Says oil is curse to Nigeria
BY VICTORIA OJEME
ABUJA—MR. Richard Dowden, Director of African Society, London, yesterday, identified endemic corruption, bad politics, failed economic policies, over-dependence on oil, favoritism for appointments and the country’s bad reputation for the continued slow pace of development.
Dowden, who was guest speaker at Independent Annivesary Lecture in Abuja, told a gathering of top government functionaries, including members of Federal Executive Council, led by President Goodluck Jonathan, Speaker of House of Representatives, governors and others, that the discovery of oil was a curse to Nigeria, as it had led to widespread corruption and looting of resources by corrupt government officials.
The lecturer, who noted that major players in the private sector also contributed to the country’s poor economic indices, with the frequent use of under-hand tactics such as tax evasion, adding that Nigeria’s economic woes began with the advent of oil which, according him, led to a lack of initiative by successive governments.
Dowden, who delivered the lecture, entitled, “Nigeria in Transformation” at Tafawa Balewa House headquarters of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said that for Nigeria to return to the post- independence era in which it recorded trade surplus, investments must be made with a view to exporting cash crops.
Singling out members of the National Assembly, who he criticised for earning the highest pay in the world as congressmen, Dowden warned that the country could not continue with the socio-economic disparity between the rich and poor.
He said: “I believe oil is a curse, it is like ”King Midas.” When King Midas was king, he wanted everything he touched to turn to gold. Everything he touched turned to gold but he starved to death. When he touched food and drinks, it turned to gold. Did oil make this country rich? No, to the contrary.”
Former BBC correspondent Michaela Wrong and a renowned poet, Odia Ofeimun, discussants at the lecture, called on government to end lopsided distribution of wealth and diminishing amount of opportunities for Nigerians in the lower rung of society.
President Jonathan, in his remarks which followed the comments from guests, reiterated his administration’s commitment to transform the country.
He sought a better presentation of Nigeria by the media and elite, who he blamed for brainwashing the public into a state of despair.
The President, while pledging improved power supply, insisted that he could instigate change by building institutions and convincing the best brains in Diaspora to return home to contribute to national development.
He declared that on completion of his reform agenda, Nigeria will end its run with budget deficits and return to a path of stability, completely changing its oil dependent status.
Jonathan said: “When I see people in my office, I always say that only a few people needed to see me if the system is working. Ministers don’t need to see me if the system works.
”Ministers have a budget approved by the National Assembly to run their ministries, their recurrent and their capital project. If they are competent, they can run the ministry in a way that Nigerians will know that they are working,” he added.
“A lot of things have not been done properly, we have a lot of negative issues, because of this probably because a lot of things need the intervention of the president, you probably want to alter something that is not good enough. Now we are in the process of carrying out such corrections, once we are through which such restructuring, Nigeria, will get to where we are going. I have no fears about that.
“The problem of oil which Dowden raised is true. Any country that is blessed with minerals tends to breed corruption. The extractive industry tends to breed corruption. I made the statement somewhere before, that in ten years or thereabout, we should be able to run our government without oil. And we can do it.
“If you look at the size of Nigeria, all the general imports that come into Africa, 20 percent of it come to this country. If we have well managed ports alone, the income we will make as a government will be enough.
“Because there are lot of linkages, things are not done well, goods have to be cleared from other countries and transfers to Nigeria. And if we fix a number of the things we must fix, people may complain that its politics, but we must do these things, we have no choice. By the time all these institutions are fixed in ten years we will run government without oil.
“For us as a people, we must look at others to learn from where they did well and forget where they didn’t do well. He wrote in his book and he made the statement here that everybody thought that the country is going to collapse, that Nigeria is going to be a failed state. But Nigeria is moving.
“He said it that we have very good people, some in the academics, he asked that why is it that we cannot fixe our own country and that is the kernel. We have fantastic people all over the world, for us to have 25 thousand doctors working in America, the questions is how can we use these talents and brains we have to move this country forward?
“I promise Nigerians that surely, we will move this country forward. We will employ all we have and build strong institutions to move this country forward.”