The Nigerian government led by President Muhammadu Buhari allocated a whopping sum of 39.4billion naira (almost $200 million) for oil exploration in the Lake Chad basin in the proposed 2016 budget.While presenting the budget before the National Assembly last December, the president assured Nigerians that the 2016 budget is unlike any other before it.
“This budget represents a major step in delivering a new opportunity for Nigeria,” President Buhari said. “It demonstrates our confident optimism that despite challenging times, we have the will, resourcefulness and commitment to deliver prosperity to our people.”
At a time when the price of crude oil tethers ominously below the $30 per barrel mark in the global market, striking the black gold in a conflict-ridden region is hardly a sustainable way to deliver ‘a new opportunity for Nigeria.’ Although the proposed budget is currently being reviewed after the uncovering of unlawful padding of expenditures by civil servants, the fact the almost $200 million was initially earmarked to prospect for crude oil within the Lake Chad basin reveals the unpreparedness of the Nigerian government for transitioning the country into a post-fossil society.
The recent shuttle by the Nigerian leader between the capitals of major OPEC member states in the Middle East to boost the price of crude oil betrays the government’s lip service to diversifying our country’s ailing economy. In the last six months, the President Buhari has made repeated attempts to convince Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar to reduce oil production with the end goal of boosting prices. His effort so far is yet to yield positive results.
What is more, the Lake Chad basin is right in the middle of an ongoing insurgency by the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram. The northeast quadrant of the country where the oil exploration is expected to take place has seen over 2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) since the height of the conflict in 2014. In a region renowned for being the least developed of all the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria, finding oil is unlikely to transform the livelihoods of people—more or less the Northeast will be affected in the same manner which the resource-rich Niger Delta had been neglected by successive governments for half acentury since the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in Oloibiri, a small village located in present-day Bayelsa State.
Furthermore, the Lake Chad basin is an important ecological zone, the site of one of Nigeria’s seven national parks. The Chingurmi-Duguma sector of the Lake Chad National Park (LCNP) contains floodplain wetlands, a habitat that attracts water birds and other Sahelian wildlife. The planned exploration and possible discovery of oil in such an ecologically significant area might result in a dangerous game-changer in terms of loss of biodiversity especially native species. The oil pollution in the Niger Delta is by far the largest environment damage to a river system in Africa and it is a constant reminder of government’s lack of political will in fostering a sustainable energy production in Africa’s largest economy.
Although the insurgency has created an atmosphere of uncertainty in the Lake Chad basin, renewable energy offers a route to reconstruction and the eventual resettlement of the IDPs of Nigeria’s northeast region. As a natural floodplain, the Lake Chad basin can be transformed into a commercial fishing zone with processing capacity for local consumption as well as foreign export. To achieve this, the government should deploy the $200 million originally intended for oil prospecting to build wind farms that will supply the both artisanal and commercial fishing entities with clean energy for their operations. The excess supply can be deployed for rural electrification. The spin-off of such investment will boost the quality of life in the area which in turn will discourage jobless youths from turning to terrorism.
If the $200 million is used to install wind turbines at $50,000 per unit, over 4,000 houses and cottage industries will benefit from improved power supply. The direct jobs that will be created could number as high as 100, 000. And this is a more willing, resourceful and committed way of delivering prosperity to people.
Kolawole Talabi is an award-winning Nigerian Writer. He has worked as a Journalist for the last three years. He is a passionate supporter of local culture to which he takes a purpose-driven approach. He tweets via @Kolawole_Talabi