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Unveiling the Black Gold: The Global Discovery of Crude Oil and Nigeria’s Enduring Legacy and Impact

By Olusoji Daomi Esq.

There was 1901, a Persian adventure was about to kick off. No treasure chest, though.
This hunt was for liquid gold, petroleum. An Englishman named William D’arcy had secured a permit from the Persian regime. He could explore oil in the region. Now Darcy did not go himself. Instead, he sent a seasoned explorer, George Reynolds. Reynolds toiled hard for seven years, but no luck. He couldn’t find the oil. Back home, Darcy was almost bankrupt. The expedition had drained his wealth. They had money for just one last dig. It was all on nothing. I’m sure you can guess where this is going. On May 26, 1908, the signs were good. Reynolds was drilling. He had a place called Masjid-i-Suleiman. The drill had passed 1100 meters, then at 4 a.m. success. A huge oil gusher, shot into the air. Later accounts say it was 75 feet high. The rest, as they say, is history. D’arcy called his firm, the Anglo-Persian oil company.

In 1935, it became the Anglo-Iranian oil company. In 1954, it became British petroleum and in the year 2000, it became BP. Persia was the first in West Asia. It would trigger a frenzy for oil, soon it became the most valuable commodity in the world. But why did explorers zero in on West Asia? How did they realize that petroleum had value. Humans have been using petroleum for a long time, almost 5,000 years, but the uses were different. They couldn’t dig and then refine crude oil. They did not have that technology. So they depended on oil seeps. Places where petroleum bleak down to the surface, the first such spot was in Iraq in a place called Heath. The locals called it the fountains of pitch. When petroleum leaks to the surface, it creates a by-product. It is called a salt. Sometimes it looks like a black sticky liquid. Sometimes it’s a solid mass. Ancient civilizations had many uses for it. The Babylonians used it to fix leaks on their ships. The Mesopotamans used it to fix jewels and the ancient Egyptians used it for embalming even to make pyramids. The blocks are held together by a salt. The Chinese also used oil. This was around 2,000 years ago. They used bamboo pipes to carry oil into homes. It was then used for heating and lighting. Yet petroleum was never considered valuable. In fact, finding oil was a bummer.

Diggers in the US always wanted to find water or brine. If they found oil, it was a bad day. All that changed in 1854. That’s when Kerosene was invented. Now petroleum could give you kerosene and kerosene could give you light and warmth. In the US state of Pennsylvania, this triggered a new rush. Many oil seats had been discovered there, so the hunt was on. In 1855, a few investors got together. They hired a man named Edwin Drake. Drake was not an expert in drilling or oil, but he changed the game. Drake came up with a new technique. First he would drive a pipe into the ground and then he would drill inside that pipe. This way, debris wouldn’t clog the well. You could dig easily for longer periods. At first people ridiculed him. The whole mission in fact was called Drake’s Folly. But in August 1859, he succeeded. At 69 feet below the ground, Drake found oil. Investors made millions from this oil rush. Billion dollar companies were founded. But Edwin Drake died penniless. Oil, though, was unstoppable. Everything coal could do. Oil could do better. Whether it was heavy machinery or ships or even later automobiles. Most of the oil came from the United States where Stasia was a minor player. In the 1940s, just 5% of the world’s oil came from here. More than 60% came from the US. So how did that change? Because of the Second World War. A lot of machines were involved in the fighting. Tens of thousands of tanks, hundreds of aircraft, thousands of military trucks, jeeps, artillery, all of this needed oil to run. And where did this oil come from? The Allies got most of it from the United States. But soon concerns emerged. What if these reserves ran out? So the Americans and the Europeans started looking elsewhere and they settled on the Arabian peninsula. And there is a reason. Why? In 1932, oil was found in Bahrain. It was the first oil well in the Arab side of the Persian Gulf. This caught the attention of its neighbor, Saudi Arabia. In 1933, the Saudi king allowed American companies to drill. A Californian firm won the contract. They set up a subsidiary in Saudi Arabia. It was called Cassok. At first, they did not have much success. Some of the wells ran out of oil. Others had too much moisture. Then in 1938, they reached their seventh drilling site. Dumum well number seven. And it was an instant success. At 1,440 meters, the diggers truck oil. By the end of that month, well number seven was producing more than 3,800 barrels of oil. The mission was a success. Soon an oil pipeline was built there. It took the oil from the Dumum fields to a nearby port. Saudi king Abdulaziz himself inaugurated it. He opened the valve to fill up the first tanker. Thus began the Arabian oil rush. The second world war fueled it. The US government toyed with the idea of buying the Saudi oil company where the plan was abandoned.

Then in 1944, a big change happened. An advisor in the State Department made a suggestion. His name was Aber Fesh. He said, why not change the company’s name? Why not make it reflective of the new partnership? So, Cassok became Aramco, the Arabian American oil company. It got two new partners, Standard Oil owned by the Rockefellers and Sokhani Vacuum, which later became mobile of Exxon mobil. They brought capital with them. So, Aramco expanded operations. All of this may sound easy on paper, but finding oil in the deserts of West Asia was tough. Usually, diggers look for markers like rock formations or oil seeds. But in deserts, you can’t see those. All you can see is an endless stretch of sand. So, drilling for oil was tough. Companies had to use new techniques like Seesmic mapping. By the mid-1940s, the value of this liquid was clear to all. Oil fields became military targets. In 1940, Italian planes bombed Saudi Wells. The idea was to choke Allied supplies. Similarly, Hitler eyed the oil fields of Baku. That was one reason he invaded the Soviet Union. So, oil became political. In 1944, a famous geologist submitted a report to the US government. His name was Everett DeGolier. He said West Asia was sitting on 25 billion barrels of crude oil. The US simply couldn’t let it go. They used every trick to control the oil fields. But then seven companies dominated the global oil industry. They were called the seven sisters. The
Anglo-Iranian oil company, Gulf Oil, Shell, Standard Oil of California, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Standard Oil of New York, and Texaco. All seven were American or British. And you can see why that was a problem. Yes, the oil was enriching the Gulf nations, but almost 50% of the revenue was still going to Western companies, and this led to resentment. In the 1950s, Iran tried to nationalize its oil industry. Guess how the West responded? By toppling the Iranian government. But the seven sisters soon faced a new challenge. In 1959, they tried to reduce prices for West Asian oil. There was too much supply in the market, so the seven sisters wanted to spur demand.

But oil producing nations did not like that. Lower price meant less money for them. So in 1960, their oil ministers hurried in Baghdad. They formed a new cartel. It was called OPEC. The organization of petroleum exporting countries, OPEC. At first, OPEC had five members. Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. Later, Libya, Qatar, and Algeria joined. Today, it has 12 members. Now, OPEC’s job was to stand up to the seven sisters to make sure their revenue was protected. But in the 1960s, that was hard to do. One reason was that they did not fully control the oil fees. Another reason was that supply was a lot. So controlling prices was easier said than done. In the 1970s, that
became the new target. Getting full control of the oil companies. In other words, nationalization. The first step was in 1973. Israel and its Arab neighbors were at war. The West was supporting Israel. So the Arab oil producers imposed an embargo. No oil if you support Israel. As you would expect, prices shot up. In one year, oil became 300 percent more expensive. And Western countries got the message. These resources belonged to us. That is what the Arab world was telling them. In 1974, Saudi Arabia took over 60 percent of Arab.

By 1980, it was fully owned by the regime. The Iranian revolution happened around the same time. So two big oil taps changed character. One was nationalized. The other was shut. Since then, a lot has changed. Iranian oil still remains sanctioned. Meanwhile, Arab producers have made trillions. So I guess it is going to mix bag. Oil has packed. West Asian treasuries with petrol dollars. Most of them used that money for big development projects. Massive cities were built in the middle of deserts. Thousands were lifted out of poverty. But there has been a downside too. Oil brought foreign powers to West Asia. Turned the region into a political minefield. Wars were fought to control the oil wells. Ruthless regimes were sponsored and propped up. So West Asia’s oil story is not a complete fair detail. There are chapters written in blood too. Of course today things are changing. We know oil reserves are not going to last forever. We also know that oil is bad for the planet. So West Asia is preparing for a new future. A future without oil.

The discovery of crude oil in Nigeria now morphed into her greatest adversary. The lush Niger Delta region, once teeming with life and sustenance, now bore the scars of environmental devastation. The waters that had sustained communities for generations were now tainted, rendering their livelihoods precarious and their future uncertain.

As Nigeria’s economy became increasingly reliant on oil revenues, the nation unwittingly slipped into the trap of mono-economy. With oil as the sole lifeline, the country’s fate was intertwined with the volatile fluctuations of the global oil market. Corruption, once a whisper, now roared through the corridors of power, siphoning off precious resources meant for the nation’s development.

Poverty tightened its grip on the populace, as the promised riches from oil failed to trickle down to the masses. Meanwhile, in a stark contrast, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) wielded its oil wealth as a tool for transformation, turning barren deserts into world-renowned tourist destinations.

As Nigeria found herself drowning in a sea of foreign loans to prop up her national budget, the haunting question lingered in the air: *Where had all the oil money gone?* The echoes of mismanagement and misappropriation reverberated through the land, casting a shadow over the dreams of a prosperous nation.

Nigeria stood at a crossroads, grappling with the consequences of her oil wealth turned curse. While the UAE soared to new heights with visionary investments, Nigeria found herself shackled by debt and disillusionment, a cautionary tale of squandered potential and misplaced priorities. The true cost of Nigeria’s oil riches was not just measured in dollars and cents, but in the shattered hopes and dreams of a nation yearning for a brighter tomorrow.

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