Now that the celebration is over, many are eager to see oil production in northern Nigeria become a reality.
Every media house has reported that Buhari has broken the jinx of oil exploration in the north, but has he?
Now that the celebration is over, many are eager to see oil production in northern Nigeria become a reality. There is a concern that Buhari did not set a timeline for when the Kolmani oil field will embark on commercial activity. The refusal to divulge the timeline has created doubt and brought back memories of many white elephant projects we are accustomed to in Nigeria.
I am not compelled to agree with the Daily Trust's Editorial, titled: We Welcome The Kolmani Oil Field In Northern Nigeria, but I do. Three suggestions were provided to the government that will eventually cement Buhari's legacy on this historic achievement. One of the suggestions urged the Buhari administration to finalise all the legal and operational frameworks for the Kolmani oil field to take off before he leaves office.
However, experience tells me that Buhari will see these suggestions as a mountain to climb. I do not want to be a pessimist, but those suggestions are beyond the capacity of this government. For them, the commissioning of the Kolmani oil field is enough, and the public should be thankful.
Buhari has 25 weeks left and should leave on a high note. To avoid unfinished businesses, like the current Abuja-Kano motorway, Jonathan's Abuja-Kaduna rail line or Yar'adua's dredging of the River Niger, he must ensure the Kolmani oil field begins producing oil and gas within the next six months.
Before it gets gloomy, let's take a moment to celebrate the success of this project. Politically speaking, a successful oil exploration will kill off the grumbles that the north is economically dependent on the southern oil. The argument for resource control can now be discussed objectively, without any sense of entitlement.
On the economic side, the region is in a poverty trap. There are 20 million people who are multidimensionally poor in the North-East. Having one or two states join the list of oil-producing states will see the region's revenue rise. The region will attract more investments, jobs, and the potential to increase public welfare. On a lighter note, the people of Gombe and Bauchi will no longer be mocked for getting fat on kudin Talakawa.
On a serious note, we must be careful about the ecological impacts that may occur in these states and the neighbouring states. The good thing is that the government can learn from the oil spillages in the Niger Delta and how the oil companies failed to address these issues. Unlike the southern part of the country, oil spillage in Bauchi will have a bigger impact on Nigeria's water along the Benue. Agriculture and the game reserves in places like Yankari will be affected.
We can only hope the government learns from raising people's expectations as was done with the dredging of River Niger. We hope the Kolmani oil field project does not transpire and get complicated like the Ajaokuta Steel Mill. Buhari must ensure the project has fully taken off to cement his legacy. Otherwise, no one will remember his efforts. After all, Nigeria has been drilling oil for 66 years, but many do not remember the past president or head of state who flagged off the exploration.
Thinking out loud, I would have liked to see the commissioning of the Kolmani begin with extracting the oil from Kolmani and transferring it to a refinery where we could see the end products. But without a functioning refinery in the country, it would have been sufficient to see the product being loaded onto an oil ship for export as we currently do. Of course, that requires time to build infrastructure like pipelines, pump stations, roads, oil tankers, etc. Given that they have only 25 weeks to go, the luxury of time is quickly fading for the government.
Further doubts were raised when the Group CEO of NNPC, Mele Kyari, announced that they had secured the required funding to build an in-situ refinery. The public knowledge that the NNPC had not remitted any money into the federation account throughout this year has reduced the credibility of Kyari. If we add his inability to detect oil theft and subsidy payment, he will go to the floor.
In all seriousness, building a refinery is a 4 to 6 years project in the Nigerian context. A current example is the Dangote refinery project, which has become an Insha-Allah project. Many enthusiasts hoped that the Kolmani oil field would begin production almost immediately.
Optimists like myself were hoping to hear a less-than-12-month plan. Like laying a pipeline to Kaduna – a project that is fast to implement and cost-effective. But this is not the case. That is why it is becoming more difficult to discount the pessimist's theory that the commissioning was hastily done to woo the electorate for the 2023 elections.
To re-emphasise, like every northerner, I am genuinely excited about the new oil exploration in the region. Fully operating refineries will solve the problems of fuel smuggling to neighbouring countries, especially if they are in private hands. Success in oil and gas exploration in the region will integrate the West African economy as anticipated by ECOWAS. The region will benefit from energy security, bring economic stability and potentially end all socio-economic conflicts and terrorism. The oil exploration will change Nigeria's political dynamics as the north will have additional negotiating power and its growing population. Of course, these are mere blue-sky thinking until the oil drilling has become taken-off.
Therefore, if Buhari wants to cement his legacy, he must take a pragmatic approach to ensure production at the Kolmani oil field becomes a reality. Otherwise, history will only remember the government that completed the project, not the one who started it.
Dr Nasir Aminu - Cardiff Metropolitan University