In 2016 when the Buhari regime made search for oil in the Northern part of Nigeria a priority, Intervention asked selected experts whether Northern Nigeria need oil. In the two-part report that followed those interviews, (Does Northern Nigeria Need Oil? Part 1 & 2), the experts spoke their minds. The announcement of oil find at last yesterday (3 years after) makes republishing the interviews in question important. But here, the first and second parts have been merged without removing anything except use of new graphics. Read on:
Most students of oil or, more broadly, energy security, would stand by the claim that there is no coup, war, subversion, insurrection, grave intrigue, peacekeeping operation or market volatility anytime, anywhere that oil is not at the heart of it. No one needs more than Daniel Yergin’s two books on oil, (The Prize and The Quest) to prove this claim. Although his own subject matter is different, it is still a reflection of this paradigm that we see in James Smith’s 2009 academic paper “World Oil: Market or Mayhem”. The oil industry is completely and permanently about mayhem, whose synonyms range from chaos to anarchy, bedlam, havoc, turmoil, confusion, disorder and pandemonium. No better word captures the oil industry than mayhem.
The world cannot do without oil. There is nothing or no one oil doesn’t touch and in many, many ways. So, everyone and everything is locked into oil: geopolitics, development, politics, business, religion, culture, war, peace, medicine and, in fact, living and dying. But almost everywhere that oil has been found has also experienced conflict and destruction, either of the livelihood of the local people or of the environment; the development of an enclave economy, the neglect of agriculture, intrigues with multinational oil companies and the dangers of the rentier mentality, the precursor of graft. It is such that aloofness from the politics of oil is the beginning of wisdom much as it is as well the greatest act of foolery.
This, it would be argued, is the situation at hand in Nigeria today regarding exploration of oil in the northern part of the country where the Federal Government has stepped up efforts in exploration of oil. The president was reported last week as having literarily ordered the NNPC to ‘go get am’. In the circumstance, a key question popping up is whether it can be any other option?
This is the tough question explored in this special report in which five distinct voices can be heard. The first voice is that of Dr Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, a product of the elite Ecole Des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris and an energy scholar at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria’s Department of Political Science. He also runs the Zaria based Centre for Democratic Development, Research and Training, (CEDDERT). The second voice is that of Barrister Nankin Bagudu, the Executive Director of Jos based League of Human Rights and a sustained voice on the environmental crisis of tin mining around Jos. The third voice is that of Dr Moses Ekpelomo who earned a PhD recently on Nigeria’s energy crisis from the Department of War Studies, King’s College London where he also teaches. The fourth voice is that of Abubakar Sokoto Mohammed, a left activist who, for decades, was a key resource person with the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Jos while the last is the voice of a technocrat, politician and peace advocate, Engineer Mohammed Abba Gana, former Minister for the Federal Capital Territory in Obasanjo’s first term. Each was aware that there are four others participating in the interview which were conducted separately between July 28th and 30th, 2016. Please, note that the interview is not being produced in the sequence in which it was conducted. That is impracticable with technology and the transcribing process. Although there is a consensus among the respondents that Nigeria needs more oil wealth, the respondents offered a kaleidoscope of views, points of departure, caution, emphasis and alternatives policy planks.
Dr Abubakar Siddique Mohammed
You are aware of a long concern with discovering oil in the northern part of the country. Do you think oil is the way, everything related to oil considered?
I am aware of the concern. It is justified given what is happening in the Niger Delta. But human beings have the capacity or the ability to learn from their mistakes. Oil, diamond, gold and other mineral resources have been the sources of problems in many parts of the world, especially in developing countries. But it is not given that it will always be the case. The north needs everything, including oil. It depends on the leadership. Yes, we cannot ignore what happened yesterday but it is not pre-determined that we will repeat the same errors. It would be good for Nigeria because, now, a part feels it produces oil and that they should have disproportionate share. They advance the erroneous argument that the North brings nothing to the table. A discovery of oil in the North may shift us away from the bickering over this. We can then address national development seriously, more than we have been doing. In any case, it brings more revenue to the Federal Government.
