For a man who is a great giver, God chose December 25, 1991, thirty years ago to surprise and to bless Dr. Mike Adenuga (GCON), one of the richest men in the world today with a gift from the ocean depths.
Adenuga had established Consolidated Oil Limited in August 1984 as a company carrying cargoes for NNPC to deliver to whoever they want worldwide, but it was in 1989 that Dr. Ebi Omatsola, a geologist and oil specialist from Shell came on board to drive the oil exploration mission of Consolidated Oil. Late November 1991, Consolidated Oil spotted an oil well in an unusual place, 50 to 60 kilometres north-east of Okitipupa in Ondo State. Nobody thought a place like that could produce oil in commercial quantity. From the beginning, all the experts wrote off the place as not being attractive for oil prospecting. In the language of the experts, it was a “heavy oil” zone, meaning that the possibility of finding oil there was non-existent. But Adenuga’s intuition and research suggested otherwise. Something inside was telling the man they call “The Guru” that that was the oil well to prospect for. The oil well was OPL 113 or Oil Prospecting Lease 113. It was located on shallow waters offshore Ondo State. The oil minister Prof. Jubril Aminu recalled how Mike Adenuga kept bothering him, begging to be allocated that particular well. “I don’t know what he saw there, but he kept bothering me to give him oil well and eventually, I gave it to him,” Prof. Aminu told me.
Adenuga cannot forget OPL 113. This was his first attempt at oil exploration and God blessed him. This was the place Adenuga would eventually make history as the first Nigerian to find oil in commercial quantity. To qualify for commercial quantity, you had to be able to produce a minimum of 10,000 barrels of crude oil per day in those days. That was the threshold. And Adenuga met the benchmark. When asked later to explain his luck and whether he was a wizard to have known that there was oil in that well when even the experts were not sure, Adenuga said: “It takes God to strike oil. The man who knows never tells you where the oil and gas are. Even God doesn’t tell you. You must make the effort to find it. That is the challenge. You must look for it. God has put it there but you must use technology, you must use everything you can to get it. When you get it, you are lucky. If you don’t get it, you go back and you sharpen your pencil again. In oil and gas, you never say die.”
It might be true that “even God doesn’t tell you” where there is oil, but on the dawn of December 25, 1991, God did a rethink and decided to bless Mike Adenuga’s efforts in searching for oil. He had hired a costly oil rig called Trident 8 from Transocean Sedco Forex, the world’s largest offshore contractors who are specialists in deepwater and harsh environment drilling. For hiring Trident 8, he paid a staggering $100,000 per day. Every day, Adenuga was burning money, accumulating into millions of dollars as the days rolled into weeks. Yet he never gave up hope.
On the waters of Okitipupa, the oil rig Trident 8 spread out over OPL 113 like a village atop water. A village that provided everything—a place to sleep, a place to eat and drink, and a place to work. To provide leadership, Adenuga himself was at the rig with his wife Titi, with Adewale Pannox, a childhood friend, with the team of Conoil geologists, engineers and oil-drilling experts from America who had spent weeks on the rig, digging and drilling, propelled by the wings of faith and hopeful expectancy. From November to December, they searched without evident result until something miraculous happened in the early hours of December 25. At exactly 1.30 a.m. on Christmas Day, the hands of fortune moved and the fluoroscope gave a yellow light—an indication that there was hydrocarbon which shows the presence of oil.
Newswatch, the leading newsmagazine of the time reported: “The men who were digging and drilling survived on hope. But at 1.30 am, December 25, when Christians the world over were preparing to mark the birth of their mentor, Jesus Christ, hope turned into reality. The finger on the computer at the oil rig was moving restlessly, an indication that something was wrong, or, as in this case, right. The trained eye could see a lot of gas and crude oil were showing on the instrument. But another instrument, the fluoroscope, would produce something yellowish from the sample, an indication that there is hydrocarbon and hydrocarbon is the evidence of the presence of oil. Conoil has hit pay dirt. At a depth of 4,800 feet, it has found its first pay zone.”
With the fluoroscope showing yellow, the excited American engineer couldn’t help but cry “eureka” to Adenuga: “You lucky man. You’ve struck oil. Congratulations.” Everyone jumped up in euphoria, dancing and screaming as if the Super Eagles had just scored a goal to win the World Cup. It was an unforgettable day of joy, so electrifying. Adenuga recalls: “The whole place became chaotic. Even guys who were already asleep woke up to join us. I nearly fell overboard as I was dancing on the catwalk. One couldn’t have had a better Christmas present.”
“It was just like God says you are blessed,” Dr. Omatsola told me. “For us, it was important that it was on Christmas Day. It was not just any ordinary day. There is nothing as good as success. Because we could have gone through it without finding oil. Nobody thought we could make it. The white men were happy and jumping.”
Newswatch wrote that for Mike Adenuga, “His dream had come true; he had become the first Nigerian to strike oil since the federal government opened up the oil exploration and exploitation business to private entrepreneurs.”
Chief Adelu, Adenuga’s oil teacher and mentor told me: “Finding oil was a turning point. It moved Mike Adenuga from the league of small boys to the league of big boys. I don’t think Globacom would have been without Conoil. Because he had the reserves to mortgage for huge bank loans. Once you have crude oil reserve, that means money. He had the reserves to mortgage, to raise funds, to be able to do whatever he wanted to do. He is a very lucky businessman who carefully studied the terrain before going into it. That’s why it’s easy for him to go into banking, into telecoms, into property development, into whatever else he wanted to do. With this array of interconnections, he fortified himself as a successful businessman.”
Adenuga loves plaques and souvenirs about great milestones in his life. To commemorate finding oil in commercial quantity, Adenuga made a souvenir of oil sealed in a crystal plaque and gave it to people that helped him in his search for oil.
To my readers: Merry Christmas. May you find your oil!