HISTORY LESSON: Boom For The Bleeding Giant by Cameron Duodo
THE SUNDAY TIMES Magazine, September 15, 1974, page 23-36
Reproduced by Akintokunbo A Adejumo
Nigeria turned 49 on 1st October 2009. Incidentally, I turned 53 the following week on 12th October, 2009, which means for all intent and purposes, I am older than my country by 4 years. I spent the Independence Day in Nigeria. A very good thing? I’d say yes. According to the last contentious Census, still a majority of Nigeria’s citizens are older than the country itself, and probably wiser. So what else is new? Every year our leaders say the same thing on this occasion. They tell us, even admit they have failed us, blaming other past leaders and exhorting us to have faith in the country and that things will change or improve before the next Independence celebrations.
This has been going on for 49 years, while inconsiderate, opportunistic leaders like James Ibori, Peter Odili, Orji Kalu, Michael Aondoakaa, Tony Anenih, Joshua Dariye, Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo, and thousands others, past and present, are still taking us for a ride, pulling the wool over our collective eyes, have not repented and are still running loose to perpetrate more of their crimes against the Nigerian people.
I did not buy a single newspaper whilst in Nigeria because what I read or hear are very depressing, and I do not want to die young. Amnesty for militants; ASUU strike, Ibori and his antics; Oyo State Government offering 180 employment as taxi-drivers to graduates; more tales of corrupt officials and politicians; our lawmakers wanting immunity for themselves; etc. What a depressing state of the nation, not to talk of the still epileptic power situation; bad roads, insecurity; unemployment; no water; lawlessness, etc. Aarrgh!!!
So, I did not celebrate Independence Day. In fact the last time I really celebrated Nigeria’s Independence Day was the one in 1970, where, after 10 years of Independence, two coup d’états and a bloody civil war, Yakubu Gowon was in power, and believe it or not, Nigeria seemed to be heading towards great heights. Ten years later, the Giant of Africa, as we like to call ourselves, was spiraling down into the abyss of degradation, corruption, neglect, ineptitude, mismanagement, insincerity, hopelessness; and we did not know it, even though the signs were there for all to see. Even the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo predicted the pain ahead, but nobody listened, though they knew the sage was right.
I have therefore decided not to give myself a heart attack by dwelling on and repeating what we know, but to reproduce an article (the original was complete with pictures) written in UK’s Sunday Times Magazine of 15th September 1974, which should shed some lights on how we came about our present unfortunate and seemingly irreversible situation as we turned 49. Can we hope for at least a dim light at the end of the tunnel before we turn 50?
I wish I could say yes, but I dare not hope. Please enjoy this long but interesting, illuminating and instructive article written by Cameron Duodo in 1974.
Boom For The Bleeding Giant
Nigeria is booming all right. In 1973, the year which saw the rich, industrialized nations staggering under the weight of their own energy/effluence ratios, while the bottom fell out of the foreign exchange holdings of the Third World countries dependent on them for aid, the country that was once derided as Africa’s ‘Bleeding Giant’ bowed out to show symptoms of the rich nation’s disease – financial indigestion.
Exports went up 55 per cent, and 83 per cent of that came from one commodity alone – crude oil. It gushed out of the oil fields at an average of 2.2 million barrels a day, and by the end of the year more than 93 million metric tons valued at bout £1,300,000,000, had been produced. This year production may be well in excess of 2.4 million barrels a day, realizing an income of between £3500 million and £4000 million. And on top of this Nigeria has just acquired another 20 per cent of the largest producing company, Shell-BP (1.3 million barrels a day) bringing the country’s total shares in Shell to a majority 55 per cent. The Nigerian Government has also taken controlling shares (55 per cent.) Agip (130,000 barrels per day), Safrap (90,000 barrels), Gulf (382,000) and Mobil (246,000). “Our balance of payments surplus will be at least 10 times greater than the £110 million we had last year,” said an official of the Central Bank.
Illegal Strikers – Asking For A 50 Per Cent Pay Rise
Such figures are an ingredient of inflation, and in this respect Nigeria has begun to watch her figure seriously. Recently she slashed the prices of commodities which could be classified as luxuries – motor-cars, radio and television sets, beer, soft drinks and cameras – as well as essential consumer goods like rice, flour, maize, milk, cement and clinker and building materials. A wage freeze was in operation until August; it is now doubtful whether even such price reduction can stem the tide of rising expectations set in motion by the huge income from oil. Even as General Yakubu Gowon was flying into Moscow on May 20 this year to negotiate agreements that would provide training for Nigerians to take a greater part in manning the oil industry, 9000 dock workers at the port of Lagos were downing tools in an illegal strike for a 50 per cent increase in pay. There have already been strikes by railway workers and university teachers.
The greatest challenge facing the government of General Yakubu Gowon is how to prevent the oil boom from becoming a boomerang that will create social discontent and sweep the country off its feet into chaos and renewed bloodshed. The huge population (provisionally estimated to be 79,760,000 by a recent census, in comparison to the 56 million of the controversial 1963 census) cannot be blamed for expecting the oil boom to bring about a miraculous change in the standard of living. Yet, even if the money is wisely spent to that end, the mechanics of transforming the lives of people scattered over such a large country (356,669 square miles, or 3.7 times the size of the British Isles) could well defeat even regimes with a better back-up in terms of technological and manpower resources.
The sheer impossibility of speedy change is brought home if one travels through the country as I have just done. There is intense impatience with the complacency and lack of imagination of the men in Dodan Barracks (headquarters of the Federal Military Government) and acute resentment, bordering on hysteria, against the opulence of the businessmen who hang around the ‘army boys’ and use their contacts to make fat profits, conspicuously advertising the fact.
It is quit possible that the army’s own vast expenditure would be better tolerated if it could curb the businessmen and their contact men. As it is, claims like the one made by General Gowon, in his budget speech on March 31 this year that “Nigeria is not yet a rich country,” only provide ammunition for the acerbic tongues of the Nigerian intelligentsia. One journalist commented: “How can Nigeria be rich when it employs 250,000 to do nothing but carry out parades and the occasional military exercise? The £220 million being spent to finance the army this year represents 22.4 per cent of the entire capital budget of the Federal Government and 12.8 per cent of total capital and recurrent federal spending. Of course you do not grow rich by showering money on a group that constitutes 0-31 per cent of your population.”