That’s the fear in some quarters that the answer to a naughty problem is being sought in no less a problematic answer
The apprehension is justified because of our experience but we have to unlock our potentials. If the oil is found, the fears can be addressed, if care is taken to address the problems associated with oil exploration and exploitation. And this should not be only oil. If you have a dam in a village, it should not make sense to leave those villagers without electricity and supply the same stuff to some people several hundred kilometres away. The people in the village should benefit from the dam. This was the error in the Niger Delta. But the people in the Niger Delta should also recognize and take on board the current efforts to remedy the situation. It is an admission that such errors occurred.
Oil is always about tension between the local, national and the international and that is another area people draw attention to
It will always be there if the right things are not done. Why is there no tension or conflict in Norway or even in the North Sea? We can learn from them, not hook, line and sinker of course but it doesn’t mean we cannot pick certain things they did to avoid these problems. There are intellectuals here capable of telling or advising the government how to avoid the problems we had in the Niger Delta. The problems with oil exploitation are the same problems with mining minerals. May be the magnitude may differ. We have the capacity to learn from our mistakes. We cannot leave it just because people think there will be problems.
Do you think of distinct things that must be done as safeguards this time if oil happens?
Get into agreements with multinational companies, insist on international best practices, strengthen regulatory agencies and move on. Of course, you cannot ignore the communities, the environment. The kind of technology you bring should be such that people or vandals are not able break pipelines easily. Oil exploration is capital intensive. You put in place regimes for use of by products. Now, we are stuck in the mining aspect. We didn’t go far. If we had followed the national development plans, we would have by now developed our petrochemical industries and boost employment. We didn’t follow it through. We do not even have enough gas in the domestic economy. We do not refine enough petrol too. Those things have to be addressed.
You do not seem to think of a core drawback in the very nature, the anti-developmental nature of the ruling elite in Nigeria
Nothing is static about Nigeria. There are differences between different layers of the elite. Some of the governors are good. If you compare the performance of the governor of Kaduna with that of the governor of Zamfara, the difference is clear. In Zamfara, there is no leadership.
We wish we do not do not incur the wrath of any particular governor
But it is a fact. How can you compare El Rufa’i with the one who says he can run his state from anywhere? There is no leadership in Zamfara. The governor of Kaduna has one of the best programmes in terms of revamping education and water supply. Zaria started having problem of water supply in the 70s. Now, they are doing something about that. By the time they finish, that is when most people born after 1972 in this town would be seeing water supplied to their houses directly through pipes. The situation today is that many people in the city buy water from mai ruwa, (itinerant water vendors). And the government is dealing with many problems like that.
You imply that single example to mean a change in the constitution of the elite?
You want to tell me that there is no difference between your former boss and Saminu Turaki? I was in Jigawa for Sule Lamido’s inauguration. After sometime, I went back because Professor Haruna Wakili, the Commissioner for Education invited me. And Jigawa was totally different. Go to Dutse, it used to be a horrible village. Is there no world of difference between Lamido and Turaki? Lamido had the sense to establish a university. It is up to those who came after him to improve it. If you leave Jigawa and you go to Gombe, you cannot deny that some efforts were equally made there. You see signs
I do not deny what you are saying. I was witness to some of them but I am concerned with an elite with constitutive interest, with an instrumentalist view of oil revenue
Some oil producing countries did not allow oil revenue to distort their national budget. It is not like Nigeria where oil revenue enters the Federation Account directly and we share it. But our situation is not hopeless. You only have to look at history. When Tai Solarin went to India, he said something like “I saw valley on their faces”, an expression by which he meant how shrunk people were. That is a sign of poverty, of hunger, of malnutrition. India was very poor, hopeless. Go and read articles on India. Not too long ago too, a West European minister of foreign affairs was describing Russia as the Upper Volta of Europe but Upper Volta with nuclear weapons. Can anybody say that of Russia today with Putin? He has brought back the state. Ghana was hopeless too but it came out of it. I am sure we will come out of it.
