Barambu and other neighbouring communities in Alkaleri Local Government Area of Bauchi State, near the border with Gombe State, came into the limelight when President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the Kolmani River II well.

The well is one of the sites of the ongoing oil drilling by Frontier Exploration, a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Since the early 1990s, people of the communities around the area have seen many people and companies come and go in the name of searching for the black gold in an area they see as their only world – where they farm, rear animals, eat and sleep.

The road to the communities that will be affected by the current oil prospecting was built about 20 years ago when the survey to prospect for the black gold started during the late General Sani Abacha.

The road, which had almost disappeared, save for its remains on some sections, connects over 10 communities up to Kwaimawa, a popular settlement with a weekly market, where the oil prospecting issues are most widely discussed among the locals.

The road passes through Modo, Mai Madi and other smaller communities, and because of its difficult, sandy nature, apart from the popular small popular trucks that ply the road, only skilled young motorcyclists take passengers, charging exorbitant fees.

The prominent communities around the oil prospecting areas are all agrarian; hence their people are either farmers, herders, or both, because of the sizeable population of the Fulani, alongside the Kanuri and other tribes in Alkaleri and Kirfi local government areas.

Although a motorcyclist, Bala Abubakar, a resident of Lome village, knows the activities going on around the communities, he is oblivious of its long term impact on his life and that of his community.

“All I know is that they are drilling for oil in our area. If in the long run I can have good road, school, hospital, and may be a job in one of the oil companies, it will be fine with me,’’ he said.

Kwaimawa is the best place to get the locals at their best as most of them, including their community leaders will be at the local weekly market.

At his palace, the Sarkin Kwaimawa, Gimba Muhammadu, gave a vivid account of what oil prospecting activities in the last 20 years meant for their communities.

The community leader told our correspondent that a Chinese company known as J.B 219 carried out the first survey for oil prospecting activities about 20 years ago.

He said the first well was drilled during the administration of the late Sani Abacha, but the work was suspended during the government of Olusegun Obasanjo. The activities, however, resumed when President Muhammadu Buhari came to power.

He said the people whose farmlands, crops and economic trees were affected were compensated by J.B 219. He, however, added that the issue of land compensation had not been fully discussed as no land had been officially taken over yet.

“We were only informed that if oil was discovered and drilling started, all the communities within six square kilometres would be evacuated, resettled and compensated. So we cannot demand for land compensation. We cannot demand for anything now until we are sure that oil prospecting is realised. Survey is still ongoing at Bodejo community and other places close to Pindiga in Gombe State,’’ he said.

The traditional ruler of Kwaimawa said that most of the communities located around the oil prospecting area have old, deep wells. According to him, some of the wells are over 30 meters down and the water is dirty and hazardous for human consumption; and they don’t last through the dry season.

“We thank Allah that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has started drilling boreholes at Galtimari, Gabchari, Zadawa and other communities,’’ he said.

Speaking to our correspondent, Sarkin Barambu, the community where Kolmani River II well was located, Abubakar Umar, said there were about 2,500 people in scattered settlements where the oil prospecting is taking place.

He said, “We still cultivate some of our farms during the rainy season, so why should we leave without being told to do so. Although movement is restricted, we still go to our farms during the rainy season. The only farms that are not being utilised are the ones where the main activities are being carried out, or where temporary structures were put in place by the companies.’’

A resident, Sabi’u Mohammed of Sabuwar Kaduna, who worked in the Chinese survey company, J.B 209, said their hope had been raised with the recent breakthrough in oil exploration in the area. Mohammed said he worked as a liaison officer between the company and people of various communities, a situation that ensured peace throughout the period the survey lasted. He, however, hoped that after the exploration and discovery of oil, their people would get jobs in the oil companies that would operate in the area.

“I was happy to have worked in the company, but we want to be carried along by other companies in our area. We know we are not educated, but we have the strength to perform menial jobs. I also worked in the BCC, the company that constructed the feeder road leading to the Kolmani River II prospecting site,’’ he said.

