A new move by the Muhammadu Buhari administration to explore oil and gas opportunities in Bauchi and Gombe communities, throws up fresh debate on the long search for oil in the North, Kayode Fasua reports
The search for oil in the northern part of the country has been as frenetic as it is relentless. Assuredly, oil is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy and in fact, accounts for about 70 percent of Nigeria's foreign income. But states that have been producing this economic mainstay are down south, principally from the Niger Delta region, and peripherally from the eastern and south western parts of the southern divide.
The north, which is esteemed as the largest part of the country in terms of landmass and population, is seen, in terms of economic contributions to the nation's federation accounts, as being as lagging in producing resources to generate enough foreign earning in that quantum.
Though the north is reputed for its agricultural revolution in terms of food production, the volume of export value from oil revenue appears intimidating enough to warrant the search for this modern goldmine in the north.
Besides, the activities of militants from the Niger Delta region, through series of agitations and attacks sometimes on petroleum pipelines, have given enough occasion for soul-searching, in the North.
Though underground research had reportedly gone into the quest for oil discovery in the northern territory in the last one decade, a July 2017 tragedy brought such efforts to the public glare.
Then, members of the Boko Haram terrorist group who had lain in ambush in Barno Yasu, a community in Borno State, launched a deadly attack on a research team of dons largely drawn from the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) and other experts from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). They in the process, killed nine soldiers and one civilian, and also abducted some of the lecturers who were reputed to be tested geologists.
The slain soldiers were providing escort for the team on oil search.
But unfazed by the tragic denouement of the exploration effort, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri, Prof. Ibrahim Njodi, then vowed that despite the Boko Haram attack, the search for oil would continue in the Lake Chad basin.
Njodi made the commitment pledge when a delegation of the NNPC and the Ministry of Petroleum visited him in Maiduguri. The delegation was led by Engr. Saidu Mohammed, Chief Operating Officer in charge of gas and power unit of the Corporation at the period. .
Njodo, had told the delegation that though the entire University community was distraught by the cruel incident, he said the University "cannot chicken out" from doing what it was supposed to do.
Recalling the University's partnership with the NNPC in the quest to find oil in the North to over 12 years ago, the VC described the cruel attack on the Frontier Exploration Services/Surface Geochemistry Sampling team comprising the NNPC, consultants from University of Maiduguri, Consultants attached to the Integrated Data Services Limited, (IDSL) a subsidiary of the NNPC, and Civilian escort team, as an act of God.
He demurred that the situation, as painful as it might appear, must be seen as a necessary sacrifice for the development of the country.
Njodo's optimism of two years ago, however, paid off last week when President Muhammadu Buhari, on tour of Gombe and Bauchi to unveil oil exploration site in the states' border town of Barambu, directed the NNPC to extend exploration to six basins in the country
Buhari gave the marching order at the inauguration of oil drilling at the Kolmani River-II well, located at Barambu, a border village between Gombe and Bauchi States.
The president said the spud-in of Kolmani River-II well, part of the Gongola Basin, Upper Benue Trough was part of his Next Level agenda to make Nigeria an industrial economy.
"Today's event is not only a reflection of our success story but a landmark of promise kept to the Nigerian people.
"Our next level is to ensure exploration effort in all our frontier Basins of Lake Chad, Gongola, Anambra, Sokoto, Dahomey, and Bida Basins, as well as Benue Trough; to usher in more prospects for Nigeria," he charged.
Buhari who was accompanied by Governors Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe and his Bauchi counterpart, Mohammed Abubakar, observed that oil and gas remained critical parts of the country's economy and as such, government must continue to show commitment to their sustainability.
This, he said, necessitated his drive for the search of oil in different parts of the country on assumption of office in 2015 after his dream of achieving the feat in 1984/85 when he first came as military Head of State was aborted by the brevity of his rule.
Hydro-carbon research in the Chad Basin started under Buhari as Federal Commissioner of Petroleum in 1976, and when he became Head of State in 1984, the exploration continued, resulting in the drilling of 22 wells, two of which are gas shores.
Since then, NNPC has acquired 2000 square meters of 3D seismic data in the Chad Basin before the unfortunate incidence of 2017 which led to the suspension of all activities in the Chad Basin.
"I pay tribute to the university researchers who lost their lives to the regrettable incident. I commend the security personnel who continue to make sacrifice for the conduct of exploration throughout the country, he added.
The president, however, said activities would soon return to the Chad Basin but tasked the NNPC to ensure that the ongoing exploration come in commercial quantity.
Group Managing Director (GMD) of NNPC, Mikanti Baru, in his response, said the corporation was working to achieve the presidential mandate on the inland basin.
"Today's epic ceremony represents our commitment to achieving this government's objectives of increasing the nation's hydro-carbon reserve base.
"In 1993, the federal government awarded blocks of the Gongola basin to three International Oil Companies (IOCs)- Shell, Chevron and Total; and the companies acquired seismic data and drilled one well each.
"One of the wells drilled was the Kolmani River-1 that was terminated at 8,000 feet only, and recorded 33million standard cubic of gas resources but was termed non-commercial.
"The IOCs, therefore, suspended operation and relinquished the blocks in line with their contractual obligation in year 2000," Baru informed
He noted that the drilling of the Kolmani River-II well became realistic after NNPC acquired 3D data over the Kolmani River Basin area that saw the identification of six prospects.
Indication that the northern and southern parts of the country are locked in economic rivalry anchored on searches for oil discovery was particularly pronounced in 2016 when a body known as New Nigeria Development Company (NNDC) said that it had made tremendous progress in oil exploration in the Northestern states of Gombe and Bauchi.That commission took the semblance of the Niger Delta Development Commission (also NDDC) set up for the infrastructural development of oil-producing states in the South-South, Imo from the South-East and Ondo from the South-West
The chairman of the commission, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, had said since his commission was given the charge to explore oil from "other parts of the country", especially the North, there had been tremendous progress.
Justifying why government would continue to spend resources on oil exploration searches in the North and other parts of the country where found necessary, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr, Ibe Kachikwu, had recently stated, "We have an obligation as a nation to continue to ensure that we follow through any part of the country with visible sign of oil at all.
"This does not stop the fact that massive exploration activities will continue in oil producing areas.
"We discover oil every day and we explore it and if we calculate the overall oil revenue projection for 2018, it is almost 60 per cent. so we need to expand the frontiers of oil anywhere we find it in the country."
But at a seminar on the cheering news of oil discovery in Chad, a petroleum expert, Senator Victor Oyofo, said that while government could still be interested in hydrocarbon exploration in Northern Nigeria, high temperature is proving an Achilles' heel to oil search activities on the Nigerian side of the Chad Basin.
He thus called for caution, to avert a waste of public resources.
Another expert, Dr, Mufutau Adebowale, while speaking with THISDAY, said the ongoing oil exploration may turn out to be another wasteful exercise if, "the big fats in the NNPC are not controlled."
According to him, what the country needs now is the repair of damaged refineries in the country and putting them to work.
"This should first of all be accomplished before any wild goose chase for oil," he demanded.