Quite recently a group calling itself “the Akwa Ibom Professionals Living in Lagos” asked the north to explain what it has put on the Nigerian wealth creation table. The thinking is that theNorth has unjustly benefited from the huge wealth generated by the oil producing South, to the detriment of the rest of the Country. The Niger Delta people are also agitating for the control of up to 60% of the oil wealth for the development of their region, which has suffered directly from Oil and Gas exploration.
Since crude petroleum selling today at unprecedented levels (US$103 per barrel) contributing well over 85% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange revenue has failed to significantly touch the living standard of the oil producing states, their frustration can, and should, be understood. Squalor, environmental degradation, poverty, despair, insecurity are regular experiences of the Niger Delta people. Even with the recent 13% allocation assigned to them, this has not materially and significantly improved the quality of live at the grassroots. So, the clamour for greater control of the oil wealth is reaching a fever pitch. Fearing that continuous acquiescence to repeated request for increase in the derivation formula never satisfies the “Oliver Twists”, the 19 Northern States Governors have rushed to the law courts to stop the gradual depletion of their income.
The frustration, arguments, position papers, entrenched views and digging into narrower sectarian trenches, are creating centrifugal forces that may fuel disintegration. The North is arguing that it is funds from “groundnut pyramids”, the hides and skins, etc, from the late 1940s up to the discovery of oil at Oloibiri in 1958 that provides the South the capital in the first place which led to the sinking of the initial oilrigs. The Middle Belt group equally stresses that without the contributions from their tin mines, Nigerian oil could not have been fully exploited. The East stoutly defends the need for increase in revenue allocations and participation in the highest echelon of government based on the contribution of coal, their marginalization in the political processes, their sheer numbers etc. The South West has not been left behind. The rubber barons, the hardworking cocoa farmers and professional groups are all digging deeper demanding for a greater federal presence and equitable participation in the scheme of things.
This seemingly intractable problem is what is today being feared as the single reason why Nigeria may not be able to hold the union for too long. The USA Government relying on the study of their intelligence community predicts that within the nest 15 years or so, Nigeria may fragment, pointing to incessant religious clashes, armed robbery, elite conflicts, high level of poverty, youth unemployment, drug trafficking, terrorism, etc.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (GCFR), former president and commander-in chief of Nigeria vehemently denies this and condemned the report as spurious. Gen. Mohammadu Buhari (rtd), presidential candidate of the main opposition All Nigerian Peoples Party and a former military head of state and one-time minister of petroleum resources cautions against discountenancing the report.
Which ever way you may look at it – whether you are from the North, South, South-South, South West, North Central or the North-East – the poverty level is biting so hard.
In spite of efforts made by all the governments since independence from 1960, Nigeria has truly never really gotten her acts together. It is so easy to look at the past with nostalgia and think that everything was okay and that it is the present times that are unpalatable. Not so. Perhaps the only good time people remember was during the post- independence era (1960-1966). But even during that time, ethnic interest and unaccommodating postures of the different regions resulted in the coups that led to an unfortunate three-year civil war. Gowon was accused of extravagance; late Gen. Murtala Mohammed was considered high-handed and assassinated by an unpatriotic clique. Despite the effort made by Obasanjo’s military regime, it was blamed for embarking on public sector-led white elephant projects; so was Shehu Shagari. The duo of Buhari and Idiagbon were termed “draconian”, while the continuum of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB), Shonekan (interregnum) and Abacha eras were painted as very corrupt.
Today, critics believe the civilian President Obasanjo’s administration ought to have done a lot more people-centred, grassroots-oriented development programmes.
So where lays the problem? How come all these leader are said to get it wrong? If the North, which fielded most of the Nigerian leaders, was selfish, why is the poverty level in the North so high? Look at the army of “almagiris”, the despite urchins and beggars in the streets of Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Maiduguri etc. Why should Nigeria that had so much wealth from the petroleum sector fail to develop the Niger Delta from where the oil is mined?
Look at the level of desperation. The beautiful Ijaw people are locked in senseless internecine conflicts with the Urhobos; the Urhobos with the Itshekiris. The Igbo is unnecessarily engaged in a war of words with the Yoruba. The Yoruba with the Hausa/Fulanis, the Fulani with Tivs, the Tivs with the Igbos, the Igbos with the people of Akwa Ibom; the Akwa Ibom with the North claiming that the “mallams” have nothing to show as visible contributions to national prosperity. What a tower of Babel! So where have we gone wrong? What is the reality on ground? What hope for the future?