Sa’idu Yahaya, a farmer and pastoralist also said, “We want this thing to be a success. But we don’t want to lose our farmlands and the places where we give water to our animals. We are happy that we were paid compensation for our crops and economic trees in the past, but we hope that if our lands are taken we would be adequately compensated and not short-changed.’’

Also speaking, the councillor representing Mai Madi ward in Alkaleri Local Government, Muhammadu Yarima Kwaimawa, said they were happy with the oil prospecting activities and hoped the challenges facing their communities would be addressed.

“Many people are ignorant of the whole thing and are getting agitated, but we are trying our best to educate them. That is why we are always having interactions with them through our traditional rulers. Even here in the markets, we hold talks with them, especially the youth,’’ he said.

While some of the communities are happy that oil exploration is going on in their areas, others are worried because basic amenities are still lacking.

Alhaji Isa Sarki Kudu lives some 300 metres from the Kolmani River well in Barambu village, where drilling activities, which started last week, will last for 60 days. He has lived in Barambu for about 34 years and he has been following the search for oil in his village.

“This activity has been on for about 20 years. What they told us is that we should cooperate with them whenever they come and that we should not cause trouble or violence. But there is no road, no school; and you can see that our children want to go to school. There is no functional hospital. If there is an emergency, someone would have to go to Alkaleri or Gombe.

“What we want is progress. We are happy with what is going on here – the search for oil – because we think it is a blessing from God,’’ he said.

During the flag-off of oil exploration activities at the Kolmani River II well, a group of aggrieved women beseeched the site in their numbers, begging the authorities to listen to their request.

Victoria Babayo, who volunteered to speak for the women, numbering over 15, claimed that their farmlands were taken from them without commensurate compensation.

Speaking in Hausa, Babayo said, “There was a plan for those whose lands were taken, but that plan was cancelled. We want the government to give us school, hospital. If we are sick we would have to travel far to Bauchi,” she said.

But speaking in an interview earlier, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Dr Maikanti Baru said, “We have also intervened in the community by beginning to build some health centres so that they could have some medications. We have also intervened in repairing some of their educational institutions,” he said.

The renewed search for commercial hydrocarbon in the inland basins of northern Nigeria moved from the drawing board to the oil fields with the official flag-off of drilling activities in the Kolmani River 11 well.

Drilling commenced following the identification of some areas with prospect at Bauchi and Gombe states, which together form the Gongola basin, after a series of seismic data acquisition activities had commenced in 2016.

In 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the NNPC to resume exploration activities in the North, especially the Chad basin and the Kolmani River in the Benue trough.

The Kolmani River II well will be drilled by the Ikenga Rig 101 of an indigenous contractor, Messrs Etihad Oilfield Sirvices/Drillog Petrodynamics Limited.

According to the chief executive officer of the firm, Abdullahi Bashir Aske, the drilling activity that started at the Kolmani River-II well last weekend will be completed in 60 days, after which details of the outcome will be made available by the NNPC.

The Group Managing Director of the NNPC said the drive to return to the basins was further propelled by the fact that neighbouring countries were making hydrocarbon discoveries from their own end.

While Nigeria delayed exploration in the frontier basins in the North, other basins in many parts of Africa with higher risks but similar characteristics have been successfully explored and presently producing. For instance, Ghana’s Jubilee field (even though offshore), Anza in Kenya, Termit in Niger, Bogor and Doba in Chad, Muglad in Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Mauritania, etc have been successful in their quest for oil.

The spud-in of the Kolmani River II well that started last week was the second attempt at actual oil drilling in the basin after an earlier undertaking by some international oil companies, but was abandoned midway.

In 1993, the Federal Government awarded blocks in the Gongola basin to three international oil companies – Shell, Chevron and Total.  The companies acquired data and drilled one well each. One of the wells drilled was the Kolmani River I which recorded about 3 billion standard cubic feet (scf) of gas, but was termed non-commercial. The oil giants, therefore, suspended operations and relinquished the blocks in 2000.

