‘Dearth of R&D hindering growth in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector’

‘Dearth of R&D hindering growth in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector’

Mayowa Afe is the President, Oil and Gas Trainers Association of Nigeria (OGTAN) – an independent umbrella group of training services providers in the oil and gas industry established by the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act in 2010 with the purpose of building local human capacity.

In this interview with AYOBAMI ADEDINNI, he speaks on the need to deepen the domestication of training, the promotion of research and development in the oil sector, local content drive of the Nigerian Content and Development Monitoring Board, (NCDMB) as well as other sundry issues.

 

What can you say about the Nigerian energy industry vis-à-vis the Local Content Act?

I think we are making some progress. We just had EGINA and today there is much participation of indigenous companies like SEPLAT.

Although the number of indigenous producers is about 10 percent, we still see participation in the area of training where we are involved

Most of the oil and gas courses are now done in Nigeria. The participation is becoming interestingly increasing so if there is an area the government gas has done very well, it is that of capacity building and local content.

I can tell you that we are impressed with what the government is doing though they got it wrong in the beginning. Nigerians are already taking strategic positions in some of those companies. The NCDMB has been involved.

Operators have bemoaned the ill-equipped nature of the Nigerian workforce saying this affects productivity, what’s your view?

We have noticed that for a long time. Our university system is not good enough. There is a lot of decadence in the university system.

There has been a gap that was created. In the 60’s when someone comes out of Nigerian university, they go straight to the industry and they are already industry- ready but today, graduates are not industry ready. Their course curriculum is not relevant to what the industry needs.

Even the lecturers training them are not exposed. So, they produce students with theoretical background and here you need practical knowledge.

So, there is a big gap.

For the international oil companies (IOCs) to say Nigerians are not well –equipped is not new. The decadence started in the early parts of the 1990’s. However, there have been a lot of interventions through the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) and NCDMB.

Universities are no longer funded very well. In our days, we were four in a class and we went on a field trip of Nigeria where seven lecturers followed us and we went with three cars. The HOD was in his brand new 504 while the students were in a coaster bus and the lecturers behind us in a jeep. We went to Bauchi, Jos, Anambra basin among others. But now what they teach is theory.

Now, that same department has about 400 students and fewer lecturers. Then, we had about 20 microscopes. But now, the microscopes are not good again. There is neither field work nor equipment. These things come back to the students. Universities go on strike for seven months and when they resume what they are supposed to do for 3 months, they crash it into three weeks.

At the end of the day, we have half-baked students which the oil companies are expected to hire. What the industry is doing now is to bridge the university and the oil industry.

As I speak to you, I have 28 graduates I am training to ensure that they fit into the Nigerian oil and gas industry. Even the lecturers, we are training them across the industry.

There is no light. Students now use candles to read at night. There should be an emergency declared in the education industry.

Now, a lot of Nigerians whose parents are rich and at the national assembly are sending their children abroad. Former Nigerian leaders have killed the Nigerian university system and started their own universities.

Oil companies now go abroad to recruit Nigerians. This means they are recruiting the children of the rich and bringing them back home. We must make this country work.

The impact of Boko Haram chasing people out of school is not now. It is going to be felt in another 10 years. People are not going to school in the north while their counterparts in the south are going to school. This will translate to leadership crisis in the future.

We have a quota system in Nigeria. So, either educated or not, you must pick somebody from there as minister.

Operators are saying the Nigerian Content Development Fund is not accessible to them, what do you think the impact will be?

The story is changing. The fund is a critical part of business growth. What is hindering our growth is the issue of the fund for development. The one percent that was deducted is now with the Bank of Industry. There is a collaboration between NCDMB and BOI and they have put up a process for people to apply for the fund. The process is ongoing and I am sure they will begin to disburse the money which is why I said NCDMB has done very well by putting the framework for some of these things together and for people to access the fund.

OGTAN as an association is a training body, how many have been trained since inception?

We have not put together the number. The truth is that individual companies have been engaged in trying to help train graduates and lecturers. But what we are doing is to train the trainer and we have trained lecturers from almost all the universities through the PTDF and this runs into millions of dollars.

We have gone to all the states of the federation and most of the lecturers have been trained. This is so that when you train the lecturers, they will be able to train the students.

We have trained over a thousand lecturers in the Nigerian universities.

On the issue of Local content, don’t you think nepotism might come to play seeing someone might just decide to bring in all his family members without necessary qualifications thereby killing local content drive?

Here in my office, there are qualifications that are set. If you don’t meet those criteria, you cannot come in. There are standards that are set. I am not ruling out what you said but the truth is that, there are set standards and the room for nepotism is few.

In Nigeria, despite there being many oil and gas conferences, industry observers say there is hardly any change, don’t you think this is becoming a jamboree?

I don’t agree. Not all these conferences are a jamboree. I have attended quite a few. There is one in which Nigerians are brought together from the universities and see the ingenuity of the people.

I am aware that AGIP just adopted seven Nigerian universities based on one of the conferences where Nigerian universities showcased research works going on and they accepted to sponsor some of those things.

NCDMB has also adopted some. Do not forget that the idea of local content itself came out from a conference and I remember that the idea itself by people saying we must have Nigerian content.

Now it has been stated that there is no need to go to Offshore Technology Conference, (OTC). There are ideas coming out from one of these things being implemented today that is getting better for Nigeria.

I remember in one of the conferences, there was an idea thrown to PTDF that it should not sponsor Nigerians who are not in the university for PhD abroad because they will not come back.

Rather sponsor Nigerian lecturers and sign bond with them so that they can bring the knowledge into the university. These people will not come back and we are using our money to train people for other nations.

It is not all that is to be attended. There are some that I don’t attend. But I won’t come and tell you that I made money from so and so conference. You will not. There are lots of people I meet in conferences that ordinarily if I stayed in my office, I wouldn’t meet them. It’s called networking.

What’s your view on modular refineries and their possible impact on the sector?

Modular refineries alone cannot solve the problem. One thing I want to say is that government should fast-track our contract period. It’s too long. When you are dealing with a contract, and for three years, you are still in the process.

There was one we were dealing with in Nigerian Petroleum Development Company. After three years, they wrote to us that it is cancelled.

A lot of investors will be frustrated. We have been talking about modular refineries for long, yet none has started despite being given license.

There is no need to export our crude oil. We have domestic needs here. Let’s refine and increase the capacity of our refineries to be able to produce most. The refineries are performing less than 25 percent of their installed capacity.

Check any government institution. It doesn’t work. NITEL could not work but GLO is working. Nigerian Airways did not work, private companies are working. Our attitude to anything government is bad.

Renewable energy is moving at a fast pace, do you see it as threat to the oil and gas sector?

Although renewables is the future, I don’t think it is a threat. Clean energy is the future and everybody is working towards it. They will be complementing each other. The oil and gas sector will be relevant for many years to come.

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