By Chris O. O. Biose
What meaning can independence have for the people if we throw off political bondage only, and remain in economic and mental subservience? Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972)
Since Nigeria gained political independence from Britain on October 1, 1960, successive Federal administrations consistently adopted a policy of dependence on foreign powers particularly in the economic and military spheres.
Political leaders that inherited political power from Britain regarded independence as little more than decentralization. They seemed satisfied that Nigeria was no longer ruled directly from London but realistically, the same objective was in view, namely, economic control of Nigeria by erstwhile colonial masters. Colonial policies were administered locally.
Nigeria is an economically dependent country “whose development is conditioned by the development and expansion of another.” Classically, dependent economies are those whose history of involvement with the international market leads them to specialise in the production of a few primary products over which they have no control as to price and terms of trade. Furthermore, ownership and control of production infrastructure of the country is in foreign hands. The Nigerian oil and gas industry which accounts for about 90 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings is a case in point.
After 60 years of political independence, Nigeria remains unable to utilise its flag independence to bring about a meaningful level of self-reliance in production of basic goods and services needed to improve the quality of life of citizens.
Nigeria’s legal status as an independent country, recognized as such in international relations, is not in doubt. The country however needs to move beyond symbolic self-rule to true independence. In his book entitled Our Struggle (A Political Analysis of the Problems of Peoples Struggling for True Freedom), first published in 1953, reprinted by Fourth Dimension Publishers, Enugu, in 1986, the renowned Nigerian mathematician and politicians, Professor Chike Obi (1912-2008), identified what he called “three independencies” that an independent country needs to achieve. He named these as political, economic and cultural independence.
To assess the level of true independence so far achieved by Nigeria as delineated by Chike Obi, let us briefly consider three factors of development, namely, economic, social and institutional infrastructure.
Core Economic Infrastructure
No modern state can perform optimally without building and constantly upgrading core economic infrastructure which provide intermediate services to business and industry such as power, energy, roads, bridges, ports railways, airports, telecommunications and other public works which are constructed over generations. In this regard, one of the most contentious issues in the public domain in the weeks preceding the 60th anniversary celebration of Nigerian independence is the state of energy industry in the country.
The Dutch-British multinational oil company, Shell, successfully drilled the first Nigerian oil rig in Oloibiri in the then Eastern Region of Nigeria in June 1956. From that time to 1970, foreign oil companies had full control of the Nigerian petroleum industry.
The military junta led by General Yakubu Gowon (retd.) promulgated Petroleum Decree (No. 51), 1969, which claimed absolute ownership and control of all petroleum resources in the Niger Delta. .The Decree provided in Schedule 1:
The entire ownership and control of all petroleum in, under or upon any land out to the 200 miles limit of the exclusive economic zone is vested in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Nigerian National Oil Corporation (NNOC) Decree (No.18), 1971, created a vehicle for Nigerian participation and eventual control of production and marketing of crude oil in the country. The Decree gave the NNOC comprehensive powers to be the sole government agency on oil matters with full power to participate in all aspects of petroleum exploration, refining, marketing and distribution.
By Decree 25 of April 1, 1977, the Military regime merged the Ministry of Petroleum Resources with the NNOC to become the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Again, the Decree gave absolute power to control, regulate and participate fully in the oil industry, including power to set goals and regulate itself as well as other participants in the oil industry.
The commercialization process of NNPC took off in 1988 leading to the establishment of 12 business units. However, for its nearly 50 years of existence, the NNPC (formerly NNOC) remains unable to fulfill the purpose for which it was established and has proved to be the Nigerian arm of the exploitative oil industry. The overall effects of this organizational failure on Nigerians include incessant fuel scarcity, constant increase in fuel price and its attendant negative effect on galloping inflation and general deterioration in the quality of life of the masses.
Nigerians are not less intelligent than citizens of other developing oil economies such as United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where citizens benefit from prudent management of crude oil in their countries. The difference is that Nigerian leaders are infinitely more greedy and intensely unpatriotic, paying mere lip service to Nigerian nationalism.
Nigerian leaders merely facilitate extraction and sale of crude oil without developing the industry or the area where the crude is mined. This is clear and incontrovertible evidence of the exploitative mind set of ruling elite that has no interest in developing anything of value for the Nigerian masses.
Contrary to common assertion in some quarters, Nigeria is not a mono-economy because this implies that the country produces one commodity. The BBC English Dictionary (1992, p 914) says that “to produce something means to make it, create it, or cause it.” The fact is that Nigeria does not make or cause crude oil; it is not producing oil.
True, huge reserves of crude oil and gas are found in the Niger Delta Region which is a part of Nigeria. But after about 50 years of taking full legal control of its oil industry, Nigeria still lacks capacity to bring the crude oil and gas out of the ground without foreign assistance. We cannot even transport the mined crude from one place to another without assistance, not to speak of processing the crude into useful products.
All our leaders do is rent out oilfields to agents who then rent them out for international oil companies to exploit and pay a part of whatever they say that they have mined from the oilfields. The country cannot even accurately measure or confirm whatever the foreign companies say. Nigerian leaders are satisfied to collect whatever is presented to them as rent for the oilfields. It’s mere bluffing for anybody to say that Nigeria produces crude oil.
The country has five refineries but they are not functioning because of lack of indigenous capacity to make them work without the aid of foreigners. In 2019, Nigeria imported 19.18 billion litres of petroleum while only 166.33 million litres of petrol were locally refined, according to Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
Some innovative indigenes who attempt to improvise and refine crude locally are harassed or shot by security gents while their production outfits are burnt. Nigeria cannot refine crude and will not create enabling conditions for innovative indigenes to do so. Meanwhile, oil bunkerers have a field day. In a brief released in December 2019, titled Stemming Increasing Cost of Oil Theft to Nigeria, the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) reported that crude and refined oil worth $41.9 billion was stolen in the country in the past ten years.
Nigeria is not an oil producing country. It is a rentier state that derives nearly all or a substantial portion of its national revenue from the rent of indigenous resources to external clients.
Aside the energy sector, no major establishment in Nigeria is functioning. The Steel Plant at Aladja has been bled to death. The Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) established by Act of Parliament in 1964 to produce “small Arms and Ammunition for the use of the Nigerian Army and other security agencies” is doing nothing of the sort. The country relies almost completely on import of its arms and military equipment.
In addition to economic infrastructure, society cannot subsist without social infrastructure such as education, health, water supply, housing, sewage, prisons and social security. To take the first two of these items just mentioned, the United Nations says that Nigeria harbours more than 13 million school age children who are not attending school. UNICEF adds that in 2019, one out of every five out-of-school children in the world is in Nigeria. The country ranks 125th in global education index, far below its West African neighbor, Ghana, which ranks l04 globally.
In addition to capital goods production, it is impossible for a country to be productive without skilled citizens. In December 2019, the World Bank ranked Nigeria 152 out of 157 countries evaluated on Human Capital Index (HCI); the 6th worst in the world. Federal Government tactic of arm twisting university lecturers to accept humiliating working conditions is not a way to improve this sorry index.
At the First Guardian Lecture marking the newspaper’s fifth anniversary in July 1988, Mr. Michael Manley, former Jamaican Prime Minister asserted:
“Third world societies cannot seriously tackle their major structural problems without the broadest involvement of their populations… Economic independence begins and ends with the skills of the people who wish to enjoy it.” (The Guardian, Tuesday, July 12, 1988, p 17).
On the health system index, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2017 ranked Nigeria’s health system as 187 out of l90 countries, again at the bottom of the ladder. In a speech which he delivered at the Nigeria Economic Council, Abuja on March 22, 2018, where several high ranking officials of the Buhari administration were present, the Co-Chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gates, told the Nigerian government some home truths. He said that the Government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) was not reflective of the people’s needs. He described the health sector of the country as “broken” (“not adequately funded”). Illustrating his presentation with charts, and data from several countries, he advised the leaders to pay greater attention to health and education of citizens rather than concentrating on physical infrastructure. Since that candid advice by Bill Gates, the Federal Government has persisted in its unhelpful ways.
