Nigeria’s Oil and Gas Curse
By Emeka Uzoatu
Many things are perplexing about ‘the geographical contraption’ called Nigeria. Like how it has only occasionally failed to have the most inept in its ranks leading it, for instance. In consequence, perhaps, the most intriguing now remains how it has coped with the huge revenues accruing from its vast oil and gas sector over the years.
In a recently-released compendium covering the years from 1990 to 2017, the nation made a total of close to a trillion US dollars from the sale of crude alone. Of this humongous amount, it can be argued that the nation currently has nothing to show for it but a head covered with spittle – a la the proverbial never-do-well in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
And why not. When at the last count more than 23 million of them are not in gainful employment. Coupled with this, no less than 82 million of its subjects are living beneath the poverty level.
Indeed, save of course for a few notable stand-out moments, this mismanagement of its oil wealth holds out for the entire stretch.
Like under President Obasanjo’s 1999-2007 interregnum when a total of $261.8 billion accrued to the nation’s account from the source. But, in an apparent over advertisement of his economic ineptitude, all he opted to do was pay up all our outstanding debt sans even a mere moratorium.
Much as some critics used it to get at him, he remained nonplussed. At least, unlike some in his shoes, it can be argued that he did something with the money. Not unlike when he was military head in 1977 and used some of our surplus to host the 2nd World and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC 77), I dare add.
Well, that’s by the way. But yet again, under General Sani Abacha’s maximum rule, something commendable repeated. Back then, a total of $64 billion was said to have been made from the sector. Before the grim reaper came calling at the presidential villa, he was at least able to set up the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).
Supervised by General Buhari, he used it in an attempt to reduce our massive infrastructural deficit. An opportunity many suppose that endeared Buhari upon becoming elected president to continue where he had stopped then. Talk has been rife ever since of a protracted monomania being among his many ailments.
But unacknowledged by the new man at the helm is the reality that there’s no more boom in the sector. A rare combination of factors ranging from the Covid pandemic and the concomitant drop in oil prices has since put paid to that. And a quick revert to non-oil proceeds is yet in abeyance.
So what does the new man do? Rather blindly, he resorts to internal and external borrowing. And as at date our public debt stands at more than 32.915 trillion of our embattled local currency. Meanwhile, permission for new loans are easily given by a rubber-stamp national assembly. Not minding that more than 80 percent of our budget is now used to finance the old ones.
Like expected, many are the voices calling for a redressal of the anomaly. The more so given the roadmap the government is presenting. Most of these borrowed funds where they don’t end up in individual pockets are purportedly being used in funding projects that will pay them back.
Like railways. But rather sadly, the lines are currently being built to stations that can hardly make this possible. For instance, one runs all the way to an arid neighbouring country where the president has cousins. And this at the neglect of tasted composils that boast larger markets and traffic.
Added to this is the fact that the struggle for non-oil revenue appears to have been relegated to the backseat. What with the government petroleum corporation still seeking investment in private refineries. As though the nation is unaware of the impending divestment from fossil fuels the world over.
While mightier oil-producing nations are already preparing for life after oil, we appear to be living in the past. Not unlike the storied mad woman chasing after rats escaping from the inferno of her smouldering house, we clutch at the air in vain. Making many aptly wondering whether we are under a curse or something worse.
This train of thought, after all is considered, takes us back to where we started. After all, before oil we were not worse off. Every section of the country reaped from where they sowed. Most importantly there were no sectional products to be piped elsewhere for lucre.
Musa and Oghene managed whatever grew in their backyards with no interference from Idowu and Tamuno. Who were, anyway, up to their hilt in their own localised pursuits to be bothered by what whoever else was doing across the border.
Then oil came calling and the rest is now contemporary history. Leaving some of us lost in wonder whether the mineral resource is a blessing or a curse. Most so when crossed with our poor leadership potentials.
Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of Nairaweb.ng. He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom.