Secretary General of the Association of Petroleum Inland Basin States of the North (APIBON), Engr. Yusuf Yabagi Sani, in this interview says the federal government and the National Assembly should probe what happened to the N19bn budgeted in 2015 for oil exploration activities in the basins. Excerpts:
What is the idea behind the formation of APIBON?
Oil has been the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy and this is not by accident. If you look at what geologists normally call paleogeography of each continent, you will find that when you look at the Bida Basin to Sokoto Basin, about 75 million years ago the sea passed through these places to the North. Equally when you look at the Benue Basin to Chad, that one was even earlier, about a hundred million years ago.
The issue of deposit of oil and gas is not restricted to only the Niger Delta, it happened that more effort was concentrated on the Niger Delta. If you look at the history of even the economics of how it happened, most of the resources used were from the cash crops that we were exporting at that time and in the 60s, the North was the largest revenue earner for this country. You can see that it was the resources that were used to develop the Niger Delta, which has become a success story. We feel that because of the makeup of this country and the ballooning population we have, it will be wise for the federal government to expand the frontiers of exploration for oil and gas. When you look at it, it has so many advantages. One, it will introduce some kind of stability in the polity of the country in the sense that nobody will be looked down upon as a beggar, everybody will be contributing appreciably.
That is why the governors from the North were invited to assist the federal government, which has the mandate by the constitution, to explore oil mineral deposits, to boost the effort from this side of the country.
For us to pursue this economic interest, we need to come together as an association. The basins we have in this country are not just the Niger Delta; Niger Delta happens to be one, the remaining seven unfortunately have not received the kind of attention the Niger Delta has received and these seven are mostly in the North. You have the Benue Trough, Bida Basin, Sokoto Basin, Lake Chad, Dahomey and Anambra basins.
Basically the idea behind it is the need to fast track the economic development of this country through our own God-given resources which all we needed to do is develop it. The moment you start prospecting for oil here and it becomes a reality, other industries will spring up and that will have a very strong impact on the wealth of the nation and the development of the areas where these things are found.
The federal government has earmarked N39.8bn for frontier exploration services in the 2016 budget as against N19bn budgeted in 2015. Is this a sign of commitment and the political will that has been lacking over the years in the quest to hit oil at the basins?
It is encouraging but we believe this is just a drop in the ocean. It is not enough; it is far below what is required to seriously begin exploration activities in these basins. Because oil is a highly capital intensive venture but the returns justify whatever risk you took before hitting the oil. I believe the political environment is favourable to our project.
Even the little that they were budgeting before, had they actually used it to develop the frontier basins, we would have been making some little progress but even the N19bn budgeted in 2015 was not used for that purpose. It was diverted and that is why we are calling on the National Assembly and the federal government to probe what happened to that N19bn – what did they do with it, where was it spent? Government should not only stop at making more allocations but must see where they are taking these monies to, what they are doing with it and let there be results that will match what has been budgeted even as small as it is.
Oil price has dropped to record low forcing companies and oil producing nations to scale down investment in exploration activities. The oil market itself is oversupplied, are there not more pressing issues for Nigeria than intensifying the search for oil in Lake Chad?
Oil has a lot to do with politics. It is the geopolitics that is really affecting the price of oil more than any other thing. The commodity is a political commodity, more of politics than anything. Put that aside, as a nation, have we been able to satisfy our own need? No, we have not and it is risky if as a country you cannot be guaranteed the supply of your energy sources. What we consume is huge enough for us to invest in what we have so as to be self-sufficient. I believe that the price of oil today shouldn’t be the determinant.
For Nigeria, whatever is happening for now in the oil market should not be a determinant for what we should do in terms of developing these other basins and producing crude oil? Politics of oil is more than the reality. We should talk about the reality of it, the basics which is, how do we become energy and food sufficient?
Boko Haram, which has thwarted previous effort at hitting oil in the North, is still very active although has been curtailed in some parts. Shouldn’t the incessant attacks by Boko Haram be a source of concern in continuing oil exploration in the North?
We have seven basins and not much has been done about them. Boko Haram is operating in just one of those basins-in the North East. What about the Sokoto Basin and Benue Trough, what about Bida Basin?
It doesn’t have to be Lake Chad where the Boko Haram attacks are happening; you can come down here, there are so many places where we can produce oil. Boko Haram, like in so many other countries, is something we should learn how to live with; it should not stop our lives. We have to learn to manage it until it fizzles away.
You mentioned the fact that in the 60s the North was the largest revenue earner from mainly agriculture. Why are we not pushing to restore the North’s agric glory rather than focus on oil?
From historical perspective, you will be right to say why don’t we continue with the policy of developing agriculture so that we can reclaim our position but you know that agriculture today is not the same as it was then. Now, it is mechanized agriculture we are talking about, where you require quantum investment.
Even the federal government, how serious is it in allocating resources to agriculture and, one other thing that has been happening was that because of the corruption that was endemic, even the money that gets to the state for agriculture is diverted to private pockets: allocations were not used for the purpose they were meant.
Agriculture is a revenue earner but if you are looking for something that is faster and bigger in terms of returns, I think oil today, it is. So, it is not that you are going to completely forget about agriculture, it still does not in any way take away the investment that will be needed in agriculture.
Many analysts argue that there is a huge variance in the geographical makeup of the Chad Basin and the Niger Delta and that the renewed search for oil in the North East will amount to a wild goose chase as before. What is your take on this?
Across the border, we have Niger Republic, it has discovered oil.It has a refinery today, and is selling to us. This oil we are talking about is the same belt, the same land mass. I told you 75 million years ago the sea passed through Bida Basin, Sokoto Basin, Anambra Basin and then all the way to Niger. So, Niger is making a very good fortune out of it by developing it.
Then when you go further down even as far back as Algeria, they are producing oil. You come to the other side, Lake Chad is producing oil. All the way down to Saudi Arabia, they are producing oil and you are telling me that in our own – the one that is in Nigeria is a wild goose chase? No, no! It is just that we are being lazy and we are doing that because we have alternative. Geologically what they are saying is not supported.
APIBON recently met and deliberated on these issues. What were the other resolutions reached at the meeting?
We called on government to fast track the bill for the establishment of a National Frontier Development Agency, as an independent body. We also said that in the passage of the PIB this should be noted so that it is not buried under an agency somewhere. The federal government should also look into past budgets to know what they did with those budgets. You can’t just spend peoples’ money without anything to show for it because so far there is nothing to show as far as the inland basin frontier is concerned and the North East.
What has been happening, if you talk to those who are inside the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), they will tell you that they have been using substandard technology? How come the Chinese across the border that are using technologies more sophisticated are finding oil and you are still using 2D? So, there was no seriousness in doing the job. Just recently, I think they engaged the Chinese to do things more seriously, that is why they are now talking about a major find which should have been the case long ago.