DISCOVERY of crude oil in commercial quantity in Nigeria in the 1950s was greeted with joy because it was deemed a blessing which would complement the country’s agricultural resources for quantum leap in gross domestic product (GDP).
It was high expectation for the people who reasoned that proceeds from crude oil sales in the international market coupled with the value addition to the natural resource by petroleum products would be used to provide not only basic amenities but also critical infrastructures that drive economic growth and development in real terms as observed in such oil producing countries as Saudi Arabia, Quatar, Libya and other countries.
Unfortunately, the lofty expectations of Nigerians for an Eldorado and being on the same pedestal, development wise with scientifically and technologically advanced countries was dashed due to mindless abuse of democratic ethos and principles which hallmark good governance, development and welfare of the masses.
Woeful lack of good governance due to preference to the primordial factors of ethnicity and religion created room for mindless sleaze and nepotism in the operation of the oil and gas industry.
Nigerian political and military leaderships failed to deploy the humongous petro dollar proceeds to diversify the economy and explore and exploit other vast natural and mineral resources in almost all the states of the federation to create massive employment, wealth and reduce unemployment and under-employment now stalking the land with devastating consequences.
The gross mismanagement of the proceeds of crude oil led to environmental degradation in the oil bearing states, the Niger Delta. The adverse effects of oil and gas exploration like oil spillage and gas flaring could not be contained by the multi-national oil conglomerates, who due to corruptive influence of the Nigerian leaders were not compelled to factor the control of oil spillage and gas flaring in their business of oil exploration.
The resultant effect was the agitation of the people of Niger Delta whose natural occupation which is fishing expedition was destroyed by oil pollution and even gas flaring. Aquatic life was destroyed because of failure to control the oil spillage. Again, the gas flaring was a colossal waste as it could have been effectively harnessed as being done in other oil and gas producing countries of the world for maximum benefits.
The mindless neglect of the plight of the people of Niger Delta led to the setting up of executive bodies and commissions to address the negative fallouts of the oil and gas exploitation. But the pervasive and intractable incidences of corruption did not allow these interventionist bodies to realise the goals and objectives which they were made.
One could recall some of them like OMPADEC, NNDC, among others. The recent melodrama in the House of Representatives where the managing director of the commission feigned ill and slumped because of the deluge of questions on the mind-boggling sleaze in the award of contracts never executed shocked the world.
So, it is safe to conclude that the discovery of “liquid gold” has turned out to be a curse instead of blessing to the people of Niger Delta in particular and Nigerians in general.
It is saddening that other countries of the world that produce crude oil use the proceeds for human capacity development among other resources that place them on a trajectory of development in real and sustainable terms while their GDP continue to balloon.
In these oil and gas producing countries, there is free health care delivery, free education up to the tertiary levels, full employment and unemployment benefits, welfare programmes for the aged and the vulnerable and opportunities of various dimensions are there to make the lives of people worthwhile.
But in Nigeria, the reverse is the case which has proved conclusively that oil has turned out to be a curse to the people due to absence of good governance from the time of political independence till today. It is saddening and lamentable to say the least.
The mindless mismanagement of the petro dollar by the past and present crop of Nigeria leaders has led to issue of petroleum subsidy since corruption has not allowed the refining of crude oil in the four refineries. During electoral campaigns, the leadership of political parties would reel out promises for the repair of the four refineries only to be a pie made to be broken.
In other to take cognizance of the fluctuations of oil prices in the international market, Nigerian leaders had taken resort to importing petroleum products from West African countries where some of them had built refineries. Consequently, the prices of petroleum products could not be controlled in the country hence a ready resort to the regime of subsidy which has suffused with opaque and lack of transparency and accountability.
The worst is that the NNPC has been managed without being accountable to the nation’s parliament. The annual budget appear not to be subjected to scrutiny like other MDAs by the National Assembly. So, the whole scenario has been programmed to be a monumental disaster and failure which amount to a curse to the people instead of a blessing which God had intended for the people.
The nagging issue of petroleum subsidy has been mired in controversy but the fact remains that one cannot control what one cannot produce. The economics of petroleum subsidy is not a rocket science since the price of crude oil in the international market determines the pump price of petrol, gas, kerosene, aviation fuel, etc.
Taking due cognizance of this, past military and civilian heads of state and president had applied petroleum subsidy in various ways with revulsions from the masses who bear the brunt of the fallouts as prices of goods and services are inevitably affected by the increase of these petroleum products imported into the country instead of being produced as obtained in countries that have this great resource.
It is pointless condemning or justifying the attempts by the previous and present federal governments on petroleum subsidy. For instance, President Goodluck Jonathan was frank and forthright when he removed petroleum subsidy going by the vulnerabilities in the international oil market.
He did not paint rosy pictures of pricing template but advised Nigerians to brace up to the stunning reality of the inability of the country to fix the refineries which could have made the prices of petroleum products affordable and reasonable. He had credible Economic Think-Tank who proffered advice for effective management of the economy while efforts were being made to reposition the economy through diversification that goes with the needed restructuring of the pseudo federation for full exploration and exploitation of the human, natural and mineral resources that abound in all the states of the federation which are suppressed by the unitary government masquerading as federalism.
To the consternation of well-meaning Nigerians, the conscienceless pack of opposition politicians who threw gumption and discretion in the air mobilised the people with scant knowledge of international economics and trade and even the unthinking segment of the organised labour for mass protest against the well-though-out appropriate pricing template for petroleum products.
The uncalled-for and heavily sponsored nation-wide protestations incredibly lasted three days because massive fund was mobilised to sponsor the nation-wide protest against removal of petroleum subsidy ostensibly to spite the PDP-led federal government and pollute people’s mind to enable the APC to mount the levers of power.
This subversive undertaken coalesced to the exit of the president and the enthronement of the opposition political part, APC. Now the stark reality of failure for the past and present government to rebuild the four petroleum refineries has come to stare Nigerians in the face.
To the consternation of Nigerians, General Muhammadu Buhari, who not only spearheaded the nation-wide protest against Jonathan administration for removing the petroleum subsidy publicly declared that there was nothing like petroleum subsidy but a choreographed sleaze to line the pockets of the top party men and women.
Ironically, the table has turned against him as provident has placed him on the saddle of power with the same scenario playing out in the international oil market with its vulnerabilities and shocks. Buhari has been confronted with the harsh and stunning realities and has to eat his words to tell the dazed Nigerians that his government is no longer comfortable to be spending trillions of naira in subsidizing petroleum products which is now unsustainable.
Vanguard edition of September 9, 2020, revealed that Nigerians were shocked beyond measure to learn that the federal government has claimed to have spent over “N10.43trn on subsidy”. Consequently, the president has been forced to face the economics of international oil prices for oil- bearing countries that fail to refine their crude oil due to absence of good governance.
The painful path of deregulation of downstream sector of the petroleum industry has to be trodden hence, the inevitable jerking up in pump price of petrol to between N160 and N162 per litre, even as the prices of other derivable from crude oil have to be increased to break even .
Where are we now? The abiding lesson is that in future, Nigerians should be serious about leadership recruitment because public administration has never been the forte of everybody The fact remains that if crude politics was not injected into the explanations of President Goodluck Jonathan on the appropriate pricing of petroleum products, the country would not be embroiled in the quagmire that she is in now amid the devastating effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic.