Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
NIGERIA’S DEPENDENCE ON OIL :
A CURSE ON ECONOMIC NATIONALISM
In an article on Nigeria that appeared in The Economist magazine of August 7th-13th 2004, titled “Reforming the nearly unreformable”, here are some of the things said about Nigeria:
“Nigeria is the world’s second –most corrupt country (after Bangladesh), according to Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-sleaze watchdog. Its hefty oil revenues, which make up around 90% of its foreign –currency earnings, are still consistently squandered by its 36 state governments and 774 local governments, all thriving on long entrenched systems of patronage, with funds used to buy off political opponents or to arm gangs of thugs if cash won’t persuade them to shut up”(italics are mine).
“Inflation” the article goes on to say “is running at nearly 20%, with domestic prices of fuel creeping up, even though Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil producers.”
Also in an article titled “Saving Iraq From Its Oil” which featured in Foreign Affairs journal of July/August, 2004, Vol.83,Number 4, pp70-90, Nancy Birdsdall, and Arvind Subramanian(President of the Center for Global Development and a Division Chief at the International Monetary Fund respectively) had this to say about how oil has been an impediment to the development of Nigeria’s economic and political institutions:
“Nowhere have all the pathologies associated with oil manifested themselves more clearly than in Nigeria . In the late 1960s, the Biafran war of secession---then Africa’s biggest civil war, which killed a million people ---was , in part , an attempt by the country’s eastern , predominantly Igbo, region to gain exclusive control over oil reserves . Nigeria has also suffered the assassination of two of its leaders, six successful coups and four failed ones, and 30 years of military rule. Its “ pirates in power”, as one African historian called its leaders, have plundered Nigeria’s oil wealth to the tune of perhaps $100 billion. The explosion in windfall-financed government expenditures has also provided increased opportunities for kickbacks..….Between 1970 and 2000, the number of people living below the poverty line in Nigeria increased from 19million to nearly 90 million….”(p.82).
Oil wealth has produced little or no economic development in Nigeria nor has it created the “favourable conditions for democratization and institutional development” as corn and wheat did in North America(Nancy B. and Arvind S.)
Prior to Nigeria’s nominal independence from Britain on October 1ST 1960 and for some years thereafter, Nigeria’s economy was quite diversified enough that reliance on petroleum(oil) as the main source of revenue and foreign exchange was unthinkable. There were the groundnut pyramids in the North, and the black gold of the South was cocoa. Cocoa was a very reliable cash crop in the South and much of the development that took place in the defunct Western Nigeria was based upon the revenues from this cash crop. Many of the country’s future leaders were sent to grammar school and beyond with the revenue that was realized by their parents from cocoa , cotton , groundnuts , kola nuts etc. The Old Western Nigeria government under the leadership of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo realized the importance of the peasant cocoa farmers and he built the Western Nigeria Marketing Board and his astute economic planning gave birth to the O’dua Investment Corporation . Real estate investments such as the Western House in Lagos , Liberty Stadium and the University of Ife(now Obafemi Awolowo University) were all built with cocoa money. not oil money! Of course the latter military/civilian politicians had since “privatized” all these investments and for privatization, substitute”pocketization”.!
Then came the middlemen known as Local Buying Agents (LBAs) . These middlemen would later exploit the poor cocoa farmers by underpaying them for each ton of cocoa purchased from the rural farmers and in some cases would utilize fraudulent grading of cocoa to rob the farmers of the fair price for their produce. The government did not make the matter any better for the farmers who had to face fluctuating market prices and with no guarantee from the government either for guaranteed price or subsidy. While a country like U.S.A subsidized its wheat and other farmers to ensure that farmers stayed on the farms , such was not the case with cocoa and groundnut farmers of Nigeria.
SUBSISTENCE AGRICULTURE KILLED: THE DEMISE OF THE FAMILY FARMS.
Perhaps most significant of all, Nigeria , prior to the advent of the military/civilian politicians that have exchanged batons from 1960 after the exit of the British., was a nation that was able to feed itself without importing any food item. For Nigerians who were not born before 1960, it is significant to let them know a little bit of Nigeria’s agricultural history before the nation became importer of all things from Spam(some canned “hot dogs” ) to potato chips etc. Nigeria peasant farmers who have since disappeared from the scene due to death and /or disenchantment , grew food crops such as maize, cassava, yams(in all varieties) plantains etc. Ever primary and secondary school , teachers college. all had farms and agriculture was taken seriously .
Plantains were allowed to mature and ripen before they were harvested. Yams, which were produced all over the three regions of Nigeria by peasant farmers on cultivation by rotation, allowed the land to replenish its nutrients. Every household relied on feeding itself and sold excess yams, cassava, maize to city dwellers and civil servants in Lagos, Ibadan and Kano and others . Secondary school students returned to the farms to help their parents on the farms when they were home for holidays ..for the cash crop that paid their tuition and the food they were fed came from the soil tilled by their aging fathers and mothers. There were yam barns , groundnut pyramids , and there were celebrations to mark bounty harvests of farm produce. Iyan. Pounded yam , the staple food in South Western Nigeria was eaten in every household daily and one was considered lazy if he did not have yam barns after feeding his family .As a matter of fact , marriage between a man and a woman was predicated on how the man was rated on his ability to feed his family. How big was his yam farm? His cocoa farm?
No longer are plantains allowed to mature on the tree before they are cut down .Cassava that used to be staple food mostly in the Eastern Region , while millet and guinea corn served the appetite of the Northerners, and yams in the South ..all have become hard to find. Gone are the peasant farmers who made Nigeria rich in cash crops and who relying on hoes and cutlasses as their highest technological tools for tilling the soil. They had long passed away and in their place we now have taxi drivers, tailors , ice-cream sellers , sausage and Scotch egg hawkers , GSM appliance hawkers ..on the streets of Akure, Enugu, Ibadan,Lagos etc..
