By Muyiwa Adetiba
Dubai is a sight for sore eyes. It is a testimony to how vision and ingenuity can change dross to gold. The change is not only in the tall, glittering buildings or the wide, ten lane roads; neither is it in the development of a big sea-going vessel in the middle of an arid land, nor the creation of sub-zero temperatures for ice hockey within a hot, 50 degree Celsius atmosphere. The kudos really, is in the ability to manage these things and make them work. Dubai makes you think if you are from the Third World. It makes you even more pensive if you are a Nigerian because oil was discovered in Dubai about the same time as Nigeria.
Until then it was a piece of land nobody wanted. Nigeria on the other hand was already established in cash crops and endowed with a well educated, middle class. She also had good solid minerals to boot. It was no bet really which of the two would lead the other into the new millennium. Nigeria was after all, the sleeping giant of Africa. But 60 years down the road, the reverse seems to have been the case. Dubai has become the hub of the Middle-East in commerce, tourism and finance. It had used its petro-dollars to project itself into the millennium while taking care of its indigenes.
Its dependence on oil revenue had reduced gradually over the past two decades. Meanwhile, Nigeria, like the five foolish virgins in the Bible, had woken up at mid-night to find that the lamps had burnt out because they had wasted their oil during the day. Well, the oil is still there in our case, but the relevance is gone; perhaps for good.
People talk about the curse of oil. But it is true only for the unwary and the slothful. Many European and even Middle-Eastern countries used their petro-dollars to better the lives of their people. Some invested in infrastructures; some in education and technology; some built foreign exchange reserves. Nigeria did none of these things. In fact, it retrogressed in all the core indices of nationhood including moral values. Where did all that money go? Almost 60 years of pumping oil and we cannot even have a smooth hundred kilometre drive anywhere in the country.
Industries are dwindling, health and educational facilities are dwindling, energy is dwindling, employment is dwindling. The nation is poor; its people are poor. And because of this, crime is rising, militancy is rising, terrorism is rising. You want to ask again: where did all that money go? Last week, the Nigerian-Finnish Chamber of Commerce tried to address the issue of Nigeria without oil. Its speaker was Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, an industrialist and past President of the Nigerian- American Chamber of Commerce.
His address was in a well prepared speech that offered a lot of hopes regarding the future of Nigeria outside oil. He wanted the government to concentrate on infrastructure, institutions and rule of law and allow the private sector to dictate the business space. He really did not say anything new or attempt to re-invent the wheels except reiterating that it can be done. He echoed the current mood that Nigeria might in fact be better off without oil.
The message is sometimes in the small print and this for me, was disclosed by the visiting Finnish Deputy Minister External Economic Affairs, Mr Matti Anttonen in his short address. A hundred years ago, he said, Finland was an undesirable place to go. And he wondered rhetorically how his fore fathers were able to survive the unfriendly climate without energy and without technology. It also had an unfriendly neighbour in Russia which took part of its land as punishment for its independence during the World War. Finland is a small country of six million people with very few natural resources; definitely no oil.
Yet Finland is one of the richest countries in Europe and thus in the world. The key, according to Mr Anttonen, is because the people are rugged, hardworking and united. Nigerians are rugged but are we really hardworking? Do we give value for money when we offer service? Are we united? Finland also has a very well educated work force, perhaps the best in Europe and it is always at the cutting edge of research and technology. Quality education unfortunately, is one of Nigeria’s Achilles heels at the moment.
In considering the prospect of a Nigeria without oil, we have to take the human factor into account. It is not easy for a country that had been used to easy oil money, to a life of indulgence and waste, to leaders who don’t know anything about accountability and a people who are neither raised to challenge them nor trained to believe in taxes and levies to seamlessly switch to a life of discipline, taxes and dignity of labour. So the major challenge is in the mind. A chess player who has lost his queen (his most powerful officer) through a sloppy move cannot afford the indulgence of bemoaning his loss otherwise he will lose the game. What he should immediately do is a calm re-assessment of the strengths of the remaining officers and re-strategize.
Are the leaders mentally attuned to deal with the challenges of the new reality or are they still in denial? Are they willing to make a calm assessment of our strengths and weaknesses, or are they looking for a quick fix? And talking of quick fixes, are the people aware of our precarious economic situation, and the great demands it will make of them and their will power? Are they willing to forgo their tastes for all things imported from food to clothes and cars? Are they willing to learn and employ new skills to improve their lot? Do they realise that paradigm has shifted and this would be a long haul?
Nigeria is too potentially rich to be poor talk less of wallowing in poverty. Many countries that have less than ten per cent of what Nigeria has are up and running…. Some of the biggest Iron and Steel Industries are built in countries that have neither iron ore nor coking coal. Some of the biggest oil refineries and petro-chemical industries are from countries that do not produce crude oil. Nigeria has all of these and then some. Every zone has something to offer in terms of solid minerals. In addition, we have the land, good arable land; we have the population, we offer varieties for tourism purposes, on top of all these, we have professionals in every field.
Nigeria without oil is extremely do-able. It is even almost desirable. But it has to do with our mindset and our collective resolve to think Nigeria before self and tribe. Our attitude will ultimately determine our altitude.