Any last comments on the topic?
I do not see anything wrong with exploring for oil in the north. If it is found, fine. In fact, some of the explorations hit water. And I would say the people of Borno, for example, need clean water.
Barrister Nankin Bagudu
What is your thought on the intensified search for oil in the north when you consider all the problems oil brings along with its benefits?
Within the context of increased revenue to the government and the derivation it gives to the affected states, I think it is good. Lagos will start exporting next month and it will surely derive benefits that far outweigh the dangers. States that will be affected should learn from past mistakes.
Do you have any specific cautions in terms of lesson learning?
The lessons of the mess in the Niger Delta should be the starting point. Land degradation is a key area to warn against. We must now be able to select technology that enables us to avoid past complications. Lagos is off –shore but it appears lessons have been learnt. I think there has been some training for the youths ahead of the Lagos plan.
Does the dynamism of oil as a commodity worry you?
That shouldn’t stop us from exploration because oil prices are never stable. It is always a subject of demand and supply in its own unique way. Oil will still play a role.
Some people worry about discovering more oil wealth when they look at how Nigeria has spent her oil wealth. What is your take on that?
There are other places that didn’t spend like Nigeria. Norway and places like Dubai are different examples. It is only a stupid person who will not learn from the past.
Your NGO has been vocal on environmental impact of past mining around Jos. Any links you draw between the past and the possible future?
I was in The Netherland in 1995 and I was shocked that the environmental degradation we experience because of oil exploration here is not part of the problems there. It is a very clean outcome. With new technology, we can mitigate the environmental impact.
What general comment have you got on whether the north needs oil or not?
The government should pursue the exploration but the right lessons should not be forgotten. I want to assume now that no government in Nigeria will repeat the approach in the Niger Delta. That is my view.
Dr Moses Ekpolomo
You studied the Nigerian energy scenario academically, you must be aware of efforts to find oil in the northern parts of Nigeria. Everything considered regarding the problems and benefits of oil, what is your thought about that?
This is not peculiar to Nigeria. In any economy, if you want to explore natural resources, you have three things to consider. You have to find
out if it is profitable. That is the cost – benefit analysis. Second is the global context of it. You need to ask what the situation would be in 30, 40 years from now and there is the third point. That concerns whether it is going to be detrimental to the local people, the environment and the alternatives. By alternatives, we are referring to alternatives to oil, agriculture in particular. I would say that the way you answer these questions will determine your next step.
How do these relate to looking for oil in northern Nigeria now?
I don’t know. It’s both frightening and interesting. There is a general statement to be made that the way oil is going now, the future for it is bleak unless something drastic happens. By 2030, worldwide demand for oil would have declined seriously. Oil prices have crashed. That is one. Two, the United States which imports most of the oil has simply moved from a net importer to a net exporter. The US has 770 million barrels strategic petroleum reserve. That leaves you with China and India. But China has just completed her strategic reserve, totally filled up, a billion barrels. India, the next big consumer will complete her own strategic reserve in 2020. After that, oil will begin to have real problems. Saudi Arabia which is the other bigger player is watching this closely. It has billions, it is trying to diversify but its attempt to diversify is not succeeding because it needs to have bred the skills that will propel and sustain the diversification. So, for us in Nigeria, the lesson there is to first build our capacity. Do something about the quality of education quick or your rhetoric about diversification will come to nothing.
