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N727bn investment trapped as Chad oil search stalls

NNPC’s team deserts site  over insecurity

Over N727 billion invested in Chad Basin’s oil search is trapped, as the exploration is stalled, New Telegraph has learnt.

The team of explorationists and geologist from Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), investigation by our correspondent showed, have deserted the site since the 2017 abduction of their colleagues from the University of Maiduguri. Management of the Corporation, further checks showed, has effected a management change at the Chad Basin, with a mandate to get staff back on site. The history of attacks at site has created panic among NNPC staff.

One of them told this newspaper that no staff will return to site until the security agencies, particularly the Nigerian Army, gives a green light on security. NNPC had invested approximately $1.3 billion up to the end of 1998, while over $700 million had been invested afterward, according to this newspaper’s investigation.

Before an order was given by President Muhammadu Buhari, the prospects of oil in the North were still mere potential and remained in the realm of possibilities despite the huge investments made. Aside the $1.3 billion invested before 1998, additional investments of about N27 billion and $340 million had also been made for seismic data acquisition and equipment for advanced search respectively.

Troops had early last year lost eight soldiers and killed scores of Boko Haram insurgents in an operation, which led to the rescue of 10 top officials, including senior geologists on contracts with NNPC on the oil search mission in the Northeast.

This incident, which sent jitters down the spine of geologists and other supporting staff on the exploration mission has, again, constituted a major setback to the North’s oil search, on which over N600 billion had been invested.

An embargo had earlier been placed on the oil search in the North on which over N727 billion ($2.4 billion) had so far been invested. NNPC, which on May 15, 2018, promised to return to site “in six weeks,” issued the temporary embargo after it failed to secure safety clearance from the military authority. This was contained in a report entitled: “North’s N600 billion oil search suffers setback,” published on June 5, 2018.

This newspaper had earlier revealed that the promise made by the Group Managing Director of the Corporation, Dr. Maikanti Baru, on May 15 to return to site in “six weeks” could not come to fruition due to inability to move the equipment in the third week, due to failure to secure clearance from the military just two weeks to the time promised. Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division of NNPC, Ndu Ughamadu, who validated the investigation by this newspaper, told our correspondent then that exploration could not commence as promised.

“We still await the clearance,” he said, adding that although “there are indications that it would be issued pretty soon.” Checks by this newspaper, however, showed that the military could not give the Corporation a go ahead based on security risks of mobilizing personnel and equipment to site. Hinting that mobilization of  personnel and equipment had been officially deferred, Ughamadu expressed confidence that the clearance would be given soon.

“This is because the security situation on site has been curtailed, but you know that in global oil exploration and production, clearance from not only security agencies, but also from regulatory agencies such as DPR, is required. We are in collaboration with the military on this and you shall be notified as soon as we get the clearance to return to site,” he told this newspaper by phone.

Baru had, in June last year, announced plan to resume exploration on the Lake Chad, earlier suspended during the heat of Boko Haram insurgency.

Speaking when he paid a courtesy visit to the Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, and the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar el- Kanemi, in Maiduguri, the NNPC’s helmsman promised the Corporation’s determination to return to site “in six weeks.”

He stated that this decision would majorly be made after a “green light” from the military authorities. But a consultant explorationist for the oil search told this newspaper that the skilled and unskilled staff slated for mobilization flouted the ‘return to site’ order when the six-week promise lapsed, based on inability of the Corporation to produce a safety clearance.

The military authority, he said, withheld the green light for safety on Lake Chad site then simply because it was not yet safe to take highly skilled and unskilled staff to that region.