Oil in the Niger Delta: A Blessing or a Curse?

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The idea that natural resources might be more an economic curse than a blessing began to emerge in the 1980s. Richard Auty in 1993 described how countries rich in natural resources were unable to use that wealth to boost their economies and how, counter-intuitively, these countries had lower economic growth than countries without an abundance of natural resources. A rape of our commonwealth and high profile corruption are some of the brainchild crude oil in Nigeria has bequeathed to us. The desperate drive to get into public offices and elective positions clearly pinpoint the depth of corruption and curse crude oil in Nigeria has brought upon us.

Before the commercialization of crude oil in Nigeria, Agriculture and effective taxation were the main sources of our national survival. Agriculture contributed over 60% to our export and national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Although the confederating states that constitute Nigeria were at cold war with each other over some political differences, developments in the various regions were remarkable. We had the groundnut pyramid in the North and cocoa pyramid in the West with a bustling coal industry in the East. The various regions initiated different programmes just to ensure that their regions did not lag behind among the comity of states. Well paying jobs were ubiquitous and the standard of living in Nigeria was remarkable. Quality Education was a hallmark of the government particularly in the West. Nigerians were respected at home and abroad. Nigeria gave out loans to other African countries and we played a huge role in the Independence and liberation of most African countries. Nigerians did not need visas to travel to the United Kingdom (UK) or other developed countries of the world. They saw Nigerians as equals.

However, that once glorious entity called Nigeria, has become today a relic of itself. Those who shared in the Nigerian Dream have deserted us to pursue their aspirations in other countries of the world. Countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, China, India, Egypt and several others which shared the same development index with us in the 1960s and ’70s have long outran us becoming some of the biggest economies in the world. Today, Nigerians suffer untold hardship and torture in these countries that once looked up to Nigeria as the Big Brother. Securing a visa to these countries is like a trip to the Promised Land. What is so wrong with Nigeria? Could it be the vast cultural and religious differences? But India and Malaysia have managed to forge ahead in spite of their cultural and religious differences. Maybe it’s the size of our population. How about China? In a matter of 30 years, they have self developed their economy from obscurity to the second largest economy in the world with a possibility of becoming the first in the nearest future.

According to the Niger Delta Congress, it is estimated that over $600 billion worth of crude has been pumped from the Niger Delta states since 1937. Yet high unemployment, environmental degradation, and a lack of basic resources such as fresh water and electricity persist. The persistent neglect of the Niger Delta Region has incited some of the region’s disenfranchised youths to take up arms. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the fiercest and most dangerous militant group is a product of the neglect of a region that has fed Nigeria for the past four decades. Compared to other oil producing regions in other countries, the pathetic environmental and weak infrastructural development in the Niger Delta calls for some soul-searching solutions. Abuja like other capital cities deserves a befitting status. Anything short of its present outlook would point Nigeria in a very negative posture. And more development is still ongoing without any tough political debates. Not once was the development and transformation of Abuja brought to the Nigerian village square for deliberations. If Abuja could be transformed into such a mega city in a matter of years, then what is so wrong with the development of the Niger Delta region that has fed the nation since Independence?

Successive governments since the regime of General Yakubu Gowon, no visible development can be pointed at, yet the region keeps shouldering the survival of the nation. In terms of exploitation, the region has suffered the most. Marginalization? That is the region’s hallmark. Oil companies conduct businesses in this region without recourse to the state of the environment in the region. Oil spillage, gas flaring and oil bunkering are some of the daily hazards threatening the existence of the people of the Niger Delta region. More insulting is the wicked military invasion of the region ordered by Presidents Obasanjo and Goodluck administrations. Innocent civilians in their hundreds lost their lives to the brutal military atrocities. Why this assault that should have been investigated by the United Nations (UN) was ongoing, no concrete development master plan was initiated to calm the nerves of these various agitating communities. Till date, memories of those inhuman invasions and genocide still linger in the minds of indigents of the region that lost their dear ones.

At a time in our political history, we had the Groundnut Pyramid in the North, Cocoa Pyramid in the South and Coal Industry in the East. In the Niger Delta region, what is the proof of our oil reserves? Is it the dysfunctional refineries, gas flaring, exploitation, environmental degradation or the incessant killings of innocent Niger Deltans? Sincerely, there is no historical monument in the Niger Delta region that represents the vast wealth we have been blest with. Many writers and public commentators have proffered solutions and recommendations to the Nigerian Government on how to develop the region. Of all these recommendations, only the amnesty program has been implemented. Why this might be laudable, it is certainly not enough. How about the gas flaring which the Federal Government has refused to address? Oil spillage, environmental degradation and non-existence of modern infrastructure? Recently, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Allison Madueke admitted at a public forum that Nigeria earns over N42b daily from crude oil. Of this distorted figure, how much is being allotted to the development of the Niger Delta Region? Our foreign reserve is being depleted daily by our greedy politicians and yet a region that produces these resources is suffering a total neglect. The high rate of unemployment in the region has given rise to the menace of kidnapping in the Niger Delta which has escalated to other regions. If we begin to enumerate the problems bedeviling the region, it will cover too many pages.

In the final analysis, urgent and concrete steps should be taken to develop this region. Enough of all the fake promises and exploitations the region has suffered from. If the government of President Goodluck Jonathan or anyone that would succeed him does nothing to address the core issues threatening the existence of the region, then Nigeria might as well prepare for the worst from the youths of that region. A threat to the existence of the Niger Delta region is a threat to the survival of the Nigerian nation. The stage is set!

Fred Itua is a writer/contributor for The Politico Magazine and lives in Abuja, Nigeria.

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