A Visit to the  New Oil Frontier

A Visit to the  New Oil Frontier

Friday, May 3, 2024 8:27 am

A screenshot of the drilling site. Channels photo

A screenshot of the drilling site. Channels photo

Despite the oil exploration activities ongoing there, communities in Obi Local Government Area in Nasarawa State retain their reputation as agrarian enclaves. The locals’ indifference to the would-be status far outweighs the bourgeoning enthusiasm of the elite


It all began at a local food vendor’s shop or buka in Awada where we disembarked from a commercial vehicle. Different people visit the matchbox room made from corrugated iron sheets to have breakfast. It appears patrons of the eatery have high stakes in stale gossip about local politics and budding amorous relationships among the youths. Close by, a makeshift motor park serves passengers commuting to and from Lafia, the capital of the Nasarawa State, and nearby towns. These stories, somehow spinning around the proprietress of the food shop have no place in the purpose of our visit. But we continue to strain the ears to filter and sieve for clues. In no time, our recorders begin to roll as news-worthy developments begin to flow

Obi is a sleepy town. This serenity is reinforced by its reputation as a community that has borne witness to crises. The farmer-herder conflict and the suspected Fulani raids on lonely hamlets and kraals have left sobering marks on the physical and psychological character of the area.  Little wonder, the police and members of the military patrol the township and the hinterlands regularly. We passed several such security vehicles, one conveying people arrested for allegedly causing trouble after the Sallah celebration. Beneath the belly of its scars and quietude lies Obi’s strength as a would-be frontier in the petroleum industry in Nigeria.

Obi Local Government Area

Obi Local Government Area

To know how prepared Obi is for the fortune that is likely to smile at her, a visit to the palace of the Osuko of Obi, His Royal Highness Alhaji Aliyu Dangiwa Ogiri Orume became pertinent. Aside from its beautiful paint and sparse rendition of Arabic wordings, the buildings come across as the regular sort of middle-class houses you find anywhere. Outside the gates, courtesans wait under a tree, listening attentively, in case the monarch called. These men, six really, bear traditional regalia, including locally made horns, flutes, drums, trumpets, and other musical instruments. My colleagues and I sat with them for a few minutes to take in the air and feel the pulse of the palace grounds. There might be some floating news item on the lips of the valets and flutists, we thought. Yet, nothing to pick up. Worse still, the monarch was not disposed to attend to guests on that day.

Breakthroughs come when the nerves begin to weary. That was the case when a senior colleague from another media outfit whipped out his cell phone and put a few calls across to his old buddies. He received direction to an office where we got a sufficient briefing on the purpose of our trip – which centered on finding out the reason for the lull in the oil exploration activities as against the frenzy that gripped the media when the groundbreaking was performed by former President Muhammadu Buhari on 28 March 2023. It was after an hour and a half conversation that we began to see the changes in Obi that hid under our noses.

Just across the local government area headquarters, a tarred road had emerged. On its paved shoulders, streets lined into perspective focus run through the new road. “Where does this road lead to?” I asked our volunteer guide. That is the road to the place where the first oil well is being drilled. This is the road to Ebenyi-A that you have heard or read about. As we made our way back from the Council headquarters, we could take in the roads and other token gestures that the NNPC has done to the community.

We arrived at the community mosque which stands elegantly beside the home of Dr. Musa Adamu Agyewa, manager, of Asset Integrity and Maintenance Management, NNPC-Antan Producing. It turns out that Dr. Agyewa whom we hadn’t met before, is the chairman of the Obi Community Oil Exploration Committee, an in-house forum constituted by the traditional ruler to interface with the NNPC and the government as far as oil exploration in the community is concerned. For about forty-five minutes, the old hand who has participated in oil exploration activities with different oil companies in Izombe, Imo State, in parts of Bayelsa State, Warri, Delta State, and elsewhere, fed us literally with information from the community’s point of view. It lessened the pain we felt for being unable to speak to the Osuko.

That session was essentially to bounce the points we had picked up from several respondents, especially among the ordinary citizens against the official position of the community. The purported restiveness among the youths, the perceived improper method adopted in paying financial compensation and allocation of houses to those whose farmlands were taken over for exploration purposes, and the vexed issue of the corporate social responsibility on the part of the national oil company and its subsidiaries.

It was from Dr. Agyewa we learned that a sealed envelope of the community’s demands or requests has been forwarded to the NNPC. He also enlightened us that the lull in the community does not translate to quietness in the drill site. For now, he said the workers are awaiting the return to Nigeria, of equipment that had been flown abroad for repairs. Other personnel are actively engaged in various areas of responsibility in the development of the well. He told the band of reporters that Obi is expected to come alive when the “first oil” has been collected and real oil exploration in commercial quantities begins.

He explained that the field is too large to fail as ENSERV, the company drilling now has a variety of options and a wide coverage for seismic activities. The geospace, he said, extends to Assakio in Lafia, Agwatashi, Keana, etc. So, if, as they say, one door closes – in this case one rig, the other opens – work will begin at another site. He added, however, that all the earth studies indicate that even the pioneer well will lead to the black gold under the earth.

Regardless of what happens in the oil fields, Obi communities still hold firmly to their traditions. Crop farming and fishing are still fundamental occupations. Yam, rice, and other grains remain the prominent staples. That is why from dawn to dusk, those who still can, troop to the farms to cultivate the soil. On our way, we could still see a group of boys battling with long hoses and scoff up water pumping machines, around a farm, for instance. Daily struggle has not ended despite the hope that the oil fields will soon blossom.

There are civil and public servants who work in the Council and a few other federal and state agencies in the area who commute to man their desks daily. Entrepreneurs like food vendors and motorists help to generate the faint decibel of noise that can be picked without a strain on the ear. Without them, only the call to prayer booming on the minarets of mosques interrupts the epic silence in the community. While life snarls on in the outer layer of human dwelling, machines spin deep into the earth in the leveled fields in search of that prized liquid, oil.

While the traditional institutions, the state government, and the officials of the NNPC are overtly excited about the new find, our reporter finds that many of the local people are indifferent. Interactions with some women threw up ignorance of the impending transformation of the town. “We go to the farm, we don’t know what is going on there or what will change about our lives,” one lady told this medium. While youths and the men shared their views on the project, it was hard to find women to share their opinions on the exploration taking place in their communities.

Indeed while Governor Abdullahi Sule and the Obi traditional council have each instituted committees to advise the respective organs on the exploration processes, the ordinary people have very little idea of what might change about their lives, soon.



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