Thursday, 9 January 2014

Oil and Gas Exploration in the North: Playing with Fire!

Oil and Gas Exploration in the North: Playing with Fire!
On September 12, 2013, while announcing the postponement of an earlier proposed inaugural meeting of the Association of Inland Basin States on Hydro-carbon deposit to discuss oil and gas exploration in northern Nigeria, the chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF), Gov Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, through his spokesman, Danladi Ndayebo, expressed the Forum’s support to the ongoing efforts by the federal government to explore oil in the sedimentary basin of Northern Nigeria. In the past, however, the New Nigerian Development Company (NNDC) had complained that there was little progress in oil exploration in northern Nigeria due to lack of interest by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the multinational oil companies involved in the project. NNDC is owned by the 19 northern states and is involved in the project on behalf of the States.
Earlier this week, there was a meeting in Zamfara State to move the process of oil and gas exploration in the region forward. Of course in the light of events in the past few years in Nigeria, the renewed eagerness to begin such exploration in northern Nigeria is understandable. The Niger-Delta people have minced no words in telling the north that it is a parasite, feeding fat on “the former’s resources” and not wanting to let go. Indeed such aspersions have intensified with deepening contestations in the political arena around the oncoming elections in 2015. Infact the Niger-Deltans tell whoever cares to listen that they feed Nigeria and if things don’t go their way, they will waste no time in teaching her a painful lesson.
It is only natural that many a northerner, like the Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, feels humiliated and so prove to these South-Southerners that “we too have this oil and even more… solid minerals!”  Infact a certain gentleman recently spewed spleen on a local radio in Kaduna after the President announced, on October 1, the take-off of the confab process, which, by the way, many in the north suspect to be a political ploy to intimidate her with secession. He said if anybody wants the country split, then so be it; the north is prepared and will infact be better off. He went on to mention the many resources in the region and make, rather hyperbolically, reference to the immense gold deposits that span from Kontagora to Gusau and most, if not all, parts of Zamfara State.
There is absolutely no problem with a people being irritated at being put down all the time and wanting to rid themselves of the insult; infact it is an honourable thing to do. But for a people to want to build an economic base on natural resources in the 21st century, which is an age of knowledge, is nothing short of a tragedy. It is even more so when one considers the story of Nigeria and oil – the Niger-Delta, particularly – in the last fifty or so odd years. It has been a story of tears and blood. There is nowhere in the global south that petroleum, and any other natural resource for that matter, has been explored and exploited that such activities have not left tears and blood in their trail. They have always served to fuel wars and more wars. The Niger-Delta crisis is direct fallout of such reality; infact Nigeria is extremely lucky that, so far, the situation has not conflagrated beyond what has obtained so far. Even so, given the unfolding of events, with all the undercurrents, and the kind of political class that this country has been afflicted with, only the merciful God will save Nigeria and Nigerians post-2015 elections.
The concept of resource curse is not new to any serious person, so the presumption is that Gov Babangida Aliyu and other northern leaders and nationalists know. We have seen the role that diamond played in the civil wars in Sierra-Leone and Liberia. We have seen the role of gold in the ongoing wars in Central Africa: the DRC, the Central African Republic, Uganda and others. The records are there for everyone to look into on the struggles and travails of South America in the 60s and 70s as a result of the “blessings” of petroleum and other such natural resources. The Middle East is in turmoil today. Do these leaders of Northern Nigeria not also see the “hand” of oil in the orgy?
Clearly, the exploration and exploitation of such resources as petroleum and solid minerals can only be beneficial to a society in the event of the existence of sound institutions and a reasonably enlightened population. That is why it is easy to see how it is only countries like Norway that have been truly blessed by them. If anything that resembles sound institutions exists in Nigeria, then it surely is not in northern Nigeria. Even the famed traditional institution is in trouble, much less the public service and the financial. It is no secret that in most northern states, civil servants go to work very late and close as they go for the Dhuhr prayer. To go into oil and gas or solid mineral exploration under these circumstances is death sentence on the common man. Even with the minimal exploration of gold in Zamfara State as of present, see the number of people dying or maimed as a result of lead poisoning.
Should northern Nigeria not be talking about strategies to grow more productive economies in the region? Should the leaders not be talking about educating the population to be able to be competitive in the 21st century? Should they not be talking about the impact of climate change that is further deepening disaffection, between ethnic groups and communities, which manifests in the widespread killings and counter-killings between herdsmen and settled crop-farming communities? Should they not be talking about how to strengthen institutions so as to support growth, development and investment? Should they not be assiduously talking about how to institute a regime of the justice, equity and the rule of law? If you ask me, I will conclude that, apart from those who probably are unaware of the implications of such endeavours on societies such as ours, many of those clamouring for oil and gas exploration in northern Nigeria are those that have enjoyed easy oil money and Niger-Delta has become stiffer, therefore, they want to continue to enjoy such cheap monies from the resources in the north. The only way out for the north to enthrone hardwork as her economic credo; if not, as they say, “Awoof dey run belle!

(Published on BLUEPRINT Newspaper, Thursday Nov 28, 2013)

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