Nigeria: ‘Why north needs separate agency for oil search’

04 June 2016, Abuja – Interim Executive Secretary, Association of Petroleum Inland Basins of Northern Nigeria (APIBONN), Engr. Yabagi Y. Sani, in this interview, calls for the speedy passage of a bill to replace the Frontier Exploration Services (FES) Department of the NNPC with an agency to oversee hydro carbon exploration activities in the frontier basins of the north.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY: Commodities-oil-energy-price-US-boom-crime, Oilfield thefts on rise in Texas amid booming prices by Mira Oberman. This June 24, 2008 photo shows oil drilling rigs in Midland County, Texas. The wide open oilfields of West Texas are ripe pickings for thieves these days. Some drive up to one of the thousands of pump jacks that dot the countryside and siphon crude out of the storage tanks. Some pull up to a drill site after the crews have gone for the night and haul away tools, pipes and equipment. Others take kickbacks, file false invoices or just plain steal knowing their bosses are too busy riding the oil boom to keep a close eye on accounting. AFP PHOTO/COR (Photo credit should read MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Daily Trust: The NNPC announced recently that drilling activities will start in the last quarter of 2016 in the inland basins, especially Chad Basin and the Benue Trough. Are you not satisfied with the corporation’s efforts, bearing in mind the impact of insurgency on its operations in that region?

Engr. Yabagi Y. Sani: The issue of insurgency came about six years ago and it was heightened in the last two years. Before then, billions of dollars were devoted to the development of the Lake Chad. But when you go across the Chad border, the Chinese who were working there at the same time the NNPC was working here have been able to discover oil. Go to Sokoto Basin across the border, Niger has been able to discover oil, built a refinery and is selling to Nigeria.

The point I am making is that there has been a lot of politics and rhetoric in the area of developing this natural resource that would have helped not only the north but the entire country. I am not oblivious of the problems created by insurgency, but that is a later development. What has been happening in the past? I hope NNPC is not just waking up because (President Muhammadu) Buhari is in power today. What we are saying now is that we need to put in place a legal framework, an act of parliament to say that an agency will be established to aggressively and consistently focus on developing these inland basins because it is to our advantage. Was insurgency there during (late Gen Sani) Abacha and (late president Umaru) Yar’Adua’s regimes? No! But other neighbours, who don’t have resources like we do, have developed. When you go to the south, Anambra Basin is producing today, Niger Delta is prolific, the same thing with Lagos. Look at the quantum of money accruing to oil producing states, if you can have the same kind of money available across the border, it will be for the stability of this country. For massive employment of our youths, it will be something that will put us on a different level globally.

DT: Don’t you think we should wait for the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to be passed to know if it doesn’t cater for the inland basins?

Sani: The unfortunate thing is that the PIB was prepared by the NNPC. NNPC has this unfortunate tendency to keep things within their own empire, the more you look at the PIB, the more opaque the sector becomes. Otherwise in PIB somebody would have suggested that we have an agency to look after the frontier basins, so that you have an aggressive, well-articulated programme to develop this aspect of the national economy. If you are talking about being holistic in terms of developing the oil and gas sector, you cannot do it without looking at the inland basins. You can’t do it without having some legal instruments or some clauses in your agreement with the people who are now benefiting from the already developed area.

Like what (former president Olusegun) Obasanjo tried to do: If he gives you oil well in the Niger Delta – productive ones, he also gives you the one in the wildcat areas to develop, a kind of sweet and sour package for those coming to look for oil in Nigeria. We should go beyond politics; we should see Nigeria as one. We should look at ourselves like Saudi Arabia; nobody cares where you are drilling oil and how much it takes. If you go to Chad, they will go where ever they can to find it but here it is not the same. Somebody from the Niger Delta thinks you are taking something that doesn’t belong to you. He has forgotten that it was your cash crop resources that were used to develop the Niger Delta.

DT: Speaking about putting in place a legal structure or an autonomous frontier development agency, the location of these basins have representatives in the National Assembly, is it that they are not interested in pushing for this?

Sani: The unfortunate thing is the kind of representatives you have in some areas. You wonder whether they know their priorities. The last meeting we had here, we invited the key senators from the region, not one of them attended. After our meeting in Sokoto, the governors will take it upon themselves to engage the National Assembly and federal government so that there would be a well-articulated programme to really develop the Inland basins and then have a legal framework. But I’m not impressed with the senators though it was one of them from the north, Smart Adeyemi, who sponsored the bill. It has gone through first reading supported by all the senators. But like you rightly said, what is stopping other senators from picking it up and promoting it further? But again, maybe lack of information or not knowing what the priorities should be.

DT: In the 2016 budget, a certain amount was set aside for the inland basin development; don’t you think that is a sign of seriousness by the government?

Sani: What we are talking about transcends budgetary allocation. It’s not just making money available to an agency, it’s about getting yourselves organised. If you give me $1 billion and I am not organised, what you will get will be less than someone you gave less than $100,000. The issue is to reorganise or know how to develop the inland basins oil and gas potentials. Government must not take it for granted that they have an agency – NNPC to do it. What we are saying is that we put the right structures on ground, have a legal framework so that when you talk about the budgetary allocation, it will now be properly applied. That is why I am not happy with what this government is doing. They still believe that the machinery they have for the development of this inland basins is working, it is not working, and it can’t work. Today, it is about the individual. Once Buhari is not there, it is a tragedy.


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