Northern Nigeria’s sweet crude

The Nigeria of the future belongs to the past which the world is leaving behind. The Buhari administration through our opaque state oil company on Friday announced crude oil find in the North-East. Cynical Thomases in the South laughed at the announcement. To such unbelievers, the oil find and the fake presidential marriage of same day occupy the same comical seat in our national train. They see both incidents as masturbatory. And what good does masturbation do to the actor beyond its being a ‘solitary vice’? The one who does it thinks it is both therapeutic and self-satisfying. But that is where it ends. The crude discovery has got to be true beyond the announcement. It must put money in the pocket of the desperate North for its story to be truly victorious. It is not enough to yell eureka at the nation; the nation must feel what has been found in concrete terms.

My people say that in the homestead of the strong, you find all sorts of children. Southern Nigeria has various kinds of people. There are fools who take any bait as food. There are cynics like the doubting dudes who take the oil finder as a vector of sectional lies. They think it is a ponzi scheme carefully designed to pump derivation funds to the arid North. There are also some who want the Northern oil dream to come true so that the abuse in the marriage called Nigeria can stop. Or that the overbearing husband may now be financially independent enough to have pity on the miserable, overworked wife and let her go. Such persons won’t forget the 1914 marriage drama- the procession, the metaphors and the characterization. They remember that the North was described as a poor, well behaved young man who needed to marry the rich South to live. What is that thing my people call a husband who lives on the endowments of his wife?

History won’t forget the hazy harmattan morning of January 1, 1914 when the Colonial Secretary hit his huge gavel and bellowed: “The promising and well conducted youth is now on an allowance on his own and is about to effect an alliance with a southern lady of means. I have issued the special license and Sir Frederick Lugard will perform the ceremony. May the union be fruitful and the couple constant.” That was how the officiating minister, Sir Lewis Harcourt, conducted the wedding of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914. It was the first ‘marriage’ conducted in Nigeria. The priest prayed for the union to be “fruitful” and for the couple to be “constant.” How well has the prayer been answered? Chief Richard Akinjide, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in a newspaper article about ten years ago said “the situation in Nigeria today is like a marriage and threatened divorce.” No marriage having the husband as a leech sponging off the wife can be peaceful. It is worse where the poor party insists on everything happening on his own terms.

Back to the Gongola Basin oil find. How much good money has been thrown at the North prospecting for oil? Like all our adventures and expenditures, there won’t be records. But there are media reports quoting popular Professor Jerry Gana, with some sorry figures. In 2013, while serving as chairman of the Northern Nigeria Economic Summit, Gana reportedly disclosed that N27 billion had been spent on oil and gas exploration in the North as of that time with additional $340 million budgeted for same purpose. Do not ask how many millions of Nigerian kids that amount would have educated. Do not ask any question. Oil is sweeter and more lucrative than education. In any case, who has education really helped?

Yet, there are people who would insist that this latest discovery is real and has made our investment worth its value. Have such people heard of fool’s gold before? They can read about a certain Jacques Cartier who led an expedition into then New France (today’s Canada) in 1536 and found huge amounts of what he thought were ‘diamonds and gold.’ Back in France, his ‘diamond and gold’ turned out to be what experts call ‘fool’s gold.’ It is a mineral that is golden without being gold. Even if this discovery is truly a discovery, what is the value of what we have? How much will it cost us to make it lucrative and profitable? And can the viability come before dusk descends on the world of petroleum?

The much-feared post-oil future appears here already. It is not funny that now is the time that the North is balancing its oil equation with the South. We do not ask the right questions – and we should. Why are European oil companies diversifying into non-fossil fuel energy businesses? Why is their investment in electric-car charging startups surging? What is Total doing with Saft, a battery company? Shell bought and rebranded First Utility as Shell Energy and “switched all of its British residential customers to 100% renewable electricity.” Why? Good old British Petroleum bought Lightsource, “the largest solar developer in Europe, and third largest in the world outside of China.” Why? There is also Equinor which is investing heavily in alternative energy by building and commissioning “the world’s first floating offshore wind farm in 2017 off the coast of Scotland.” Equinor says with pride that it “now powers more than one million European homes with renewable offshore wind from four offshore wind farms in the United Kingdom and Germany…building material offshore wind clusters in the UK, the US North East and in the Baltics.” It says it is “positioned for future floating wind options in several geographies, including UK, Norway and Asia.” Almost all of these oil firms operate in Nigeria. Why are they not investing heavily in new oil wells here or anywhere? They are all slowly turning off the taps, taking sometimes noisy, sometimes quiet long jumps to the future. Their list is long and lengthening. Their countries are investing heavily in education to further make their future better. We are spending money too – putting N58 billion in State House budget and voting N51 billion as proposed capital expenditure for education in the 2020 budget. The world is talking to us but we are not listening.

Why did the NNPC announce its Gongola Basin discovery as if it was another Oloibiri? Nigeria, with a bang, struck crude oil for the first time on January 15,1956 in Oloibiri, a village in present Bayelsa state. I was not around then to compare the noise to the loud fart of last Friday. A voice I heard asked questions which I cannot answer: How far can this crude oil power the old, smoky vehicle of the North? Will this expensive crude oil educate the uncontrollable almajirai of the North?  I do not have the answers, but I believe the magicians working on everything for the North must have factored those into their investments. There are others in the South who think it is foolish for the North to celebrate crude oil discovery in 2019. These ones wonder how late in thinking – and in luck- the North is with this stunt. They feel the world and its technology are already moving fast away from fossil fuel. They point at the evolving world of electric planes, electric vehicles and self-driven, autonomous cars. They insist that self-driven vehicles would “reduce personal ownership of cars” while “technology-driven models in mass transport such as Ola and Uber can lead to shared transport further reducing demand for oil.” They quote those from the Economic Times of India, which in a 2017 report warned that “the future of oil is almost here and it doesn’t look very pretty.” The report said experts had “predicted that by 2030, ninety five per cent of people won’t own private cars. The battery-driven small planes will become yet another disruption. Since they are going to be cheaper than the current planes on smaller routes, they might get hugely popular. That’s how global oil demand will go down and so will the prices. The global oil demand will peak at 100 million barrels per day by 2020, dropping to 70 million barrels per day by 2030. This would mean…the price of oil plummeting to $25 a barrel. India has declared it would allow manufacturing of only electric cars by 2030. Not a single petrol or diesel car would be sold in the country after 13 years.” It is not only India that is talking down on petrol cars. All serious countries have set timelines and deadlines for the closure.

The joyous among us over the Northern black gold would frown at any Nigerian thinking like those anti-petrol souls. They would feel that those who think this way suffer foolishness in great measures. Those not celebrating with us do not know what our government knows about the future. Whatever is happening on the global stage is not our challenge. We invest today’s money in the past – and we mean it. The world is not building today’s technology for Nigeria. The Nigeria of the future belongs to the past which the world is leaving behind. Here, with our North in the driver’s seat, petrol and its other siblings will be here to serve Nigeria till eternity. Ancient Egyptians used hydrocarbons to preserve their corpses; we will do same if the world won’t buy our excess oil at our price. Like the Babylonians, we will scoop crude oil for waterproofing our boats in the Lake Chad area and as mortar to build our thatched castles…

More importantly, it is time to rejoice with our North, a husband that has finally found its mojo in the bowels of Gongola Basin.

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