The myth has been that the core North, predominantly at the helms of affairs, had cruelly exploited the oil resources to develop her people to the detriment of the South. This is the crux of the matter.Is this assertion a really or plain myth designed by detractors to deflect vital national psyche from core concerns. Dr. Rilwan Lukman, Nigeria’s one time oil minister and a long-serving former OPEC President posited in various position papers that despise Nigeria’s dogged efforts, she could only achieve less than 5% local content in the vital oil and gas trades. This means therefore that over 95% of the critical sector is not under the control of the North, the South, the West or indeed East, but in the firm grip of exogenous foreign mercantilist interests.
LatePrime Minister Tafa Balewaonly left behind awristwatch, a transistor radio and a simple farm house. Gowon hadly has anything to show for his time as aformer head of wealthy Nigeria, having worked so hard to build bridges, set up universities, expand infrastructures and utilities. Obasanjo had to take some loans to feed his chickens. Shagari survives on pension and goodwill of colleagues. Even IBB sitting atop his Minna mansion says he lives on allowances, proceeds of his bakery and Islamic schools!
So if the North is poor, who is rich? If our past leaders are not so wealthy, who else is richer? If the billions of US dollars said to have been stolen cannot now be retrieved, who is hanging on to this vast wealth recently put at over US$400 Billion? Could all the wealth, as alleged, have been stashed away in numbered accounts abroad, like those of the Shah of Iran, Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo and Ferdinard Marcus of Philippines?
Why do resource-rich developing countries fail to produce leaders and governments that can provide the simple necessities of life like food, shelter, education, infrastructure etc? These are not rocket science. Any high school leaver knows national priorities and how to carter for them. Why this game of calculus? Why should one ethnic group be pitched against another in a senseless battle of attrition? Why are patriots denied access to governments, assassinated, and even when they manage to reach the top, be hamstrung by debt overhang, unworkable economic palliatives, regime change and insecurity?
The reality is that most resource-rich developing countries are not in control of their sovereignty and therefore their resources. As President Shagari in his book “Beckoned to Serve” soliloquized in his detention, any developing country’s leader willing to take full control of his resource will only have a sad story to tell if he is likely to survive at all to write his autobiography. Nigeria has the “misfortune” of possessing the finest grade of oil and gas. This predicament is referred to as the “oil curse”. The Gulf of Guinea comprising of Bakassi, Equitorial Guinea, Nigeria’s Niger Delta, Gabon, Sao Tome, Congo, Angola etc contains hundreds of billion of high grade petroleum fossil fuel. Gas (LNG) – the energy of the future, is in hundreds of trillions of cubic litres available for the next 150 years or so. The wealth buried deep onshore and in sub seabed shafts within this region, is capable of creating an Eldorado for the West African States.
Why Oil and Gas
Ever since the “discovery” of oil by Peter Drakes in Pennsylvania around 1857, oil/gas has assumed most prestigious, number one commodity sought by the industrial advanced economies. With the Industrial Revolution in the late 19 th century, oil/gas has assumed a do or die status. It is the premier, most reliable, environmental friendly, safe, cheaper, flexible source of energy critical to technology prowess.
The 1 st World War, 2 nd World War and other regional conflicts were and are, still being fought to essentially gain strategic control of oil/gas reserves world wide. By the time oil was discovered in Nigeria in commercial quantities, the intrigue leading to the assassination of leaders, incarceration of patriots, the Biafran Civil War, coups and counter coups, election rigging, regime changes, strangulation of leadership and hoisting of debt trap etc, all had to do with the objective of creating a strong foothold in the oil and gas sector amongst others.
In a perceived zero sum world, if Nigeria is to exercise her full sovereign rights, it inevitably means she will emerge as a leading force in the West and Central African sub region. This creates anxiety in vulnerable oil dependant industrialized democracies. It means as a major African oil and gas producer, the following scenarios might emerge:
- Nigerian will no longer import expensive petroleum fuel. This means instead of earning US$ 50b from the sale of crude oil, she may net as high as US$1500b through the sell of Jet A1 fuel, premium grade unleaded petroleum, kerosene fine-grade cooking/heating gas, insecticides, perfumes, pharmaceuticals, candle, buckets, diesel etc. Imagine how far this debt-ridden economy could make if, as an operating partner, she could effectively control and optimize her legitimate equity commitments selling over 5 million barrels of refined petroleum products without any OPEC quota restrictions.
- Instead of a forced redrawing of national boundaries, she will conduct a serious satellite and seismic survey of oil reserves all over the country from Ondo to Borno, Bauchi, Onitsha, the Middle Belt through, the Lagos Lagoons, the Bakassi and identify the size quantum, quality of oil finds and urgently sink rigs knowing fully well that competing interests will sink theirs in nearby alternative locations outside national jurisdiction and legally “capture” and possibly suck out all the oil and gas from a common pool. It should be noted that this precious ocean of energy inevitably flows freely underground without any limitations whatsoever across deliberately redesigned national boundaries.
