Saturday, October 14, 2017

That Ill-Advised Search For Oil In The North

On Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari was said to have met with three state governors from the northern part of the country. The meeting was to discuss what is becoming a desperate, continued search for oil in the north.

Sokoto governor, Aminu Tambuwal, one of the visitors to the president, was quoted to have called on the federal government to support the search for oil in the Sokoto basin, as that area had been discovered to have oil reserve as far back as 1957.

The search for oil in the north is not new. It had been on for quite a while with enormous cost in material and human. In July, this year, that search ended in the death of 48 people as the explorers were attacked by Boko Haram insurgents. Five of the dead were lecturers from the University of Maiduguri, some 18 soldiers and Civilian JTF were also among the victims. I recall the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, in the aftermath of the incident, saying that the NNPC had been directed to the Boko Haram hot bed search by President Buhari in order to grow the country’s oil reserve.
With the recent visit of northern governors to brief the president, it is obvious that the north is not ready to give up on the search for oil in the region in spite of the human toll. This does not make sense. Development around the world does not support this. Many countries in Europe are planning to jettison fossil oil for alternative, renewable energy.  The question that we should ask is; how long would it take before the search ends and oil is discovered in commercial quantity? It is not something one could correctly guess. A recent example. It took   Tunde Folawiyo Petroleum Company limited about 25 years of search before oil was discovered in Badagry, Lagos. The world is not going to wait for Nigeria. By the time oil is discovered in the Sokoto basin or the Chad area, in commercial quantity, which I have no doubt they would discover, the world would have moved beyond oil.
From the next decade, the world would no longer be talking about fossil oil but renewable energy. But who is supposed to advise the government about this? Should it not be those in the industry, who are expected to know the trends in the Industry, including our ministers and those in charge of the affairs of government? This is hardly the case, the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr Maikanti Baru spoke gleefully about the plan for the Sokoto basin oil when the governor visited him about this. The governor’s spokesman quoted Maikanti that some steps have been taken with the NNPC purchasing aeromagnetic data which is being interpreted in order to arrive at the sedimentary thickness and the configuration for the basin. “Secondly, we have awarded a contract for the geological mapping of the basin and I am happy to state… samples have been collected, mapped, analyzed and geological modeling executed so as to ensure data integration,” according to the GMD. He added that that there were ongoing discussions with the Integrated Data Services Limited to award a contract for, “surface geochemistry, ground gravity and magnetic in order to determine if the basin is generating hydrocarbon. All these would then be integrated for the understanding of petroleum systems of the basins”. 
Bottom line, we are going ahead with exploration in the north. It does not make sense. With the current exploration in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s oil reserve will still last for the next 30 years, precisely till 2048. Before we get to that terminal date, the world would obviously have moved to an alternative energy form. What then do we need the oil in the north for?  As stated earlier, it took the Folawiyo’s more than two decades to discover oil, that is a private organization. Thus if it took that long for that to happen, discovering and exploring oil in the north, with the federal government’s support through the NNPC, would take about 30 years, knowing how government works with its slow, cumbersome processes, all taken into account. Is that what the country needs now? I do not think so.
Due to damage to the environment, some countries in Europe are planning a gradual phase out of petrol and diesel powered vehicles. Britain had given a deadline of 2040 to completely phase out internal combustion engine. By 2025, Norway would have banned the use of petrol powered vehicle too. Today, Sweden is one of the countries that can be said to be free of energy generated from fossil oil as only three (3) percent of its electricity production is done through fossil oil. It is planning to completely eradicate this threat and make Norway a carbon- free society by 2050. France and Germany have also made similar pledges on the need to phase out internal combustion engine. Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands are said to be considering a phase out by 2030. The European Union is also considering enforcing the ban across its territory once a sizeable numbers of the countries key into this. Those are the markets for our oil. What all these tell us is that within the next few years, income from oil would have drastically gone down.
It is in view of this that one would say the search for oil in the north is a time, money and energy wasting venture, it would eventually amount to nought. What we have presently would take us for the period when fossil oil would no longer be the in thing, all over the world, except in a few developing world. Indeed, countries like Nigeria would become dumping grounds for European vehicles that could not be converted.
What to do? A pro-active, thinking, federal government should refocus and perish the thought of looking for oil, we do not need that effort, rather, it should intensify efforts in agriculture. The money that would be wasted on the unnecessary search for oil should be directed towards this.
The north of Nigeria has the capacity to feed the entire country with its vast expanse of land. The government should make that happen instead of looking for oil that the world would no longer need… unless there is another motive behind the search.
*Bolaji Tunji, a columnist with SUN newspapers, could be reached with bolajitunji@gmail.com

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