In this interview with JULIET ALOHAN, the Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) Engr. Muttaqha Rabe Darma, says he took over the helm of affairs of the Fund at a time when it enjoyed little or no popularity from Nigerians due its corrupt state. However, as his tenure draws to an end, Darma says the Fund has tripled the achievements recorded in its eight years of existence before he took over and avers that the organisation’s lost glory has been restored.
What prepared you for the critical assignment of steering the ship of PTDF?
The assignment is indeed strategic in so many respects because of the nature of the industry which is the cash-cow of the Nigerian economy. It is an industry that requires highly knowledgeable people to run it and it’s is also capital intensive and high-tech in nature. These are very important factors one should consider about the industry. The second thing about the assignment is that we are an agency that is supposed to promote petroleum technology and besides the requirement of the industry, the responsibility in the agency is one that also requires indebt knowledge to run. Another thing is that I came to PTDF when it was seemingly one of the worst rated agencies of government, people knew PTDF as a corruption-related agency then. So coming to PTDF at that time was challenging because you need to have a big mind to take the agency out of that light at that time. What really prepared me for the task was one, I believed I was sufficiently qualified for the job like every other Nigerian to be its CEO and bring back its respect. Secondly, I had the necessary education; I was a teacher in the university and had been involved in the private sector in addition to being a politician. I believed that with these arrays of experiences spanning over 25 years of service, I was qualified to take over the challenge of bringing the PTDF to the point where it was supposed to be. The third thing that also made me take up the challenge was the fact that I like to be challenged, I think; was sufficiency ready to take up the challenge as at the time I took over. And the reasons that made me take up the job then are the same reasons that had kept me going.
What is the status of the upgrading of the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Warri?
Maybe this question is coming as fallout of the crisis last week that we have abandoned N20 billion projects in PTI. I was surprised how people could say N20 billion projects have been abandoned, how did they arrive at the figure? You can only know the project is N20 billion either from the payment made or from the initial design of the project. If a project is designed to cost N20 billion and the funding stops entirely, then the project could be said to be abandoned. But as am talking to you now, more than N25 billion has been sank into the project and the project consists of three different components. PTI is an establishment of OPEC, each OPEC member country need to have a middle manpower development centre such as the PTI. When PTDF was asked to take over the upgrade of PTI, it was a total shamble, both academic and technical staff were not sufficiently qualified and skillful enough to teach and conduct researches. The infrastructure was almost at zero level for an institution befitting the status of OPEC. When we came in, a consultancy service was asked to study the requirements of the institution; they made the study and submitted their report in 2003. In the report, they requested staff upgrade, and over 250 staff was taken to the UK for up skilling while another set of staff were brought to Abuja for training. Next was to look at the inter-administrative and management structure including the curriculum. They changed everything; the curriculum pro 2003 is not the curriculum that you see now. We are also undertaking the development of the infrastructure and buildings of the institute and there are 253 projects in all. Out of the 253 projects, 200 have been concluded and handed over, 55 are ongoing, and only 3 were revoked due to non-performance. But I was shocked and surprised when the administrative office which has reached 75 per cent completion, was said to have been abandoned. Even this February we made payment to the consultant based on certification on work done, but to my surprise it was said to be abandoned. Also said to be abandoned was the hostels. These hostels were revoked at a point in time when I came in because the contractors refused to perform, and we had to go through a process of re-awarding, even this March we made payment to the two contractors who are handling the project. So, how they were abandoned I do not know. They also said the printing press was abandoned. When I first came in, I said we were not doing the printing press because to me it’s not part of a petroleum institute. But when the management came and sat down with us and indicated that they needed the printing press to boost their revenue, I bought the idea. I can say categorically that nothing has been abandoned, not in PTI, not in any of our projects and we hope to finish everything with PTI by July this year.
What percentage of your trainees would you say have so far been absorb in the industry?
I cannot give you a figure of what percentage of our trainees has been absorbed in the industry, but I can say that some of them are absorbed in the oil and gas and other sectors of the economy, because we train them not necessary for them to be in the oil and gas industry because the oil and gas industry extends to all other sectors of the economy. I can tell you that we have recorded significant achievement as far as manpower development in the oil and gas industry is concerned. As at now we have trained close to 4,000 engineers and scientists, and some up to Ph.D level. We have also trained close to 2,000 technicians from the time I came on board. Since then we have had extensive trainings for people in the industry like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and other related government agencies. From 2008 to now we have even tripled what PTDF has been doing in the eight years before I came on board. We are also liaising with the Nigeria Content Development Monitoring Board (NCDMB) whose mandate is to make sure the industry is populated with indigenous manpower; our own mandate is to make available the local content manpower. Immediately we conclude our skill gap audit, we would make sure Nigerians are trained and certified in the identified areas and when we finish we send them to NCDMB to make sure that they place these Nigerians in the industry.
What is your reaction to foreign dominance of the oil and gas industry? How can you access its impact on the Nigerian economy?
It is affecting the Nigerian economy. What we are doing now is that we are trying to make an analysis of what knowledge is required in the industry. To me, foreign nationals who are working in the industry are there because of the knowledge they have. They are there because their parent companies believe that we are not sufficiently qualified to fill the positions. I am saying now without fear of contradiction that we have sufficiently qualified personnel to work in the oil and gas industry as at now, so some of these foreign personnel can be relieved of their duty. When I came in newly I had to go to our regulators including NAPIMS to tell them that we can find out what the foreigners are doing so that we can train Nigerians in that line to take over. I went to SMEDAN, Immigration, DPR and NNPC to discuss how we can conduct a survey to identify Nigerians working in the sector and know where they are lacking in skills so they can be trained to take over from the foreigners. But unfortunately, I didn’t get encouraging responses and even my tenure is ending without one single answer to one of my letters even after a lot follow up.
In what specific areas can you say we have Nigerians that can effectively take over from foreigners in the industry?
In all areas of the oil and gas except emerging new areas that probably came recently. But I can tell you that when we came in, our initial survey showed that we do not have control engineers but now we have over 250 of them trained in elite institutions in the UK. Also, when I came newly, we had a dearth of sub-sea engineers but now we have over 50 of them. Also we didn’t have people who can do seismic interpretation of data mappings but now we have over 70 of them, including over 200 Nigerian lecturers trained on seismic data software interpretation so that they can in turn train their students in the universities. These three areas were areas that our surveys showed that we didn’t have people who could handle them, but now we have sufficiently populated these areas with Nigerians who came out tops in their classes in the UK and can handle this type of profession anywhere in the world.
How would you like to be remembered at the completion of your tenure?
I always want to be remembered as somebody who came, saw and made a difference. My drive is to shoulder responsibilities and in this responsibility given me, I want to be remembered as somebody who came and did positive things. For instance, we have tripled the number of scholars trained in the UK and in the ountry, and we brought a lot of new innovations like the catch-them-young programme, aimed at catching them right from the secondary schools. Also in the professorial chess, we have enlarged the number of professors from eight to sixteen. We also have education and trainings in the sector now more diversified and rich with a lot of innovations brought in. I want to be remembered with all of these innovations and I want these innovations to continue because I know in the long run, these things will count for Nigeria’s economy.