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‘How poor funding is undermining realisation of FUPRE’s mandate’

By Iyabo Lawal
19 March 2018   |   4:20 am
The Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE) is the first of its kind in Africa. Not just that, despite being poorly funded it has bragging rights innovating a low-cost mini refinery...

Prof. Akii

The Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE) is the first of its kind in Africa. Not just that, despite being poorly funded it has bragging rights innovating a low-cost mini refinery, low-cost petro-chemical plants, laser additive, and drilling tools. According to FUPRE VC, Professor Akaehome Akii Ibhadode, the 11-year-old institution has also set up recycling of waste motor oil to diesel-like fuel; manufactured a prototype lightweight utility vehicle, and pneumatic power generator powered by compressed air. In this interview with IYABO LAWAL, Ibhadode talks about the constraints the petroleum university is facing and why it must be well-funded to live up to its billing.

FUPRE was established under the federal government of Nigeria’s initiative to build a specialised university in the Niger Delta to produce manpower and expertise for the oil and gas sector, how successful has the university been as regards that mandate?
Well, to the extent to which resources are available, it has been able to achieve some level of that mandate. However, there are serious funding challenges because not much attention has been attached to the university since it was setup. For example, it has only received N500million as takeoff grant in 2007 and 11 years after, this has remained so.

The little development that has taken place in the institution is from Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) intervention, which has not gone far enough especially for a new university.

Unlike other newer universities that have been given very big take -off grant in the region of N6 to N10b, the only money FUPRE has got is N500m and the normal yearly intervention from TETFund. If not for the agency, the university would not have existed. As it is now, the institution is like a glorified secondary school with no befitting facilities.

In terms of achievement of the mandate, yes to a large extent. As I said before, with respect to the quantum of facilities available, the university has tried in the sense that it produces very high quality graduates and has also won a number of national and international awards, which attest to the quality of the training that we give to students. We have performed according to the resources that are available but we can do much more than this.

But in the Act setting up the institution, it was stipulated that for effective funding of the university, the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Petroleum Technological Development Fund and Nigerian Content Development and Monitory Board should provide two percent of their annual budget for research programmes in petroleum technology appreciation, what is the position?

Yes, that is enshrined in the Act establishing the university but that is against the background that the Act came into existence only in October 2017 so, it is in the process of being implemented. We are hoping that when it gets to implementation, those clauses will be adhered to by these
funding bodies.

The main focus of the university is petroleum engineering and technology related courses, what is the story so far concerning these courses?
For now, we have 10 undergraduate programmes; five each in engineering and sciences. We are floating post-graduate programmes effective October 2018 and we are submitting our curriculum to the National Universities Commission (NUC). The post-graduate programmes are going to be properly channeled towards specialised areas in the petroleum and energy industry. We also have some centres like the Centre for Safety Education which is run by the university and the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria  (ISPON), as well as the Centre for Maritime and Offshore Studies run in conjunction with two companies, they provide training for offshore operations and marine cadre training.

How is the mission to create top quality human resources in order to enhance the local content in the oil and gas, and energy industry of the country is being pursued 11 years after?
We have been training students for the oil and gas industry. We have also made inroads into research and development relating to the sector. Specific areas of research that we have done include development of low cost mini refinery, low cost petro-chemical plants, laser additive, repair of drilling tools that they use in drilling the oil well: they wear out with time and are very expensive. So, we have come up with an alternative in conjunction with some other universities outside the country.  We even have a research grant to work on this where we can reclaim those tools with laser technology, so that it costs little or nothing to repair them and they go back into service.

Then, we have the industrial games for training workers in the oil industry, before they go into real operations. When they come in, they are trained on these aspects of their work and we have a game that they can watch and will be tested on those games while playing them.

The genesis of this is that we wanted to curb the excesses of our students surfing the internet for things that would waste their time and we came up with this game in conjunction with a Nigerian software development company where we developed computer programmes on games, based primarily on oil industry operations, the platform, rig, loading bay and others, so that they can play the game and are challenged.

The students are given certain specifications and the challenge is how long it would take them to achieve this goal?  They play it and given the set of operations, and the shorter the time of achieving that goal, the better.  It is fun and also a process of learning. We had one competition in 2016 for our students and the chemical engineering department came first in that competition. Last year, we were supposed to do a South South zonal competition but due to lack of funds, we were not able to pull it through.

