The palatial home of Ahmed Mai Deribe, the famed billionaire of Bornu, in northern Nigeria is purported to be the most expensive home ever built in modern Africa.
Fit for a king, the mansion which was completed at a staggering cost of $100 million in 1991 is today a tourist attraction for people brave enough to visit the battleground that its location, Maiduguri, has become.
Northern Nigerian oil barons like Deribe, who is now late, got their start as businessmen in the freewheeling days of military rule in Nigeria when the government, dominated by Northerners, dispensed favours by gifting off state-owned oil fields to friends and cronies.
The beneficiaries in turn controlled a disproportionate amount of the Nigerian economy through their dominance of the country’s natural resources, even as the northern regions progressively got poorer over the years.
The north-east, base of the murderous Islamist group, Boko Haram, is the poorest region in the nation, with 69.1 percent and 76.3 percent absolute and relative poverty levels, respectively, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Poverty Profile Report.
On the other hand, OML 110, with the good yielding OBE field, awarded to Mai Deribe by military dictator Sani Abacha on July 8, 1996 and operated by Cavendish Petroleum, is estimated to have proven oil reserves in excess of 500 million barrels.
Oriental Energy Resources Limited is another of such oil bloc awardees. It is a company owned by Mohammed Indimi who, sources say, is a close friend of former Nigerian military ruler Ibrahim Babangida.
Oriental Energy Resources Limited runs three oil blocs: OML 115, the Okwok field and the Ebok field. OML 115 and Okwok are OML PSC, while Ebok is an OML JV.
Perhaps the most famous northern oil bloc owner is T. Y. Danjuma, a retired general who served as defence minister during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s stint as civilian ruler.
South Atlantic Petroleum (SAPETRO), owned by Danjuma, was awarded the Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 246 in February 1998 by Abacha. SAPETRO divested 45 percent of its contractor rights and obligations to China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) for $1.75 billion (N283.5 billion) in 2006, retaining a 5-percent stake.
Another northern oil baron is Sani Bello, chairman of AMNI International Petroleum and Development Company, who hails from Kontagora, Niger State.
AMNI International Petroleum Development Company owns two oil blocs, OML 112 and OML 117, both awarded by Abdulsalami Abubakar who presided over elections that ushered in Nigeria’s current civilian democracy.
The Okoro and Setu fields in OML 112 are operated by Afren Energy, a company in which a former petroleum minister from northern Nigeria is believed to have substantial interest.
The Okoro and Setu oil fields have about 50 million barrels in reserve and currently produce/export just a little below 20,000 barrels per day.
Express Petroleum and Gas Limited floated by Aminu Dantata are owners of OML 108 awarded by Abacha in 1995, and OPL 227. The firm’s holding which contains up to 2.7 million barrels per day of oil may be valued as high as $22 million, according to research and investment firm CBO Capital.
While these indigenous energy companies are seen by some as a sign of the maturing Nigerian oil and gas industry, which has seen numerous homegrown players emerge in recent times, critics say they are only existing as a result of undue political influence.
“These companies usually lack the technical know-how to operate their oil licences and often have to partner with established international oil majors to extract either crude, gas or condensate,” said one industry source who preferred to remain anonymous.
The Nigerian government, eager to lessen the country’s dependence on oil and gas, is pushing a marshal plan for the blighted north-east to attract investments and jobs to the area. However, there have been few takers from within the northern oil barons or elsewhere.
Many see the solution to this problem in investment that would create jobs and generate reasonably distributed wealth. “Unless we create more jobs, we won’t eliminate Boko Haram. Even if we do, another such group will come. We have to empower our people,” said one major investor in the Nigerian economy.