- It means that oil and gas enclaves known as oil and gas free zones with the ridiculous tax concessions, fiscal and regulatory waivers effectively excluding indigenous competences will never be tolerated, and so on and so forth.
The claims Nigeria has over the oil is just the boundary called Nigeria, assigned to her by the powerful European nations after the Berlin Conference. When in 1885 Nigeria was partitioned, and the North and South was subsequently amalgamated in 1914, Colonial Europe was already aware of the huge potentials of Nigeria. But the intentional acrimony within themselves, the post-World Wars independence struggles, and the post-independence cold war conflicts between the Soviet Union and the USA had not given them the opportunity to fully exploit the country.
Today the Soviet Union has imploded. The halcyon days of Non-Aligned Nations is gone. A hawkish America is the head of a Uni-polar world. She controls the NATO, the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organization, and by forging further alliances with Britain ant the EU, are in a very strong position to dictate the tone of world events.
Globalization; trade liberation, compounded interest etc, are all predominantly geared to suit her objectives. So if it favours their vital strategic national interests, a Euro-centric international Court could be made to provide legitimacy to boundary alteration as prelude to direct military intervention. Once any country or leader is perceived to stand in the way of their strategic preoccupation, they can give that country or regime a bad name and hang her.
Add all these to the ethnic divide-and-rule tactics, the debt overhang incipiently impacting on national sovereignty; mix this caudron with insecurity, poverty…, etc and the witches brew is complete!.
Even though Nigeria sells impressive volumes of oil and gas, since NNPC as a non-operating sleeping partner sells these vital petroleum in crude from without any program of optimization through forward and backward integration, with no single Nigerian company involved in shipping and marketing refined products abroad, the consequence of a net importation of expensive finished products by the giant oil multinationals leaves Nigeria with insufficient funds languishing as a debtor nation.
The frustration cased by dearth of foreign exchange in the land of plenty, with Nigeria hemorrhaging her little foreign exchange to import massive fuel, settlement of vicious foreign debt, payment for conspicuous consumption as a consequence of trade liberalization, funding of over-bloated Joint Ventures “Cash Calls” motivate the present spate of self-destruction. Without fully realizing what is hitting them, Nigerians are hurting themselves, vandalizing oil pipelines, conniving with foreign crooks to steal oil as the elite are engaged in senseless verbiage and frivolities.
This scenario is precisely what the intelligent predators are looking for. Psychic depletion is always the game plan of the wise. It is done in the game of football; it is done in politics; and in business. While Nigerians continue to debate over non-issues, with the conflict in and around the oil producing areas providing the buffer, massive oil extraction is going on elsewhere!!!
As we have seen in the experiences of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Dr. Muhammad Mahathirs’s Malaysia, and even the Japanese Meiji Restoration, the path to national greatness is achieved through internal cohesion, national stability and the application of world-wide best practices whilst taking cognizance of local popularities.
Aspiring developing national leaders must be wary of the antics of some of their advanced trading partners. There is no gainsaying that a lot of good could come from constructive synergy; it is the negative, condescending, imperialistic postures rather than bind xenophobia that must be rebuffed!
Let it be noted that even if each of Nigeria’s present six geopolitical zones could stand on its own as a separate entity, none of them can match the power, the prestige and; in spite of every aforementioned weaknesses, the clout and respect of a Nigeria with a significant population of its 130 million people united under God, speaking with one voice. Above all, current political, economic and social reforms, while emphasizing pristine, sacred, core values of equity, justice, etc, must take concrete steps to empower Nigeria’s precious teeming human capital. It is the highly skilled, well trained, productive manpower resources mutually collaborating with genuine international expertise, technology and foreign capital rather than mere possession of dumb resources that converts Nigeria’s abundant factor endowments and possibilities into world-class competitive goods and services.
This could be in any number of industries or sectors be it agriculture, tourism, oil and gas, solid minerals, tanker shipping or indeed, intellectual properties. This way, the Akwa Ibom Professionals will be at peace with themselves knowing fully well that the North is actively contributing to put food on the Nigerian table. A strong, united, resilient, enterprising, Nigeria positively integrating with its regional neighbours, and teeming with genuine development partners disproves the recent topical US Intelligence Report on Nigeria. Interestingly enough, now that oil and gas is known to be available in commercial quantities in the North, Middle Belt and elsewhere, when eventually the dessert is served following a refreshing, smorgasbord of dinner, the oil from all these new finds may as well provide the much awaited icing on the national cake!
Alhaji Liman is a marine, management and strategy consultant and the presidential candidate of the New Nigerian Peoples Party in the 2007 Nigerian Presidential Elections.