You began by providing for the possibility of something dramatic happening. And such is the second nature of the world oil market. That is not coming up in your analysis
That’s right but we must still begin from what is on the ground. These are what we have now and that is where Nigeria’s projections must look. What happens tomorrow is a different stuff. You are right but we must still be careful. You are right in that ten years ago, China was consuming 50 per cent of the coal produced around the world. Today, it is closing all the coal mines because of pollution. So, those who planned on the basis of that data ten years ago might have to re-plan now. But the point about oil is the steady manner of the decline. Under Obasanjo regime, the US was buying a million barrel daily from Nigeria. Today, it is zero. The US is buying nothing from the entire West Africa. It only buys 150, 000 barrels of Angolan oil because that crude can be blended with Texas’ crude, unlike the Nigerian light crude.
The point to take away here is that the global market is unpredictable. What other point needs to be considered when thinking about finding more oil sites in Nigeria?
We are talking about the north, not any other part of Nigeria because when it concerns the north, the issue of the economic production margin comes in. It would not come in if you are talking of the coastal states. You need pipelines to export. The cost of building pipelines will make it unprofitable. If you are talking of say 1500 miles or kilometres, that goes into additional $5 to the cost of blending and maintaining pipelines. So, even if they find oil, there is the economics of it. That is what happened to Chad in 2002. So, they had to go through Cameroun to the seaside, a port city near Doula. It means that Chad gets only 40% of its oil exploration because 50% goes to Exxon Mobil and the World Bank which built the export pipeline. And Chad pays Cameroun 10% transit fee. This scenario is almost applicable to oil in northern Nigeria.
Your argument is that the economics of it is not too good. What of the industry point of view should the oil be found?
If it is found, I think they should drill it and create a domestic market or a West African market. The United States has lifted ban on oil export. They can afford to do that now. They now produce 10. 5 million barrels daily. It means almost all the ECOWAS countries would be importing from the US and the United Arab Emirate. If Nigeria can build the capacity to saturate that market, that would be it. if Nigeria is looking in that direction, then it has to do two things quickly. One, it has to build refineries that can refine both imported and domestic crude. That requires hybrid refinery system that can refine heavy and light crude simultaneously. If they find oil in the north without building this type of refineries, they Nigeria will be forced to do crude swap. Not too bad but why can Nigeria not build such refineries quickly if it finds oil?
The main reason people love but also fear oil is what happens to the environment. What is your main fear if we are talking about oil in the north?
In the north, oil exploration means that you need to find access to water somewhere. Gaddafi solved that problem by building 33 centimetre pipes that brought water from the Mediterranean. If the geology is not right, you can poison the water table of the particular area you are drilling. So, you need environmental risk assessment. Finally, if you divert water for agriculture to oil field, that’s a problem there.
I know I have overshot our appointment. Any general comments on this before we close up?
Well, the oil industry is quite complex. There is need to think through. There is need to look at the future, to look beyond the domestic and to consider diversifying to agriculture, tourism and industrialisation because industrialisation comes from agriculture. The key principle is when the energy required to extract a low grade or geographically adverse oil is equal to or greater than energy that would be provided by that new barrel of oil, there is always a logical problem in deciding to expand the energy to extract the oil. In such a scenario, the energy return on energy invested, we abbreviate it to EROEI, for that oil field becomes an energy sink and the oil will simply remain in the ground. For example, oil wells in deep water currently achieve an EROEI of less than 5%. Oil removed from the tar sands as found in Canada have a very low EROEI along with a slow extraction process. It is for that reason that drilling for oil in northern Nigeria has to be thought through carefully.
However you look at it, national interest is the most important consideration. The shale bonanza has dragged the US out of her position of weakness and now leaves it at the top of the world’s energy league tables. It is a product of decision based on national interest. This is not just the world’s biggest consumer of oil and gas but its biggest producer of both. Since Congress lifted the oil export ban in April 2016, Americans, our biggest buyer is now the highest producer and exporter of oil and LNG and has already started selling crude oil beyond the Americas as early as 2016. Shale drilling has hardly made a dent yet outside North America but North American’s shale-derived energy is about to go global. The global oil glut has many margins, including slower economic growth in China, but the light tight oil gushing out of American shales have been the dominant supply-side factor. US production growth since 2011 has more than compensated for production outages in the Middle East. West Africa’s light oil has been squeezed out of Canada and the US northeast. America oil imports were just 6.5mn b/d in May 2016. The fall in OPEC’s sales to the US has been spectacular—and a key reason why Saudi Arabia has set off on a strategy to reclaim market share. So, national interest is still the last word here. You get?
