OIL: ILLUSION TO WEALTH CREATION
“It is in our best interest to…embark on a revolutionary change that will lead us away from oil dependency rather than drag our feet and suffer the cost of becoming growingly dependent on a diminishing resource. True words were never written.” - Albert Marrin.
August 30th 2012 will remain indelible in the hearts and minds of Anambrarians as it marked the official admission of the state into the league of oil producing states. Oil production in Nigeria is what every state in Nigeria is seriously craving for hence, the search for oil all over the federating units even at the oddest places hoping for the stroke of luck. The states of Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Abia, Bayelsa, Ondo, Imo, Cross River, and Edo are all enjoying what they referred to as unsatisfactory 13% while berating the North for seeking evenness in federal allocation. The northern states who oppose the present allocation system are not relenting in their inextinguishable search for any drop of crude or natural gas in their various states.
Kwara state not long ago, came up with the news that crude has been found in their domain. News has also filtered sometime in the past that Borno state also has some oil deposits at Lake Chad basin and Benue too claims they also have some unexplored oil deposit. The question for all Nigerians is what role does oil play in the prosperity, progress and development of a people and their environment? Does inflow of oil wealth guarantee a secured future? Villages, Communities, Local governments and States are searching and praying for oil discovery in their areas of authority. Nigerians and their government now eat oil, drink oil, sleep oil and wake oil, nothing makes sense to them except that which relates to oil and gas.
Early this year, I was discussing with my friend from Rivers state and he was thanking God for endowing crude oil in their soil. “I can’t imagine the level of poverty we would have been in if not for oil” he said. He argued that their region and not north east would have been the poorest in the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria if not for oil. To know where his conviction is coming from I asked him, why he believed poverty would have been their lot if not for oil. His response was tactlessly direct, “black men can’t create or handle wealth” he says. In him I saw that with brilliance, education and exposure, environment still holds over seventy percent of what influences our beliefs. Currently nine states are enjoying 13% proceeds from the oil exploration going on in their back yards yet poverty walks with two legs on the streets of these states. Lagos state has no drop of oil yet, apart from infrastructure which many will argue that federal government built, no area of life apart from agriculture can we point any state in Nigerian federating units that is faring better than them. Japan, Korea, Singapore and most other Asian Tigers are success stories without oil wealth.
Drums were rolled out and uniforms were sewn as President Jonathan librated the Anambra oil which Anambra people believed past governments have inhumanly padlocked in redundancy under the guise of “strategic reserve”. There was unusual atmospheric gladness in the air even with the sacking of Prof. Bath Nnaji two previous days. Oil dominated the discussions and many believed that Anambra can now reflect collective affluence as opposed to individual success which the state is known for. The mentality of people that oil wealth can change the lot of people still baffles me even with what we have seen in our over fifty-four years of having oil. Before you misunderstand me, what I am trying to say is that having oil wealth is not enough ingredients for success rather good management is and that is where we are lacking the most. Before Anambra oil discovery, there are states that have had oil wealth for decades for example the neighboring Delta state. Removing the pains of oil exploration activities, official and unofficial corruptions from the gains of having oil, can any of them be said to be successful?
Some individuals from Anambra are already big players in the oil industry and have all beamed their commercial interests in their state’s new found wealth. Typical of Anambra, what and how this oil will translate into success story of the state is a puzzle only time will solve. The location of the oil wells and the Orient refinery used to be the battle ground for Umu-eri clans in the past and there is nothing to guarantee absolute calmness at the area except the right thing is done. Politics of cutthroat has been the hallmark of political activities in Anambra state since 1999 and the virus is already rearing its ugly head in the way the oil hawks are scamping for interest in Anambra oil sector. Many of whom are already accusing Gov. Peter Obi of using the leverage of office to secure his own interest without investing from his pocket. From the past, debate on whether crude oil is a blessing or a curse has remained unresolved and it still continues to the present day, leaving us to use Anambra as a case study. We know how Anambra is today and in the near future, we will see the impact of the oil wealth (whether negative or positive) in the state.
Anambra west local government where the oil is deposited is one of the most neglected local governments in Anambra state since the creation of the state in 1991. If Anambra West local government will be turned into the goose that lays the golden egg like other oil producing communities in Nigeria or be transformed by oil wealth like “Texasian” and Californian oil producing communities is left to be seen. Former governor Ngige in his recent interview reiterated the need to explore huge hydro carbon which Ugwuagba in particular and Anambra in general has been sitting on. All of them are looking at the gains of oil exploration and forgetting the pains that go with it and none of these oil hawks is canvassing ways to mitigating the pains that might come with it. I doubt if most of them have been to oil producing communities in the Niger Delta and see oil exploration havoc with their two eyes.
I personally consider any project planned without considering its possible counter effect as highly gratuitous. There maybe plans in that regard but to the best of my knowledge and I have followed Anambra oil discovery with keen interest but I have not come across any articulated plan towards that. Every focus is on the gain and not on how to reduce the environmental hazard it might cost Aguleri-Otu people in particular and Anambra people in general. If proper things are not done, Anambra West local government will be another poignant reminder of how Niger Delta communities started. Personal interests as usual in some capitalist environment appear to have relegated community and environmental well being concerns to dustbin.
“A man always has two reasons for doing anything, a good reason and the real reason – J. P. Morgan. Governor Peter Obi has shown enough good reasons for striving to build on the efforts of his predecessors with regard to exploring Anambra’s crude but with ultimate finality, the real reason will be known when the stakes in Orient will be made public. With the springing back to life of Harbour industrial layout and Onitsha river port, one can conveniently say that Anambra is waking up. It is good that finally Anambra is now preparing to take advantage of its environment and location but it is bad that personal interest of stakeholders is killing it when it has barely started.
Written By Obi Ebuka Onochie