Mystique of ‘oil money’ and a tale of deepening poverty
By Adisa Adeleye
I WAS taken aback a bit, saddened but not depressed, when one of those commenting on my last week`s article on Who Will Save Nigeria wrote bluntly, `Nigeria is cursed with oil` and `No One Can Save Nigeria`. I must confess that my acquaintances with `CURSE` of any kind would be through reading books on witches in Medieval Europe and that witches would curse their tormentors.
At that period, death by burning was the punishment for witchcraft. The other curse I discovered through a peep into Yoruba mythology was that of Alaafin Aole of old Oyo Ile before he committed suicide through insinuations by his chiefs led by Bashorun Gaa.
The unfortunate Alaafin was reported to have shot four arrows in four different directions and said, `as you have disobeyed me, so may all your children disobey you. May they never carry out successfully any errand in which you may send them, may those who are their slaves now become their masters`. After the curse, Alaafin Aole was reported to have broken the earthenware bowl of water. He concluded that, `a broken calabash can be mended but broken earthenware cannot be mended. As it is with the bowl, so let my curse be irrevocable`.
Though many people do not believe in myths, but a reconstruction of some aspects of Yoruba history tends to support the potency of the Alaafin Aole`s curse. The Fulani troops that sacked Oyo-Ile were not soldiers from Sokoto, the seat of the Caliphate, but assault groups made up of slaves and modern day area boys under the leadership of Alimi, a religious teacher whose children later established the existing Alimi dynasty and bear the title of Emir of Ilorin.
I crave the indulgence of my readers for a relevant diversion from the main topic which touches on the embarrassment caused by the abject poverty in a country naturally endowed with oil and gas. Nigeria (including all states) derives more than 80 per cent of its total income from the sale of oil and gas.
For the purpose of our logical argument, `Oil Money` is assumed to be clean unless it is proved to be badly used,improperly managed or wasted. The evidence of usage of oil money could be seen in the development of economic infrastructures and the standard of living of ordinary Nigerians. Based on these factors, the evidence is less edifying.
Perhaps, a serious indictment of oil policy was noticed in the casual remarks of American Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton during her visit to Nigeria. The American could not understand why Nigeria as one of the world`s greatest producers of gas and oil should at the same time be an importer of refined petroleum products.
Her remarks were either laughed off or dismissed as meddlesomeness by the jokers(rulers) at the time. It was during the recent debate on oil subsidy removal that Nigerians awoke to the reality that a sum of about N2 trillion had been sunk into the subsidy valley. The propriety of such action and the correctness of the subsidy figures are still subject of enquiry.
What is sure is that oil money badly utilized could be a source and catalyst of immense corruption. How could a serious nation create a gigantic bureaucracy to facilitate the importation of products of which it is one of the most copious producers?
The argument is that the country could not produce at home the quantity of products needed for the domestic market and had to resort to importation. It is now a question of the seller becoming, at the same time, a buyer. Is it a curse, lack of vision or calculated attitude leading to corruption?
It was reported recently that the Federal Government said it would stop the importation of refined petroleum products within the next 24 months, after `it was done with the turnaround maintenance (TAM) of its traditional four refineries, which first phase has commenced with the Port Harcourt refinery`.
This would sound strange for a government which promises the deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry in its argument on subsidy removal. With this announcement of continuous importation of petroleum products, the sincerity of government`s intention to remove its control of the downstream sector is in serious doubt. It looks as if innovation as a virtue has deserted the Executive or it is not there in the first instance.
There is no doubt that the use to which oil revenue or the proverbial `oil money`is put is the cause of many problems of the country. It has sharpened the acquisitive instincts of many public figures, it has caused politics to become a monetary phenomenon, it has created the avenues to steal by governors, ministers and also the legislators to demand bribes for their oversight duties.
Monetary politics continues to hinder free and fair elections and peaceful removal of bad governments. Improper use of oil money therefore, has become an avenue for corruption and stealing of public funds. It has also allowed many bad Nigerians to amass wealth unjustifiably, and has bred envy and insurgency.
The problem of the past is in the inability of political leaders in governments to manage oil revenue well for the development of the economy and the general well being of the people. The free flow of funds during the oil boom was channeled through wasteful expenditure on ostentatious and riotous living. Import bills were loaded with fictitious figures to drain the increasing oil revenue.
The pity was that no serious minds thought of the proper use of oil money to improve economic infrastructure and the general living condition of the people. After thirteen years of democratic experience, the problems are still there – unemployment, poor standard of living, hunger, anger, killing, maiming, stealing and kidnapping. All in the search for share in the oil revenue.
Perhaps the present leadership would have learnt from the mistakes of the past by focusing on the use of oil money as the necessary agents of economic growth and political unity. It is a wrong policy to distribute oil money lavishly to all the tiers of government for the glorification of their recurrent budgets while leaving paltry percentage to capital development. The change of attitude by all will need constitutional amendments or agreements by all parties to reduce expenditure on frivolities and enhance spending on developing economic infrastructure.
There should be a way to find funds to execute programs to stimulate the economy to greater heights and also promote political stability which is based on general happiness of the people. It is a pity that many Nigerians are yet to believe that a radical government is in place and that oil money would be a blessing in an environment of tightening monetary policy and unfavorable fiscal stance in respect of mass unemployment. Neither will political stability pervade under the condition of winning elections at all costs and winners-take-all concept of the present ruling parties.