When the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun (FUPRE), Delta State, kicked off for academic activities in 2007, profound joy reverberated across the land. Many saw it as a new dawn in proffering solutions through in-depth research to an array of problems in the petroleum industry.
In fact, with the establishment of the institution, the bright future of the petroleum and gas sector appeared guaranteed to the extent that, sooner than later, Nigerians would be calling the shots. But 11 years down the line, the narrative has changed. The institution is yet to achieve its target of being the driver of intellectual and technical development of the petroleum industry in Nigeria.
Recently, Daily Sun was at FUPRE and saw an institution in dire staits.
Welcome to FUPRE
For a newcomer, locating the university is not an easy task because there is no noticeable entrance to the school’s premises. It is tucked between Ugbomro Road and Iteregbi junction in Uvwie Local Government Area. After inquiring from more than two persons, one could barely find the way to the school. Daily Sun gathered that the proposed main gate, according to the school’s master plan, has remained a tall dream as a result of lack of funds to execute it.
The Ugbomro road is under rehabilitation, leaving Iteregbi to serve as the only access road at the moment. An iron bar near a temporary security post, manned by two security guards, welcomes you to the university’s premises. There is also another entrance at the back of the administrative building but it is strictly for pedestrians.
All the structures on the campus, about 12, are storey buildings. Other makeshift structures dot a part of the school’s fence, serving as canteens, provision shops, stalls for confectioneries/stationery and other business centres. Unserviceable vehicles are parked at odd spots to rot near the administrative block.
An uncompleted students’ hostel building taken over by weeds and reptiles is part of the makeup. There is nothing alluring to advertise the university except for a large green field, which also needs to be mowed and beautified.
The university, with an estimated 4,000 students population, is endowed with 163.75 hectares (402.98 acres), but a look at FUPRE’s environment shows that about 90 per cent of the land is lying fallow.
The university offers the following degree programmes: Chemical Engineering, Electrical/Electronic Engineering, Marine Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Petroleum Engineering, Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry. Others are Geology, Geophysics, Environmental and Toxicology, Mathematics, Computer Science and Physics. In addition, it runs oil and gas-related professional programmes, inder the Centre for Maritime and Offshore Studies (in association with the industry) and Centre for Safety Education (in association with Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria).
The only songs being sung by anyone who holds the university at heart are full of lamentations. These people are worried and are crying out because of the decrepit state of affairs there.
FUPRE has been turned to a mockery of a specialised educational institution. It is still screaming for the needed infrastructure to meet its mandate of attracting the acceptable calibre of professionals and expertise in the oil and gas sector.
One of those whose joy knew no bounds when the university was established was the paramount ruler of the host community, the Ovie of Uvwie kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Emmanuel E. Sideso. He is still grateful to the Federal Government for siting the university in Uvwie, but he has a message for the authorities: “I thank God that this type of university was established not just in my community but in Nigeria. For the school to become of the best, the government needs to really fund it. If we invest a lot of time and money in this university and education generally, it would solve many problems, including security challenges. The university has a lot of effects on our community, ranging from employment opportunity to rapid development of the immediate community.
“Education is the key to solving many problems. Once youths are educated, the level of restiveness will be reduced because they can reason better and should be able to empower themselves. I’m passionate about education because is the only legacy you can leave for the younger generation. Education can take one to anywhere in the world and succeed.”
In the same vein, the Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof. Akii Ibhadode, said the FUPRE Act 2017, which has been assented to but is yet to be implemented, would be a major lifeline to invigorate the university. According to him, the act focuses on the percentage contribution by the relevant sectors and institutions of the petroleum industry. The sectors are the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, which are supposed to contribute 2 per cent of their budget to the running of the university.
“We are still looking up to such contributions because it has not been done yet, but we are hoping that it will be injected into the 2018 budget. The money will help in boosting infrastructure in the school and for research. It will also be a plus for staffers that are yet to be enjoying same salary scale as the oil and gas industry, as recommended. When all these come into play, we will attract the best expertise from across the world to the institution. The government should be able to empower us, having given us a mandate to meet.
“This university is lacking in basic infrastructure. It has a master plan but little or nothing has been done concerning the plan. Most of the structures you see here are temporary. We need money for laboratories, teaching aids that are relevant to the petroleum industry. We need equipment that can give a real-life experience to the students as can be found in the oil field so that they can easily adapt when they are absorbed into the companies.
