This article is an attempt to get the Federal Government of Nigeria to suspend oil exploration in Lake Chad in response to drastically falling oil prices, and instead use the N37 billion allocated for oil exploration in the area to promote agriculture in the region. We will propose the creation of a new Federal Agency which we have given the provisional name Lake Chad Basin Agricultural Development Agency (LaCBADA) be created.
For many years oil has been a money spinner and guarantor for geopolitical leverage, not only in Nigeria, but globally. Countries and communities that had oil, if they played their cards right, could overnight become, not just rich, but also politically influential, using their oil as a bargaining chip.
For example, countries like Saudi Arabia became enormously powerful after oil was found in their territory. There have been rumors that the Saudis used their oil clout to force a revolution in Iran in the 1970s that led to the deposition of the former Iranian monarch, the Shah.
There are rumors that the Saudis also increased oil output last year to decrease prices and punish Putin’s Russia for not listening to them on the issue of Syria. The Saudi-led arms embargo against friends of Isreal in the 1970s (even though it eventually failed) is another clear example of the political power that oil can bring.
So powerful did oil make Saudi Arabia, that all it took to influence the policy of powerful Western countries on important matters was frequently a phone call to the leader of the country concerned, threatening to withholding of Saudi oil or petrodollars, and the government of that county would duly change cause.
At the same time the expression, ‘as rich as a Saudi Prince’ became apt, as the princes of Saudi Arabia who are very much involved in the oil sector there are stupendously rich, thanks to oil.
In Nigeria, the Niger Delta militants during the heydays of Resource Control militancy, used their ability to disrupt oil production as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Federal Government; and it is even argued that this ability was what convinced former president Olusegun Obasanjo to push for Goodluck Jonathan to be given the post of Vice President in the administration of Umaru Musa YarÁdua.
At the same time, oil made the states of the Niger Delta extremely rich, as they secured 13% derivation from oil as a concession from the Federal Government.
It is clear that oil has made many territories rich and powerful; and therefore understandable that the North or Arewa would be very keen on oil exploration in Lake Chad- given the geopolitical and economic implications of oil being found in the Northern Region; and the enthusiasm of the Federal Government over the years to promote oil exploration in the Lake Chad Basin is understandable.
For instance, between 2011 and 2013, the Federal Government through Prof. Jerry Gana, the Chairman of the Northern Economic Summit, said that it approved the sum of $240 million to promote the search for oil and gas in the Lake Chad Basin and other areas of the North including the Bida Basin, the Benue Trough, and the Sokoto-Rima Basin.
The Buhari Administration has also budgeted N37 billion for oil exploration in Lake Chad. So committed is President Buhari about the need to promote oil exploration that in April 2015 as President Elect, he promised Borno elders that he would resume exploration in order to increase the export potentials on Nigeria, and also to balance cross regional perceptions and manage agitations as a way of enhancing the stability of the country.
Last year, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation announced that it was on the verge of a big oil find there from oil exploration done already.
But continuing robust exploration in the Lake Chad Basin of the commodity frequently referred to as black gold, is at this time the Right Idea undertaken at the Wrong Time. The reason is simply because the thumbling and unstable price of crude oil has made it a very bad investment at present.
When President Muhammadu Buhari took over as President, oil was at $60 to a barrel, at the time of writing this report, oil price is hovering around the $30 mark, a 50% loss.
As a result of this many oil exploration projects in many counties have been suspended with related job losses and business closures.
Earlier this month Royal Dutch Shell, announced that it had postponed the final investment decision (FID) on its Bonga South-West deep-water project in Nigeria.
The $12 billion project includes the construction of a new floating production, storage, and offloading facility, a peek into the kind of investments needed to explore and develop any large oil finds in the Lake Chad Basin in this season where the price of oil is not what it used to be.
On February 19 it was announced that Mexico’s government owned oil company Pemex has postponed several deep water exploration projects as part of a raft of planned capital delays due to slumping crude prices.
In a PricewaterhouseCoopers report entitled, ‘Fit for $50 oil in Africa’ the investment advisory has stated that oil and gas explorers must rethink their capital expenditure on exploration activity across the African continent in the wake of the big drop in the global oil price.
If one good thing has come out of the current budget crises, it is the opportunity to reorder our priorities. The N37 billion allocated for oil exploration in the Lake Chad Basin and select parts of the North should instead be reallocated to agri-business development in those specific areas. A more surer investment for the North at this point is to bring back the groundnut pyramids that used to be synonymous with Northern agriculture in the 1960s.
Turning Lake Chad Into An Agricultural Hub
Over In the Lake Chad region today, farmers produce an array of agro-products including dairy products, fish, meat, grain and cotton and these businesses have a lot of potential for development – these businesses if supported rightly can increase national Food Security, generate more Jobs and badly needed Foreign Exchange for the country.
But due to inefficient damming and irrigation methods as well as drought and deficits in rainfall the Lake has shrunk to about 90% from 1963.
To fight this water depletion, the multi-nation Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) has put on the drawing board a plan to replenish the lake by building a dam and 60 miles of canals to pump water from the Congo River and the Chari River to Lake Chad. And the World Bank has committed $10.6 million to the reversal of land and water degradation in parts of the lake.
These are the kinds of projects the N37 billion in our budget should be used for. The Federal Government should instead use the money to help implement the LCBC plan to replenish the Lake which is of economic importance to over 30 million people. Replenishing the water would give new economic opportunities to many youth in the area, and cool the anger that has led to dangerous being witnessed in some of the LCBC countries today.
If the money is spent on oil now that its future is looking a bit bleak and oil prices keep tumbling, it would have been a colossal waste of money and opportunity to transform people’s lives.
I hereby propose the formation of the Lake Chad Basin Agricultural Development Agency (LaCBADA) as an agency that will work to bringing to reality the agricultural benefits lying in the Lake Chad Basin for the benefit of Nigeria in particular and neighboring countries in general. LaCBADA will assist the multi-nation Lake Chad Basin Commission in the important tasks of:
- replenishing the water in the Lake Chad Basin
- training livestock herders on gaining access to grazing and watering areas
- educating water users on efficient water-utilization methods
- teaching fishermen more appropriate techniques for their trade
- ensuring that there is adequate monitoring of the water resulting from mixing the waters of the Lake Chad Basin and other water sources, and also monitor their effect.
What I am proposing is a kind of Niger Delta Development Commission, but this time dedicated primarily to agricultural development of our own Amazon Forest (Lake Chad) and its environs. Agricultural development would then catalyze other forms of socio economic development and promote social stability in the region.
We are not against the exploration and drilling of oil in Lake Chad when oil is found, but we merely say that there should first be a foundation based on Agro-Business, especially now that oil prices are in the down-low. Furthermore, agriculture is the mainstay of a majority of the population in Lake Chad, and it will enhance their economic prospects if developed further.
The LaCBADA should not be a permanent agency, but rather it should last for the duration of the said N37 billion. Furthermore, LaCBADA should replicate the Lake Chad project in the other Northern areas slated for exploration, namely, the Benue Through, Bida Basin and Sokoto-Rima Basin.