By Kene Obiezu
In 1956, four years to Nigeria`s independence after more than fifty years of suffocating colonialism, in the fields of Oloibiri, Bayelsa State, Nigeria stumbled upon a nation-changing discovery of timeless proportions. When the first showers of the ‘black gold’ glistened upon a country about to be cut free of its shackles, little did it know that its life was about to change forever.
More than sixty years later, things have changed beyond description for the Giant of Africa with the enviable position of placing in the top ten of the world`s largest oil producers only matched by the unrivalled position of the Africa`s largest oil producer.
In sixty years of swimming in crude oil, Nigeria, the Giant of Africa has been able to successfully weave a delicate tapestry of paradox, petrodollars and privation. The pulse of the paradox is that while the pipe of petrodollars into the country as a result of oil largely remains unclogged, privation has remained the portion of many Nigerians. In one of fate`s most savage salvos, it is even the case that in Nigeria, it is the Niger Delta – the golden goose that lays the golden eggs – that has known the gravest privations. This is in spite of the depredations visited on its immediate environment in the quest to fetch the `black gold’.
As soon as oil was discovered in Nigeria, and even before oil money started streaming into the country, Nigeria`s agricultural and entrepreneurship spirits sagged and have since been replaced by indolence and complacency of epic proportions. The consequences have been as tragic as they have been terrifying. Like a man with only one wife whose mood swings like a pendulum, Nigeria suffers each time the price of oil takes a hit in the international markets.
But a country that depends on oil for everything ironically does not have a well lubricated state machine that churns out good value for its citizens. In fact, the machinery of the Nigerian state has all but broken down, replaced in many places by the machinations of those who by their monstrous misdeeds seek to overrun an ailing country.They are everywhere these days.
On the night of Friday April 22,2023, at Abaezi in Ohaji- Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State, forest of Imo State, more than a hundred people were killed when explosions rocked an illegal oil refinery deep in the heart of the forest. Over a hundred persons also sustained burns of varying degrees. Those who perished tragically included women and children.Some of the victims were burnt beyond recognition.
While Mr. Hope Uzodinma the Imo State Governor has described the tragedy as an act of economic sabotage, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria`s President, has called it a national disaster. Of course, it is and remains a national disaster that every day, Nigeria, Africa`s largest crude producer loses as many as 150,000 barrels of oil or about 10% of its current output, to criminals that tap the pipeline crisscrossing the Niger Delta region, according to government estimates. At current prices, the missing barrels are worth almost $5.6 billion a year. Some industry figures believe the true scale of theft is even higher reaching up to 400,000 barrels of crude oil every day.
In the face of such catastrophic losses which deny Africa`s largest crude producer billions of dollars in oil revenue as well as damage the environment almost irreparably, the Giant of Africa is at a loss. That loss illuminates and laminates the question of who are those who do these things. Who are those desperately determined to catch Africa`s largest oil producer in so wide a net of economic sabotage?
As corruption has raged unchecked in Nigeria`s highest places, those cast adrift and forced to eat from hand to mouth while competing with the congregation of crocodiles reared from the corridors of power carry a singular pertinent question on their lips – where is our own chunk of the national cake, they ask? – and with it, like a cudgel, they parry all pleas to be patriotic.
Thus, wherever they smell blood in the body of the Giant of Africa, they draw near, like sharks, ready to rip apart. They are those who engage in illegal oil bunkering in the country and among their ranks are government officials, security personnel, foreign mercenaries and everyday Nigerians. They are those who would cover the Giant of Africa in a cloud of smoke. In October 2021, while illegal refining was running at a refinery in Rumuekpe, Emoha Local Government Area of Rivers State, ruinous flames came and roasted over twenty-five persons including women and children, leaving many more injured. For those who vandalize pipelines and those who steal oil, their heinous crimes against Nigeria and Nigerians come from a place of justification molded by a mentality that tells them they are being cheated out of their own share and should do whatever it takes to partake.
Those who do these things cite Nigeria`s crises of accountability as one of the chief reasons they steal oil as the government which does not care about them is made up of those who steal from the country`s oil resources but under far more convenient conditions. Yet, they forget that they all form part of the cartel ripping the Giant of Africa of its finest gift even if they do not all row in the same direction.
Those who do these things pose an existential threat to the Nigerian state. They do not just sabotage the economic resources of the country, they subject fragile environments to unspeakable strain, tipping fragile ecosystems over the edge in many instances. Those who do these things are thieves and brigands. They are enemies of the country. Together with those who encourage and enable their fiery follies from the farthest places, they deserve no seat at Nigeria`s table.
Obiezu writes via [email protected]