Mr. Ribadu suggests the changes Nigeria needs as it charts the way for the future.
The history of Nigeria cannot be complete without the mention of Shell. Shell has played a defining role in our history which changed the course of our life for good and otherwise. For good because Nigeria has, since the first exploration works by Shell, became richer though, sadly, it also made us to ignore other equally important aspects of our socio-economy. I interacted with Shell quite recently during my recent work in the task force on oil revenue, and it gladdened my heart to discover that Shell is one large multinational oil company that is closer to becoming a fully Nigerian venture. Yet, I have my quarrels with you – I am yet to see Shell establishing a refinery here that will end the waste of our gas and environmental degradation similar to the Bintulu Gas-to-Liquid Plant in Malaysia or the new plant in Qatar. I would also be happier if Shell does what De Beers is doing in Botswana. I however thank the Shell Club Port Harcourt (SCP) and the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) for giving me an opportunity, and yet another platform, to express my views on an issue that affects every citizen of this country.
Nigeria turns 53 next week. Shell has also been producing crude oil for the past 55 in this country. Congratulations to you, and to Nigeria. In the past 53 years, this country has recorded significant milestones. We have survived severe cold similar to what that saw some countries sneezing to death. We remain standing, though someone wrote that we are standing still! Yes, he could be right! The country is endowed with abundant natural resources and brilliant human capital. Yet, the paradox is there is widespread poverty due to misused resources and untapped potentials. It is therefore true that wherever Nigeria is mentioned, what comes to mind is Boko Haram, oil theft, kidnapping and corruption. Nigeria also lags behind on every world index that signifies progress and development. Our lives are daily deteriorating in a frightening way.
This is not to give in to pessimism, I strongly disagree with those writing off Nigeria as a failed country. Agreed, we could do a lot better based on what we have in terms of natural resources and demographic advantages. Nigeria stands on a foundation built by our founding fathers who in their wisdom also salvaged and formed a stack of bricks with which we are to build the nation up. But the generations following our founding fathers used those bricks only to form ever more insidious fences that divide us across the lines of ethnicities, regions and religions. Nigeria’s problems have been shifted from the actual, which is the collapse of our institutions after many years of military, political and bureaucratic imprudence, to an invented assumption which suggests that our peoples are unwilling to live together.
The foundation of this country, contrary to whatever is schemed to uproot it, can only be understood when you go round the country and interact with the larger masses, who are the actual patriots, from markets to schools, and to social gatherings where identifications are based only on individualities. Our people are bound by a common goal, the desire to have their lives improved. They are united in the same struggle to have functional public and private institutions because their sufferings, their poverty and deprivations, have neither ethnic nor religious identities. And the exclusive sufferings amongst them, like insecurity as a result of religious and ethnic differences, can as well be traced to our politics and ill-advised political decisions and indecisions.
Nigeria: From Pyramids to Refineries
Before oil, there were groundnuts and cereals from the north, cocoa, timber and palm produce from the south forming the core of an agrarian economy. I’m always fascinated by what the First Republic politicians achieved with revenues derived from the agricultural sector. It is indeed ironic that the major institutions in the country today were executed by proceeds of our agrarian economy. It’s inspiring that with meagre budgets, those committed leaders built the legacies we have not with the trillions we’ve earned from the Oil sector. Those first sets of leaders are inspirations that what Nigeria needs today is actually not more money, but simply the will and wisdom for the contemporary leaders, many of whom parade themselves as political protégés of the First Republic pragmatic leaders, to learn the art of true leadership.
The disappearance of those Kano pyramids and subsequent ban on exportation of cash crops by successive government are the beginning of our economic chaos, especially as our GDP of which agriculture used to account for over 60 percent, declined as a result of distraction to the prospects of the petroleum industry. Worse still, the oil industry has not received the needed attention that could boost its capacity to augment the decline in agriculture. The situation was further exacerbated by endemic corruption in the system, rendering all the oil wealth meaningless to the man on the streets. Over-dependence on Oil means economic vulnerability in times of unstable oil markets and our financial recklessness and inability to conduct simple policy forecasts as we neglected the non-oil sector had our economy grounded until we were ranked a low-income country in 1988, qualifying for aid alongside countries like Zambia, India, China, Pakistan and Ghana. But, has that taught us a lesson? Our economy failed not exactly because we embarked on extravagant spending in a bid to modernise Nigeria but squarely because we lacked functional institutions where discipline, justice and selfless service are extolled. Our economy failed simply because the institutions were hijacked by public officers more concerned with their personal welfares than in the development of the nation.
Return to just twenty years ago and compare our country to those with which we were ranked as low-income and lower-middle-income aid recipients. It’s simply impossible to compare our economy, despite our resources, to theirs. None of those countries are on the same low level with us today. They have now become our models, and with a lot of exports sent our ways, despite their challenges. China has risen to become the world’s second largest economy. India is now leading an impressive Information Technology revolution, being the tenth largest economy in the world. These are despite the sizes of both countries and the challenge of over a billion people contained in their respective borders. In fact, in social, political and economic analogy, Nigeria is the most unfortunate of the aids-seekers that bounced back from that downturn. But it not yet the doomsday. Nigeria is not about today alone. It is about the future whose foundation must be strengthened today. Despite squandering enough of nature’s goodwill to us, we still have competitive advantages in terms of our resources and individual strong will. It is therefore absurd when some self-serving personalities embark on spirited campaigns whose purview is only their immediate interests. If we mar our own generation, we should not jeopardise that of our children. The future holds great promises.
The Change We Need
To get back fully on the track, we need to refocus our energies and commitment in cleaning up critical institutions. We need reforms that will facilitate evolution of institutions that are responsive to our existence and plights. Those institutions – public and private- should be exorcised from culture of nepotism which feeds the corruption cankerworm. In this age of competition and rapid transformation of everything, it is our own challenge to come up with out of the box ideas capable of changing our fortunes beyond the figures.
To address our economic problems, we need to exploit maximum opportunity from the oil sector and invest heavily in agriculture and human development, that can provide alternative economic opportunities. The pathetic condition of the manufacturing sector would have to be overhauled by fixing the perennial problem of power supply, if we are to address the meteoric rise in unemployment. Fundamentally, we need to be creative with the oil sector. The challenge posed by shale gas should be a source of concern to all, as there is growing projection of crashing of oil prices in the near future. It is therefore for us to exploit the present situation and work towards innovative alternative for the future. As the mainstay of our economy, the oil sector deserve more than the present attention it gets, and the first step in reforming it is by instilling transparency in spite of the resistance from some elements. Lack of serious investment in the sector has hindered its efficiency, having us dangling within the same margin of production for decades.
It is however pertinent to state here that our strength as a country is not in oil- which may not be there tomorrow, as it was not there yesterday – but it rather lies in our number and other demographic wealths which are anchored on our resolve to stay peacefully together.
However, to drive all these we need honest and modern leadership that could be a rallying point for the citizens, and one that can tame the consuming tides of corruption. It is my belief that firm and sincere leadership is the precursor for industrious and patriotic followership, thus national development.
Mr. Ribadu, former anti-corruption czar for the country, delivered this speech at the Shell Club Port Harcourt Nigeria Independence Anniversary Celebration (NIAC) 2013 Lecture on September 26