by Solomon Osadolo
WHEN THE WELLS DRY OUT
We are a rich nation. It doesn’t matter how you look at it, we’re rich. Our crude oil revenues are so massive we can sustain a profoundly corrupt government without imploding under the burden. We’ve pulled that off for the better part of half a century now. We could probably still wing it for a while longer. Big deal, we’re that rich. As the price of crude sky-rockets globally, our collective wealth just swells while our politicians froth all over from having an even larger [national] cake from which they can pilfer way more than their fair share. Crude resides in our lands in abundance and it is the elixir that powers the modern world. Yes, we’re rich.
As is usually the case with abundant wealth, prioritizing becomes a forgotten art as one tends to get bereft of ideas on how to efficiently manage said wealth. Prioritizing is the art of exclusion, but when you’re literally drowning in abundant fortune, eliminating wanton desire is near impossible. You attend to every whimsical desire and scratch every itch as they surface. It’s not at all a dramatic or alien trait; just a basic flaw bedeviling the human condition. Not many people (or nations) can manage wealth efficiently. It’s pretty obvious that we don’t know how.
Since the first discovery of crude was made in Oloibiri in 1956, we’ve been set for greatness. We could have built an enviable nation, as strong and as prosperous as any on the face of the earth. But we never did quite really hit it off as we’ve been too busy tending to our ethnic, political and personal agendas. There never was such a thing as the ‘Nigerian dream’ because the notion came up short when stacked against the various regional agendas – like the contrived “northern, southern, eastern or western agenda” that makes their way into our national discourse whenever we are in election season.
The clamour for ultimate control over the revenues from oil by each region is the reason we have such things as zoning formulas. We’re all trying to restrict to our various regions the wealth that would easily be enough to sate all our collective appetites. Every untoward occurrence, every squabble, struggle, scheme and problem dogging us can all be traced to one thing: oil.
But oil reserves are not eternal nor are they renewable.
If we are to have any chance at hitting our goal of being among the top 20 economies of the world the rhetoric and political chatter being thrown around (which really are just a mask for various unsavoury agendas) must be replaced with an actionable plan to use our wealth to efficiently drive the country toward the goal. We need to invest in establishing the various foundations – institutions – which are a given for building a prosperous nation with a robust and thriving economy. Electricity, Agriculture, Education, Security, Roads and Transport, Ports, Judiciary, Arts and Culture… these systems need to be built to a level of robustness/sophistication that they ooze excellence. Governors should strive to build the various institutions in their states. The staggering budgets put up each year have to make an impact on our institutions because, ultimately, that’s the yardstick with which our growth will be measured.
As the search for cleaner, renewable energy intensifies, the golden years of oil enriched national GDP may soon be history. If our oil wells do not max out before, that is. Whichever happens first, the impact will be devastating on our economy if we do not now find a way to prep for that time.
Oil currently accounts for over 60% of our GDP. Take that away and we’d be 60% poorer than we are. Then we couldn’t possibly afford to propagate a corrupt government. It probably won’t even matter if we have intelligent people at the helm of power then because they couldn’t really do much with what will be left of our resources. Our wastefulness and thoughtlessness would have set us back a very long time that to compete on global front economically would be nothing short of epic. Maybe then our many trite squabbles powered by ethnicity and greed would fritter away as there’d be virtually nothing to fight for.
Make no mistake about it; the age of oil will be over sooner or later. When that day finally comes when the global selling price of crude nosedives and the oil corporations leeching our soils for oil eventually either have to leave or become less illustrious, we’re going to rue our blatant disregard for applying foresight to how we currently utilize our wealth. While other nations are dealing with the attendant issues of that time, we’d be stuck in the past, grappling with how to provide basic healthcare, good roads, working ports, standard education, jobs and a working government for our people.
The UAE, another entity that boasts of oil reserves even greater than ours, seem to have caught on to this. They have invested massively in infrastructure and are continuously building institutions that will ensure their economy holds firm long after the sun sets on the golden oil era. They know, as we should, that sooner or later, either the wells will dry out or a new elixir will power the world and they are cashing in on the advantage oil wealth currently gives them by embarking on ambitious projects. We must do the same while we can or we’ll be a nation filled with regret, telling tales to our children of a wealth lost.
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