Like core economic and social spheres, institutional infrastructure corresponding to internal and external norms that shape economic behavior and decision making processes, is equally in shambles. Nigeria is a country where strong men actively demoish social institutions and institute a government of persons rather than of laws and due process.
Consequently, law enforcement agencies carry out their functions to please incumbents rather than the cause of justice for all. So, well-laced people escape punishment for wrong-doing becausethey belong to a the power elite. This state of affairs brought about the rise of a clan of “untouchables” and the sacred cows syndrome. The result is that rather than obey the law, a lot of people struggle, not to be good citizens, but to join the special, privileged class, where they can also behave with impunity in the society.
The same factor is primarily responsible for poor law enforcement. For example, security operatives are unable or unwilling to stop Fulani herdsmen from mass killings across the country.
Parliaments fail when members accept inducements from the executive arm of government to approve humongous loans for the executive to burden future generations of Nigerians.
Power distribution companies in Nigeria will never be viable if their staff prefer to collect bribes for themselves rather than official tariffs.
The judicial system fails when judges sell justice to the highest bidder or pronounce the wishes of their appointers in place of interpreting the law.
If the Federal Government continues to deploy soldiers to intimidate the electorate in order to bring about predetermined results during elections, democracy will remain a distant dream in the country and Nigerians who desire to contribute to world progress will continue to move away from the country in order to be useful to the world and their creator.
Elections fail when the electoral body colludes with governments and security agencies to subvert the will of the electorate.
A society without moral compass can never achieve economic or social well- being. Unless Nigerians urgently reorganize their society by building strong institutions that regulate affairs in the country along civilized standards rather than reliance on force and fraud, they cannot realistically join the civilized world in the search for progress and unraveling the wonders of creation.
Nigeria: Poverty Capital of the World
The systemic failures mentioned above, which derogate from building a self-reliant society, have dire consequences for the masses. Former British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, said in Cape Town, South Africa, on August 28, 2018, that Africa has the highest number of poor people in the world. It is also the home of most of the world’s fragile states and one quarter of the world’s displaced people. Specifically she said that “87 million Nigerians live below poverty line of $1 dollar and 90 cents per day, making it the home of more poor people than any other nation in the world.” (Seun Opejobi, Nigeria has the highest number of world’s poor people – Theresa May, British Prime Minister, DAIY POST online, August 28,2018).
In February 2019, the World Poverty Clock published by the Vienna-based Data Lab stated that 91.6 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty. The organization which had in June 2018, named Nigeria as as “the poverty capital of the world”, further stated that six Nigerians fall into extreme poverty “every minute”. (Eniola Akinkuotu, Number of poor Nigerians rises to 91 million- World Poverty Clock, PUNCH online, January 15, 2019) In the Nigerian poverty map, rural dwellers are worse hit.
Something must be fundamentally wrong with a social and economic system that only serves to impoverish more and more citizens in spite of its huge oil earnings.
In our day, poverty has become more and more troubling because its social effects have never been so devastating. Think of the army of street urchins in most Nigerians cities and almajiri phenomenon in parts of Northern Nigeria. It is not surprising that insecurity has reached a stage where Nigeria has become one of the most unsafe countries in the world.
It is bothersome enough that a richly endowed country like Nigeria is backward in all significant indices of development and is basically unable to achieve a reasonable level of self-reliance in the simplest of things. What is truly baffling is that the present leadership of the Federal Government is not addressing core issues of education, health and modern technology which are indispensable for development. The Government seems to be more concerned with how to suppress expression of opinion and gag the media (Social Media Bill and Hate Speech Bill), creation of grazing reserves for Fulani herdsmen, (Grazing Reserves Bill, 2016), cow colonies (RUGA Settlements, June 2019), and National Water Resource Bill, recently introduced to the National Assembly, designed to seize waterways and adjoining land throughout the country, contrary to the spirit of Federalism and the Land Use Act. Our beloved country is not only dependent, it is in dire straits.