Historical precedents to the fight between Bauchi, Gombe over oil wells

Kolmani oil well field between Bauchi and Gombe

Ademola Adegbamigbe

What recently helped to put Bauchi and Gombe in Nigeria on the front row seat of oil producers has become a bone of contention between the two states. It is akin to the acrimony between Akwa Ibom and Rivers States over 18 oil wells and the 2013 violent clashes involving the people of Ibaji in Kogi State and Aguleri-Otu in Anambra State over the ownership of a disputed oil well.

As recently published by this medium, on Tuesday, 21 November, 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari flagged off the Kolmani Integrated Development Project at Barambu, a village straddling Bauchi and Gombe States.

Being an integrated project, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) tweeted that the first phase would entail an in-situ Oil Refinery of up to 120,000 bpd capacity, a gas processing plant of up to 500 million standard cubic feet per day, a power plant of up to 300-megawatt capacity, and a fertilizer plant of 2,500 tons per day.

In another phase of the project, there’ll be a Downstream Oil Terminal/depot for offtake and distribution of the white products coming out of the refinery and further development of the integrated project.

The Kolmani oil exploration launch

The occasion represents a partnership that’ll see the trio of Africa Oilfield Movers Ltd, New Nigeria Dev’t Company (NNDC) and NNPC E&P Ltd producing/monetising the Kolmani field, making yet another historic step in the history of hydrocarbon production/monetization in Nigeria.
The president said, “We are pleased with the current discovery of over 1b barrels of oil reserves and 500 billion Cubic Feet of Gas within the Kolmani area and the huge potential for more deposits as we intensify exploration efforts.’’

“It is, therefore, to the credit of this administration that at a time when there is near zero appetite for investment in fossil energy, coupled with the location challenges, we are able to attract investment of over $3bn to this project,” he added.

Now, the two states are at each other’s throats over the Kolmani Oil and Gas field.
The Special Adviser to Gombe State Governor on Information Management and Strategy, Alhaji Ahmed Gara-Gombe, argued: “The truth of the matter is that the Kolmani oil well is in Gombe State; Akko Local Government, Pindiga emirate, Tai district, Kaltanga Mamuda ward. It has nothing to do with Bauchi State or Alkaleri Local Government.

“If putting the records straight is what is seen as a crisis, so be it. The National Boundary Commission, the NNPC are hypocrites in this matter, they know the truth and they should come out clean. Kolmani One is in Bauchi State in Alkeleri, let them go and explore that one. Four oil wells are in Gombe. Again, we need an independent jury to determine and verify our claims. Our people whose land was dubiously taken in the name of access road and were paid between N64,000 to N117,000 as compensation by the NNPC must be paid appropriately.

“NNPC must go to Gombe side and also construct a road like they did on the Bauchi side. Besides, Pindiga (Gombe) to Kolmani is shorter and friendly terrain than the Bauchi (side) which is longer and an unfriendly terrain.’’

A lawyer, Abdullahi Inuwa, was quoted by The Punch, blaming a former Group Managing Director of the NNPC who passed on recently, for awarding the land to Bauchi State. The late NNPC GMD was reportedly an indigene of Misau, Bauchi State. Inuwa explained that their grouse was not with the Federal Government but the NNPC, noting that the president was misguided on the true owners of the land. He stated, “The true position is we did not accuse the Federal Government directly but our accusation points at the NNPC, not the Federal Government per say. We are accusing the NNPC, since the late GMD’s time, of manipulation; for trying to create a smokescreen by portraying the fact that Kolmani is in Bauchi, while Kolmani is in Gombe.

“There is a village head of Kolmani, who is answerable to the district head, who is also answerable to the Pindiga emirate under the Akko Local Government. Our position is that Kolmani is in Gombe, not in Bauchi.

‘’The Federal Government or the President has been misled by the NNPC especially the highest ranking officers of the NNPC that are of Bauchi State origin,” Inuwa further alleged.

He added: “If you go to Misau, you will see so many developments made by the NNPC in Misau, where the late GMD came from. On the issue of boreholes constructed by the NNPC in the area, there are more boreholes on the side of Bauchi and less on the side of Gombe.

“Also, that area in Bauchi where oil is alleged to have been discovered from the borders, all the fenced block is on the side of Gombe, there is no area on the side of Bauchi surrounded by walls where oil is to be drilled.

‘’And not only that, if you are to go to Barambu during the late NNPC GMD’s administration, I was informed about a store constructed by the NNPC in Barambu, which is part of Bauchi and I was told there is a laboratory there.

“If they had treated us fairly whether Kolmani is in Bauchi or Gombe, we would just remain mute, we would not say anything. As time goes on, the way and manner they are treating us as if we don’t know what we are doing is what provoked us to come out and voice out our grievances and also tell the world that this is our position; that we are not ready to relinquish Kolmani which is in the process of annexation from the side of Bauchi through the NNPC.

