It’s now official: the North has found oil. The post-oil era has been here for years now, but let’s not begrudge the finders their find. It’s a great find, at least for the lepers that lap up oil money. Decades of oil exploration have rendered the Niger Delta, the region whose money was used to prospect for oil in the Kolmani river, environmentally prostrate but this is a big find nonetheless. And President Muhammadu Buhari and his retinue of men who think it is their inalienable right to preside over people for their pain sang lyrics. Over to Buhari: “We are pleased with the current discovery of over 1 billion barrels of oil reserves and 500 billion cubic feet of gas within the Kolmani area and the huge potential for more deposits as we intensify exploration efforts. It is good to note that the discovery has now attracted investment for an end-to-end integrated development and monetisation of the hydrocarbon resources …It is therefore to the credit of this administration that at a time when there is near zero appetite for investment in fossil energy, coupled with the location challenges, we are able attract investment of over $3 billion to this project.” Hurray!
Apparently, the man who just bleached the naira to revive it has no interest in post-oil rhetoric, and has no reason to. His North, the region he directed global humanitarian agencies to focus all their energies on while the South fends for itself, has found oil, except that this ‘North’ is not the North of the minorities. Anyway, the gist here is that the first phase of the integrated development project is expected to yield oil refinery of up to 120,000 barrels per day. And there will be a gas processing plant of up to 500 million standard cubic feet per day, a power plant of up to 300-megawatt capacity and a fertiliser plant of 2,500 tons per day. Since decades of efforts to find commercial oil and gas beyond the Niger Delta proved futile, Buhari has actually earned the right to self-praise. All hail the Daura Discoverer of delectable discoveries.
Pondering this discovery of oil in the parasitic and pestilential ‘North’, I couldn’t help but wonder whether anything close to justice will now be done for the first time. Consider that for 13 years, the nation waited for the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) but when it came, it was a piece of horrendous robbery and rape of the Niger Delta. The National Assembly led by Ahmad Lawan simply gave the region a bloody nose, reserving only three percent equity shareholding for the oil-producing communities while allocating 30 per cent for oil prospecting in the ‘North.’ It was such a brazen robbery that the southern legislators who aided and abetted that despoliation of their own land should have been permanently emblazoned in the Niger Delta Hall of Shame. Naturally, the shameless thieves who call themselves northern leaders were hailing Lawan the chief lawmaker “for protecting the northern interest” in other people’s money. Now here’s the rub: with the discovery of oil in Kolmani (which I am by no means against), oil prospecting in the North can go on forever. The logic is simple: if there’s oil in Kolmani there’s probably oil in Daura, and who doesn’t want good things? But northern oil blocs will not be owned by southerners, and there’s no reason to believe that northern oil money will ever go to Nigeria. Northern money stays in the North.
But that’s not the main point. The main point is that the discovery of oil in the North has inevitably raised key posers about the contraption called Nigeria. Now that the ‘North’ has oil, can we begin to talk about the things that matter, like restructuring and redrawing the basis for nationhood? The entire pretence about the indivisibility of Nigeria, “national unity” and such other gibberish has all been underlined by Delta oil money. So now that oil has been found in the preferred zone, can we at least begin to breathe fresh air down here in the South? Can we leave the oil wealth to the region and the people among whom it is found and devise creative ways of survival? Can we allow each region to tap its resources and give the centre its due, because this business of leaving the big things in the grip of Abuja hasn’t benefitted the masses?
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If you think I am an “enemy of progress” or a disgruntled southerner ‘pained’ by the discovery of oil in the North, then explain to me what precisely the House of Reps means by passing for second reading this week, the “Bill for an Act to Establish National Commission for Almajiri Education and out of School Children to Provide for a Multimodal System of Education to tackle the Menace of Illiteracy, Develop Skill Acquisition and Entrepreneurship Programmes, Prevent Youth Poverty, Delinquency and Destitution in Nigeria.” After robbing the nation blind through the criminally unequal state and local government creation undertaken during military rule, National Assembly representation, PIA, the various Northern Development Commissions, our brothers are still looking for another opportunity to corner yet another slice of the national cake for the “North”. Meanwhile, the deadwoods that represent the South in those shambolic chambers are busy pretending that all is well. Olusegun Obasanjo’s UBEC law 2004 makes it mandatory for Nigerian children to be educated up to junior secondary school, and Goodluck Jonathan built almajiri schools, but now there must be yet another resource pool for the ‘North’. The state governments who nurture the Almajiri phenomenon can go to sleep: “Nigeria” will pick up the bills once again. My people say that the crayfish thief does not stop at the first picking. Meanwhile, Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria, will never be given the special status it has justly craved for years.
Of course, I must give my condolences in advance to the people of Kolmani. This isn’t about you. It never has been and never will be. It’s about the oil sheiks and their stakes in your projected misery. If the governors of Bauchi and Gombe states have assured Buhari “of their unwavering commitment and willingness to ensure support and cooperation in the localities as the activity affects the local populations is meaningless,” this simply means they will make you “behave” while your oil is exploited. It doesn’t mean that you should begin to nurture false hopes of a better life. Just who are you to dream?