A Response to “End of Oil is the Beginning of Prosperity in Nigeria”

On the issue of policies, Nigeria’s problem is sincerely not policies and national planning solutions for the economy, whether it witnesses continuous oil production or the ‘end of oil’; that is far too easy. One can make a list of credible sounding policies or right solutions for the Nigerian economy depending on whether the problem solver. Perhaps he or she, an economist, is a die-hard free-market advocate, a supporter of strong government intervention or is two-handed (will favour any policy selectively). Who will implement them? From my academic research experience, Nigeria scores 9/10 for resistance to policy introductions, especially when they disrupt the status quo of the Owners of Nigeria Technostructure. That is the problem.
Nevertheless, one of the most important lessons I got from studying development economics comes from an observation made by economist Peter Thomas Bauer on West African economies. He clearly stated that economies do not attain prosperity because they have “natural resources” human, mineral, agricultural; prosperity is a “function of the attitudes, behaviours, habits, dispositions and thinking” of the citizens and government. He did not see West Africa prospering for this reason, i.e. since the 1950s. When he moved shortly afterwards to study South East Asian economies, he could see the possibilities of economic miracles long before other economists for the inverted reasons West African could not be hoped to achieve such. Japan has virtually no natural resources yet because of their formal and informal culture of collective and individual efficiency and commitment, they are one of the world’s dominant economic powers.
What are the attitudes, behaviours, habits and thinking of the Nigerian ruling elite? What are the attitudes, behaviours, habits and thinking of the Nigerian citizen? It looks like six decades later that Lord Bauer was and is still right.
Amartya Sen in Development As Freedom argues that nations only prosper when their government establish and foster useful capabilities in their citizens. The economics capabilities of citizens built America with the help of industrial policy. Political capabilities of Switzerland and Botswana made those nations with exemplary democracy in place. Social capabilities developed modern European countries, especially in the Northwest, by fulfilling an enabling social contract between the citizens and the government. Any nation the is determined to create enabling capabilities in their countries never leave one or the other behind. Education and conspicuous consumption kicking of with Yakubu Gowon seem to be the only positive capabilities Nigeria has.
Another issue is the history of prosperity itself. Rome of today is nothing like Rome at the time Jesus Christ’s alive. The same goes for Egypt, Turkey (the Ottomans), Spain, Portugal, Greece, Mongolia; they were once highly prosperous economic and military powers that today cannot match or resemble their past power and prosperity. When the sources of a nation’s prosperity collapse recovery, if at all possible, it is always a very uphill task. The infrastructure decays, migration and brain drain becomes necessary, postponed internal wars become fightable, ‘bottom pot’ kleptocracy gets very desperate. As economies collapse, nations collapse—even the economies of nations that never truly prospered collapse. If the end of oil does happen, I do not foresee any (easy or smooth) recovery for the Nigerian economy, especially not with the kind of elite and workers the nation has. Furthermore, economic prosperity in other ascendant nations rises from time to time, making it hard for ‘spent nations’ to reassert themselves. What are the solutions to these problems?
Many cannot believe the USA’s Midwest is producing “ghosts towns” because the one-time prosperous cities no longer have the good-paying manufacturing jobs, which have been shipped overseas in the quest for much cheaper labour. Warri is potentially a future ghost town with its loss of ‘oil city’ status; it is perhaps the first major urban casualty of oil – there are many rural ones. What policies or solutions will make such centres prosperous again? If the end of oil comes from where will prosperity come? Remember, what are Nigeria’s national and regional capabilities? The answers might frighten most.
Let us hope all will be well for Nigeria and its economy in the near and distant future.
Grimot Nane
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