By Luke Onyekakeyah
Each time I hear or read about Nigeria earning over 95 per cent of its revenue from crude oil sales, I shrug in utter disbelief and question how this country is surviving on daily basis. But the stark reality is everywhere that we're in a desperate condition. Poverty is dealing with the masses of the people unceasingly. Social infrastructure services are in a shambles. One simple question I often ask to prove my point is how many people have public water supply running in their kitchen and bathroom? How many people have six hours of electricity in a week? There is no way this country would be able to meet the myriads of challenges confronting it all from one and only oil revenue source. This is the naked truth that must be accepted by the country's leadership.
This thinking came to me in a flash or is it a hunch. Come to think of it. Why are we in this messy state year in year out without respite? Why can't there be a glimmer of hope in the horizon to at least breath life into desperate souls and enliven frayed nerves? Why are things getting worse every year despite all the promises made by governments across the land? Why are government promises not fulfilled? The answer to all this is in the disoriented and stunted economic environment that is badly tainted with corruption. As a matter of fact, anyone in position of authority in this country who relishes in saying at whatever occasion that his country earns over 95 per cent of its revenue from crude oil sales without showing concern about how to break the retrogressive cycle is not doing the country any good. There must be talk of diversifying this economy and making it robust and productive before we can make any headway. That is the only way this embarrassing situation can change for good.
Now talking a little more about the oil revenue, it is common knowledge that what is stolen is more than what gets to government. Some argue that about 60 per cent of the oil and its revenue is stolen. That amount doesn't get into government coffers. Then out of the remaining 40 per cent, 60 per cent again is lost to corruption. The erstwhile chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu once estimated that over $380 billion has been lost to corruption in Nigeria since independence. He lamented that the amount is enough to replicate Europe with its development six times in Nigeria. The remaining 40 per cent is what is used in running the government at all levels. Again, that remaining portion is siphoned by all manners of people in government with their cronies. All the money meant for the provision of social services like roads, water, electricity, hospital, school, etc are stolen. At the end of the day, what gets to the people from the sum total oil revenue is less than 10 per cent. It is only in Nigeria that you hear of revenue sharing as if the money is for the leaders. And indeed, those that share it pocket most of the money. The little fraction left is what we see in anything from government that eventually gets to the people.
The Nigerian economy is not only lying prostrate, it is under intense pressure to do the impossible. Such slogans as the 7-point agenda and Vision 2020 are good in themselves for a country that is working and has the right leadership but not a country that is not working; a country in limbo. President Yar'Adua who proposed the 7-point agenda and the Vision 2020, to me, wished the country well. But wishes can't take us anywhere. If wishes were horses, they say, beggars would ride. Unfortunately, wishes can never be horses. The wishes must be translated into action. And the environment must be conducive for the action to thrive and yield the desired result.
The Nigerian economy is like a civil servant that depends solely on monthly salary. The civil servant is even better in the sense that he or she knows what his or her salary is at the end of the month and could plan well with it. The civil servant Nigerian economy depends on monthly revenue from crude oil that is unstable. As the price of oil fluctuates in the world market, so does the revenue earned by the country fluctuate uncontrollably. The country and its economy can't make any headway under such condition of uncertainty. The Nigerian economy is as unstable as the fluctuation in the global crude oil price.
If I may ask, is there any civil servant out there who depends solely on salary that is finding life easy? Which civil servant that depends solely on salary is able to meet his or her basic needs not to talk of having extra for investment? A typical civil servant in Nigeria leaves from hand to mouth. But we know that most of our civil servants do private practice (PP) to meet up with demands. If a typical civil servant can't make it with only one source of income, how does anyone think that the Nigerian economy that depends solely on unstable oil revenue would be able to meet the basic social and infrastructural needs and still have surplus to develop like America and Europe? It is daydreaming, a figment of imagination for any one to think like that. If we must be honest to our selves, we shouldn't be talking of joining the league of America and European countries by 2020.
Instead, we should be talking of going back to our roots that ensures economic sustainability, which we abandoned in 1975 at the wake of the oil boom. The roots of this country's economy are in agriculture. The oil diseconomy has been grossly abused and mismanaged that it would be foolhardy for any one to rely on it for the development of this country. The era when this country would have developed with oil money has passed. We have got to a stage where there are too many greedy mouths craving for the oil money that is not even enough to satisfy corrupt tendencies before you talk of anything remaining for the development of the country.
Reviving the agricultural productive sector would enable us get back to where we were in the 60s and early 70s. At that point, we would regain our position as net exporter of major agricultural products. Besides, we would be self-sufficient in food produce to be able to save the huge money expended on importation. There is no G-20 country that is importing food.
All the G-20 countries we desire to join are net exporters of food in addition to industrial products. America is the biggest economy in the world with the largest export of food and industrial products. Similarly, Japan, the second biggest economy in the world is self sufficient in food production and a major exporter of industrial products. But where is Nigeria in the scheme? We are nowhere to be reckoned with these countries.
We are arguably the world's largest importer of food and industrial products going by the size of our market. So, where do we fit in the league of G-20? Everything about our economy is in contrast with what obtains in those countries. We don't belong there yet, not even by 2020. Note that those countries are not static waiting for Nigeria to meet them. By 2020, they would have moved further and given us another gap such that there is no way we could meet them except there is a determined and conscious effort by the leadership to sincerely transform this country. Otherwise, as it is now, we should cut our coat according to our size (or cloth). We should reorder our priorities and do the right thing. First thing should come first. We can't jump the gun. We must come back to the point where we derailed before we could get our bearing for development. Except this is done, I'm afraid the magical transformation would be impossible in a country that is highly corrupt.
While reflecting on this write-up, my mind went back to when I was in the primary school in the early 70s when they taught us about Nigeria's agricultural produce like cocoa, rubber, timber, palm produce from the south, and groundnut pyramids in Kano, cotton, hides and skin, etc from the north. We were taught about farm settlements established by Dr. Michael Okpara in different parts of the Eastern Region. The question is where are those farm settlements? What happened to all the catalogue of agricultural products that were exported? What happened to the forest reserves, the rubber and palm plantations? How did Nigeria get stable power supply before the oil boom?
Why are the various state governors not doing anything to revive agriculture in their domain? Some state governors are just wasting people's precious time and resources playing empty politics. With the exception of Governor Saraki of Kwara State that imported foreign farmers from Zimbabwe to revolutionise agriculture in his state, what are the other governors doing? Why is nobody thinking deep on how to get this economy back to its feet? This economy is simply on its knees and there is nothing anybody could do to an unwilling horse.