We have also come up with recycling of waste motor oil to diesel-like fuel; we found that a lot of wastes for engine oil from mechanic workshops litter the environment; we are doing this in conjunction with a company in Benin. We have done the prototype, and trying to patent it and then go into commercial production with this company. The importance of this is that it will make available cheaper diesel, clean the environment and create job opportunities. Another is oil spill absorption technology by constituting sawdust and waste rubber bags and we are able to clear the environment of oil spill, when you re-formulate it, put it on the river, it absorbs the oil and reclaims it for reuse.

We also have the pipeline spill robotic surveillance where there’s a robot, which we designed, and can move along the pipeline, if it detects a leak, signal would be sent to the control room such that intervention measures can be taken.

Also, we have come up with marine vehicles propelled by ocean waves; this is still in the remedial stage where ships and boats can be driven with the waves of the ocean. So, you don’t need to carry diesel. One of our lecturers has come up with a scheme where the wave motion can be used to generate electricity that will power the boat and also provide energy for their use.

He has patented it and a company in Norway is sponsoring to upgrade it further, which is very exciting for us.

These are some of the oil -related industry innovations that we have come up with and we want investors to key into these because if we can do them on a larger scale, it will do us a lot of good in terms of creating wealth, employment and giving us self -pride as a nation that we can do things for ourselves.

There are other ones, which are allied, for example the lightweight automobile engine development. It is to develop light weight engines so that it will be more fuel efficient, and it is not only limited to fossil fuel driven-engines, we have petrol and diesel engine while also looking at electric drives so that the future of automobile industry is going to be driven to a large extent by electric drives so as to reduce global warming. This is another new area and where we think we can develop competencies such that in due season, we will also be able to compete with others in the world.

Legacy format detected for design:

We have also developed lightweight utility vehicles that can be used by tradesmen and for transportation of goods. We have a prototype that we have made and it’s very efficient. We are hoping that it could become a means of mass transportation in the distribution chain. I don’t see why we should be spending so much in importing tricycles when we can produce these lightweight utility vehicles ourselves.

Then there is the development of bio-ethanol from one fossil fuel to another, biogas from power generation. We want to use it in our hostels, so we want to see its commercial level before we can use it to power the hostels.

Funding is a major problem confronting the nation’s tertiary institutions and for specialised universities like FUPRE, the money required is huge.
How do you think we can actually solve this problem?
Before I answer that question, I will digress a bit to paint a background why we are not doing well. I have a table here, it’s a study on Nigeria and other countries in terms of development economics and here I am comparing Nigeria with South Korea. In the 80’s, 70’s, 60’s, Nigeria and Korea had almost the same GDP but if we look at 2016 figures, things have changed.

The land mass of Nigeria in terms of world ranking is 31st in the world in terms of the size of the country which means that Nigeria is over nine times the size of South Korea, then in terms of population, Nigeria is 7th in the world, South Korea 27th; that means Nigeria is about four times the population of South Korea. Petroleum reserve, Nigeria is 11th in the world, South Korea has none. Then natural gas reserve, Nigeria is 9th in the world, and South Korea is 66th. So it is 102 times the size of gas reserve that South Korea has. Then, renewable water resources, Nigeria is 33rd in the world, and South Korea is 80th; that is Nigeria has over four times that of South Korea in terms of water availability.

Looking at development indicators, the GDP, as at 2016, Nigeria was 27th in the world, South Korea 11th; so our GDP is about one-quarter of South Korea. Then, per capita income that determines the wealth of a nation, we are 120th in the world and South Korea is 29th, so our own per capita is 16 percent of South Korea. Then, access to improved water, we have access of 69 per cent, South Korea has 98 per cent, and meanwhile, in terms of renewable water that is available, our own is four times more than that of South Korea. Then, electricity production, we produce about 30 billion KW per hour, South Korea 546 billion KW; that is Nigeria’s diesel production is just five percent of South Korea.