Engineer Mohammed Abba Gana
Efforts directed at finding oil in the northern part have been intensified. It sends good signals but oil is a complicated commodity. If you were asked whether the north needs oil, what would be your reply?
Our belief is that there must be oil in the Benue through, the Chad Basin, Bida and Sokoto areas. What has been the problem are the multinational oil companies. They look at it like, if you strike oil in any of these places, the logistics for exporting the oil has a higher overhead than off-shore oil in the Niger Delta or anywhere from Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ondo, Lagos. So, for them, the question is, how do you handle oil in the north. But that is their perspective. Now, from the perspective of national interest, we need to develop oil in the inland basins because, sooner or later, the available resources in the off-shore would be too expensive. The thing is if you strike oil in any of these places, you can have refineries in those areas and they are very secure. There is oil and gas in the Chad Basin and you can have independent power plants in any of these four possible places because natural gas is cheap and clean. There are by-products of oil to consider also. Actually, the country could decide to be exporting oil from the Niger Delta while developing oil from the inland basins for the domestic market. Nigeria is a quarter of Africa. The domestic market is so large that it can absorb all the oil and oil products in the north.
The time exploration is being intensified is also the time to anticipate the plausible crisis points. What safeguards are you thinking of?
It is a lot easier to police the north than the Niger Delta because of the terrain. So, the threats of militancy from the Niger Delta are not automatic with oil find in the north. But what we may fear is the threat from the attitude of the elite. This is the reason why anybody after Buhari would have to continue sanitising the Nigerian system and our reckless attitude to governance. The Nigerian situation is a classic elite failure and bastardisation of governance. South Africa is generating 50, 000 megawatts of electricity, Nigeria is talking of 4000 elegance. States such as Egypt, Algeria, Kenya and South Africa are doing better on most issues than Nigeria. It is their elite, using the instrument of the state to develop. In France, electricity is state owned. The same with India, China, Russia. The industrialization of Russia was started by Lenin. The slogan was ‘electrify everywhere’. The elite in Nigeria lack this sense. There is no leadership and you know, wherever things work, it is good leadership. Where otherwise, it is leadership.
So, is lack of leadership why oil or no oil in the northern areas has been a ding dong affair?
Leadership is an issue there but there are other dimensions too. When I was Commissioner for Works and Housing in former Borno State, now Borno and Yobe states, the NNPC started the exploration. We built the road, about 60 kilometers, from Maiduguri to Gajiram for them. Gajiram was the first well. They called it Tuma in Kanuri, (translates to Hope in English). The original road could not take their rigs. That was around 1981. The Chief Geologist of the NNPC, one Jubrin from present day Nasarawa State, usually came to Maiduguri. After sometime, he mysteriously died. It is one of the reasons why you hear people say that oil exploration in the north was always sabotaged or resisted. There is that belief in the north that exploration efforts have always been downplayed by some critical staff in the NNPC.
But persons of northern extraction have dominated the political leadership of the country
Yes but I said some critical staff of NNPC. Critical staff can get away with anything. That is why they are called critical staff. Oil deposit has been proved geologically in Chad, Cameroun and Niger Republic where there is sincerity of purpose. The Chinese found it for them. Given that there is oil now in those three countries, why shouldn’t Nigeria’s own have been found for over three decades if not for official negligence? There is belief that some interest group within the oil and gas sector is resistant and is powerful enough.
What is the thing to do now then that the NNPC has woken up and everyone is interested?
Because of the logistics, make the oil deposit in the south exclusively for export and the north for domestic consumption as a matter of government policy.
What would be the implications and benefits of doing this?
