Sierra Leone Nation Discovers Oil

Lagos — The once war-torn West African country of Sierra Leone has discovered oil, offshore Freetown. However, it is still not clear if it is in commercial quantity.

The first find of oil was announced by a consortium led by United States firm Anadarko, with Australia's Woodside Petroleum Ltd, Spain's Repsol YPF and Britain's Tullow Oil PLC as partners.

However, citizens welcomed the announcement with cautious optimism saying the oil should benefit the entire country.

Sierra Leone's Information, Minister Ibrahim Ben Kargbo told journalists yesterday: "President Ernest Koroma is extremely happy about the discovery but has advised that we must all be cautious and watch further developments.

"It is good news indeed. Let's all pray the oil will become a blessing to the country. If the oil becomes a flourishing industry, all Sierra Leoneans will benefit, particularly the younger generation."

The minister was further quoted by as saying: "I can assure you that what happened when foreigners benefited from the diamond industry and Sierra Leoneans didn't will not happen with the oil sector."

Ordinary Sierra Leoneans were sceptical, in a country which ranks at the bottom of the UN's human development list and among the three most corrupt in the world, according to corruption watchdog, Transparency International.

"It may be the end of our woes as far as any fuel shortage is concerned," taxi driver Sallieu Jalloh said, but office assistant Salian Koroma hoped that "the discovery will not fuel corruption in the industry."

Repsol said the discovery showed the potential in a region, which has been relatively unexplored.

Anadarko is also prospecting off the coast of Liberia, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

West African states on the Gulf of Guinea, including Nigeria, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome, as well as Angola and Congo, are or promise to be major oil producers, but very little of the wealth has filtered down to the populace.

Paul Ohia with agency report