It means we are a sleeping nation; we are not a serious people. Then look at international brands of Nigeria and South Korea, while they have the Samsung group, Hyundai motor company, they do cars which we ride, Kia Motors, Samsung electronics, Korea electric power, LG electronics which is everywhere and which we are all enjoying; then what is the international brand of Nigeria? It is the negative- poverty, drug and human trafficking, 419 and corruption, which are the things, we are known for.

We are just nowhere with all our resources, we are a sleeping people, we don’t have any international product which is a shame except maybe Nollywood within Africa. That’s a good brand but it has not reached the international level like Hollywood and Bollywood. So you can begin to see where we are.

Based on these, trying to answer the question of funding, if we are to change the fortunes of Nigeria, there must be a total paradigm shift from the way we used to do things. It must change drastically, it has to be a complete change in order for us to begin to create wealth and create employment. If we continue like this, in the next five years, we are going to be overrun with jobless youths, there is going to be social disorder in the country. There must be a turn around; something drastic has to change. I believe that one of the ways to turn our fortunes around is to invest heavily in science and technology and then, technology for exports.

There are gaps in the international market especially within Africa and that is where petroleum technology becomes very relevant and in the wisdom of the federal government in 2007, they were able to create this university; specialised petroleum university because we have the resource. Because we have the resource, we must develop it and we have to have an internal pool to be able to bring about that development.

The oil industry in Nigeria is about 60 years old when the Oloibiri oil well came into operation; presently, we should be exporting our technology in the oil industry especially for this new African countries that have just discovered oil like Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana. That is what we are focusing on as a specialised petroleum university, that we can develop this technology at a very quick rate in order to deploy not only to Nigeria but also to other African countries. For example, a refinery, why can’t we build our own and then build for others?

That is why we have come up with this mini, low cost refinery, which we have completed to be able to produce diesel and kerosene. If you want to get gasoline, we will have to do a few more things.  For example, a 30- barrel per day, will go for between N45-60 million; if it’s a 100- barrel per day, that will go for N150 -250 million

We are calling on stakeholders, we have done all the designs and tested them, it is to go into fabrication and we are looking for N45 million now to be able to do that.  These are innovations that we are bringing but we need money to be able to actualise them. I think it is something the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and others can key into.

This mini refinery, how can it serve the immediate need of Nigeria?
It will help us to provide some of these finished petroleum products, on a small scale, we can easily produce diesel and kerosene. If we want to produce petrol, we need to invest more money to have other stages of the production. If we are able to do that, even at that low scale of diesel and kerosene, we will be able to have more of these products in the market and build not just one, as many as necessary, that will be creating employment.

Professor Akii

Then we can even export them, we can build for other African developing nations that have oil, then we will become big players in the industry. It will change the fortunes of Nigeria, even if it is just only this and we can replicate it in other industries. It will create wealth, reduce unemployment and help us increase our exports of technology.

So, how much do you think the institution would require annually to be able to actualise its mandate?
FUPRE would need about N5 billion annually for a start to stock up on relevant equipment and infrastructure to train high-level manpower for Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. We need some laboratories; we also need to procure a drilling platform where students can train using training simulators. Because the university does not have one, our students have to travel all the way to the Nigerian Naval College in Sapele to use theirs.
The institution would have surpassed its modest achievements and admitted more students had inadequate equipment not restricted our growth.

As the only university of petroleum resources in Sub-Saharan Africa and the sixth in the world, FUPRE deserves more attention.

But despite our challenges, the institution has achieved a lot in terms of innovations and research.

Our students participated in the Shell Eco-Marathon where they built cars and race them with one litre of fuel.  So in 2015, we went to South Africa to race and came out the best with three awards.  We are ready to provide solution to fuel scarcity.

As a scholar what would you say is responsible for the dearth of research in our institutions? Would you blame the government entirely for the trend?
I will blame both the government and the researchers; I believe that when problems exist, they are there to be solved. We should not chicken out when the problems are staring us in the face, we should stare back at the problem and solve it. We have a responsibility despite the difficulties; we must breakthrough the difficulties and provide solutions.

What has been happening for a very long time is that most researchers do research for the purpose of publication and promotion especially in our universities. Then, we don’t do quality research; they just do research that you can cut corners in order to get there. We have so many problems in Nigeria but the solutions are not there. That is why there is so much poverty, dirty environment, armed robbery and others because we lack the will power to confront these problems and solve them.

