Nigeria Has Less than 30 Welding Engineers

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Welding as a profession is a highly misconstrued by Nigerians who associate it with roadside artisans. Mr. Sunny Eromosele, a big player in welding in the oil and gas industry, in this interview with Segun James, shed some light on why the government must support this less fancied aspect of the engineering profession. Excerpts:

Welding and welders are synonymous and most people are confused about who is a welder and what welding engineering is all about, can you tell us what it is all about?
Well, it is not unusual for people to confuse what welding is all about. To most people, it is all about the artisans who practice their trade along the streets. But welding is more than that. The welding industry is a very expensive, highly technical and technology based industry.

The industry is the backbone of all engineering activities as all aspect of engineering involves welding in one form or the order. But then not just engineering, but other areas such as medicine and agriculture have a lot to do with welding. So, welding is very expensive to run. It involves a lot of activities the technology to the equipment, personnel down to fabrication itself which is the aspect that people associates with welders. It is a very complicated industry. But unfortunately, the industry is still in its infancy in Nigeria.

A lot of Nigerians do not know that training welding personnel is very expensive; also, a lot of people still associate welding with artisans, those by the roadside. But they don’t know is that there are several forms of welding activities which requires only highly trained and competent welding professionals to handle. People don’t know that the aeroplane and the cars they ride are coupled together by the welding professional. Only a few people are aware or know that is done from the artisanal level to engineering level. How many know this?

Until about five years ago, all welding activities in the highly technical and hi-tech industry such as oil and gas operation are done by imported welding personnel from places such as India and the Philippines at very exorbitant cost to the country because there were practically no qualified Nigerians competent enough to do the job. But today, the trend is reversing with the aggressive activities of the Nigerian Institute of Welding (NIW). The International Institute of Welding (IIW) only recently granted the NIW a status of an Authorised National Body (ANB) to train all levels of welding personnel in-country and to regulate welding activities in Nigeria.

What has been the relationship between Mudiame Welding Institute and the NIW since you were granted the status of an Authorised Training Body (ATB) by the NIW?
The relationship has been mutually benefitting. The NIW as the authorised regulating body to establish and monitor the ATBs in the country of which our institute is one has been doing a wonderful job. The relationship has been very collaborative and very beneficial.

The oil and gas industry in particular use lots of highly skilled and competent welding personnel, what has been the level of Nigerians participation in this industry as relating to welding?
Well, the situation is looking up and better. The setting up of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) has actually made it possible for more Nigerians to participate in the industry. In the past, 100% of welding engineers were imported into the country. The procedures were also taken out of the country to be tested and analysed. That was the situation, but today, with the local content law and the policy of the federal government to localise some activities in-country, we have been able to change this and ensure that a great deal of welding fabrication activities are now done in Nigeria. It is a major step for the industry, but we have not really gone far.

What percentage of participation will you say we have gone so far?
The truth is we have really nudged up, but we are yet to see our people participating at the top level as welding engineers where all the decisions relating to the industry are taken. However, we are moving up gradually as we have been able, through the Nigerian Institute of Welding, to train some welding professionals to engineer level. Right now, confidence is what we are building with the hope that they will allow some of them to at the same level as the expatriates. But for me, i must admit, we still have a long way to go, especially in the oil and gas industry.

As a major player in the industry what is your background?
My background is in Computer Science, the subject i studied at the University of Calabar. But I have been in the oil and gas industry as a businessman in the last 15 years, especially in the quality control as aspect of the industry. In the course of my relationship and operation in the oil and gas industry, I identified a gap in human capacity in welding which I observed is being done by Indian and Filipino people, majorly. Also detected was that testing, a major aspect of welding activity was being done outside the country. This motivated me to establish a testing laboratory in the country. In the course of this, I discover that we do not have the manpower and competence to run the laboratory which is a very crucial aspect of welding activities. It was also this that led to the establishment of the Mudiame Welding Institute to train the personnel to handle the laboratory and support it.
It was at this point that the collaboration between Mudiame and the NIW began. Now, test activities can now be done in-country instead of it being exported abroad as in the past.

How far have you being able to go?

We have not gone too far. But I must admit we have done very well so far given the fact that we are just moving into this aspect of the industry. As at today, we have been able to establish a testing facility that qualifies all welded materials in Nigeria to about 95 percent in most types of metals, be it alloy, carbon steel. So whatever welded materials available, the testing aspect can be achieved up to 95 percent in Nigeria. We have also been able to certify some international welding professionals in Nigeria.

What does it take to be an International Institute of Welding certified welding professional?
The IIW program is an international programme that is the standard the world over. For you to be qualified as an International Welding Specialist, Welding Technician, Welding Technologist or Welding Engineer, you must be qualified with a minimum of a diploma in this field. You will b required to undergo a lot of training hours in specific welding processes that you want to specialise upon. But unfortunately, the cost of the training remains a major challenge because as at today, we do not have the instructors’ in-country. We still bring them from abroad to take these courses. With the slump in the economy and the high cost of dollar to the naira, the cost is getting beyond us. Put simply, the cost is huge and expensive.

What are the major challenges you face as a player in the industry?
One of our major challenges is the sponsorship of competent welding personnel to international level. As at today, I have personally sponsored four welding engineers abroad to undertake complex training so as to come back home and train other Nigerians. What we need urgently is government and industry support and involvement by way of sponsorship. As you know, if there are no government support it will be very difficult to get more Nigerians trained to take over the industry as we want.

For example, in India, the government is fully responsible for the training of welding personnel in the country as it gives the training bodies money to subsidise the cost of training. Today, if you look all over the world, you have Indian welding professionals everywhere. In fact, they along with the Filipinos make up a great proportion, over 90 percent of welding professionals in Nigeria. Is it not lamentable that we don’t have up to 30 Nigerian welding engineers to service the entire country? The gap is huge. And until government comes to support the programme, it will be very difficult.

What is the future for the industry?
In respect to training, the Nigerian Institute of Welding is doing a fantastic job, most especially with its setting up its centre for welding excellence and facility in Obayantor, Benin City in Edo state. This a great stride forward. The facility also has a laboratory of the highest international standard donated by the Shell Petroleum Development Company. It is a step in the right direction.

To complement this, we have also established a training school in Irrua, Edo state. With this, I think the future is bright for Nigeria in the oil and gas industry.
Another low point is that we do not have a single university in Nigeria today offering training in welding engineering. Yet, welding is the backbone of all aspect of engineering. Luckily this is a challenge that my organisation, Mudiame International Limited is taking up by establishing the Mudiame Welding Institute. I assure you that with what we are doing, in the next three years, we would have made a great stride in our quest to Nigerianise the industry such that the continued influx of Indians and Filipinos into Nigeria would be drastically reduced.