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What is Nigeria worth beyond oil and gas? – Niyi Akinnaso

What is Nigeria worth beyond oil and gas? – Niyi Akinnaso

There are two approaches to this question. Those who focus on Nigeria’s potential and, therefore, see Nigeria’s glass as only half full, will tell you that the country remains a “great” one (a self-delusion that once characterised our rebranding slogan). But those who focus on the perpetual wastage of Nigeria’s potential, and, therefore, see the country’s glass as half-empty, will tell you that Nigeria is a “failing” (if not “failed”) state. The ruling class belongs to the first group, while the vast majority of the population belongs to the latter.

Those who belong to the latter group are not denying Nigeria’s human and natural resources as well as her fertile land and agricultural potential. They are not even denying what Nigeria’s ruling class has been able to accomplish since independence. What they are saying is that Nigeria’s future has been seriously compromised by a myopic and corrupt leadership, fixated on oil resources to the neglect of other natural resources as well as human and agricultural potential. The consequences would have been more tolerable had oil and gas revenues been judiciously expended for sustainable development instead of being repeatedly looted. What is left is a country in crisis on all fronts. Hubert Ogunde’s “Yoruba ro’nu”, a lyric composed following the Western Nigeria crisis of 1964-65, could now be adapted for Nigeria as a whole.

But don’t be surprised that, in consonance with typical Nigerian leadership culture, the ruling class, always eager to protect its self-interest, might consider this discussion unpatriotic. However, such a negative view ignores Nigeria’s relative under-development, mass poverty, and the varied experiences of millions of suffering Nigerians. Moreover, it ignores the perception about Nigeria held by the international community. Anyone in doubt about Nigeria’s freefall should consider the following facts.

First, given enormous natural and human resources, Nigeria’s progress has been painfully too slow since independence and it has all but stagnated since 2006, a significant year for three reasons. One, that was the year former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term plans fell apart and the politics of succession began, leading to the imposition of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua on the country. Two, Yar’Adua turned out to be a lame President on account of an undisclosed terminal illness. The looting of the treasury during his administration put the country in financial abyss, which was worsened by the global financial crisis of 2008. Endemic corruption has prevented Nigeria’s full recovery, despite rising oil revenues. Today, virtually every branch of government has showcased more cases of corruption and grandstanding than substantive achievements. Three, as I will discuss later, 2006 was also the year Nigeria fell into the “Alert” category on the Failed States Index.

Second, rather than make progress, the country has fallen even further below standards, especially in corruption, infrastructure, and security. True, corruption affects our lives but it does not directly take our lives. But poor or inadequate infrastructure and insecurity often do. Thousands die on the country’s decrepit highways just as thousands lose their lives and property to terrorists, armed robbers, kidnappers, and pirates. For the first time in the country’s history, an internal terrorist organisation, typified by suicide bombings and shifting targets, has been in competition for state power for about two years, forcing the government to enter into third party negotiations, none of which has been successful so far.

Third, fractures have intensified along regional, religious, and ethic divisions. To complicate matters, the elite is also fractured, often along these divisions, on how to solve the problems facing the country. There are indications already that these fractures will intensify even more when the next presidential election comes around in 2015. But these fractures are not new. They were responsible for the fall of previous Repubics and the rise of military coups. They even once led to a full blown civil war. What is new is the form these fractures have taken in the last two years; the intensity of competing claims along fracture lines; and the government’s fumbling approach to the ensuing problems.

The cumulative effects of these shortcomings are illustrated daily in poor infrastructure; inadequate health facilities; declining educational outcomes and standards; rising unemployment; growing food insecurity; erosion of values; and lopsided distribution of political goods in favour of the ruling class and its allies.

If Nigerian leaders fail to acknowledge the sufferings and complaints of fellow citizens, they should at least ponder the reaction of the international community, especially as revealed in three major international indices, all pointing toward a failed state.

First, for six years in a row, the 2012 Failed States Index, which ranks countries on 12 social, political, and economic indicators, puts Nigeria in the bottom “Alert” category as the 14th country in the world that is most likely to fail. Once again, Nigeria falls into this ignoble category some war-torn countries, such as Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq belong.

Similarly, Nigeria ranked very poorly on the latest Corruption Perception and Human Development Indices. After countries worldwide were ranked on bribery, kickbacks, embezzlement, and the strength and effectiveness of anti-corruption efforts, Nigeria emerged near the bottom at 143 on the 2011 CPI. Given all the corruption scandals within the past year, the 2012 CPI (due out on Dec 5) is likely to be worse.

On the leading indicators that affect citizens’ well-being, the Human Development Index also has bad news for Nigeria. In a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, standards of living, and quality of life for countries worldwide, Nigeria ranked at 156 in the bottom category of  “Low Human Development”.

Of course, Nigeria can boast of its high ranking as the tenth largest oil producer, owner of the tenth largest oil and gas reserves, and the sixth largest oil exporter in the world. She can also tout her ranking as the seventh largest country on earth. However, Nigerian leaders’ failure to capitalise on these positive rankings in transforming Nigeria into a “strong and virile nation”, as envisaged by the founding fathers, continues to make the Nigerian glass half empty.

If the oil and gas industry were to suddenly collapse, what would Nigerian leaders do to sustain the country’s teeming population? This is a thought they should begin to entertain as many countries worldwide are working harder and harder on developing alternative sources of energy. Economic profligacy should end and the diversification of the economy should begin in earnest. Otherwise, the Nigerian glass will continue to fall below the half mark until it is completely empty.

– Niyi Akinnaso

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