There will be security and reliability of supply. Right now, the nation is always blackmailed by multinational oil companies and internal dissent.
What happens to the local communities, the environment and agriculture?
Now, there is a learning curve. What happened in Ogoni has to do with the nature of the environment too. Now, there is also new technology that would mitigate the impact of mining oil. It would help agriculture. Fertiliser plants will be facilitated and it will help agriculture and create multiplier effects which will devolve into employment too. Agriculture and agricultural production to achieve food security is not antagonistic of energy security. They are mutually supportive. The US can feed half of the world, still it is the champion of oil exploration. India, China, they all have huge populations and they feed them. 75% of the landmass of Nigeria is in the north. So, this region has a comparative advantage in agriculture and beefing that up with energy security makes the country stronger as a whole.
What about the market dynamics if Nigeria has more oil?
Nigeria has advantages in supplying Africa if only we organise ourselves properly. We can give more attractive terms to our African brothers and sisters. ECOWAS can rely on Nigeria.
You have expressed reservations about the elite. That seems to be the greatest fear for more oil wealth in Nigeria. There is a strong belief that the Nigerian elite is not even aware of itself.
The leadership is there in the number of educated bankers, doctors, engineers, space and nuclear scientists, agriculturalists. That layer of leadership is there. What we have lacked is the political leadership. What we should insist upon is getting the right political leadership. All along, we never bothered to look for them. The challenge is to look for them.
It is a question of the political parties holding a conference to adopt a template. The Arewa Consultative Forum produced one such template when Sunday Awoniyi and Hammed Ali were at the helms.
Who will lead the process?
The president can lead it but it is really for all the parties to adopt a template. APC, the ruling party; PDP, the former ruling party; APGA, labour party. They will all be there. Once they adopt it, that is it. before now, the leadership recruitment process was a serious business. In 1978, we had quality leaders. The governors were good materials whether in NPN or PRP or UPN or GNNP. There was Tatari Ali, a former Permanent Secretary; Adamu Attah in Kwara; Aper Aku in Benue, a seasoned administrator; Ambrose Alli, a professor of medicine; Lateef Jakande, tried and tested, Abubakar Rimi, Balarabe Musa, fire eaters all, Melford Okilo in Rivers, Michael Ajasin who taught nearly all Yoruba elite in Yorubaland. These were all people with clear background. Whether PRP, GNPP, NPN, NPP or UPN, they went for the best materials available. They were not traders or business people whom if you gave the key of the treasury, will use it in the night.
What general comments have you to make on the issue in question?
In northern Nigeria, we need oil because we need resources to develop infrastructure, develop social services and we need resources to do all these. But Nigeria has become a victim of its elite, of the attitude of the elite towards business, towards politics, towards governance and towards leadership. We need a major attitudinal change. Most of these other countries have done better. They have direction, we don’t; they produce, we don’t. Things like water supply, electricity, we couldn’t manage it. It is a shame. Our elite have not led well, both in public and private sector. We have seen failed banks phenomenon under Abacha, we see insider trading. So, in relation to the possibility of finding new oil wealth, this must change. There must be a shift in elite attitude. Nigeria as a matter of official policy must start making or manufacturing all our needs as much as possible. If we keep importing, then we will never solve our problems.
Dr Abubakar Sokoto Mohammed
You must be aware of the history of determined efforts, including President Buhari’s reported marching orders to the national oil company to step up such efforts as to whether oil exist in the northern part of this country. Based on the history of oil, is this the way for the north to go?
