraded to a university. But they resisted. I don’t know why. So, government decided to establish a completely new university…

Was that FUPRE?
Yes. It turned out to be this university. I don’t know how it came about. Maybe there were some political pressures. In any event, this allowed PTI to continue to function the way it was originally intended to. And I think that was a good thing. PTI is performing a vitally important service, that is providing severely needed skills for the oil industry, at the level at which they operate. We should never forget that. FUPRE cannot do what PTI is doing, and they cannot do what we are doing. The two institutions work at different levels.

Do you liaise with PTI?
We haven’t really. It is now that we are trying to. I don’t know why. It looks strange, but we are currently trying to forge closer ties. I’ve told our public relations department to arrange an appointment. I want to visit PTI. We need to work together. There are things we can do.

When are you introducing your postgraduate programme?
Our postgraduate school is taking off this new academic session. Over the next two years, we’ll be continuously adding courses. Currently, our research focuses mainly on refining, pipeline surveillance and environmental degradation. We are also exploring unorthodox, but sustainable, means of power generation, such as waste, solar, etc

Are you currently collaborating with foreign universities?
Yes. We are collaborating with the University of Nottingham, in the United Kingdom. We have an arrangement in which the school will provide an industrial Ph.D. for FUPRE. We will be looking at problems within the industry, and conducting research that leads to a Ph.D.

In addition, we are working on an agreement with the University of Manchester. That one is still in the pipeline. But we have signed an MOU. We have a joint arrangement too, with the University of Stavanger (Norway), in which we study ocean waves on Nigeria’s coast, as a possible source of energy. The research has started.

Similarly, we would like to reach an accord with the China Petroleum University in Beijing. We sent emissaries to China in 2013 to inspect their operation. We will follow up. Those are some of the foreign universities FUPRE liaises with. But we also interact with quite a number of companies.

What is the company you have formed all about?
It is being registered now with the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria (CAC). The objective is to acquire training in specific oil industry skills. We are looking at high-level skills training for the oil industry. We hope to ultimately provide the training that is usually given abroad. FUPRE has a nascent Centre for Maritime and Offshore Studies, which will commence operations within the next few months. Two companies are involved. One is Offshore Technology Dive Limited. They provide training for divers.

Have you given any thought to the hydrogen economy?
We took inspiration from the accord on greenhouse gas emissions, reached at the Paris Conference on Global Warming. I immediately set up a team under a deputy vice chancellor, to look at petroleum, after all FUPRE is a petroleum university dealing in hydrocarbons, i.e. fossil fuels. Yet there is a global movement to phase out hydrocarbons within the next few decades.

So, we felt that for us to remain relevant, once fossil fuel is obsolete, we ought to be looking at future areas of operation, in terms of energy generation. The committee has a very wide latitude within which to operate, to look for future sources of energy, apart from petroleum. This is where your hydrogen economy thing comes in.

FUPRE intends to carry out research and recommend policies that could point towards hydrogen since petroleum probably won’t be in vogue 30 to 40 years from now.

What about the mini-refinery you are developing?
It’s a small-scale project that we want to see how our research will play out at this scale first before we blow it into something bigger. Recently, I attended an assembly of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), and one of the keynote lecturers was from Ahmadu Bellow University (ABU), Zaria. I discovered that ABU was working on a mini refinery, and that it was almost complete. I think government has invested quite a lot of money in the project.

Needless to say, we were quite surprised. So FUPRE is trying to establish a collaborative relationship with ABU.

Hasn’t FUPRE developed its model?
Yes, but we have also embarked on another project. What we want to do is to replicate the ‘kettle refinery’ that youths are using in the creeks, which the government calls illegal refineries. Our objective is to upgrade these crude devices to a level, where they can produce refined products that are usable and can meet international specifications.

This project is obviously different from the mini-refinery?
Yes. With the mini-refinery, we won’t look so much at what the local boys are doing. Instead, we’ll approach it from an industrial standpoint as ABU is doing. But on a much smaller scale.

So ABU is involved in petroleum research?

They are. A research team within their chemical engineering department is working on a petroleum refinery. They have done very well. And we are quite challenged.

Going back to the “creek refineries.” Are you working with the guys who are doing illegal refining?
Well, we don’t want to be termed illegal, so the answer is no.

Did they come to FUPRE, to let you see how they do it, or did you go into the creeks?
Well, what I will say is that a situation developed, in which some individuals interacted with them. That interaction gave us the lead, on how to go about executing our own project.


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