Nigeria: Building on slippery ground

AS one of the speakers at The Platform, a programme organised by the Christian Covenant Centre, Lagos, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Professor Charles Soludo, echoed the sentiments of the rest of the world that the days of oil as a veritable means of revenue are numbered. According to the former CBN governor, “in 20 years’ time, oil will be history.” He then went ahead to advocate the embrace of technological innovation so that the country would be positioned to meet the basic needs of its burgeoning population.

While Soludo’s postulation is both sound and deep, it is nothing other than balderdash to those in government going by their actions. Everything points to the fact that the end of crude oil reign is in sight, yet Nigeria continues to act as if oil will forever be gold. The stark reality is that irrespective of our obsession with crude oil, the world is leaving the black gold behind. The world is looking beyond oil as a source of energy. Already, both Britain and France have announced their plan to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. Tesla is investing fortunes on mass production of electric vehicles. Volvo has resolved to stop the manufacture of both diesel and petrol vehicles this year, and many automobile companies are joining the fray. Battery-powered cars, buses, trucks, forklifts, rail cars, etc are coming on stream daily. Solar-powered vehicles are also becoming commonplace. The more these become the vogue, the less need there will be for crude oil. It is not as if crude oil will become totally useless, but it does mean that the level of its usefulness will decline so seriously that no wise country will hinge its survival and sustenance on it. So, that we have crude oil in the belly of the earth from Lagos to Maiduguri or Calabar to Sokoto will no longer matter because the oil we have will no longer attract the sort of returns that will keep us afloat as a nation. Knowing this, why do we need to expend energy and scarce resources on a venture that is doomed to yield less than satisfactory benefit?

Nigerian leaders should wake up to the reality that the era of crude oil is in its last days. The age of cowry as a means of exchange did not end as a result of scarcity of the shell, neither did the stone age end because of the non-availability of stones. Those items lost their value because the world moved on to something else. So, crude oil is nearing its end not because the oil wells are running dry but because the human nature is never content with having the same thing every time. The truth is that new technology will always displace old ones; new findings will always take the shine off older ones. So, cleaner energy is set to rubbish the glory of crude oil.

It beats the imagination that despite this well-known fact, Nigeria has been sinking fortunes in search of crude oil in the North. Over the last 30 years, a total of $340million and N27billion has been deployed to crude oil exploration in the North East. If a fortune has been sunk in search of a fleeting fortune, what is the wisdom in staking more fortune to secure an unsure fortune? According to a study carried out in that region, there is an unproven reserve of about 2.3 billion barrels of oil and about 14.65 trillion standard cubic feet of natural gas available for a minimum of four countries in the Chad Basin area, whereas there are about 37 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and about 187 trillion standard cubic feet of gas in the Niger Delta region. So, while there is the likelihood of oil and gas being available in the Lake Chad region, the quantity does not give much cause for cheer, considering that only a quarter of what is said to be likely available will accrue to Nigeria.

Given this background, it is exceedingly disconcerting that just penultimate week, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) “to intensify its campaign in the Chad Basin, to discover new hydrogen, to extend the economy of the people within the region and the nation at large.” This is despite the unfortunate calamity that befell a crop of brilliant researchers from the University of Maiduguri, gallant Nigerian soldiers, devoted staff members of the NNPC and patriotic members of the Civilian Joint Task Force in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents as they were ambushed and killed while conducting a search for crude oil in the Chad basin area not too long ago. Pray, if the world is already looking beyond crude oil why should we endanger our people and commit our limited resources to getting more of it? Does it make economic sense to deploy resources to a cause with diminishing value? What should be done instead is to deploy energy and resources to other areas that will have relevance in the future.

It is high time that those who are obsessed with crude oil and the pecuniary returns from it sprang out of their self-inflicted myopia and realize that the days of crude oil as a means of economic power are numbered. Crude oil will never sell at $100 per barrel again. In less than 10 years, the cost of extracting and refining crude oil will likely be higher than its market value. So, the earlier we move on to something else as a country, the better for us.

Wake up, Nigeria; stop trying to make the dead walk.

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