By Ebele Orakpo
Engr. Sylvester Egwu is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Kaku Professional Engineers Limited, an energy and oil spill management and control company. The company which was the first in Nigeria to be registered by the International Spill Organisation, was accredited by the DPR to provide training and manpower development in the oil and gas industry.
In this chat with Vanguard, Egwu, a mechanical engineering graduate from the Howard University School of Engineering in Washington DC, USA speaks on what led him to the oil spill cleaning business. Excerpts:
On completion of his secondary school education, Egwu left for Lagos where he joined the Police Force. After three years, he tried unsuccessfully to get a US visa so he went to Sierra Leone where he eventually got the visa but could not travel because he had no money. “I had to come back to Nigeria by road and people began to call me Mungo Park.
In 1973, I was able to travel to the US where I worked full-time at two jobs and after nine months, I went to school. It was full-time schooling and full-time job,” he said. After his first degree, the US Government granted him scholarship for a master’s degree. “So I always say that the US made me what I am today,” he stated.
Motivation: “While I was in Howard University School of Engineering, we were exposed to some research in oil and gas, and I became aware of the impact of oil on the environment so I picked up that interest.”
On his return in the early 80s, he worked with Nigeria Ports Authority as workshop manager before going back to the US. He shuttled between Nigeria and the US until 2004 when he went back to the US for a fellowship programme.
Said he; “I had a fellowship programme in UNILAG but I could not get information on oil spill after going to various oil companies to look for research papers and information and data, so I had to go back to the US.“
“When I came back to Nigeria, it was very difficult penetrating the oil and gas industry, but one way or the other, I started with NNPC /NAPIMS,” he said. His perseverance paid off as he did not only penetrate the oil and gas industry but was able to carve a niche for himself.
“We made a presentation of a product called Petroleum Remediation Product (PRP), and another presentation to DPR and in the process, we applied to start training oil and gas workers and DPR gave us the permit. Today, we are problem-solvers.
We want to solve most of the problems associated with oil spill in this country and that is why to further make sure that we do this, we have organised several seminars, workshops and conferences to create awareness in this area because most Nigerians are not aware of the impact of oil spill. Our first conference was in Calabar in 2012 and the next one will be in Ghana from June 12 to 14, 2013. Several expatriates have indicated interest in participating. It is going to be solution-oriented.“
“We have an agreement with Texas A&M University National Spill Control School in Corpus Christi, Texas, the best oil spill control school in the world, to help Nigeria restore its environment that has been severely degraded. We want to leave a better environment behind.
We want to start a special training for Nigerian oil workers twice a year (May and September). So I think we have a very broad programme for mitigating the effect of oil spill in Nigeria. As you know, nearly 80 per cent of all oil spills are attributed to human error, so we are sure that with all the training, we will be able to reduce oil spill and its risks in the next few years.“
Effect on health:
“Every spill is toxic and disastrous so when a spill occurs, we expect it to impact the land, water and aquatic life. The Niger-Delta is like a sponge, it soaks oil during the rainy season, and in the dry season, the oil dries up. First of all, when oil spills into the water, the environment, water and land are polluted, aquatic life is destroyed and humans suffer from rashes, the skin and liver are affected and it can cause cancer of different forms.
That is the most dangerous aspect of oil and that is why we have been sensitizing people that oil is only good when it comes to money but you cannot just take the money and destroy our environment. We have to ensure that when you get the money from a particular environment, you must restore it. That is where we come in.
“As far as I am concerned, much still needs to be done. The way other countries are looking at oil spill is not the way Nigerians look at it. We understand the impact but we don’t have the willpower and commitment; we don’t really care about what is happening because if we care, we will not allow oil companies to destroy the environment with spill.
A spill is a spill whether it is caused by sabotage or by carelessness or negligence or whatever, government and oil companies should clean up the oil. Like it happened in the US, nobody wanted to know how it happened until they first of all tackled the problem of cleaning the spill; that is a very important thing which we don’t do here.
When a spill occurs, clean it up first and in the process, you assess the damage, compensate the victims, all these are not done and that is why we are organising this conference that whenever a spill occurs, please ensure the spill is brought under control, mitigate the effects of that spill, and compensate the people affected,” he said.