In any case, for those who seek clarifications from the President, he has spoken, and the response was in reply to the Committee on the review of Senator Ndoma Egba committee report.
In his letter dated March 16, Obasanjo told the committee that every approval he made was only after he was satisfied that the mandate of PTDF accommodated it.
The President's response was in three main areas where the committee asked for his clarifications - approvals for the African Institute of Science and Technology (AIST), Abuja (aka) Nelson Mandela Institution (NMI), Computer for All Nigerians Initiative (CANI) and PTDF Approved Specific Projects
According to Obasanjo, “there is therefore no iota of truth in the wild allegation that the funds released were diverted to any purpose other than the specific projects approved for. I hope the Review Committee will be able to physically verify these projects and payments to debunk this irresponsible and false allegation.”
He explained that the guiding principle for all his actions in the PTDF matter from the 70s till now was the three key words found in the title of the PTDF legislation: Petroleum, Technology and Development.
The President said this entailed, "to his understanding", - "capacity building and local content development – two great issues on which the administration has endeavoured to make significant change and impact.”
Giving the genesis of the PTDF, he noted that the PTDF Act was promulgated by the General Yakubu Gowon Administration in 1973 for the purpose of building the capacity of Nigerians to be active participants in the then emerging oil and gas (petroleum) industry following the Arab Oil Embargo and subsequent quadrupling of oil prices by Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Stating that the Act clearly mandated the Federal Government to take whatever actions it deem necessary to ensure that Nigerians were educated, trained, and developed to be experts and key players in petroleum technology, the President said that what constituted ‘petroleum technology’ in 1973, and what it is today were two key issues for reflection as his government attempted to derive the intentions of the government that enacted the PTDF law for general application and utility not only for 1973, but for the 21st century.
Disclosing that he served the Gen Gowon government as a minister, he stated that those who enacted the PTDF Act could not have foreseen a tip of what was to happen in the petroleum technology field since the information revolution that began in the mid-1980s. These include the invention of IBM Personal Computer, the development of optical fibre, digital microwave and cellular technologies, deployment of low earth orbit satellite technology and the Internet – all in quick succession, which have had a profound impact on not only oil and gas education, training and capacity building, but on the way governments and businesses conduct their affairs. He said because of this, “a lot of changes in the scope and content of the fields of study leading to a career in petroleum technology have occurred with the rapid development of miniaturization and digital technologies that have brought down the cost of these telecommunication, computer and television technologies.”
The government’s funding of Information and Comm-unications Technology (ICT) projects, the President said, arose from its understanding of the role of ICT in capacity building, education and government as “a nation without these basic ICT facilities cannot develop or compete or compare to one with proper ICT facilities in the 21st century."
Hence, the PTDF funding of ICT, he explained, “generally can be justified to enhance development of the petroleum industry in Nigeria as well as other industries. No business, industry or government can compete in the increasingly integrating global economy without a robust, ubiquitous and accessible ICT infrastructure, tools and continuous training for its people.”
On the approval of $25 million for the Nelson Mandela Institute, a not-for-profit foundation established by African Academics teaching in Europe, America and Asia with the sole objective of establishing four world-class universities of technology in the continent, the President said, “within the AIST is the Gulf of Guinea Institute – G2i. This is intended to be the premier faculty of oil and gas technology to serve as center for excellence for education, training and capacity building in petroleum technology for the Gulf of Guinea region and indeed the African Continent. It is on the basis of the foregoing that PTDF was approached to intervene in the development of the G2i of the AIST. The intervention of USD 25 million was approved out of the USD 40 million requested."
The first AIST, he restated, was to be established in Tanzania, but with his intervention and involvement of former finance minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, NMI was persuaded to agree to locate the first AIST in the Abuja Technology Village.
Obasanjo noted that “the intervention of the PTDF is to build the G2i “for the purposes of training Nigerians to qualify as graduates, professionals, … in the fields of engineering, geology, science and management in the petroleum industry in Nigeria in the express words of Section 2 of the Act, and more particularly section 2(b) – "subsidies for training", and section 2©) – "endowments to faculties in Nigerian universities or institutions approved by the Minister,” he said. "It will be indeed a surprising interpretation of the Act to say that the intervention of PTDF in G2i is outside its mandate, in the light of the foregoing and clear express provisions of the statute,” he added.
Obasanjo may be unpopular, but, must we put all blames on his head? Ever ponder along this line?