Social and economic development has long been touted as the way to revive the fortunes of Nigeria’s impoverished north and prevent legions of disaffected young men turning to radical Islam.
But Boko Haram violence has scuppered progress, particularly from one potentially lucrative source of revenue — the oil found under the Lake Chad Basin in the country’s far northeast.
Nigeria struck black gold in the Kukawa area of Borno state in 2012, with estimates that 100 billion cubic metres of deposits lie beneath the lake and its arid hinterland.
The discovery raised hopes not just because of its potential to transform the region economically but to also help boost Nigeria’s oil reserves by three billion barrels to 40 billion barrels.
But the former head of the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu, said in March that plans to start production had been put on hold because of the conflict.
Geologists, engineers and other technical staff quit while the country’s main oil unions warned workers to stay away, putting paid to extraction and further exploration.
A senior NNPC official said efforts were ongoing to make the region safe for oil workers, against a backdrop of militant gains of towns and villages across the states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa.
– No blood and oil –
Five years of relentless violence in northeast Nigeria has claimed thousands of lives and made hundreds of thousands of others homeless.
The former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, now the Muslim emir of Kano, said this month that investment in the north was key to preventing radicalisation.
For Mustapha Ibrahim, a political scientist at Yobe State University, oil in particular could help reduce poverty, unemployment and lack of education which fuel radical recruitment.
Boko Haram wants to carve out a hardline Islamic state in Nigeria but there have been no serious suggestions that its insurgency is driven by oil.
– Avoid the resource curse –
Nevertheless, in the maelstrom of rumours that is Nigerian politics, there have been claims that some northern leaders have been fuelling the rebellion for personal economic gain.
One theory is that no oil extraction can be carried out as long as there is instability in Nigeria’s northeast, giving neighbouring Chad free rein to pump out crude from the shared basins in the region from its side of the border.
If and when the conflict ends, analysts say it will be vital to learn from the mistakes made in the Niger Delta region, where most of the country’s oil is currently produced.
The Delta has been wracked by violence while decades of corruption and mismanagement have done little to improve the lives of ordinary people, despite the billions the industry produces.
Only good governance and accountability will bring the insurgency to an end, according to Ibrahim, warning that the stakes are high for Africa’s biggest oil producer.