Back in the 1970s, in the height of our oil boom, our then Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, was alleged to have boasted that Nigeria’s problem was not how to make money but how to spend it. That was a perfect description of how giddy we strode with swagger as an oil-rich country. Soon, our appetite for consuming what we needed and what we didn’t need became our hallmark. We abandoned agriculture and settled for the new deal in town: oil. Or maybe we should say here that we were intoxicated by the substance.
Truth be told, oil did us well, especially in the famed days of oil boom before the oil doom. We built several infrastructure across the land – roads, railways, schools, hospitals, airports, seaports, stadia etc. We hosted several international events and competitions and established our voice internationally as an authentic African voice. Oh, and we played the big brother to many other countries, even picking up some of their mundane bills like salaries. Who never knew of Nigeria? Well, those who lived in outer space maybe.
Yet it seemed that the oil was also our undoing. Apart from driving up our tastes to a point of inordinacy, it made us lazy about other sources of income generation such as agriculture, tourism and even tax collection. Why bother about any ‘hard work’ when we had the substance which turned to wealth, almost instantaneously. The interesting part was that we didn’t need to know the process of harvesting the substance from the soil. Those who needed it more than us were willing to come and apply their ingenuity to drill it out, tell us how much they had drilled and pay us what we agreed on. Many said the process allowed us to be cheated by the ‘driller-marketer’ which our technologically-advanced partners are. But we never bother because in this romance called ‘joint venture’ we are in; we the rent-collectors are guaranteed our rents, no matter the quantum.
The very rent gave us smart toys, squeaky clean designer clothes and perfumes that attracted friends and foes alike to recognise our place in the firmament of oil-rich countries. But then, it also created our club of local oil sheikhs and our nouveaux riche who became the new overlords over fellow citizens who were banished to a life of poverty, to eat from the hands of the oily men and women. The latter’s only ‘pedigree’ was usually connection to state power. And the state? That became synonymous with waste and ineptitude.
The state played yoyo with the oil. And because we still rely largely on imports of the refined products (petrol etc) of what we sell in raw form (crude oil), the cost of the refined product stayed high whenever the international oil price was high. And when the oil price dips, we still suffer because, being an oil-producer, it means our income flow is reduced, with attendant negative effect on the ordinary citizens. In a sense, therefore, it is, ‘heads they (government) win, tails we (the citizens) lose’. Such hanky-panky by government always brought out the anger in the people with some praying that they wished the country never had the magic substance after all.
Every run comes to an end after all. And so many of us saw this coming, while many pretended it would never happen. Even now that it has happened upon us, many have still not heard or have refused to hear. But as the saying goes, if it feels like it, it probably is. The party is over, or isn’t it? The party of swimming in the ocean of oil money (read ‘oyel money’, for good effect). In the last few weeks, our petrodollars have refused to come tumbling in as we often assume and expect. We need to wake up and smell the coffee, or is it the stench of burnt oil? Whatever it is, we are in trouble and the earlier the country and its citizens realised that, the better.
We need to not only diversify our economy to bring in more money from the abundance of sources, but perhaps, more importantly, we need to curb our penchant for excessive consumption and wastage at the personal and corporate levels. Many of us have campaigned for smaller government in terms of the number of political offices. The time to implement that is now. It is equally important to cut the official and unofficial perks of such offices, including the costs for running illegal offices such as those of first ladies or wives of government officials at any level. We need to tell ourselves the hard truth that the oil party is over!
– See more at: http://www.thenicheng.com/oil-party-yet/#sthash.qYDqy8L5.dpuf