Although most of the military and civilian leaders of Nigeria after independence were raised on the family farms, they had since forgotten their roots and turned their backs on the farms that once supported the populace with abundant food. A global economy that turned a commodity like cotton and cocoa into cash crops has been replaced by dependence on oil(petroleum) , and the food crops that were once abundant have been replaced with importation of food crops like rice(Remember the Rice importation under Shagari when the ports were so congested that most ships coming into Nigeria just abandoned their ships for weeks while awaiting for their turn to berth?)
The lure of Western education and the attendant flight into the cities for civil and uncivil service jobs , the rat race to become contractors and the corruption it entails , in short the lure of easy money without hard work which the new elites , the pen robbers in the civil service and their accomplices in the contracting business was just too attractive for any one to want to go into farming.
So as the old peasants died off with no one ready to replace them as everyone too to the cities in search of paid employment such as messengers in the office for those not educated beyond primary school, many Nigerians born after 1960 have lost touch and connection to the land, and it is now more convenient to sell off the farmlands to the rich elites who can turn them into buildings to rent to the ever- growing lunmpen proletariat or turn them into saw-mills , anything that has nothing to do with feeding the people. No one wants to spend long hours on the farm anymore, when hustling in the cities could earn them faster access to easy wealth. Unfortunately, just as no one wants to remain on the farms anymore, so are they not willing to remain in school for any appreciable period of time to become lawyers , doctors etc. .A contractor with good connections to the pirates and vagabonds in power, could amass wealth faster than a medical doctor, so why bother to for higher education. In fact those that are there are looking for short cuts to the diploma, even if it means buying the examination paper or getting someone to take the examination for them ! Corruption is the other name for Nigeria!!
STARVATION IN THE MIDST OF PLENTY?
No longer are plantains allowed to mature and ripen, cassava trees that used to be discarded and cursed for not burning easily , are now sold to the highest bidders who still want to plant or cultivate ..perhaps to reduce the cost of buying to feed their families. If they are not careful, they may not even reap the harvest for there are thieves everywhere who want to uproot the cassava or yams , which want to reap where they did not sow. Stealing that used to be regarded as a blemish on the family name and met with summary justice if and when a thief was caught has now become fashionable. Why not? After all there are pen robbers, the oil bunkerers, so why not yam or cassava thieves? Beans or peas that used to be abundant in many varieties. .black eye peas, lima beans etc.. have long ago disappeared from the scene. We have gone from an agrarian society that was able to feed itself to a nation of importers of every food item.
Green Revolution and Operation Feed The Nation: The Juggling Fiends.
The politicians (military and civilian) having failed the people did not waste time in coming up with big designs to fool the people and enrich themselves. So there came the Green Revolutions , as if Nigeria was at any time an arid land; and also Operation Feed The Nation which some have dubbed Obasanjo Farms Nigeria .
The politicians have since , to borrow Shakespeare’s s words become the “juggling fiends that make the words of promise to our ears and break them to our hope” .
Operation Feed The Nation, the Green Revolution or the Mass Mobilization for Social and Economic Reliance(MAMSER) were all bureaucratic concoctions that were designed to make the people think that their leaders were working to lift them up whereas the real reason for these grandiose designs was to spread oil money around ..official vehicles , overpaid and overfed permanent and non-permanent civil servants and the ubiquitous contractors.
Fertilizers were imported in hundreds of tons only to be deposited on road- sides . .they never got to the peasant farmers! In any event, the peasant farmer had never relied on fertilizer to feed Nigerians in the past, so the importation of fertilizer was to put money in the pockets of the politicians and their cronies.
DECAYING STRUCTURES AND INFRASTRUCTUES : THE OIL DOOM
Nigeria’s problem was not that there was scarcity of oil money. Her problem was how to spend it… remember Yakubu Gowon , the young major catapulted to General of the civil war fame? Well, that was the way he summed it up over thirty-five years ago! Nigeria still does not know how to spend its oil money to benefit the people …otherwise, Olusegun Obasanjo , the two-time President of Nigeria ( military and now civilian president) would not be begging the World Bank to forgive Nigeria its dubious debts to that body while politicians and civil servants are busy stashing billions of the people’s oil money away in their private accounts overseas!
While Yakubu Gowon was lamenting that Nigeria’s problem with its oil money was how to spend it, he had no qualms in importing his wedding cake and other materials for the lavish and extravagant wedding in the middle of a civil war from Britain! While he made that imbecile statement, Nigeria relied heavily on roads that were left by the departed British colonial power .The hospitals remained mostly at the level left by the British and of course most Nigerians were going anywhere in the world to obtain higher education because the existing institutions could not absorb the teeming population of high school graduates yearning for higher education. Many parts of Nigeria remained without rural electrification and telephones were for the privileged ones that resided in the Lagos , and even then the trunk lines were always out of order.
Of course, those were glorious days compared to what Nigeria has since become. In a country where a whole House of assembly members had to go on hunger strike to press home the dilapidated condition of the roads in their state, in a country where the universities have become glorified high schools and hospitals have become worse off than the colonial dispensaries in the villages, Nigerian leaders have no qualms about being described as the “world’s second most corrupt country(after Bangladesh) …” Nor does it bother them that “two thirds of the country’s 124m people still live on less than a dollar a day” or being referred to as “ The land of a thousand bottomless pits” .(The Economist: Op cit.)
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.