It is not a question of looking at the negative side or the resource curse, how oil is a curse on development and so on. We can look at the positive side. The issue is not turning our back on oil but managing it properly because you need capital to invest in all the other areas of the economy: education, health, infrastructure and industries. Where would the capital come from? Oil could be one. So, the point is yes, there are places where oil has brought disaster but that is because mistakes were made. Here in Nigeria, it is because we collect the revenue or rent from oil and share it without investing it in capital development projects. But there are other places that did not do it like that. If we take Malaysia as our model, they also have oil but they did not solely depend on it to the detriment of rubber and palm oil processing, mining, manufacturing, electronics and services. Instead, their national oil company, PETRONAS, even goes outside their country to prospect for oil. It is a question of foresight and prudent management. Economically, Algeria has done well with its oil wealth. They have constructed heavy industries such as cement, petrochemicals, gas, electrical and food processing. They have also built infrastructure such as roads, power and houses of very high quality comparable to European standards. The comparison between Nigeria and Brazil in industrialization is legendary. Of course Brazil has applied its oil wealth in strategic areas intelligently without neglecting other important sectors of the economy. Here, things are changing. NGOs were not there before, or the social media to put pressure on the political system to uphold the public interest. We should be forward looking and not backwards.
Do we have a ruling elite that can supervise oil wealth?
You can see some islands here and there. Lagos was substantially changed from the dirty, smelly place we knew it. There have been some shifts to develop Lagos into a megapolis with modern infrastructure. The Governor in Kaduna State, Mal. Nasiru El-Rufa’i is there trying to replicate his success story from his tenure as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. There are some people that can be focussed. During the commissioning of the Abuja-Kaduna rail project, El-Rufa’i indicated that Kaduna State is negotiating with the Chinese to build a City Rail for Kaduna. These things are overdue because no matter how you widen the roads, there are more and more cars. So, all our major cities; Abuja, Kano, Ibadan, Port Harcourt and so on should have had city railways by now. They are cheaper and more efficient in mass transportation. For instance the economy fare on the new rail from Abuja to Kaduna is 500 Naira whereas the fare by road is N1,500. The speed on the railway will also be faster. Other states in the country such as Gombe, Akwa Ibom, Edo and Katsina have achieved quite a lot of appreciable development with the correct leadership.
Do you think of any specific safeguards that can guarantee that oil will be a blessing in this case?
The point is that we should be optimistic and forward-looking. If the anti-corruption war is successfully executed and sustained, then we should have enlightened leadership that can bargain for us. It should be a win-win arrangement whereby the profits gained by the states and the oil companies should be invested in strategic sectors of the economy especially human resource development, infrastructure and heavy industries. It can be specified that if you are going to build a housing estate, a hospital, a university, it should be of a very high quality in standard. These should be part of the agreements to be negotiated even before the exploitation of the oil and gas resources in the north. That way, you are not repeating the mistake of the past whereby the oil wealth was mismanaged, stolen and squandered.
What do you see happening to federalism in the event of oil find in the northern part of Nigeria?
Northern Nigeria has always been involved in nation building. Oil in northern Nigeria would be an asset to Africa, not just to all of us in Nigeria. So, the secession of the north from Nigeria because of the discovery of oil is out of the question to any intelligent and informed leadership. The north would still need access to the sea and a market. On the other hand, the south would still need the agricultural produce and market of the north. So, I would not connect oil find to a demand for restructuring. The north would get a larger revenue with the principle of derivation, which the oil producing states have been receiving, and the Federation would get increased income from the exploitation of oil, gas and mineral resources from the North. It will be a winning formula for a greater Nigeria rather than balkanizing the African giant.
That’s not where my mind was going. Rather, I was looking at the belief that oil find in the north might strengthen federalism. Are you of the same view?
