In December 1984 my late father made a remark that I could not understand at the time, he said, “the leaders of Nigeria will know no fear till the [oil] money runs out”. It was not until July 2000 that my father told me that the idea was proposed by his friend, the late Claude Ake. Since the oil boom of the early 1970s, no Nigerian head of state has been “afraid” of his watch or patch despite the coup d’états and the instances of serious political instability encountered. Now that the abundance of petrodollars earned from oil has suddenly become seriously scarce President Muhammadu Buhari has become in a pioneering approach, frank, open and expansive about his “fears” in power as presented in a recent missive.
It was a central argument in Claude Ake’s body of work that Nigeria is an unstable state prone to conflict but artificially held together by oil wealth. By implication when Nigeria’s oil wealth runs out or the revenues become ‘insignificant’ the federal republic would be ripe to split asunder. Independence and post-independence politicians spent their resources not on uniting Nigeria but on tapping political advantage by reinforcing ethnic and religious divides. This is the “great vision” of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello had for Nigeria. What bad luck for Nigeria!
Buhari’s term as a military head of state was truncated partly because he defiantly refused to offer rents to the “Owners of Nigeria”. Now as democratically elected president Buhari appears to be exceedingly keen to offer rents to “those that matter” in the land but he has very little to give. The late Charles K Rowley made it clear that African leaders whether they were corrupt or not were typically forced to leave office when they lacked or run out of rents to give the Owners of the Land and their proxies.
There now exists the likelihood of a special of ‘double doom’ for both Buhari and the Nigerian state. The first side of the double is that without rents to offer Buhari can seriously be forced to leave office. The second side of the double is that Nigerian state can split or fragment since there are no longer any possibilities to keep it glued together by “sharing” oil revenues among those that matter in the land.
Nigeria is the world leader in “spiritual economics”; ‘the operation of an economy by means of effective prayers and money is merely an externality’. Employing pastors, marabouts and psychics to pray fervently for the government and the economy may provide the necessary “Change” that Buhari was swept into power to achieve. Meanwhile, Goodluck Jonathan is home and dry.