Looking for oil in the North

Oil in northern nigeria
Image: Pixabay remixed

A few days ago I was rummaging through some national dailies. One of them, The Guardian of Nigeria, carried a very curious story on its front page. The news item was that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the NNPC, had already started a process that will lead to the exploitation of oil and gas in the Sokoto Basin. Apparently, what led to this interesting piece of news was the visit of the Sokoto state governor Aminu Tambuwal, to the NNPC group managing director, Maikanti Kachalla Bello. A statement reportedly issued by Tambuwal’s spokesman quoted the NNPC Managing Director as having said thus: “We have been on the issue of exploration in the frontier basins and so far some measures of steps have been taken. We have already purchased aeromagnetic data and it is being interpreted to determine the sedimentary thickness and the basin configuration.

“Secondly, we have awarded a contract for the geological mapping of the basin and I am happy to state here that outcop samples have been collected, mapped, analysed and geological modeling executed so as to ensure data integration,” the GMD was reported to have said. He also told the Sokoto state governor that there were ongoing discussions with the Integrated Data Services Limited IDSL, to award a contract for ‘surface geochemistry, ground gravity and magnetics in order to determine if hydrocarbon was (sic) generated in the basins and integrate all dates for understanding of petroleum systems of the basins’.

Ordinarily, this is very splendid news, and for which the agent provocateurs who are promoting the search for oil in the Sokoto Basin ought to receive commendation. After all, what sense is there in allowing 95% of all crude oil earnings, and the driver of our economy come from only one section of the country? Having allowed that over the years, our scale of preferences over the years as a country have always tilted against the tide of the agricultural power of the North.  Not only have the groundnut pyramids disappeared without any trace, the cotton fields of Malumfashi, Funtua and Daudawa in Katsina state have all lost their shine. I hear that the reason why these cotton fields have nearly become extinct is that attention of the governors of the North is on the easy money flowing in from oil. Therefore, having abandoned this critical sector of the Nigerian economy in favour of the greasy revenue from crude oil export, the once vibrant North became a lame tiger. Not only did it have the lowest human development indices in West Africa in the late 80s and early 90s, it became a breeding ground for terrorists.

Therefore, if the search for oil in the Sokoto Basin is to checkmate the tendency of going cap in hand to the Federal government for funds for development, well that should be understandable. But why the heck do I keep having this throbbing sensation that ultimately, there is another reason why the North is desperately searching for oil in the Sokoto Basin. It is bad enough that a region with such vast human and natural resources will not run unless it gets its share from a common purse. But is the desperate search for oil in the Sokoto Basin anything to do with the calls for a restructuring of Nigeria?

I think so. But no matter how desperate the North is for a post-Nigeria/Lugardian economy, this search is downright belated and plainly puerile. On page 492 of David Landes’ book, The Wealth and Power of Nations, and the chapter titled ‘Losers’, confirms that even though oil in the Gulf still has about 130 years to go, and that desperate searches are going on daily,  in the next ten or fifteen years, assuredly nobody will be needing the oil. As a student in Europe some time ago, I had the privilege of touring certain cities like Freiburg, Leipzig, Breslau and Potsdam. While there I discovered that very intense meetings were already going on by day and by night to wean the European economy from reliance on fossil fuels. At a home in Berlin, a certain woman who had lost her husband and right arm in an accident sustains herself and family by selling excess energy from the solar photo-voltaic panels constructed on her roof to the national grid.  But the move to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy did not start today. It has already taken shape, especially with the fact that newly elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel needs to begin to look for ways to cope with the Green Party’s drastic demand to jettison fossil fuels for electric cars and renewable energy.

With the worldwide push to mitigate climate change and discard oil in the next decade, looking for oil in the Sokoto Basin now is a bit odd. If the North does not realize it, it is potentially the richest region in Nigeria today, what with its vast human, material and agricultural potentials. And talking about its agricultural potentials, perhaps Alhaji Tambuwal and the NNPC MD may not have realized that nearly all the foods we consume today in some states down south – beans, yam, watermelons, pepper, onions, meat, cucumber and the rest are from the North. The Auchi-Benin-Abuja road is in the state it is because vehicles laden with agricultural produce ply that road to no end with cows, watermelon, yams, pepper, tomatoes and cucumber. If this is not evidence that the North has one of the most vibrant agricultural economies in Nigeria, then I don’t see what would be that evidence.  Let me tell you a story about a German friend of mine who visited Jos Plateau state recently. Germans love our mangoes and since he had heard that Adamawa state has the largest mango plantation in the whole of West Africa, he went into a shop seeking canned mango juice. He said to his bewilderment that all the canned mango juices he found in the supermarket on that occasion were either from Malaysia, India or China.

Oil is not what will solve the problem of the North. Let the North see what the Niger Delta, and indeed the Nigerian state has done with oil, and how it is the omen of most of our woes. Oil will only deepen and promote issues which promote poverty and poor governance systems. As a first step to a restructured Nigeria and one which has devolved powers from the centre to the grassroots, let the North first dismantle certain cultural and human practices which have never promoted inclusivity of both the banza and bokwoi, practices which confine it to the backwaters of today’s currency. After that, the North can right away begin to develop an agricultural policy which has a strong export promotion potential. Looking for oil in the Sokoto Basin is a veritable waste of the time.

Written by
MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku
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