How chemical engineering developed in Nigeria
THE history of chemical engineering in Nigeria dates back to the late 1950s when the first Nigerians graduated from universities in the UK and US. But it wasn’t until a decade later, in the late 1960s, that a steady stream of young Nigerian chemical engineers graduating from UK and US universities began to return to the country. Prior to this, chemical engineering was scarcely known or understood in the country. At best it was considered to be applied chemistry and physics, or in other situations, a cross between chemistry and mechanical engineering.
Chemical engineering education in Nigeria commenced in the late 1960s when an applied chemistry programme started at the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), at Ile-Ife, south western Nigeria. This was subsequently upgraded to chemical technology and eventually chemical engineering. The first locally-trained chemical engineers graduated in 1973. The University of Lagos and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, in Northern Nigeria, followed suit with parallel chemical engineering programmes, leading to first graduates from the two institutions in 1976 and 1977 respectively1. Today there are about 30 universities offering chemical engineering degrees in Nigeria. Seventeen of these are owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria while eight belong to various state governments of the Federation. The other five are private universities.
In addition to the universities, there are about ten polytechnics in the country which offer chemical engineering at National Diploma (ND) and Higher National Diploma (HND) levels, training technicians and technologists.
The usual route to becoming a professional chemical engineer in Nigeria is through a university degree. However, limited opportunities also exist for the HND route, which requires a top-up post graduate diploma (PGD) in chemical engineering. Another alternative, though of limited popularity, is the conversion route, where graduates in chemical engineering related disciplines (such as chemistry, physics, and mechanical engineering) can switch via a conversion PGD in chemical engineering.
Typical chemical engineering curricula in Nigerian universities are broadly in line with international standards, especially in the UK and US
The standard university curriculum in engineering in Nigeria, including chemical engineering, is a five-year academic programme of ten semesters. Nine out of the ten semesters are spent in classwork while one semester, as well as part of the ensuing long vacation, is spent on attachment to industry on the six-month mandatory students industrial work experience scheme (SIWES). During the earlier years of the course, the students are also required to undergo shorter attachments of three months during each long vacation.
To qualify for the 5-year programme, students need the Nigerian senior secondary school education (SSSE) certificate, roughly equivalent to the international GCE ‘O’ level. In addition, candidates go through a competitive entrance examination. Candidates who have the GCE ‘A’ level or its equivalent in maths, physics and chemistry are, however, eligible for admission into the second year of the programme.
Typical chemical engineering curricula in Nigerian universities are broadly in line with international standards, especially in the UK and US. They embody modules in basic sciences, especially physics and chemistry, sometimes biology, and modules in mathematics and computing. They also include general engineering modules (graphics, workshop practice, mechanics of materials, mechanics of machines, and basic electric circuits), as well as fundamental chemical engineering subjects such as process principles, thermodynamics, transport processes, and materials technology. Building on the fundamentals, the students take other modules related to chemical engineering practice, such as separations processes, fluid-particle operations, reaction engineering, and process control. These dovetail into the capstone design and research projects in the final year. Increasingly, sustainability issues such as process safety and environmental protection are emphasised. Additional courses are offered these days to enable students to acquire soft skills necessary to support a chemical engineer in practice in the contemporary world, including technical writing, entrepreneurship, economics, and management. It’s also mandatory across Nigerian universities, that all students – regardless of discipline – take modules in general studies, encompassing humanities, culture, language and social sciences.2
NSChE is a professional society which seeks to cater to the interest of Nigerian chemical engineers and foster chemical engineering practice in the country. It came into existence initially in 1969 but matured into a fully active organisation about a decade later. About 2,500 out of the estimated 10,000–12,000 chemical engineers in Nigeria are members of the society.3
In 1999 NSChE merged with the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), which caters to the wider interest of engineers in Nigeria. By this NSChE became a division of NSE, enabling it to work together with other engineering disciplines while maintaining a measure of autonomy. Lately, NSChE has established a cooperative relationship with AIChE and an affiliate status relationship with IChemE. These relationships provide the platform for continuous exchange with the international community of chemical engineers.
NSChE holds an annual conference every year, at which papers are presented, and intensive discussions held on topical technical themes. The society also publishes a professional, technical journal, Journal of the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers.