North Must Let Go the Oil Dollars to Develop
By Bashir Kabir
‘You cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.’ William Faulkner.
The oil dollar, while enticing, has not been a blessing to Nigeria in general and most peculiarly the North. The black gold that was discovered in 1956 at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta in the South-South after half a century of exploration was supposed to ease the country’s struggle into formidable national development as well as improving the living standard of Nigerians.
65 years later, Nigeria is at the most excruciating point of its existence. Besides the increasing number of self-made wealthy government officials, there is nothing to write home about in regards to what the oil did to the average Nigerian. However, misfortunes such as divisiveness, insecurity, poverty, bad governance, and corruption are at their peak.
Several countries that started at the same place with Nigeria and that discovered the crude oil perhaps sometimes later after it had been discovered here have more than enough to prove to the world that indeed the black gold turns out to be a blessing for them. A few such painful examples are Saudi Arabia, UAE, and even Libya.
Several decades after the discovery of oil in Nigeria, the country is several astronomical distances away from being a developed country by any reasonable measure. Indicators are showing that corruption is still thriving while the country’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is much too low, as are the country’s living standards. Countries like Singapore did not have as much footing as Nigeria at the beginning, but today the country is one of the developed countries in Asia with 65,233.28 USD per capita in 2019.
Singapore’s monumental economic fate within a short period of time might be considered exceptional but on the other hand, Nigeria with just 2,229.86 USD per capita in 2019 over the same span of years as Singapore is at the lower end of the spectrum. In terms of infrastructure and quality of living, Singapore is lightyears ahead of Nigeria.
The above numbers can be translated directly into the on-the-ground poverty, illiteracy, poor service delivery in healthcare, security et-cetera. Within the country still, the North takes the highest brunt of all the mentioned unfortunate underdevelopment afflicting the nation.
The North’s economic stronghold inherent in agriculture, mining, and human power has been devastatingly under prioritized because obviously, the crude dollar is enough to fill the greedy pockets of the officials and much easier to acquire. Ever since the oil discovery, these lucrative sectors have seen neglect over decades, a situation that led to their weakness and the subsequent backwardness of the region.
The literacy level of the northern geographical zone is still low compared to that in the south. One would think, with the oil wealth by now that gap should have been nearly if not completely closed. Education strengthening in the North is still suffering and particularly that of the girl/women education.
The population continues to multiply in the north with no plans on how to take care of it in terms of housing/transport, employment, education, and healthcare in the nearest future. Rampart abduction of school children and holding them hostages for ransom is going further to aid in the degradation of education in the north.
All that is in addition to the overall agitation for the political formulation that would hopefully change the unattractive narratives of the country from south to north.
A pattern of using violence to send a political message is becoming commonplace. Banditry, kidnapping, and militancy are engaged to make political statement at the higher levels. Obviously, these violent measures are not due to the justifiable agitations of groups seeking recognition. It is rather a selfish political interest that’s being adopted by the teaming jobless youths as means of making easy money and to destabilize peace as a result.
In retrospect, what started during the Jonathan Goodluck administration as an aspiration of a Muslim group seeking justice soon became a chapter of terror to the northern states. The movement was transformed into a sponsored activity engulfing millions of dollars. Hundreds of thousands lost their lives to the Boko Haram terror and millions more were displaced. The group targeted both government and public premises, causing destruction that was not witnessed anywhere after the Civil War.
The coming in of the administration of Muhammad Buhari changed the plots. The terror groups largely went into slumber for the majority of the first tenure. The administration was priding itself with securing the volatile regions because things were almost back to normal.
Sometime around the 2019 election year, banditry initially starting as castle rustling, rocked the Sokoto-Zamfara-Katsina axis. The frequency of kidnapping that was sporadically happening on the Kaduna-Abuja axis skyrocketed also. School children abduction fashioned from the popular Chibok incidence came back full-blown.
Sadly, as the critical 2023 election is now in sight, more of these trepidations intensify several folds! This time around, with the south entering into the volatility arena, perhaps for a stronger statement.
What started as the EndSARS protest last year transformed into the all-familiar Boko Haram style of series of waves of clashes and riots across the southern region bearing different labels to justify their coming into being at this point. Why was a herders issue never about control at the federal level before now? The old ethno religious sentiment, separatism were also resurrected to use as masks among others to justify the occurrence of violence.
Nobody can tell exactly what will happen regarding insecurity in Nigeria. However, as the year 2023 rolls in, it can be expected that more kidnappings, abductions, random attacks, ransom seeking and protests will paint the drab political landscape. Also, the south now will join the north in its fair share of political violence experiment.
Using violence to make a political statement will never be an option for the north or any region for that matter. Things are bad enough already. At this point, a better option of coexisting needs to be devised in the effort of reestablishing stability. In black and white, maintenance of regional resources for management and control is one way to go about it.
Is the north ready to let the oil money go? The answer is yes! The north is in need of real development that the oil money failed to provide over the years. The oil money led to the unfortunate breeding of the mediocre ruling class turning the government into a business enterprise. Sadly, it is the oil money that attracted these pests made cling to the nectar. They come to fill and refill their insatiable bank accounts only to leave the masses groaning in agony while they hand down the baton to their equally corrupt henchmen.
Visionary leaders with no political clout find it hard to get to the helm of affairs and impact positive changes. Most of the time they don’t have the money to pass through the corrupt nomination and electoral process that involve insane bribery and malpractices. Meanwhile, these are the people that would turn things around without thieving the public trust.
If not for anything, the worsening of security conditions in Nigeria threatening its stability calls for proactive remedy measures such as restructuring. The divisiveness is deeply entrenched with the help of the same leaders and elites that are supposed to unify the country.
The North in particular must let go of the oil dollar in order for it to achieve new horizon.