Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nigerian Oil Exploration in Benue Trough
By Daily Trust
Aug 24 2016 5:00AM

President Muhammadu Buhari’s mandate to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to commence the search for crude oil in the Benue Trough is a welcome development.  The Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr. Maikaniti Baru, who disclosed this recently, said the president’s directive came days after a similar assignment was given to the NNPC to intensify crude oil exploration in the Chad Basin. On their part, northern state governors have already hired a British firm through the Northern Nigeria Development Company (NNDC) to embark on oil exploration activities.

We note that over the years, geologists and experts in the oil and gas industry have raised the hypothesis that there could be crude oil in commercial quantities in that geographical space. They claimed that hydrocarbon deposits are believed to be heavily present in the Lake Chad Basin and the Benue Trough, but this has been treated with complacency by successive governments.

Benue Trough comprises the states in the Central and North-Eastern parts of Nigeria, among them Kogi, Gombe, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Plateau, Gombe and even parts of Anambra States.  In 2012 Professor Agbaji Ogezi, who headed a research team on mineral resources in Benue Trough, had argued that “[from] a comprehensive review of the literature, results of preliminary on-going integrated remote sensing, geological and exploration studies and comparison with other related basins within the WCARS (West and Central Africa Rift System) suggest that the Benue Trough may be a favourably area for oil and gas, as well as for strata-bound and structurally-controlled mineral deposits. With respect to petroleum, there are good prospects, especially in the formations which are thicker and structurally and stratigraphically-related to the Niger Delta as well as to the Chad/Borno, Niger, Sudan and Cameroon basins within the same trend.” It is good that this is being followed up by this administration.

As the NNPC launches into this project, we are of the opinion that political considerations should be clearly separated in order to allow for purely economic and technical expediency to govern the process of the exploration.

It will not be wise economically for the country to go into oil exploration unless it is very clear that the oil deposits in the Benue Trough are in commercial quantities. It is not enough to launch into such an expensive project as a desperate scheme to signal to militants in the Niger Delta that there is an alternative to the oil and gas deposits in that part of Nigeria.

Furthermore, the idea of engaging in oil exploration in the Benue Trough should be done in the context of the country’s efforts to diversify its means of income. In that sense, the Ministry of Solid Minerals Development should also be involved in the exploration of other mineral deposits, an activity that has  been neglected because of incomes from the oil and gas sector over the years.

In spite of this positive development, we call on government to engage stakeholders in the Niger Delta to bring an end to the militancy which has disrupted the oil sector and led to the current economic recession. The militants must be made to realize that their activities do not hurt only the Federal Government, but affect even states in the Niger Delta who benefit from the constitutional 13% derivation. Some states in the region have been unable to pay workers’ salaries in full in the last few months. The insecurity in the South-South has crippled crude oil production to a 30-year low. No section of the country can be proud of such a negative development at a time when other countries take pride in the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) they attract.

The Federal Government, while searching for crude oil in other parts of Nigeria, should not ignore the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that is still pending before the National Assembly. Experts have said the bill, if passed, would enhance the modernization and growth of the sector.


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