“We don’t have an access gate; we have to go through a village to get here. We need a proper gate that will announce the presence of the university. Many people don’t even know where the university is. The hostel facility can only accommodate about 30 per cent of the student population. Even the VC does not have an office; I occupy a temporary office. The oil companies have not been patronising us as expected. But this is because we have not been properly funded with the necessary facilities. If they knew that we have the facilities that can solve some of their problems, they will definitely fund us. However, they have a part to play and they must be part of our success story,” lbhadode said.
Meanwhile, he said issues surrounding funding are not peculiar to Nigeria as they are also prevalent across the world. He regretted that, due to security concerns, the much-desired attention is not given to the education sector, plunging it into backwardness.
Registrar of FUPRE, Mr. Ejikeme M. Ichendu, said it was pathetic that there was no accommodation for the VC nor any of the principal officers of the school. He broadly categorised the university’s numerous problems into non-human and human. On the non-human factor, he recalled the day the administrative block was wrecked by rainstorm and their offices became swimming pools of sort.
He said the special nature of the university did not permit a large student population. This, consequently, reduces the school’s chances of high internally-generated revenue. He stated that government, therefore, must regularly support the institution financially in order for it to deliver on its mandate.
“On the human factor, it seems government established this university and, thereafter, went to sleep. You could deliver a baby and not nurture it to expected growth. The more we hope that things will improve, the more things get worse,” Ichendu said.
But the story is not all about neglect. FUPRE has recorded some feats. Highlighting the feats the school has achieved in recent times, the dean of Students Affairs, Dr. Godswill Ofualagba, said the management and students were not leaving any stone unturned to ensure that the school competes favourably with counterparts and lives up to its billing as the first in Africa.
On curbing cultism and other forms of misconduct on the campus, he said the management of FUPRE does not condone any act of indiscipline on the part of students. According to him, the rate of cult activities was almost at zero, because of continuous emphasis on the students’ education in knowledge and character.
He said FUPRE has so far succeeded in the following research products: pneumatic (air-powered) electric power generator, multi-channel smart energy meter, bio-gas plant for power generation and bio-ethanol plant, using palm wine. Others are design and fabrication of a modular refinery, waste motor oil to diesel-like fuel, crude oil absorbent for oil spillage cleaning, and software game. There is also the design and fabrication of crude oil distillation unit to process 100 litres per hour of crude; design and production of a prototype energy-efficient vehicle/go-cart for national and international competition, and design and construction of a 50KVA fuel-less generator with an initial alternating current start-up and design of ground robotic oil spill surveillance system, as well as research in solar energy, among others.
He said, when the FUPRE 2017 Act is fully implemented and the fund accruing to the school disbursed, the institution would become a place to behold in academic activities and research.
Learning in tears
The Students’ Union Government (SUG) president, Ikechukwu Emmanuel Ohanwe, who is in his final year in the Chemical Engineering Department, said the road has not been smooth for the students, especially as a result of absence of learning facilities.
“In comparison with other well-funded schools, our students are not resting on their oars to bring laurels to the school. It will not be wrong for me to say that the Federal Government has totally neglected our school. There are a lot of subventions that are supposed to be made available for a special institution as this but we are not enjoying any. There should be commensurate resources to the vision why the school was set up in the first place.
“There are numerous challenges here. We need more of the federal presence in the school. There is no standard library in the school. A well-equipped library is the backbone for smooth learning. We have turned our hostels to libraries. The learning environment is not conducive for us. Our lecturers and students are hungry for exploits but the equipment is not there. The students are shining in different competitions even with the little on ground.
“All the departments are affected by lack of one facility or the other but Mechanical Engineering, Marine Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and a few others are the worst hit. Some of our students, out of the zeal to learn, go outside the campus at their own expense, to practise what they have learnt in the classroom,” Ohanwe said.
Similarly, the national president of FUPRE Alumni Association, Obaro Egagifo, said the body was against poor infrastructural growth in the university.
He said: “We deeply regret a situation where FUPRE has technically turned an off-campus institution, as the university can barely house 30 per cent of the student population; which is an aberration of why FUPRE founded.
“We, therefore, demand better attention to building of hotels, mostly the abandoned hostels on campus. We call for immediate review of the various hostel projects to make hostel accommodation available for our students.
“We also express serious concern over the non-existence of standard lecture theatre, good classrooms as well as laboratories.”
