Nigeria becomes poor in the midst of vast wealth


?If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher.?? Abdul Kalam

Nigeria is a country blessed with natural resources but unfortunately becomes poor in the midst of vast wealth.

In 1950s and 60s prior to Nigerian independence various regions in the country were predominately engaged in comparative production ranging from food baskets, cash crops to timber and also solid minerals. The then western region was known for cocoa, kola nut, cashew nut production etc, the north for herds, skin, dairy products, cotton and groundnut. Also in the east were palm produce.

At Ibadan a high rise building was built and called ?Cocoa House.? This building signifies the hegemony in power of production and comparative advantage enjoyed by western region in cocoa production. It was the tallest building in Africa in the 1960s. The regional administration of Chief Obafemi Awolowo was proud to tell the world, that Cocoa House was built entirely from proceeds of international trade.

Even after the civil war; the country was still making a decent living on foreign exchange through these products. On solid minerals, Enugu in eastern region those days were known for coal mining and was named Coal city while Jos was known for its tin production. Lagos, Port- Harcourt, Calabar and Warri were well known for foreign merchandise with lots of fleet vessels owned by then Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL).It was huge foreign earnings for the country and also created employment opportunities for many Nigerians. But when oil was discovered the country gradually abandoned these avenues of wealth. No country survives on a single product for export especially in a corrupt society where many see the nation?s wealth as a national cake.

The country?s drift from agriculture to oil was a sign of lack of commitments on the side of previous government to invest and promote agriculture. Farmers were not given the required supports and incentives needed to increase production. The failure of the two major national agricultural programmes the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) 1975 and Green Revolution 1983 which were initiated by both regime of Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Shagari respectively were as a result of personal interest towards these projects.

According to World Bank report 1989 the rise of oil price between 1973/ 1974 and 1979 saw Nigeria increase in foreign earning which agriculture was less prioritised. The money realised on excess crude oil within those periods of years was not channelled on capital projects and infrastructures but rather on hosting World Black Festival Arts and Culture tagged ?FASTAC 77?. It was also a repeat performance of waste between 1984 and 1988, when $12.4 billion oil windfall proceeds that was accrued to the federal government during the Gulf war era was not accounted for.

Since crude oil was discovered in the 1950s, the product has enriched some few highly placed individuals, especially within the political class. Both past and present governments have amassed enormous wealth through this product. The heist of oil-block by the so-called ruling class shows a clear narrative of how moral bankrupt the political leaders have been. Last year, a retired general was so proud to inform the nation on the vast proceeds he made from his oil blocks and on how confused he was to spend the money. This heist of the nation?s wealth has become normal practice especially within the ruling oligarchs. The issue of the Halliburton bribery scandal is still fresh but unfortunately, the case was swept under the carpet. Corruption has become part of Nigeria daily lifestyle.

According Transparency International Nigeria, is believed to have lost more than $400 billion as a result of corruption between 1960 and 1999.

The endowment of oil wealth has been a curse to the nation since the product was discovered in the 1950s, while it becomes blessing to other nations especially in the Gulf region. The question is where did Nigeria get it wrong. For years many had blames on the era of military hegemony which has constituted about 85 percent control of leadership since the country gained independent in 1960. However, some critics argued that 16 years after the country returned to democracy much has not been achieved.

The leaders have failed in all facet of development in infrastructures, power and educational sectors etc. In the 60s to late 1970s, Nigerian educational system in tertiary institutions was among the best in the world. University of Nigeria Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, University of Lagos, University of Ife now (Obafemi Awolowo University) and University of Ibadan were the academic pride of the nation. Today; these universities are now shadows of their eminent past.

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