How To Burn Oil Like A Nigerian


I recently got into a debate with a friend about the role played by oil in Nigeria’s historical development up to the present day, and it got me thinking.

I intend to publish a longer, more thoroughly researched piece that’ll include the official data, but I felt the need to fire off this first draft.

First, it requires a certain level of small-mindedness to prop up Abuja and VI and Davido and kitschy Ovation magazine journalism as evidence of supposed development (let alone superiority).

My position is simple. If we didn’t have oil, we would be in worse economic condition than our immediate neighbours — Cameroon, Benin, Togo, Ghana (assuming we’re at all better than them at the moment).

My friend believes oil has actually had a net negative effect on our physical development. I think it’s probably shielded us from the worst of it.

So, straight to the meat of it. We have been exceedingly wasteful, and the current ugly state of our country despite the good fortune of reaping extraordinary oil revenues exposes our mediocrity as a people.

As resources go, oil is the ultimate jackpot — it isn’t called black gold for no reason. The stuff is cheap to extract relative to its value. It’s extremely valuable as the essential stuff that drives the world’s power. When it’s discovered in a country, it’s practically found in humongous quantities.

It is this 'blessing' that has been squandered by Nigeria. How Nigeria looks like this after earning so much is humanity’s greatest mystery.

Back to the premise. Nigeria’s current state isn’t much better than that of her neighbours. We’ve simply done a terrible job of translating all that mineral wealth into well-being for the Nigerian people. Our GDP might tell a slightly different story but a cursory look reveals a dour picture.

Things like physical infrastructure, healthcare, education and housing indices are better indicators of societal development than absolute GDP. It’s the reason why Scandinavian countries top global rankings of development even though they’re not as rich in absolute terms as the US or China. Qatar is the world’s richest country per capita but they rank nowhere near the first ten on major indices.

However, Qatar and other gulf countries, while not the gold standard for development, have demonstrated how oil wealth can change the lives of their people. Doha and Dubai, cities with world class infrastructure today, were hardly more than fishing villages a few decades ago.

What has Nigeria achieved with her oil? Apart from building exactly two middling cities, Lagos and Abuja, not much. Well, we’ve managed to create a government that is really a growing black hole consuming and destroying anything that comes within proximity.

Then there is the Oleku manifestation of that government - a small super-rich class, with which we proceed to press smaller countries with pepper dem gang privilege, notwithstanding the fact that the overwhelming majority of us do not partake of said pepper. So obviously GINI index is a shambles.

Our students flock to Ghana and Benin seeking decent education. Our cities are riddled with slums. Inter-state travel is rally driving. Healthcare is atrocious and life expectancy is abysmal. All of this we’ve been able to achieve with easy oil wealth.

Murphy’s law might well be the first line of the constitution because just about everything that could go wrong, does go wrong.

Yet it’s not the worst that could happen. We could be Congo. Or Somalia. Recent events have shown that one can never underestimate the possibility of sinking lower.

The likely truth is that our propensity for total bedlam has actually been dampened by the trickle of oil money. Our dwindling revenue clearly shows that entropy is hastened, and people more get aggressive, as the resource cushion thins.

In conclusion, a delusion of Nigerian exceptionalism prevents us from properly owning our failure as a nation. The idea that we’re superior to anyone is barking lunacy and quite frankly, shares similar odds with a Dothraki armada.