EDITORIAL: The question nobody is asking: does Nigeria have an oil future?

“The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.” These words were uttered about three decades ago by Sheikh Zaki Yamani, a Saudi Arabian who served as his country’s oil minister.

Does Nigeria have a future without oil?

Rather than ponder the grim and certain prospect of a future without oil, Nigeria and Nigerians are currently focused on issues around people and amounts involved in contract awards, (or loans) at the NNPC, and how to invest even more billions of Naira and dollars prospecting for even more oil: in the Chad Basin, the Benue Trough and the Sokoto Inland Sedimentary Basin. We have even heard of plans by States in the upper sedimentary basins to form an Inland Hydrocarbon Basins Exploration Association to actualise and expedite exploitation of crude oil and gas from the region.

The fact is that while we are fixated on oil, the world is moving away from it largely as a global policy response to climate change. This includes global warming primarily caused by human activity, most significantly the burning of fossil fuels to drive cars, generate electricity, and operate our homes and businesses.

Another fact: world-wide, oil still has a near-monopoly hold on transport. If supply is cut off even for a few days, modern economies will grind to a halt. But it is also a fact that advances in technology are beginning to offer ways for economies, especially those of the developed world, to diversify their sources and supplies of energy and reduce their demand for petroleum, thus loosening the grip of oil and the countries that produce it.

Hydrogen fuel cells and other ways of storing and distributing energy are now a reality and a viable alternative. These are big batteries that run cleanly for as long as hydrogen is supplied and can power anything around the home, notably, cars.

As the world moves away from fossil fuel, big car makers and big oil firms are all busy investigating the transition away from petrol-powered vehicles.

The future is already here because in just a couple of years, electric vehicles will replace petrol-powered ones. Indeed, some countries are setting target dates.

By 2030, every vehicle sold in India – a major importer of Nigerian oil — should be powered by electricity. The UK has announced that it would ban sales of new gasoline and diesel cars starting in 2040 as part of a bid to clean up the country’s air.

The French government says that it wants to end sales of petrol and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 as it fights global warming.

China — which buys more cars than any other country — is also the largest electric car market and will soon follow suit.

Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Korea and Spain — have electric car sales targets in place, according to the International Energy Agency.

While the long-term markets for Nigeria’s crude are receding, the country is, meanwhile, intensifying its search for oil to feed a market that may no longer exist.

According to Shehu Sani, who is Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign and Domestic Debts, as well as Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, more than $3 billion has been spent in the futile search for oil in the sedimentary basins north of the country.

The Nigerian Expression urges our leaders to read the handwriting on the wall: oil is a wasting asset that has no future and we must use what accrues from it in more sustainable ways – invest for the future, invest more in agriculture, agro-processing and allied industries, manufacturing, Information and Communication Technology.

Perhaps Nigeria has some lessons to learn from Saudi Arabia which is putting a mind-boggling two trillion dollars into a Public Investment Fund to secure the country’s future after oil ceases to be its main source of income.

Regarding the continuing search for oil in the upper basins we have this to say: evidence from the Niger Delta shows that discovering and drilling of oil in other parts of the country will only lead to more corruption in the sector, more poverty, more environmental degradation, and more neglect of people in host communities (and possibly, more hostilities from the natives).

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo pointed to the future when he addressed the second meeting of the National Council on Niger Delta, held in Akure in September. He said: “The future of oil is declining…It is obvious that oil is not going to last forever. There is no reason why we should not develop other potential apart from oil …”




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