These are bad times for oil producing nations especially those who are members of the OPEC cartel. As members of OPEC, they have to abide by the decisions of the body. They cannot act outside the province of the rules set by the global organisation. For non-OPEC members, they could still aloofly adjust production and manage exports within the context of cost-effective economics. But for OPEC members particularly those whose economies run are powered 70 percent or more by oil and gas, these are gloomy times. Nigeria is caught in this web. Her economy depends a great deal on oil.
In the past decade, total earnings from oil, according to official sources, was well over N40 trillion; never mind that half of that or even more may have been stolen. This figure excludes the billions of dollars scooped through the grey market by oil bunkerers with of course support from powerful felons in government. That’s how rich the country is. But now, the nation’s wealthy foundation is getting increasingly tenuous. The free fall in the price of oil now hovering between $40 and $41 per barrel has necessitated some strategic thinking among OPEC officials.
Some vocal members of the oil cartel had prescribed certain mechanisms to steady the market which had been seesawing over the past 12 months. It was a rarity that raised some dust of curiosity. The matter was made worse by the fact that OPEC cannot peg price. It has to be determined by the economics of demand and supply.
Back home in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari has told governors not to depend solely on crude oil receipts from Abuja. Without his voicing it, I take it that the president also meant that the federal government should stop depending on crude oil cash. Since the 1970s when the world experienced a boom in the oil market Nigeria has abandoned all other sectors including agriculture to pursue a lust for cheap petro-dollar. It ‘paid off’ instantly by breeding a platoon of wealthy military men and their surrogates. But it also had a direct spin off as it added to our value system a neo-culture of corporate and public corruption. Easy money begets frivolous spending; as they say, it’s ‘come easy go easy’. That was the strange culture that eclipsed the nation’s once pristine value of hard work. It budded in the 70s, grew tap roots in the 80s, and in the 90s and beyond it simply went wild spreading its branches into every facet of our national life.
Yet Nigeria ought not to be a monoculture economy. The most endowed black nation in the world ought not to be bearing bowls waiting for the West to drop money in exchange for crude oil. Nigeria is highly endowed with exceptional human capital some of whom have distinguished themselves on the global canvas. From Facebook and Microsoft to the National Space and Aeronautics Administration (NASA) of the United States where Delta-born Professor Austin Esogbue imprinted his name as the only African among a group of the world’s most brilliant techies, Nigeria has never been in short supply of technocrats and professionals with light-years-ahead knowledge. The same Nigeria that produced Esogbue produced Philip Emeagwali, the ‘Father of the Internet’ and Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate in literature and a horde of other Nigerians excelling in diverse fields in distant places. Yet, the same Nigeria cannot produce a visionary leadership that all through the decades of the oil boom could have diversified the nation’s economic base. We forgot that while Indonesia sits with us in the OPEC round table as member of the cartel, she never lost sight of other opportunities. Today, aside oil, Indonesia enjoys huge earnings from its rich natural endowments in gold, silver, timbre, copper, bauxite etcetera. The county’s industrial base spans textile, mining, cement, plywood and chemical fertilizer amongst others. Ditto other oil-producing nations including America, China, Russia and Iraq.
It’s difficult to point to two or three things that are produced in Nigeria at commercial scales. Many industries that sprang up in the 70s and 80s have since collapsed. Yet, this is the same Nigeria that is blessed with the highest deposits of non-oil minerals from uranium, gold, iron ore to kaolin, gemstone and bauxite. It is a long list. Statistics from the Raw Materials Research and Development Council of Nigeria showed that there is no state in the country including the Federal Capital Territory that has not at least three varieties of mineral deposits in commercial quantities. States like Taraba and Nasarawa have at least 15 minerals each. And here is the challenge: how to turn these minerals into economic ventures that would not only create jobs but create wealth.
Nigerian governments at all levels must see the dipping price of oil in the light of a ‘Nigeria without oil’. We must begin to act as though there is no drop of oil in the Niger Delta. In this context, both the federal and state governments must sit down and work out through proper legislation an acceptable template that would empower states to begin to exploit their respective mineral deposits.
The technology to do this is not far away. If we could produce bombs during the civil war, if militants and oil thieves could establish refineries in the creeks using locally sourced raw materials and if we could contrive the ingenuity to produce gin and sundry drinks locally then we can clone the technology that would transform these minerals to wealth.
This is the context in which this year’s All Nigeria Editors’ Conference (ANEC) slated for August 3-7, 2016 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State is not only germane but also critical. Organised by the Nigerian Guild of Editors, the theme is Economic Diversification: Agriculture as Option for a Prosperous Nigeria and it is the first time, according to the organisers that the annual conference would focus on agriculture in the most pragmatic sense.
No doubt, these are not the best of times for Nigeria. The nation’s economy is in recession (forget the debate to the contrary). And in moments like this, it is the responsibility of any responsible government to rally the people and set them on the momentum of redemption.
President Buhari has said he would pursue agriculture as a viable option for redeeming the economy. This Presidential avowal is not new. Past presidents also sounded the same gong but they turned the critical mission of farming into a political bait to woo new members into their parties or compensate old members for their steadfastness.
This is a path Buhari must not walk. Past Nigerian presidents including the globally-acknowledged farmer, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, failed to make the most of agriculture as an option for national economic revival. They turned agricultural loans, grants and fertilizer into a carrot for loyal party men rather than channel such to genuine farmer. The reason Nigeria falters in agriculture is not for lack of arable land or funding, it is down to lack of sincerity on the part of government and the corruption of the value chain. Handing scarce forex to farmers to import rice rather than grow rice does incalculable damage to the economy. Buhari must avoid this. But more importantly, he must avoid politicking with agriculture because hunger does not recognize political parties. The inside of every hungry man, whether black or white, PDP or APC, is pain. The bottomline remains that the nation achieves food security; that is the true sovereignty.