By Fatima Ibrahim Maikore
Recent abduction and murder of some geologists and engineers of the University of Maiduguri have again highlighted the perils facing professionals who work quietly in the background but whose occupational outcome is part of what is responsible for the prosperity of our nation.
On the fateful day of Tuesday, July 25, 2017 the NNPC/University of Maiduguri Exploration team and a detachment of Nigerian Army and Civilian JTFs were attacked by some insurgents, while in the line of duty. The unfortunate incidence sent shock waves around the university community and indeed the whole country. The incidence consequently put a set back on the exploration activities taking place in the Chad Basin. The University of Maiduguri lost about five Professionals. The department of Geology alone lost two lecturers, whilst four others were abducted. Unfortunately, the military had falsely claimed that it rescued all the geologists working for NNPC.
Following the initial report released by the military authorities, people were relieved that the military was on top of the situation. However, subsequent events indicated, to the chagrin of the general public, that in actual fact, lives were lost and some personnel of the University of Maiduguri where abducted by the insurgents. The insurgents released a video showing three of the lecturers begging the federal government and the general public to key into their rescue operations.
Meanwhile, on August 30, 2017, Brigadier-General S.K. Usman, director, Army Public Relations released a statement explaining that, “The error in the statement was not deliberate. The Nigerian Army in this present dispensation is reputed for timely dissemination of information on activities of our troops in all theatre of operations. We have strived to keep the public informed on our activities with no intention of distorting any fact.”
Some of the deeper fallouts of these developments cannot be easily quantifiable but, certainly, we can at least talk about the loss to the families of Dr. Militus Joseph Vahbakke and Mr. Manaja M. Uba, who I knew personally during my undergraduate studies, and the uncertainty surrounding the continued abduction of Dr. Solomon M. Yusuf and Haruna Dashe. The uncertainty over Mohammed Alhaji Kolo’s whereabout – as he was not seen in the video – puts his family and friends in a state of continuous anxiety. Hopefully, some reasonable outcomes will emerge from the negotiation, which has already begun, between the insurgents and the federal authorities.
Yet, another disturbing development threatening the sustainable educational advancement of the North-East, a region already battered by the activities of the insurgents, is the statement in PUNCH newspaper of Sunday, August 6, 2017, credited to the chairman of ASUU UniMaid chapter, that no fewer than 70 lecturers have resigned in the wake of this insurgency. According to Dr. Mamman, “About 70 lecturers left, about 5 died and 3 are held hostage by the Boko Haram. The admission figures have been dropping since insurgency started in 2012. We don’t know what will happen to the admissions of students this year.”
Dr. Mamman’s chilling information draws particular attention to that unsung community of professionals who engage the under bowels of our sub-surface to bring forth the gems and rewards of extraction, through which our national growth and development is financed. I am talking here of geologists, engineers and all scientist connected to the extractive enterprise.
It is important to expect that in so far as insurgency endures in the North-East, tragic incidences like this would become the norm. This should tell our leaders in the political and military spheres that what the country is fighting is probably only using religion as a camouflage to mask its major interests in our oil and gas resources. The truth is that, as a recent commentator in the Daily Trust argues, “What France has not given up … is the obsession for the energy possibility in the Sahel and Sahara.” These point starkly to the transition of interests from religion to hydrocarbon in the strategy of Boko Haram, and the case for strong international backing in their campaign, evident in the recent creation of the G5 Sahel Force under the leadership of France.
Prior to this Maiduguri tragedy, there had been cases of politically motivated killings of oil and gas professionals in the Niger Delta. Yet this new dimension has brought back concerns on how we should think about the safety and security of our geologists and engineers. After all, this is not a typical accident, and the safety concerns of members of this community had heightened over the past years. The new pattern of threats poses yet another serious danger to individual geoscientists, as well as the economic prosperity of the nation.
One of the many factors that militate against the accelerated development we all seek for in the Nigerian mining sector, is the lack of sufficient geoscientific information. Geoscientific data and interpretations are an indispensable component in making serious investment decisions in the mining sector in any country. Normally, the geological surveys of countries endeavour to provide these data through meticulous and painstaking geologic mapping exercises. These geologists and other related professionals had to work in highly unsuitable terrains and under harsh weather conditions, and at the risks of being attacked by wild animals, including snakes.
Much has been said about how Nigeria is richly endowed with mineral resources but few appreciate the fact that people have left their comfort zones to explore these minerals. It needs to be stated that a lot is required in evaluating our so called rich mineral endowments, to know their quality and quantities. And, the requisite human resources (including the geoscientists and mining engineers) that Nigeria needs to provide these data and information are not enough to explore the vast land mass that we have.
It is, therefore, very unfortunate that the few geoscientists and mining engineers we have, are being abducted or killed by insurgents. The activities of kidnappers and other criminals are posing great dangers to the government’s new drive to repositioning the mining sector to attract the much desired foreign direct investments. In other professions, such as in the health sector, medical professionals are covered by some forms of insurance policies and allowances. These are not the case with geoscientists under the payroll of government in Nigeria. The protection of these professionals against the perils inherent in their jobs is not just there and that is unfair, considering their contributions to national development.
Nigeria must borrow a leaf from known mining destinations such as Australia or South Africa to formulate policies and strategies to protect key professionals, who out of frustration often leave the country to seek greener pastures and better working conditions in other climes. The exodus of these professionals, as we are witnessing in the mineral and health sectors, is not healthy for our development as a country.
For this reason, new visions of responses deserve to be considered. In this regard, and since this comes right within the ambit of a national security concern, my humble proposal is that the geoscientists whose nature of work makes them vulnerable, in the face of the new political environment, to terrorism, insurgency, organised crimes and violent mass killings, should come under the cover of a combination of generous insurance policies to defray the risks they are faced with. This is in addition to being attached to a special security force to accompany them when they embark on this kind of mission in the future. In the meantime, one hopes that the presidency, the NNPC, University of Maiduguri, NMGS, COMEG and indeed all Nigerians are thinking of how quickly the abducted geoscientist should be brought home to their respective families.
Fatima Ibrahim Maikore, a geologist, writes from Abuja.