We have heard about the challenges in the Niger Delta but sadly in this case it is the government through the NNPC’s selfish interest that is trying to create problems and disharmony.

‘’Some of us have parents who hailed from the other side, Bauchi side; we go to their market, they come to our market. We inter-marry, we are one. NNPC’s senior officers should remember the oath of allegiance; they are first from Nigeria before considering themselves as indigenes of Bauchi.’’

Kolmani project launch

On the other hand, Bauchi State Commissioner for Information, Yakubu Ningi, reacted: “Although the governor has been invited to speak on the matter on a television programme, he did not go because he realised that the matter is taking a different dimension.

“He wants to have wider consultations after which the Bauchi State government’s position on the matter will be made public. His Excellency said you’ll need to give us some time to articulate our position before going to press later on.”

Also Muhammad Bako, the member representing Pali Constituency in the Bauchi State House of Assembly where the area is situated, argued: “This issue is not an issue for the youths because when you bring in the youths, the issue has become a child’s play. They are being sponsored by people and they don’t know exactly where the boundary is.

“The chairman of the National Boundary Commission hails from Gombe State, but when the issue of verifying the boundary came up, he went and saw it (the boundary); they were thinking the boundary was in Gombe.

“But when they saw it, they left and never returned because they saw the truth that the oil was in Bauchi and not in Gombe. And you know when people want to cause problems or crisis, they use the youths but I am calling on them not to cause trouble that will consume them. They are being sponsored by people who don’t know anything about this oil.”

Kolmani project

Bako was quoted further by The Punch: “This oil was first discovered when Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the minister of works; that was when the history of this oil started. Then, during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha, he started drilling the oil at Barumbu and then he died.

“When Olusegun Obasanjo came in, he allegedly sent (messages) and the oil well was reportedly blocked, and the issue was no longer talked about. So, when Buhari came, he started the drilling again.’’

“The one (oil well) in Barumbu was just flushed. And then, two new ones were drilled. The one that was flushed in Barumbu and the two new ones are not in Gombe. The boundary between Bauchi and Gombe and these oil wells is up to 20 kilometers.”

He added, “There are traditional rulers in Bauchi and Gombe states. Those communities where the oil has been found, all their traditional leaders pay their taxes to the Bauchi State government. The traditional rulers in Gombe have been paying their taxes to Gombe over the past 100 years.

“So, if a traditional ruler dies in any of those communities, would a new one be installed by Gombe State? He will be installed by Bauchi State government, and not Gombe. And because of that, they have no excuse.”

The lawmaker sued for peace, admonishing the people of the area not to encourage militancy over the oil discovery.

The above notwithstanding, the Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, NNPC, Garba-Deen Muhammad, submitted: “Let us worry more about oil supply for now. This one (ownership tussle) can wait.”

The Akwa Ibom and Rivers Precedents

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ordered Akwa-Ibom State to hands-off the controversial 86 oil wells to Rivers State. It based its verdict on the political agreement brokered between Governors Obong Victor Attah and Peter Odili by former President Obasanjo in 2006.

However, when Governor Godswill Akpabio, came on board, he threw away the political arrangement. He put his feet down that the National Boundary Commission, NBC, must return the ceded oil wells to Akwa Ibom State.

With Akwa Ibom’s new disposition, Governor Rotimi Amechi of Rivers State made a beeline for the the Federal High Court to challenge Akwa Ibom State. He pursued the case to the Supreme Court which slammed the gavel in favour of Rivers.

Pre-Colonial Background: Era of two disciples of Usman Dan Fodio

In a piece welcoming Buhari to the oil drill site, on 21 November, 2022, Dr Aliyu U. Tilde, the Commissioner for Education in Bauchi State, said history had been made for the two sister states, ‘re-joined’ by the oil find. As presented by Daily Trust, Tilde traced the history of the Kolmani River serving as the border between Bauchi and Gombe to the era of two disciples of Usman Danfodio—Yakubun Bauchi and Buba Yero, respectively.

According to him, there were some clashes between the two over where their boundary would be but in 1817, Sultan Muhammad Bello ruled and it was agreed that the Kolmani River would be their boundary.

The Bauchi province remained until 1996 when Gombe became a state during the regime of General Sani Abacha.
“They are joined again through oil and gas by President Buhari in the same Kolmani valley where their ancestors quarrelled 207 years ago. I think we better accept that providence has decreed that the two will remain together as brothers forever,” he stated.

He, however, warned that unless the will is strong, naysayers could push the incoming administration to halt the progress made so far. “The next president can still frustrate things if he wishes. Whatever it is, President Buhari has delivered on this. Making Kolmani a reality will go down as one of his major achievements.”