Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oil Ruins Us

FOURTEEN months ago, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State asked Nigerians to move away from the dependence on oil. The price of the commodity had not hit the $100 per barrel mark then.
Uduaghan's point was not about the collapse of the price of oil. He said that with the increasing issues about pollution, developed countries were making great strides in the search for neater energy alternatives. When they succeed, the economy of Nigeria would be ruined, unless it was weaned of oil.

Nobody listened. When the price of oil nudged towards $150 per barrel, our governments started building fanciful expectations of revenue that would be wasted like the more than $600 billion Nigeria earned in the first 50 years of oil discovery.

Concerns about the future of Nigeria and oil have since grown. Oil is an exhaustive resource. It is doubtful if its relevance would last long enough to build the future of economies like Nigeria's. Most importantly, the instability in Nigeria's production creates more uncertainties for Nigeria. At the height of high oil prices, Nigeria did not benefit because ignored communal restiveness in the Niger Delta cut production to about half.

The latest fears stem from the collapse of oil prices, leaving government to fund the 2009 budget from devaluing the Naira. The impact on the country could be more devastating than government is willing to disclose. Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State is sounding the latest alarm.

“If the oil price can fall from $147 to less than $50 per barrel under three months, that shows that Nigeria can actually collapse economically in less than six months. So, we must make the best prudent use of the available resources daily. We must try to create additional revenue generating means and resources if Nigeria must survive.”

In 52 years of oil production, the revenue was consumed, stolen, mismanaged and remains largely unaccounted for in deliberate efforts to conceal the rot. The money that should have been invested in other revenue generated ventures went with the blurred visions of our leaders.

By 2012, the world would audit the Kyoto Protocol, aimed at reducing dependence on petroleum products - in the quest for a cleaner earth and preservation of the ozone layer. The verdict could produce tougher measures on use of petroleum products, an incentive for more researches into other energy sources. These are indications of the grimmer days ahead.

What happened to agriculture –– our cotton, palm oil, rubber, and cocoa? We talk about what Malaysia did with the palm oil seedlings it obtained from us, in the same way we talk about solid minerals, and tourism.

No country can survive on speeches. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, speeches are solutions. We talk without acting, while expecting that money from oil is the elixir for development. The collapsing oil prices may finally teach us to talk less and use our heads — more.