Friday, October 23, 2009



Five decades after Nigeria formally commenced crude oil exportation, and over three decades since the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) was established for the major reason of creating a significant pool of skilled Nigerians for the development of the country's petroleum industry, it is deplorable that the Nigerian manpower content in Africa's largest oil and gas industry remains at 40 %.

Certain reasons have been adduced for this scenario by stakeholders. These range from the alleged sharp practices perpetrated by the management of the foreign oil companies that are accused of preferring expatriate personnel to Nigerian staff irrespective of whether the Nigerians are competent or not to the claims by the oil companies that there is a paucity of Nigerians with the necessary technical skills needed in the high technology based oil industry.

The latter claim is evidently substantiated by the failure of the Nigerian university and tertiary educational system in providing well equipped and adequate domestic technical manpower, owing to what Nathaniel Ozigbo of the University of Abuja has referred to as the " dynamics of the political and economic environment" in which these institutions operate.

The critical role of the Nigerian university system in generating efficient and adequate manpower capacity for the diverse sectors of the Nigerian economy cannot be over-emphasised. Yet the system's credit in performing this role has been increasingly undermined over the decades following the increased poor funding of the universities, the inability of these universities to acquire updated technology for the training of students and the poor teaching and research environment which has not been able to attract the high-flying members of faculty with proportionate town and gown technical exposure.

In an editorial opinion of 24 February 2009 entitled Nigerian Universities and human Capital, it highlighted the crisis of credibility bedevilling our Nigerian universities. The editorial underscored that "it is not uncommon to read and hear that employers of labour in the country are increasingly being dissatisfied with the quality of graduates from Nigerian universities"

Remarkably, the "lack of proper research, and interface with the industry" has denied University academics of "updated information for onward transmission to their students".

This opinion had been corroborated by the employers of labour and even the academics themselves. Richard Osunde a top management staff with one of the country's oil producing firm once described graduates of oil-related courses from the Nigerian universities as "half-baked and unemployable."

He specifically lamented the ill-equipped nature of Geology and Geophysics graduates of Nigerian universities, noting that they hardly comprehend the practical aspects involved in oil exploration and processing. Mr Osunde noted that "the situation was so bad that when I interviewed well over 200 of these so-called brilliant geologists and geophysicists, I found less than 10 of them worthy of consideration".

A Professor at the University of Lagos highlighted the crisis in the university system as follows: "The engineering students from Nigerian universities cannot compete globally because the academic calendar is faulty. What can show you the level of technological decay in education is when you look at the various laboratories."
"We are not bringing out any good product. The only good products we are bringing out are the self help effort from the students, but if it is from the universities, forget about it. Government is not doing anything towards that."

While it is not untrue that operators in Nigeria' s upstream oil sector are guilty of deliberately violating expatriate quota allocated to them or recruiting non-Nigerians to fill vacant positions that Nigerians can occupy on the basis of reasons bordering on mere prejudice against the idea of having Nigerians man the key technical areas of their operations, it is important that the relevant stakeholders address the decaying teaching and research infrastructure in the areas of science and technology based courses in Nigerian universities.

Corporate bodies that are concerned about this deteriorating state of facilities in the universities have been donating equipment, facilities and endowing chairs for research.

Beyond this, some private sector institutions have committed resources to establishing training schools locally where they can add value to the ill-equipped Nigerian technology graduates. A good case in point is the Shell Training School in Warri established in the late 1990s where graduate recruits are made to go through an intensive training especially in areas where they are found deficient before they are finally assigned or certificated.

Nigerian content would continue to be significantly missing or marginal in the oil industry so long as the facilities and wherewithal in the universities that are vital capacity building centres remain comatose and inadequate. The PTDF should effectively liaise with the technology based departments in the universities to find out their teaching and research capacities with a view to providing appropriate assistance rather than focusing on expending huge foreign exchange resources on sending students to already equipped universities overseas.