One inexplicable phenomenon among Nigerians is their response to the news that Nigeria’s oil is facing a possible demise is a major export commodity. Economists and political scientists who I hang out with regularly are cynical if not fearful of the implications for that state known as Nigeria. This is probably to be expected.
However, that which is unexpected is the joy and optimism (in a nigh-celebratory sense) with which so many Nigerians have received the news. Many believe that the days of “export and steal” associated with petroleum oil sales are over and Nigerians can now begin to appreciate the resources it is blessed with and put them to good use. Industries are said to ready to take-off now that oil is no longer the be all and end all of the Nigerian economy. Prosperity is around the corner they say!
Others say that violence in Nigerian will cease to occur because pay-offs to militant groups in petro-dollars will no longer be readily available. Furthermore, it is keenly articulated that Nigerians ethnic-regions especially the Northerners can now go their own ways peacefully. Oil has been seen by many especially those from the Niger Delta as an instrument of state and ethnic oppression.
With all due respect I invoke the Fela line “people when no know dey happy, people when know dey look”. There is still a large possibility that the USA will buy ever larger quantities of oil from Nigeria at a later date or other buyers will do the same. The trade arrangements may also be more mercenary and ecocidal than ever.
Nigeria as a nation does not have the savings, investments and infrastructure to diversify or transition to an alternative economy without major shocks and drastic changes to the system. It is very easy to underestimate the towering role played oil revenues in the public sector, real sector, banking, employment, services, transport, aviation etc. The Nigerian economy though poorly coordinated, is done so with the oil sector and revenues it generates.
The excitement with the demise of oil does not seem to include the clean-up of Nigeria. Those who I have asked about the clean-up have characteristically had nothing to say about clean-ups. Years of spillages, pollution, benzene poisoning, ecocide, genocide and the destruction of livelihoods in the Niger Delta are presumed, by these people celebrating, to be more than compensated for by the end of oil. Oil production will not be over in a hurry. So what is the realistic and feasible future of clean-ups in the Niger Delta?
According to Dr Cal Amayo of the (UK-based) Ethiope Foundation, it is only when the Niger Delta has been properly cleaned-up that Nigerians can start celebrating any definitive change in the tradability or governance of Nigerian oil. How can Nigerians celebrate the end of oil when one of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, the South-South, has been systematically destroyed to generate national wealth? He concludes the pressure for clean-ups to start must be intensified.
The debate on the end of oil in Nigeria continues.