President Muhammadu Buhari says the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) will soon begin a deeper search for oil and gas in the Benue Trough.
Mr Buhari said this is the next step following the commencement of drilling in the Kolmani River area, located within Bauchi and Gombe states.
According to a statement by his spokesperson, Garba Shehu, he made the announcement on Wednesday while addressing traditional rulers at the Banquet Hall, Government House, Makurdi, Benue State.
Mr Buhari was in the state for a campaign stop ahead of the February 16 presidential election in which he is running against 30 other candidates.
The president, recalled that as Minister of Petroleum in the 70s, he had seen “very interesting seismic surveys” that promised oil and gas from the Chad Basin through the Benue Trough down to the Delta region.
He said for mostly commercial reasons, investment was directed to the Niger Delta given the promise of quicker results.
Mr Buhari narrated past efforts he made as military Head of State to diversify the country’s sources of oil to strengthen its unity. He promised that his administration will intensify efforts in this direction.
The president welcomed the observation by the Tor Tiv, James Ayatse, that peace had been restored to Benue State following the spike last year in farmers and herders’ clashes.
The traditional ruler also noted that the president had so far conducted “a decent and peaceful campaign.”
The Tor Tiv had expressed appreciation to Mr Buhari “for the way and manner you have conducted a peaceful campaign, no riots, no violence, setting a good example. We had a challenging time in 2016.
“Thanks for your intervention, for accepting our appeal to step up security. Operation Whirl Strike has succeeded in chasing away violent herders.”
He also called for a closer look at the border to stop “criminals and bandits” from crossing into Nigeria.
Mr Buhari promised to look at requests for more roads, bridges and tertiary institutions made by the royal father.
The governor of the state, Samuel Ortom, in his remarks, called for free and fair elections.
Mr Ortom urged all contestants to abide by the outcome of the elections.
“We believe you are a man of integrity and you keep your words. I will like to believe that you will not do anything to truncate our democracy,” the governor said to the president.
Mr Buhari’s pronouncement came barely two weeks to the presidential election which analysts said would be keenly contested.
It is not the first time the Nigerian government would announce plans to drill oil in the Benue region.
The NNPC had in 2016 announced that it had embarked on a “more rigorous” exploration for oil in the Gongola and other inland basins using the latest seismic data gathering technology.
In 2018, the corporation announced that it would be going into the deeper Maiduguri sub-basin to acquire more 3D seismic data as soon as normalcy returns to the Chad basin.
The move came against the backdrop of attack on some University of Maiduguri staff working on the Chad basin exploration as well as the loss of one of the corporation’s staff working on the Benue Trough exploration. Many of the workers lost their lives in the attack.
“While waiting for normalcy to return to the Chad Basin, we have stepped up efforts in the Lower Benue Trough. So far, we have acquired 20km of 2D data out of the planned 455km 2d seismic data,” the NNPC had said at the time.
A statement by the NNPC also quoted the Group Managing Director, Maikanti Baru, as saying that the corporation would go ahead with its plan to explore oil in the region against all odds.
“I pledge on behalf of the NNPC that their sacrifice shall not be in vain. There is no better way to honour the efforts of our gallant heroes than to continue the good work they died for,” Mr Baru was quoted to have said.
Analysts have raised concerns and continuously expressed worries over the government’s continued search for oil in the north.
In August 2017, a report by the Centre for Social Justice, CSJ, a civil society organisation, said commercial crude oil exploration in Nigeria and the rest of the world would become unprofitable within the next 13 years.
The report also projected that within the next four to five years, the price of crude oil would further reduce to about half of its current value.
“What should bother us is the likely fate of oil in the nearest future,” Dauda Garuba, an oil and gas expert, had told PREMIUM TIMES in 2017.
“As it is often said, stone age ended not because of the lack of stones, but simply because of the growth in technology.”