PTDF: From controversy to industry jobs centre

Oscarline Onwuemenyi
Prior to the riveting exchange of brickbats between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar which lasted for most of their second tenure, not many Nigerians knew about the existence of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund, PTDF, talk less of the lofty objectives it was designed to accomplish – except, perhaps, a sprinkling of bureaucrats and persons with inside information.

The PTDF Account saga exploded with a bang on the consciousness of Nigerians because of its peculiarity: for the first ever, a sitting president and his deputy were accusing each other of financial wrongdoings with a surfeit of supporting documents. Investigations by different strata of the government exposed the Fund as a mere slush fund for political leaders, for financing their vaunted political ambitions among other interests. The scandal over the role of the PTDF in the financial corruption was so intense and distracting that it nearly brought about the end of the Fund.

Indeed, for some years after the Obasanjo-Atiku era, nothing much was heard about the Fund, even as the authorities worked silently to revamp the image of the organization and, at least, set it back on the track of fulfilling its original mandate and vision.

Interestingly, however, the controversy surrounding the Fund seemed to have given way to misconceptions about its role in the economy and whom it is set up to serve. This has often inspired sharp criticisms of the organization at different quarters. Renowned energy eggheads and opinion leaders in Nigeria’s energy industry, including a former Minister of Energy during the President Olusegun Obasanjo era, Chief (Dr.) Edmund Daukoru, have weighed in on the issue.

At a recent event to launch the new Petroleum Technology Development Journal (PTDJ) in Abuja, Daukoru noted that, what was clear about the role of the Fund should be in the emerging oil and gas economy. According to him, “The politics over the PTDF can be quite ferocious at some time. While some believe that it should be meant to serve the interests of the oil producing regions in the country, some think it should be for people of the South-South or the Niger Delta area. Personally, I think that the Fund should be for the entire nation as the mandate has clearly stated.”

Daukoru, however, expressed joy that the Fund has worked hard to come out of its notorious shadows to become a leading light in the quest to give thousands of Nigerian scholars an opportunity to benefit from better education to enable them contribute more to the oil and gas industry and the nation at large.

The PTDF Journey has indeed been an interesting one since its establishment in 1973, then as a desk or unit of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), until it was given full autonomy after the nation attained democracy in 1999.

Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has explained that the reason he granted full autonomy to the PTDF was because of his belief that the organisation had immense benefit for the development of Nigeria’s oil and gas potentials.

Obasanjo, whose administration in the year 2000 liberated the Fund from the DPR where the Fund was domiciled only as a desk for 27 years with little activity, was recently given an award for making PTDF a fully functional agency of government, with the mandate of developing indigenous capacity for the oil and gas industry.

According to Obasanjo, the PTDF and the Local Content initiative remain two of the best instruments of government that will make Nigeria not just nominally an oil and gas country, but capable of propelling the nation to technologically, professionally and managerially self sufficient in the industry, and stand side by side with any other oil and gas country in the world. “If we can achieve content and capacity building in the oil and gas sector, we can also do it in other areas of economic activity,” he said.

He added that the intention for establishing the Fund in 1973 was right, as Nigeria was then emerging as oil and gas country, and needed to train local expertise, and manpower to operate and manage the sector.

He regretted that the right attention, focus and commitment were not given to the Fund in the first 27 years of its existence, necessitating his administration’s intervention during the first year in office. “My first year in office, I was confusing PTDF with PTF which is an Abacha creation. We looked into PTDF and found that it is something locked up there (DPR) and not made to do what it was meant to do.”

Executive Secretary of PTDF, Engr. Muttaqha Rabe Darma has said as a result of the role played by the Obasanjo Presidency, thousands of Nigerians have been trained in critical areas of the oil and gas sector, and have acquired the relevant skills and competencies to effectively participate in the operations and management of the oil and gas industry. “Today, through the intervention of PTDF, not less than 1,500 Nigerians have been found professionally competent and skilful for assimilation into the industry locally and internationally. I therefore have more than sufficient cause to be grateful to the Obasanjo Presidency,” he stated.

He enumerated some of the achievements of the Fund in the last ten years of operation to include training of over 4,000 Nigerian scholars at both Masters and Doctoral levels in engineering, environmental science and other petroleum-related fields. The Fund has also produced dozens of Internationally Certified Welding Practitioners, welding specialists, welding technologists and welding engineers, while the training of 300 underwater welders is on-going.

“We have also trained 2,900 Nigerian engineers in Engineering Design Software relevant to the oil and gas industry; established 209 ICT centres in Polytechnics, Colleges of Education and secondary schools across the country; completed the full upgrade of oil and gas related departments in 20 universities.

“PTDF has completed the development of National Technical Institute in Bonny Island, Rivers State, and facilitating its upgrade to a Federal Polytechnic for gas management and Environmental studies; endowed Professorial Chairs in oil and gas related department of universities,” Darma added.

According to Darma, PTDF realizes the fundamental role of science and engineering in facilitating the technology of petroleum exploration and production. As a result, the Fund fashions its programmes and activities towards the promotion of Petroleum Technology, through the application of science and engineering. “Fundamental to the realization of this objective is research, the engine that drives knowledge-based development. We also realize that the major focus of scientific research is located within the organizational framework of universities. Apart from the added value of raising the level of education, research programmes in the universities are essential to meeting the challenges of building capacities for science and technology,” he pointed out.

He noted that in this regard, the Fund endowed professorial Chairs in departments offering oil and gas course in some Nigerian universities where the Fund has already upgraded the facilities and teaching faculty. He added that, “PTDF also sponsors an oil and gas research grant competition to enhance the capacity of locally based researchers to conduct researches relating to the oil and gas technology development. Both programmes are conceived to advance indigenous research in petroleum and related disciplines.”

The PTDF boss noted that with the success achieved in the university upgrade programme, the Fund plans to carry out similar upgrade in relevant oil and gas department of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education.

He emphasized that the Fund’s programmes on research are not only to strengthen the delivery of knowledge but also for the in-country manufacture of materials used by the oil and gas industry. He added, “We shall in the immediate future introduce and implement a programme on the incubation of research findings in oil and gas. PTDF will identify and develop suitable innovations arising from completed research works in the oil and gas industry for mass production of products, for the products to reach the end-users and for commercialization,” he stated.

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