Usually, Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producing nation, producing as many as 2 million barrels per day. Oil revenue alone makes up over 70 percent of the Nigerian government’s income and provides more than 90 percent of its foreign exchange.
Until now, production was centered in the Niger delta and offshore. There has long been the expectation that there are significant amounts of oil to be found in the impoverished northeast of Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin. Many have hoped the discovery and exploitation of oil might jump start the economy in this historically poor region, which has also been devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency in recent years.
Oil in Nigeria is the property of the state, and oil exploration and production often occurs through partnerships between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and private firms. Boko Haram considers Nigeria’s secular state—and all of those associated with it—to be anti-Islamic and evil. Hence, oil production would be a natural target of Boko Haram. However, Nigeria’s oil industry has been hundreds of miles to the South of where Boko Haram operates, and so it has had little opportunity to attack it.
That appears to be changing. According to Nigerian media, Boko Haram attacked an armed convoy of oil workers investigating the possibility of oil in the northeast. Apparently, there was a firefight, in which anywhere from twenty-seven to forty people were killed, including soldiers and members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (a civilian auxiliary that assists the Nigerian security forces). Boko Haram kidnapped four oil workers, one of whom has subsequently died; they have recently released a video showing the other three.
The Boko Haram video may indicate that the movement will seek ransom for the three surviving oil workers. This has long been the practice of militants operating in the Niger delta. If Boko Haram follows that example, ransom could become a significant source of revenue for the movement.
In response, the minister of state for petroleum resources, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, has announced that the government will stop oil exploration in the Lake Chad basin until the security situation improves. Future activity will depend on the establishment of sufficient security in the region, he said. So, for the time being, Boko Haram has succeeded in stopping what had been a promising initiative. In the longer term, however, the vice chancellor (president) of the University of Maiduguri has assured that exploration for oil and gas will continue.