Without doubt, Nigeria is in transition: transiting from a consumerist economy to a productive economy. Perhaps, since independence, the focus of our economy has been on consumption. It had all been about resource sharing and this is the reason the sharing of the legendary national cake has dominated the socio-political discourse in Nigeria since independence. The question of who gets what has been the recurring poser that has defined political relationship in Nigeria since independence. Curiously, little or nothing had been said of baking the national cake. No one has paid even a passing attention to how that cake gets baked. No one asks about the processes, the pains and anguish of baking the national cake. Maybe, we think mother nature takes care of that and we deign that to be perpetual. We are a nation that relishes the taste of the omelet but which doesn’t know that making a fine omelet involves breaking of eggs. The main fight that had dominated our national life has been about who gets what chunk of the national cake. It had been all about consumption, enjoyment and pleasure.
Let’s face the facts. Nigeria has been abundantly blessed by mother nature which endowed the country of immeasurable national resources. Amongst these national resources bestowed on Nigeria, crude oil remains the most valuable. What more, its extraction and marketing involves little or no efforts and even the efforts in extracting oil are easily outsourceable to willing multinational companies who relish the handsome payback from such investment. So, Nigeria has merely sat back and enjoyed the tremendous windfall oil has bestowed on the country. Since the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in Nigeria, the nation’s entire landscape had changed and the politics of the country has been reduced to who gets what from the oil chain. It could safely be said that oil not only redrew the country’s economic landscape, it reshaped its politics and as it became the sole revenue source of the country’s economy, its importance in the country’s political structure, as well as other strata, deepened.
But as a natural endowment, oil is supposed to finance the country’s infrastructural growth, enhance its economic strength and anchor a robust future that should have the country deeply entrenched in the league of strong nations on earth. But this has not been the picture. In contrast, Nigeria had a more assured, robust and durable growth prior to the discovery of oil. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easily discernible that oil has rather grown a huge corruption culture and complex that had whittled the growth of the country. It is certain that the huge earnings from oil had rather levied on Nigeria, a predatory economy that is hinged fully on over-dependence on rentals and speculation. Oil has rather reduced Nigeria to a leaky basket that has no real productive base but which depends on uncensored importation for survival. It rather unleashed a deadly culture of corruption and graft that sees everything from the prism of consumption.
While the country swarm in oil wealth, our national infrastructural base collapsed irredeemably such that roads, bridges, rails, power, energy and other infrastructures some of which were built before we hit oil, were allowed to collapse. What proved the irony Nigeria as a country was with oil wealth, was the embarrassing fact that Nigeria, the world’s sixth largest oil producer, wholly depended on imported refined oil for its energy needs. It was so bad that the Nigerian industrial base totally gave in and died and the country was importing toothpicks and even palm oil which it was once the world’s largest oil producer.
With oil, a lazy bourgeoisie that lived off pimping and round-tripping on oil emerged. This class of wealthy men became rich with no known noticeable job than fiddling with oil, often to the detriment of the masses. With businesses that were ran from briefcases, these rich nabobs came to replace entrepreneurs and investors as the mainstay of the economy. Living off running several pimping rings round the seat of power, these incredibly rich hustlers became the poster boys for measuring success. They became the new dudes in town and set a negative example of success that did the country no good at all.
In this period of tremendous oil wealth, no efforts were made to encourage enterprise and industry. No moves were made to create enabling environment for thriving of industry. No real investment was made on reviving or even adding to the nation’s infrastructures. No attempt was made to build the competent labor to drive enterprise and industry. No moves were made to reward the few that showed promising entrepreneurial skills. No effort was made to celebrate or endow skill. All seemed good so long as oil yielded. Of course, the main business in town was politics, which, in the main, became a bloody wrestle for placing in the sharing table. While this lasted, an artificial social order was created which encouraged a lazy but scheming class of predators who have unexplainable access to power and the state treasury often through cronyism.
Meanwhile, a life of unmerited opulence thrived. There was enough money to throw about, enough to steal, enough to share and enough to finance a national excursion in vanity. As stated earlier, importation of the vain, the unimportant, the silly and the obscene thrived. Corruption reigned supreme and with such negative fad, it was totally difficult to invest in the regenerative capital that grew nations. It was difficult to invest in power, in roads, in education, in health, in security and other wealth generating ventures. We were more interested in keying to the vast corruption complex that was built around effortless reaping of oil wealth and this financed a phantom life of opulence and ease.
But then, everything that has a beginning must surely come to an end. The oil-fueled romance seems practically over. This is because multifarious factors combined to tame the value of oil in the international market. Today, the oil market is so tempestuous and turbulent that uncertainty remains the keyword amongst oil dependent countries. The tumbling of oil price saw oil get to as low as $27 a barrel. This was so serious as to bankrupt many oil-dependent countries. Nigeria was so badly hit by that factor that it went into recession chiefly because previous governments neither saved the huge oil revenues that accrued to the country in the past nor invested in building critical investments that should bail us out when oil was no longer yielding. The crash of oil left us with no option than to shake off a false life of vanity, pick our pieces and take the hard and rocky decision to transit to a more realistic nationhood.
Today, through prudent management of the little resources we have, Nigeria has been pulled out from recession. Through a responsible handling of our affairs, the country is gradually navigating from total dependence on oil. With a deliberate investment in agriculture, the country has gradually replaced the food items it hitherto imported and has even started exporting food products to other countries. Through a strict import restriction policy, Nigeria has ceased to be a dumping ground for all manners of products and Nigerians are being made to source local substitutes for a range of products we can produce locally. In the sequel, local productivity is being ramped up. In this period of transition, the country is investing heavily in regenerative capital as against consumption. Nigeria is today exploring and exploiting those other sources of revenue we abandoned in our craze for cheap and bountiful oil wealth. In this moment of transition, Nigeria is cutting the sinews of corruption in the public sector thus forcing Nigerians to live within their means. Today, Nigerians are being made to shorn a life financed by loots.
Nigerians today are being made to tow a line of personal prudence and economic wisdom because what used to finance our vanity is no longer yielding. Nigerians are being made to get back to the basics, embrace agriculture, ingenuity, enterprise and prudence because the providential windfall from oil has dried up. Today, the country is being made to abandon the artificial life of opulence financed by illicit cornering of oil wealth to live a life limited to their means. No more borrowed life. No more padded life of corruption. This surely comes with its pains but the pains are mostly for missed opportunities, for currents we failed to seize in the past than for the efforts presently being made to navigate us off these pains.
This is the transition that Nigerians are going through and this transition is attributed to two factors: the low yield of oil and the deliberate policies of the Buhari administration. With all indices pointing upwards, there is no doubt that these are yielding handsomely in navigating Nigeria away from vanity and establishing its feet firmly on the threshold of measurable real growth that will see it make reasonable impression in national growth and development. This is a very hard and difficult choice our previous leaders avoided because it neither promised to reward them as handsomely as corruption did and of course, it did not assure them of enough popular acclaim as a result of the pains that come with this choice. In electing to lead Nigerians through this inescapable transition, President Buhari ruffled lots of feathers amongst a people that have been made to believe that corruption is a way of life but with time, history will judge him so well for doing what ought to be done at the time he did and the nation will certainly be the best for this transition.
Peter Claver Oparah writes from Ikeja, Lagos. You can reach him at [email protected].