Politicising oil exploration in the north

File of oil rig pumpjacks extracting crude from the Wilmington Field oil deposits area where Tidelands Oil Production Company, which is owned by Occidental Petroleum Corporation, operates near Long Beach, California13 March 2014, Abuja – My vague recollection of the search for oil in the North dates back to the beginning of this republic, when once again civilian governance emerged on the scene. It has been a long tortuous battle though. Unfortunately this battle has served no useful purpose, at least for the region concerned, even though the issue has been on the front-burner.

The North, perhaps out of blackmail, insults, intimidation and grinding poverty and resultant insecurity, is desirous, and desperate to have something to hold on to and as its contribution to the baking process of the national cake. The region’s elite hold successive governments since 1999 (mostly led by southerners) to ransom on the issue, and in most cases as a bargaining chip for their support.

The political leaders from the South, in an attempt to get the North’s support make rhetoric of it, and once the storm is over, back out of the so-called frontiers exploration. The whole gamut of sustainable oil search in the North is saddening and unfortunate; it is misplaced and does not require dissipation of energy.

One, there seems to be no political will to take advantage of the North’s proximity to Chad to explore and exploit oil and other natural deposits in the basin.

Two, the insecurity in the very part of the North where geological survey shows huge oil deposits are a major drawback.

Three, the North may, after all, not need oil because the region does not have the wherewithal and capacity to cope with the devastating environmental hazards that normally accompany oil exploration.

Fourth, the region is rich in mineral resources and huge agricultural potentials to such an extent that if properly harnessed, can set it on the path of economic emancipation. Therefore the region does not have to force the unwilling hands of those in government to invest in the oil find project. At least, not with all its attendant hard-to-manage environmental degradation, besides the bad blood oil money will create in an already fractious region.

Fifth, it is pointless to spend almost two decades to search for what is gradually turning into an illusion going by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation’s Group Managing Director, Andrew Yakubu’s admission recently. While he was in the Senate a few days ago to defend the corporation’s 2014 budget, the GMD used the opportunity to

discuss efforts in the new frontier exploration in the Chad basin. He said the NNPC has commenced exploration in Sokoto, Yola (Adamawa) and Niger besides the Chad basin which has been on, and which process had reached “phase six” out of 13 needed for oil discovery. “The data for other basins have been acquired, it has 13 phases and we are now in phase six.”

Now, if we spent almost two decades to “complete” that of the Chad Basin, I wonder how many more decades we will spend to conclude that of Sokoto, Niger and Yola. Well, the North may have to wait till eternity before oil is discovered in commercial quantity. But can the region afford that luxury of time?

In a nutshell, striking oil in the North is becoming a mirage and a political tool in the hands of politicians to toy with. The North and the country in general may have to look elsewhere to fund their huge capital and recurrent expenditures and insatiable avarice. With the way we are going, the present generation may never have the opportunity to see a drop of oil in the North. So be it. Who really needs oil when serious-minded countries have found or are in intense search for alternatives to their country’s energy needs? Meaning that, some day, there may be no market for our sweet crude. And the party will be over for those who gloat and rub the oil riches on our faces.

In this, the North has a good head start in agriculture and other mineral deposits. Think of Ajaokuta steel, Itakpe iron ore, the lead potential in Zamfara, Jos tin mining and Kano’s huge natural resources, Taraba’s tourism potential and power generating capacity through the Mambilla plateau etc. The earlier we go back to the basics and forget the elusive oil strike in the North, the better for the region. Now that the confab is here, the North should seek to remove mineral resource exploration and mining from the exclusive list to concurrent list, so that once again, it can take charge of its destiny, as it was before independence, civil war and the militarization of the polity.


– Zainab Suleiman Okino, Premium Times

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