Following the president’s directive, the NNPC acquired advanced data and technology to drill deeper for more discoveries. The NNPC said it acquired 3D seismic data over the Kolmani River area, leading to the identification of six prospects, including the Kolmani River II well where drilling commenced last week Saturday.

The NNPC GMD indicated that while the international oil companies, which previously explored the basin through Kolmani River 1 well, drilled down to less than 9,000 feet, the corporation would go as deep as 14,500 feet in the Kolmani River II well.

“When we read the data, we observed that Shell did not go deep enough. So we have come here based on the 3-dimensional seismic and other subsurface reviews and studies we have done.

“At the moment, we are looking at deep down, we are looking at kilometers below the ground, and nobody has gone there.  It is only drilling that would confirm whether there is any resource there, as well as confirm the professional judgement  we have. So, in terms of volumes, types and all that, let us wait.

“We have six prospects we have identified in the Kolmani River basin. After this is successful we are going to the next location, which would be the Kolmani River III, which is just 1.7 to 2.0 kilometres from here,” Baru added.

While assuring that the NNPC would leave no stone unturned in sustaining the intensity of the ongoing oil and gas exploration in the inland basins, Baru called for patience. “It usually takes time for oil to be discovered. In the Niger Delta basin, it took over 50 years for explorations to discover crude oil. Niger Republic drilled over 600 wells and over many years before they discovered crude oil. Therefore, Mr. President, patience is of essence here,” he said.

In 2017, following attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, oil exploration was suspended in parts of Borno State.

“We had to step down the activity there in 2017. The NNPC is ready to resume operation as soon as military clearance is given,” Baru had said.

The NNPC, however, shifted focus to the Sokoto basin and Benue trough and is currently carrying out exploration activities at the Bida basin. It is now at the fourth, out of 10 intensive stages of determining if hydrocarbon has been generated in the basin.

According to the corporation, upon completion of determination of hydrocarbon generated it would initiate another stage of integration of the studies to identify positive hydrocarbon anomalies, acquisition of 2D seismic data over anomalies, acquisition of 3D seismic data to validate identified structures, drilling of exploration wells, drilling of appraisal wells and evaluation of the engineering and economic parameters required.

In the meantime, some preliminary work at the Sokoto basin has started as field geological work is expected to be concluded soon.

The second phase, which is surface geochemistry, ground gravity and magnetics data gathering will commence in Bida and Sokoto, it was learnt.

According to the NNPC in a recent statement, “The essence of this is that we are trying to zero in on the prospective areas and see if they have the source rock where the hydrocarbon is generated.”

While hosting a high-powered delegation from Sokoto State in Abuja, led by Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal in July 2017, Baru said the corporation had embarked on exploration of the Sokoto basin.

The GMD said the NNPC had already procured aeromagnetic data on the Sokoto basin from the Nigerian Geophysical Survey, as well as awarded contract for the mapping and procurement of apt samples to further the understanding of the area.

He said the NNPC had contracted its subsidiary, Integrated Data Services Limited (IDSL) to carry out various geochemistry investigations to boost the gathering and integration of all relevant data ahead of the planned procurement of seismic 2D data position.

During a visit to the governor of Nasarawa State, Alhaji. Umaru Tanko Almakura in Lafia in 2017, the NNPC GMD announced that exploration activities by the NNPC had also commenced in the Benue trough.

Baru said the NNPC was also planning massive 2D seismic data acquisition in other parts of the Benue trough, traversing Adamawa, Nasarawa, Plateau, Benue and Taraba states.

“I am happy to be personally here to kick-start the beginning of a high-profile stakeholder engagement towards oil exploration in the Nasarawa State’s part of the Benue trough,” he said.

Baru noted that the corporation’s Frontier Exploration Services (FES) had mobilised the Integrated Data Services Ltd (IDSL), an upstream arm of the NNPC, to acquire seismic data in the Benue trough, commencing from the Keana area.

President Buhari also said that further exploration in other basins, such as Dahomey and Anambra, would be stepped up.