The alumni president said it was unfortunate that, 11 years after the institution was opened, the oil and gas industry was yet to accept and employ graduates from FUPRE. He declared that the development was contrary to the purpose for which FUPRE was established. The alumni called on the Nigerian local development executors to take action in this regard.
Cry for help
The dean of the College of Science, Prof. Akpofure Rim-Rukeh, said his college was not exempted from the shameful neglect of FUPRE. Though the college is faced with enormous setbacks, some of the missing teaching tools he identified were x-ray diffraction to detect faults on the rock, in Geology; electron microscope to view organisms that are below some nanometres and equipment for fingerprinting of crude oil, which is key to government.
He called for more experienced lecturers/specialists to be recruited for the college, especially those who will teach in the higher classes. He said FUPRE’s successes so far were not unconnected with the lecturers’ experience in oil and gas industry and other highly technical fields.
He said: “Here, we have been managing with the little we have but we are never comfortable with this deficit. That is why we are calling on government to come to our aid so that we can deliver on our mandate. It is a waste money sending oil and gas workers and students abroad for training when we can mount the equipment here because we have the manpower to handle the training.”
Rim-Rukeh said FUPRE’s College of Science was uniquely designed and placed emphasis on laboratories and field exercises, whereby the graduates from there would not need to be trained by their prospective employers. He pleaded with government to release more funds to the school, so that the students and their teachers would be relieved of the absence of equipment. He boasted that some of his past students were now consultants due to the depth of knowledge that they received from the university.
Also, the dean of College of Technology, Prof. Chiedu Uwabor, said her college was the most affected by the infrastructural deficiency.
“I started my career from the University of Benin, Edo State. All the things we have in our laboratories here are not equal to what we had in the Faculty of Engineering in UNIBEN. Here, we use an open space as automobile workshop. We don’t have welding, machines, wood and carpentry workshops.
“The worst hit are petroleum, marine and chemical departments. Sadly, petroleum, which is the name of the university, is struggling to survive. The department is under-staffed. The school cannot attract lecturers to the department because there are no facilities to work with. Because we are lacking in those areas, necessity has become the mother of invention for us,” she said.
However, the professor said the affected departments would not relent in doing everything legitimately possible to maintain the minimum standard defined by the school. She said being creative and innovative has helped teachers and students to surmount many of the university’s challenges.
According to her, one of the strategies the school employed is to assign project topics to students that will see the fabricating different practical tools. She said the students were also being taught engineering entrepreneurship, after which they don›t have to necessarily rely on employers for jobs but to become employers of labour.
Uwabor said it was shameful for FUPRE, which claims to be the custodian of knowledge to go cap in hands begging indigenous firms to use their equipment for practical.
Keeping hope alive
When asked if the university was on the march to achieve its core mandate, the VC and his colleagues, painted a picture of a beautiful and promising future. He said: “By the virtue of FUPRE being a specialised petroleum university, we have that potential and capacity to be able to deliver on our mandate. But, we should be able to look beyond the mandate. What has been hindering us is lack of adequate fund, even with the meagre resources available to us. We have designed a low-cost mini refinery and many other innovations.
The VC stressed that there was every hope that in few years time, the university would break new grounds in researches that would lead to innovations that could draw global attention.
“There are truly great prospects for FUPRE and with the accreditation of all our courses and more on-going, the university will position as the pivot for the human capital development for the oil and gas sector,” Ibhadode said.
Rim-Rukeh said he looking up to a future whereby the university would produce graduates that could transform the Nigerian environment and economy, from where it is today to a greater height. He added that FUPRE would become a lead researcher and consultant to the petroleum industry.
The registrar said the university has remained on the right track, by going out of its way to deliver on its mandate without encouragement from the government and most of the oil industries. He expressed the confidence that the students would soon become managers and drivers of the oil industry, adding that they are already making waves across the globe.
Ichendu said: “Thank God we now have the enabling law backing our operation. With adequate financial resources, we can turn this plain land around for good and the government will proud that it established it.
The President of the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE), from Luxembourg, Colombia, Prof. Bernard Baeyens, who, on March 13, delivered a lecture on the university’s Founders’ Day titled: “The Role of Traineeship in the Development of Technical Knowledge”, said he was pleased with what he saw at the university and stressed the need to for exchange of information for the benefit of the students.