not suggesting the entire windfall was wasted on subsidies and whiskies. But nearly 50 years later, we still have thousands of kilometres of unpaved roads and thousands of communities without access to potable water and electricity, which should have been part of our priorities.
If we are honest, petrodollar is easy money and the temptation to spend it anyhow is always there — except there is a strong public accountability system. Though Arab countries have absolute monarchs, they are visionary and place priority on infrastructural development. Norway had a well-established public accountability structure before the oil boom.
Despite all trouble oil has brought upon us, our reserves are about to get bigger with the flag-off of drilling in the Kolmani River field by President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday. In 2005, the New Nigeria Development Company (NNDC) owned by the 19 northern states had won OPLs for Blocks 809 and 810 in the bid round organised by President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The previous year, Obasanjo had, as part of addressing issues in the Niger Delta, preferentially awarded marginal fields to Akwa Ibom (Universal Oil & Gas), Bayelsa (Bayelsa Oil & Gas), Delta (Midwestern Oil & Gas), and Ondo (Owena Oil & Gas). Imo and Rivers partnered Walter Smith and Sahara Energy respectively.
It is like a husband whose wife depends on for everything, including the money to buy toothpaste. The day she begins to gain some degree of financial independence, the husband’s weapon of negotiation and control will begin to lose potency.
Some southerners are in pains. All sorts of theories are trending on social media. One fellow said no oil was found in Kolmani, that it is just a gimmick to start giving “the north” 13 percent derivation from the resources of the Niger Delta. Another said secret pipelines have been laid from the Niger Delta to the north and the oil production attributed to Kolmani is actually stolen from the south.
The detail that has been lost in the conspiracy theories, though, is that it will still take years for oil production to start in Kolmani, so the issue of derivation payment does not arise yet. Nonetheless, I very much understand that these theories are driven by “sifia” pains of losing bragging rights.
What is my take on the Kolmani drilling? I have my worries and fears. I recall the words of Alfonzo: “Ten years from now, twenty years from now, you will see: oil will bring us ruin.” If we are going to experience a different outcome, we must begin to plan and act differently.
Our legendary mismanagement of oil wealth dampens my mood. Before the boom, we were running a competitive economy. Agriculture and industry generated jobs for the people and revenues for the government. We did not plan our lives around windfalls. The government invested in the prosperity of its citizens. Overall, our development indices compared favourably with those of our peers, mostly in Asia.
Although we still reminisce about “the good old days” of cocoa, palm produce, rubber and groundnuts, but it was the people, not the regional governments, that owned the plantations. Through the marketing boards, they bought the produce off the farmers and made money from selling locally and exports. They had to incentivise the farmers. The bigger the output, the bigger the revenue prospects.
But we started reaping billions in petrodollars and government became less dependent on the citizens. The productive bases became marginal. Why waste time trying to raise $200 million from taxes and cash crop exports when oil alone could give you $5 billion? Why stress?
This is where I fear for the north in particular and Nigeria in general. I fear oil wealth may impact negatively on agriculture, which is still the biggest employer of labour in the north. All plans around the newfound oil wealth must factor in this pathology.
The Niger Delta experience of government neglect and youth restiveness must also be factored into the political management plan. I fear for Nigeria because more oil revenue does not mean more sense. It may not translate to shared prosperity for Nigerians. That is why we just have to start doing things differently. To be clear: it is not bad to hit oil. We need to build our reserves and ramp up production while the crude party lasts.
In 1973, the year of the first oil boom, The O’Jays, the American R&B group, had a superhit: “Now that we’ve found love/What are we gonna do with it.” Now that the north has found oil, what next? Well, there is a tiny piece of good news: I can see a plan that looks good on paper.
There will be a 120,000bpd refinery (so no need to worry about exports and pipelines), a gas processing plant of up to 500mscf per day, a power plant of up to 300mw capacity and a fertiliser plant of 2,500 tonnes per day. If this is faithfully implemented, along with good governance, that would mean we have finally learnt our lessons. Otherwise, the “devil’s excreta” will only turn the region into a sorry sight.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state let the cat out of the bag on Monday when he revealed the source of the money he has been spending to execute his numerous mega projects. In 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to implement the 13 percent derivation, even though the 1999 Constitution became effective on May 29 that year.
He only started paying in 2000. All the presidents since then, including Dr Goodluck Jonathan, from oil-producing Bayelsa state did not redress this constitutional breach. It took President Muhammadu Buhari to do the needful. Wike has unwittingly exposed fellow Niger Delta governors who collected the money and kept quiet. Exposed.
-2). LAUREL FOR LAURETTA?
As President Buhari moves towards winding down his administration in the next six months, he may be preparing after-office life for some members of his team. He has nominated Mrs Lauretta Onochie, his sharp-tongued social media aide, as the chairperson of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Her nomination as a national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last year did not sail through as the senate turned it down. Onochie’s nomination as NDDC chair has drawn the ire of those who do not believe such an important job should be given to someone whose claim to fame is Twitter fights. Will the senate agree? Watching.
-3). NO QATAR GIVEN
After all the furore about LGBTQ+, the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar finally became a football event as the 32 teams got us going with tricks, flicks and plenty goals.
Western countries had pushed really hard on the gay issue but the government of Qatar stood its ground. Given that Qatar’s stance against gay rights is based on Islamic injunctions, I never saw them soft-pedalling, except they wanted to ditch the Holy Qur’an.
What the West is asking for is apparently impossible to achieve in Islamic nations. I was happy, all the same, that we began to watch and discuss football. Saudi Arabia beating Argentina is one of the biggest shocks in the World Cup, but I expect more. Sensational!
-4). LETTER RAIN
All roads lead to Abuja on Thursday, December 1, as Musikilu Mojeed, the editor-in-chief and COO of Premium Times, holds a public presentation of his maiden book, The Letterman: Inside the secret letters of former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Unknown to most Nigerians, Obasanjo had been writing controversial letters all his life. With this book, Mojeed, multiple award-winning editor and one of Nigeria’s finest and principled journalists, has given us a treasure throve. Some letters date back to 1952. The most popular was the one to President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014. Mojeed also offers analytical perspectives on the contents. The book is first of its kind in Nigeria. Captivating.