Well, the availability of oil in the north will make the north to be no longer seen as the parasite of the nation. Instead, the other side will also benefit because all earned revenue goes to the Federal Government. The Federal Government will get more money. It will reduce the tension although the tension as it is now is more of bad politics than anything serious. There is nowhere in the south where you do not find northerners trading in agricultural produce and livestock. It has dawned on the south that the north is contributing its quota in food security and industrial raw materials. The astronomical rise of the prices of foodstuff during the June 12 debacle made this evident to the south especially, Lagos. The prices of beef, tomatoes, onions went up astronomically when it was no longer safe for trucks to go down south. It was that instance that explains today why some of the states in the north are thinking of cargo airports. With cargo airports, stuff such as fresh carrots, cabbage, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, onions, yams and the likes from Sokoto, Kano, Makurdi, Jos, etc. can be taken straight to Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar and so on as well as other West African destinations. While I was in NIPSS, we undertook Study Tours of African countries. In places such as Sierra Leone or Senegal, you find that they import much of their Irish Potatoes, eggs, chickens and onions from Europe. Meanwhile, the vegetables that we have here in Nigeria are considered to be amazing in quantity and quality. The Israelis observed that the onions from Nigeria are among the best in the world. As agricultural experts their opinion should be respected. These things are much around Sokoto, Kano and many of the northern states. Onions can be exported in powder form after processing in order to prevent wastages. So, we should not to be thinking of Nigeria alone, we should extend to the West African sub-region. When you consider the prospects, you begin to wonder why there is no railway from Kano to Dakar, Lagos to Abidjan. Similarly there should be regular passenger and cargo shipping lines between Lagos and Dakar with stopover at other important ports in between. We are talking of free movement of people and goods in ECOWAS but we are not providing the means of movement. Because of privatisation and mismanagement, most of the national airlines have collapsed. Meanwhile, the international airlines link Africa to Europe only. So, there are gaps to be filled if we want to promote African integration. These are the areas we need to address because it is Nigerians that move most in the region. Without the few private Nigerian Airlines which connect cities in West Africa and beyond, you can see such movement won’t be possible. But the region needs the movement. Look at the impact it produced in Sierra Leone, for example, where the staple food was rice. They will even tell you that any day without rice, something is amiss. It was our soldiers, during the ECOMOG Mission, who introduced gari, beans and yams there. That being so, we should have had a shipping line to export such commodities to the sub-region and beyond.
Actually, the origin of this story was a discussion where one of the positions is the belief that oil would finally destroy the north because oil would kill the region’s badly managed agricultural advantage.
That’s a point. Every day here in Sokoto, truck loads of onions, beans, cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and now even camels go to the south. Sometimes, the trucks breakdown on the road and they have to throw away the stuff. Apart from our oil and gas, agriculture is Nigeria’s prowess and it is done mostly in the north. But, as I said earlier, if we take Malaysia as our model, even if oil is discovered in the north, it shouldn’t be allowed to kill other strategic sectors of the economy.
But you have to then think of the earlier question I asked, the very core of our elite
That is right. Apart from Abuja, there is nothing positive that we have done with our oil wealth. Yes, we have built universities, hospitals, airports, and all that but of what quality? Are they distinctive and globally competitive? Do you have electricity, internet and efficient transportation? We should search for a new elite that is patriotic, public-spirited, intelligent and well informed to take up leadership and confront the World.
Do you have a central comment or message on this little debate?
If they find oil in the north, priority should be given to popular interests which will serve the majority of the population: education, health, power, water, transport, etc. With the last election, people have become much, much wiser. People will not sit by and allow their resources to be squandered by anybody because money that should have been used for serious investment has been stolen. Apart from the people themselves, the media has become more interactive. Most of the people are more enlightened than some of the leaders. So, making it an all stakeholder rather than just a government or exclusive domain of international oil companies will checkmate the fears of the oil curse. The whole society must be carried along. An estate of 500 houses belonging to just one individual is not development. Where the government builds such estates and sells or allocates them to the public as in Sokoto and other states, this will improve the quality of life of the citizens. And I believe the north should be conscious of its backwardness. If you see the JAMB results and statistics of application into universities, the northern states are doing very poorly. All the okada riders, porters and beggars in the South are from the north. These are people who should be in school. Some states in the north have been sending students abroad but it is a blind policy. In one of the states, they even sent students to train as pilots. Many are back but there is no system for them to fly. So, they are being deployed to teach. It was a huge wastage. The resources should have been used to improve on the educational institutions in the state. We are not organised.