Forty years ago, a young Nigerian returned home from his studies in England with his hard-earned degree in engineering. Proud and ready to get to work building his country providing for his family, he accepted a job with Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, which was Nigeria’s national power company at the time. The young engineer was a true Nigerian. He was smart, he was bold and he had a huge vision for Nigeria’s prosperity that went beyond collecting a few bucks from foreign countries for Nigeria’s then newfound oil. Armed with his formal education and razor sharp mind, the young engineer laid out a plan for Nigeria’s prosperity, using crude oil as a way for Nigeria to create multiple revenue streams.
After six years working with ECN, he left his post to build the new industrial economy he thought Nigeria deserved. He wrote a plan to create a chemical industry based on using the oil as the raw material to create a chemical industry, a plastics industry, a chlorine industry and other materials that would come right from the Nigeria’s rich oil supply.
It was a brilliant plan that, if properly executed, would have set Nigeria on a growth path like the exponential growth we’ve seen in China, Singapore, and South Korea. But no sooner had he implemented the plan when the saboteurs began offering bribes for him to manipulate the cost of raw materials so third parties could essentially rip off the Nigerian government. When he refused, he was framed, nearly jailed and finally lost his company.
It’s a familiar story, isn’t it? We’ve seen the same thing and worse happen to a multitude of would-be leaders who have bright ideas and a passion for Nigeria but one fatal flaw – they have integrity. Leaders who can’t be bought don’t last as leaders very long in Nigeria. How many ambitious Nigerians have fallen victim to the greed and jealousy of visionless leaders? I don’t doubt it was these same devilish leaders who are responsible for Nigeria’s current economic predicament.
Nigeria relies on imports for ninety percent of its industrial raw materials. While we pump about two million barrels of oil a day, we have to import oil from Ivory Coast to provide petro to fuel our cars and generators. Ivory Coast doesn’t even have an oil well! Nigerian leaders have voted multiple times to use Nigerian resources to improve on Nigeria’s refineries, but soon the money disappears and the refineries remain unproductive.
So, what does that have to do with the American president, Toyin? Everything.
Three years ago, I wrote an article which I entitled Obama’s Dream is Nigeria’s Nightmare. In it, I warned Nigerian leaders that America would soon stop importing Nigeria's oil. At the time I wrote the article, Nigeria exported at least one million barrels of oil per day to the U.S. When Obama came into office, one of his dreams was to reduce America's dependency on foreign oil.
I believed he would achieve his dream and the impact would be detrimental to Nigeria, which depends on oil revenue for over 90% of its foreign exchange.
Just as I suspected, the U.S. has significantly decreased imports of Nigerian oil. At the start of 2014, the U.S. was importing about 100,000 barrels of oil a day from Nigeria. That’s a 90% drop from the million barrels a day the U.S. was importing just a few years ago. According to an article published in the Financial Times, the U.S. Department of Energy did not import a single barrel of crude to U.S.-based refiners in July, for the first time since 1973. Today, the price of oil has dropped from $100+ per barrel to just under $75. Raul Pal of Global Macro Investor estimates if the dollar remains strong, crude oil could go down to $30 per barrel “and stay there for a while." Can you imagine what that kind of price drop would do to Nigeria? Life in Nigeria is already difficult. What will happen if the nation loses 66% of its revenue?
Now, consider the alternative. What if that young engineer had been allowed to realize his vision? Nigeria would be able to export other industrial raw materials like petro chemicals, oil derivatives, and plastics instead of being dependent on one commodity it can’t even control.
When I first sounded the alarm in 2010, I warned Nigerian leaders about President Obama's plan to wean the country off foreign oil. Some rather clueless Nigerians argued that if the U.S. does not buy our oil, other nations will buy it. But they failed to realize that the economic toll America’s dependence on its own shale oil would make on the oil market. The change could depress oil prices longer than Nigeria is able to withstand, especially since Nigeria does not have any other export revenue sources besides crude oil.
Even despite Nigeria’s imminent plunge further into the abyss, I don’t hear any Nigerian leaders talking about a plan for our future. None of the people currently vying for office have mentioned this disaster waiting to happen. No one has a bold new vision for Nigeria, not even one that is better than the one the young engineer came up with forty years ago. Where there is no vision, the people perish. And hope is founded on visions. No vision, no hope.
In 1961, John F. Kennedy said within ten years, "America should put a man on the moon and return him back to earth." Just by speaking those words into existence, Americans were inspired to venture into previously uncharted territories in space exploration, technology and computer science. The results have been world-changing. His words, no doubt, served as the hope on which the World Wide Web was built.
Well, when Obama stated in 2009 that one of his goals was to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, it propelled the whole country into a new paradigm that opened doors for policies and technologies that created fracking which unleashed oil buried deep in impenetrable rocks for centuries. Now, for the first time in America's long history, America is now exporting oil. Thanks to a visionary leader. Thanks to free enterprise. Thanks to policies that unleashed entrepreneurs.
In Nigeria, all the oil and the ground where it exists belong to the government. In American, the oil and the ground where the oil is buried belong to the people who own the land and they have the freedom and the right to explore as they see fit as long as they do so lawfully. That is why Nigeria's oil is a nightmare to the people whose ancestors have owned and controlled the land for centuries while in America, the oil has been a blessing to the land owners whose ancestors have owned and controlled the land for centuries. That is why the Nigeria state of Bayelsa has billions in oil reserve but is languishing in poverty, while the U.S. state of North Dakota has billions in oil reserve and is prospering.
In Nigeria, oil is used as a weapon of Mass destruction, while in America, oil is used as a weapon of Mass Prosperity. In Nigeria, everywhere there is oil, there is extreme pollution, huge joblessness, hopelessness, and poverty. There is no electricity, no running water, no plumbing and no functioning schools. Every Nigerian is suffering from the curse of living under the boot of a bad leader. Recently, the “Honorable” Minister of economy was quoted as saying, "The Nigerian Government must adjust to permanent oil price shock.” Really? Madam Minister, it should not be a shock, the writing was on the wall for a long time. The state governors are scrambling to pay wages, because 90% of their revenue is derived for oil money handed over to them by their masters in Abuja. Since they don't have to think about developing or growing their economy, they are now sitting ducks for the impending devastation from the drop in oil revenue. If only these honorable men and women leaders had seen the writing on the wall, or listened to the alarm when I raised it four years ago. Even if they heard the alarm, it's typical of Nigerian leaders to ignore such warnings anyway. They are too busy stealing. Now the nightmares are here. Even the Federal government is worried. Nigeria’s progress has to start with a dream, a vision, and a decision by its leaders to do what is right.
It starts with the dreams and visions of the people who are bold enough to support and vote for incorrigible leaders who put the welfare, security and prosperity of its people at the forefront. So now in the face of falling oil prices, the downward spiral of the Nigerian currency, falling revenues, and the dwindling of foreign reserves, I hope our leaders can help us to wake up from the nightmares Nigerians have been living for decades.
Vote, Nigeria, but don’t just vote for “a president.” Vote for a visionary leader.
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