Exorcising the Evil Curse of Oil Greed

Oil is a curse disguised as a blessing. Don’t get me wrong, before oil was discovered in my country there was tribalism. Tribalism contributed its fair share of problems to the polity, leading in many ways to the early crisis after independence: in Tiv land, in the Western region, in the military (after the 1966 putsch) and eventually the entire country.

But in the absence of oil, these crises were manageable. They were storm in the teacup compared to what was to follow when the oil tap let open. True federalism had its unique self healing power that contained the flames of tribalism, but when the evils of tribalism mixed with the combustibility of oil money the entire country was engulfed in flames: first in the Biafra war and since then in an unending cycle of violence. It is true that calculations regarding the new found oil wealth had a lot to do with the onset of the Nigerian civil war, it is also true that the involvement of foreign powers during the war were beset by strategic calculations on how best to corner this new found “wealth”.

What is even truer is that the nation that emerged after the war was in many ways more flawed than the one before the war. The nation was greedier courtesy of the oil money, she was lazier courtesy of the easy money, and she was more corrupt courtesy of the unaccountability the new system of managing the oil wealth promoted by design and structure. A mixture of plain greed, laziness and corruption is a recipe for national disaster and it has been. It as such remain plain for any right thinking person, that moving away from a oil based economy or socio-political psyche will go a long way in restoring the little remaining salvageable soul of our nation.

It is true that the rabid greed and tradition of gluttonous consumption easy oil money have fed our country blows no one any good. Legislators and politicians invest in elections with an eye on looting the easy oil money shared from the center and trickling down to their state. Greed has destroyed the fabric of our national morality- spurning political jobs men, shameless politicians who think of nothing when admitting to (and justifying) brazen corrupt acts of corruption, and even tribal sanctioned corruption. This last form of corruption is one now perfectly acceptable as normal. It is claiming immunity from corruption because of historic injustice, or even for perceived double standards intertwined with ethnic identity. Logically who are you to blame them?

But looking at it closely, it is the moral relativism that oil greed has introduced to the culture that is to blame. Assume for instance if the politician caught had been stealing the paltry cocoa revenue that was locally generated; will the pacifism and moral exclusivity that we now get not be replaced by a true sense of outrage and concerted action to get rid of such kleptomaniac? What guts, we even have the Ijaw Sons and Daughter for the Corrupt Enrichment of the Bayelsan Political Class, and Association of Yoruba Elders for the Plundering of Nigeria by Obasanjo Estate. What a crying shame!

Speaking of laziness; if anything, oil has retarded the ability of Nigerians of differing regions, and differing talents to invest in far more rewarding activities other than angling for revenue allocations, graduating to become class valedictorians of the latest set of kidnappers, or yahoo boys. Casting aside the breakdown of societal law, order and morality consequent upon the addiction to oil- the inability of the non-oil producing states to diversify their economy and contribute more to the economy is a direct result of this addiction to cheap oil money. It takes nothing to make this easy money, and hence the need is removed and invention is sacrificed for opportunism. Necessity is the mother of invention the saying goes; but no one digs around for diamond in the rough when there is clay on the surface. It takes a people of foresight to see this connection. An addiction to easy money breeds intellectual laziness and encourages a culture of free riding.

Of course, couple this fact with the greater evils that oil introduces to any society it is found; external corruptive influence that is. It is very true that outside interests including multinationals, powerful countries and influential individuals find the gushing black gold irresistible and will do anything including corrupting the political class of any country harboring it. It is no coincidence that nations with immense mineral and oil wealth are one of the most corrupt in the world. No sooner do they smell the whiff of oil, does the wheelers and dealers, merchants of death and customary undertakers of sane society step in to destroy such communities. A problem both externally imposed and externally encouraged. People who offer bribes appeal to the basest instincts of man. But think: if someone is offering you a bribe, is it not true that the favor he is asking for is worth far much to him than the bribe money he is offering you?

It is even far worse that the management system we have set up after discovering the oil wealth is specifically designed to encourage those anti-social behaviors enunciated previously. Any system that encourages unilateral action of officeholders or that invests too much power in one location, office or person is a dangerous one when oil is concerned. There is no greater evidence of the rot that we are stuck as a nation since 1966 and the unfortunate locked step towards unitarism, as well as the consequent anomaly of revenue allocation (which is alien in every sense of the word to a truly federal country), than the fact that Nigeria made far more progress in the first six years of her founding than the forty-two years afterwards. This fact is a simple comparison that requires no political sagacity, but only the honesty of right thinking citizens.

Instead of moral prevarication, every true patriot in Nigeria should call for the immediate reversion to the revenue contribution formula to the center, and structure bequeathed to us by our founding fathers (as negotiated in the London Constitutional Conferences) instead of the Trojan horse imposed upon us by the morally bankrupt military class. There is no gain saying that when we start earning our ways again, investing our God given talents in our self and our future, then we will start turning the corner as a country. Oil or no oil, a determined people can survive and even prosper. Singapore and Japan have proven it, and so have many other resource poor countries outperforming us (for all our resource blessings) on every indices of human and capital development.

It is a fear of the unknown that is driving this addiction, and until we confront our fears (since what we fear is bound to happen anyway – who says oil will last forever?), then we will remain stuck while the rest of the world makes heady progress. It is not in the interest of either the resource rich or resource poor states that the federating units be tied to the hip of a clueless federal government, and it is in our collective interest to be self reliant and engaged in cooperative competition. That movement from dependence to inter-dependence is imperative for true national emancipation and reconciliation. Take it from this citizen of a resource poor state!

Written by
Michael Oluwagbemi II
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