For those of us who weren’t around during that era, we have either read or heard that before the discovery of oil, agriculture was the mainstay of our economy. Groundnut and cotton in the North; cocoa, rubber and timber in the south provided enough foreign exchange for the government to build schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and other public infrastructures. There was also a strong and healthy competition among the geopolitical zones, and so was corruption minimal. However, with the discovery of oil, the sleeping spirit of greed in us was awakened and it subsequently gave birth to corruption which remains a major impediment to our national development. With oil also, we became lazy and abandoned the farm for white collar job. Furthermore, oil brought about a devastating environmental degradation which resulted in the loss of livelihood of the people who were mostly fishermen and women. Though the area that lay the golden egg shared by the three tiers of government is surrounded by water, the people in the area lacked portable drinking water and basic infrastructures that should have made life meaningful for them. Thanks to President Muhammadu Buhari for ordering a cleanup in the Ogoni area of Rivers State.
The accumulation of these issues led to the agitation for resource control by top leaders of the oil producing communities. Many of the leaders were concerned that the largest chunk of the revenue from oil goes to the non-oil producing states at the expense of the oil producing communities, which remained largely under-developed. Those countering it based their argument on the facts that before the discovery of oil, revenue from the export of farm produce earlier mentioned was used to develop the regions in which the oil producing communities also benefited. This also led to unnecessary inter-ethnic suspicion and complaints of domination by some ethnic groups against others. The end result was militancy in the area. As a way of drawing the attention of the government to the complaints of the people, the militants embarked on pipeline vandalization, causing constant oil spillage which further increases the level of environmental degradation. The youths also revealed how lucrative kidnapping is, by constantly kidnapping foreign oil workers for huge ransom. Prior to that time, kidnapping was almost alien in our society. The security agencies had a tough time dealing with the situation due to their lack of requisite skills, equipment and knowledge of the creeks where these militants hide, until the government of late President Umaru Yar’dua came up with amnesty as a way of dowsing tension.
Whether we liked it or not, things have changed, and as we all know, change is the only constant thing in life. Also, the people are becoming more enlightened and wiser day by day. Definitely, what worked in the past may not fit into the present situation and what is acceptable today may not be tenable in the future. Considering that oil resources have helped to wet the seed of fierce inter-ethnic strife sown in the days of those great nationalist to grow, it is time our political leaders creatively exploit other areas that can guarantee the people a peaceful and progressive future, aside oil. The only explanation for lack of creativity to diversify the states’ economy is largely due to their dependence on cheap oil revenue. Most times, our political leaders cheaply think that the easiest way to fulfill their electoral promise of job creation is to absorb a fraction of the unemployed youths into various government ministries and parastatals, since the constitution guaranteed them monthly revenue from oil which can be used to settle their salaries, rather than create the necessary enabling environment where private businesses can flourish so that they can in turn absorb the army of unemployed youths in our society. This preferred short-cut subsequently increases government monthly salary bills and by extension gratuity and pension, which also translate to less capital for developmental projects. That’s why recurrent expenditures take the largest share of both federal and states budgets each year. Today government is the largest employer of labour as against the practices across developed countries where private businesses and firms are the largest employers of labour. It is a well-known fact that dependence on oil revenue is also the reason why states were created in the past without considering their self-sustainability. Thank God every non-oil producing states are blessed with good soil for farming. All it will take is the political leadership that can harness such potentials…
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Oil made us so lazy to the extent that we failed to realize that oil can dry up, but well planned and managed agricultural resources won’t. Oil drying up does not necessarily mean that there is no more oil in the creek of Niger Delta to drill; it could mean the price falling like we are currently witnessing. The current low price of oil has revealed how vulnerable our economy is. So take away oil resources or funds, many of those seeking political offices especially governorship position would abandon their ambition because there won’t be cheap money to throw around. It means they must dig deep intellectually to raise revenue to pay salaries and develop the state, and would also avoid such waste as sponsorship of holy pilgrimages. In some quarters, it is believed that the power brokers in the non-oil producing states are afraid that oil producing communities would be impossible to catch-up with developmentally, if resource control is granted. However, given the vast arable land in the non-oil producing states excluding other natural land resources, I believe that well-planned and managed agriculture would generate as much revenue as oil.
Also, the absence of cheap oil revenue would awaken the creativity in our political leaders, and they may be forced to look into the area of science and technology. Service industry like medical tourism is another area they may have to exploit. Already, the government of China is hoping to realize 50 percent of their GDP from the service industry by 2020. Not a small sum is spent by our leaders and rich Nigerians to go to India to treat various ailments that “cannot” be handled in Nigeria. The country can as well be the number one destination point for Africans who need first class medical services. With significant investment in education (both formal and informal) and the necessary legislative backing that favours patronage of indigenous inventions, we should be reaping the benefits of these sectors within the next 10 – 15 years.
Allowing states to take charge of their land resources would reduce, if not completely eliminate unnecessary ethnic suspicion and also take away distrust among Nigerians. I’m sure you are already saying how would the government at the center survive? The government at the center can collect royalties on natural resources like oil and other land resources based on their commercial value to carry out her constitutional functions. More so, import and export taxes can raise good revenue for the central government as well. It is worthy to note that, aside not being able to provide all the skilled labour needed for oil exploration, the oil producing states cannot drink their oil, they would surely need those farm produce from the non-oil producing states on their dining table. So also, the non-oil producing states would need the gas and oil to run their farm machines. Examples abound of countries in the world that thrive without oil. We definitely need one another to survive.
Shola Olayiwola is a freelance writer. He loves to write and defend the course of his country.