For the second time in three weeks, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has received an express order from President Muhammadu Buhari to explore for oil in the North.
This time, the President directed the national oil firm to commence exploration activities in the Benue Trough. The Benue Trough is a major geological formation underlying a large part of Nigeria, extending about 1,000km North-East from the Bight of Benin to Lake Chad.
The Group Managing Director, NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru, disclosed the President’s directive on the oil expolration in the North while receiving a delegation from the Benue State Government at the corporation’s headquarters in Abuja.
About three weeks ago, the President had directed the corporation to speed up its prospect for oil in the region, specifically in the Chad Basin and Kolmani River, following the reported discovery of hydrocarbons by Shell in the area.
The 19 northern state governors are also fired up about the prospect of oil production in their domain as they have hired a British firm through the Northern Nigeria Development Company, which they jointly own, to carry out the exploration activities.
But energy analysts and several socio-cultural and other interest groups on Tuesday expressed divergent views on the pressure by the President on the NNPC as regards oil exploration in the North.
The NNPC GMD, in a statement from the corporation on Tuesday, said the new directive was in line with the current efforts to guarantee energy security of the country.
Baru said, “Very close home, we have exploration activities on the Frontier Basin, that is in the Chad; and there are some areas close to the Kolmani River where Shell has made indicative discovery of hydrocarbons and Mr. President has directed me to go into that area to further explore the magnitude and prospects of those finds.
“We are taking steps to get into those regions. We will reinvigorate the frontier exploration and see how they collaborate with the Northern Nigeria Development Company that is holding Block 809 where some of the finds have been found. We will also do the same at the Department of Petroleum Resources for the other blocks that have not been assigned, and work towards proving the prospects of that region.”
But the Ijaw Youth Council and Urhobo Monitoring and Development Group while reacting to the presidential directive said it was a good initiative but came at a wrong time.
The IYC, an umbrella body for the Ijaw youths worldwide, said that the timing for the directive was wrong because of the prevailing situation in the oil industry at the international market, which made such a venture economically unwise.
A statement signed by the spokesman for the group, Eric Omare, said one would have expected that President Buhari-led government should focus on diversifying the nation’s ailing economy, especially areas where the different regions had comparative advantage over the other.
“Ordinary, the IYC would be excited by not just a Presidential directive to explore for oil in any part of the North but discovery of oil in the North. This is so because we strongly believe that the struggle of the people of the Niger Delta region for equitable distribution of oil money would become a reality once oil is found in the North as well.”
On its part, the National President of the Urhobo Monitoring and Development Group, Kingsley Oberuruaria, posited that while the directive was good, it was a self-serving step to further annihilate the people of the region from benefitting from its God-given natural resources.
Oberuruaria explained that the desire of the President was to cut the region out of the country’s scheme of things once oil production fully came alive in that region while the Niger Delta, which had been feeding the nation, would forever be neglected.
The Niger Delta youth leader posited that such a presidential directive should be put into various ailing industries in the country such as the Delta Steel Company in Aladja, Delta State, which he said was capable of employing hundreds of thousands of unemployed Nigerian youths.
“I’m sure this directive was as a result of the prevailing crisis in the Niger Delta region. President Buhari has been looking for ways to cut off the region instead of being resolute to develop the region which has been neglected by every successive government,” he said.
But two prominent leaders of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Chief Sehinde Arogbofa and Yinka Odumakin, differed on the issue.
Arogbofa, who is the Secretary-General of the association, said it would be part of the way to restructure the country, which the association had been clamouring for.
He said, “There is nothing wrong if they find oil in the North. That is why we are calling for restructuring; if that is his (Buhari) own restructuring agenda, it is okay. We already have oil in the South and if he orders for prospect of oil in the North, there is nothing wrong in that .”
But the group’s spokesman, Odumakin, said it was a wasted effort. He recalled, “Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyde, the Secretary of State for the Colonies in a memorandum on Nigerian Constitutional Conference wrote in 1958: The North fears and dislikes the more educated Southerners and if they were not economically bound to the federation, they would be glad to be quit of it. What he stated has not changed much till date and this may explain the desperate search for oil in the North at a time oil is becoming worthless.”
Also, the President, Campaign for Democracy, Bako Usman, said the President was not getting good advice.
He said, “What is worth doing, they say, is worth doing well. We as a people need to acknowledge the fact that this government needs an effective economic direction. For now, most people around Mr. President on the pay roll of taxpayers money are just but ill Advisers.
The Pan-northern socio-cultural group, Arewa Consultative Forum, said it was not aware of the Presidential pronouncement on oil exploration in the region.
The National Publicity Secretary of the forum, Muhammad Ibrahim, told one of our correspondents in Kaduna on Tuesday that he was not aware of Buhari’s order to the NNPC to prospect for oil in the region.
The Head of Energy Research, Ecobank Capital, Mr. Dolapo Oni, said the move must have been informed by the need to reduce the reliance on the Niger Delta and reduce the country’s vulnerability to attacks in the region.
He said, “But, at a time when we don’t have enough money to run the economy, even though oil servicing charges are a lot lesser now due to the drop in oil prices, it is still not the right time to dedicate a large amount of money to search for oil in the North.
“Ideally, the idea will be a concession and allow companies do whatever they need to do. If we want to do 2D and 3D seismic, we can do it, gather that data and allow oil companies to come and do their own search. But if we are dedicating the NNPC’s scarce resources to going beyond the 2D and 3D, I think it may not be the best of time.”
The Project Director, Uquo Gas Field Development, a joint venture project by Frontier Oil Limited and Seven Energy, Mr. Abdullahi Bukar, described the renewed efforts towards exploring for oil in the Benue Trough and Chad Basin as a very good development.
He said, “I hope that a well-thought-out policy will be put in place because anything that will increase Nigeria’s oil and gas reserves is very welcome.”
The Chief Executive Officer, Cowry Asset Management Limited, Mr. Johnson Chukwu, said the discovery of oil in Niger Republic must have been a major boost for Nigeria to continue to prospect for oil in the Sahel region.
Describing the effort to diversify the nation’s oil and gas production as a good move, he said, “It depends on the level of resources being committed to it. I think it is something the government needs to be very circumspect in committing resources to it. It is very likely that what would be achieved in the Chad Basin will be marginal deposits. So, I don’t think the government is going to be too bullish in terms of the resources it is going to commit to such effort.”
The Director-General, West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, Prof. Akpan Ekpo, said, “There is nothing wrong in getting more oil. But my worry is the dependence on non-renewable resources without adding value to it.”