What is the state of academic and social infrastructural facilities in FUPRE at the moment?
Well, it is fair in the sense that our programmes have 100 percent full accreditation, the technological programmes that we run are a small number compared to what you find in conventional universities but we are able to focus our small resources on them and that is why we have full accreditation from NUC and COREN for our engineering courses. To that extent, we are doing well but a lot still needs to be done. We are just scratching the surface, there is so much for us to do in order to be able to positively affect the Nigerian petroleum industry and bring about the needed development that is required.

With which foreign organisations is FUPRE affiliated?
For now, we are trying to run some postgraduate programmes through which we can get some level of certification within the industry, that will be later this year when we get approval from NUC. At this level, we have affiliation with the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE), it is a 71-year old international association of over 140 countries where they facilitate students internship across the world. Since 2015, we have been receiving students from other countries especially Europe, Germany, Austria, Belgium and others, they come for three, four months stay, work with our students and staff on particular projects and go back.

From this year, we intend to send our students out.

In terms of partnership, we have quite a number but these are driven towards value -creation, especially in terms of revenue generation. They are still in the infancy, we have a registered company called FUPRE Energy Solutions Limited which is in partnership with Highflow Energy Holdings in the United Kingdom where they provide training, consultancy and R&D for the oil and gas and energy industry in Nigeria.
We are also having some collaborative talks with UNIDO on energy efficiency; we are hoping to tie that up in April when we go to their headquarters in Austria. We have this waste motor oil; it is in conjunction with a company in Benin. We have ISPON collaboration for setting up the Centre for Safety Education where we run programmes for safety certification for international certification. Then we have the centre for maritime and offshore studies, this is also with regard to international certification for seamanship and diving.

How are you attracting professional experts in the sector?
We are doing that gradually; most of our staff have oil industry experience, so, they are bringing this to bear. We also have short-term lectureship from persons who are still in the industry, they come to give lectures over a period of time, maybe a month. So it’s quite a good interaction with our students, bringing oil industry practice to the classroom, it has been very helpful. But we are hoping that with the funding we are expecting because of the Act that has come into play, we will be able to attract more international experts to the university.
The bill establishing FUPRE wasn’t signed until late October last year and how has that impacted the running of the school?
It took over 10 years and it has impacted so negatively because if those sources of funding that have been identified had been in operation say 10 years ago, we would have made a world of difference.  Indeed, we would have become a world-class institution. We are hoping that that the Act will be implemented.

With government’s underfunding of the sector, what impact do you think this will have on our system, particularly our scholars and researchers? 
That is a difficult question to answer but I believe that the country will not forever remain like this, a time will come when the dynamics of the society will turn things around, those who are dictating the pace of things now and making us not to move forward, a time will come that they will be rooted out and sanity will come into play.

My advice is that as many who are struggling to drive their lofty ideas, should continue, the beauty of it all is being able to see what you dream come into fruition.

As the pioneer petroleum university and with improved funding, what should we expect?
With improved funding, this one that I am inviting people to come and buy into the mini refinery we have designed, we will go ahead and do it ourselves.

We will be able to bond with industries to build refineries, build production platforms, make production tools and create our own Nigerian technology for the oil industry, which we can export.

What is your message to government concerning this and other stakeholders?
Government should do the needful by implementing the Act in terms of budgetary provision; the agencies that have been identified to make allocation to the university should ensure that they do it. We want to be relevant to the industry; we can perform but before they can believe in us, we must be able to show what we have done. We are appealing that whatever problem they have, we will come to them as we have been doing. Let us see the problems we can solve for them so that it will be a win-win situation.  I want to assure our stakeholders that the Federal University of Petroleum Resources is there to assist them in their operations.

What is your projection for the university in the next 10 years?
We are hoping that we will be among the best 500 universities in the world, we are laying the foundation for it and being amongst best 500 universities in the world, that would mean we would be an international institution, with international professors who would be working here and quite a number of international students coming and studying here. That is the vision I have. It is going to be a great centre of activity of knowledge creation; you should expect more scientific breakthroughs and commercialisation of our research projects and better-trained graduates.