It is obvious the Nigerian economy is in a precarious situation. Is it anything new? Even oil theft, and the unclear accounts of oil receipts, coupled with corruption that are speedily draining resources available to governments, are not new.
Nigerians do not need a warning from outsiders to know that an economy founded on one product, the proceeds of which are wantonly stolen, is doomed. Years of contemplating what to do with the economy has not thrown up solutions that governments are willing to implement. Every government’s interest is limited to resources it immediately needs for its projects, most of which are short-term.
A May 2013 World Bank’s Nigeria Economic Report noted that, “Despite the recovery in oil prices, Nigeria expanded its fiscal stimulus significantly, increasing consolidated spending by an estimated 2.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, GDP, and drawing down the remaining balance of the Excess Crude Account at the same time that many other oil exporters were building back their reserves.”
Nigerians see it differently. While the World Bank worries about Nigeria’s ability to meet its international obligations, Nigerians are bothered that their country has no plans to create an economy away from oil. All the talks about diversifying the economy, some dating more than 40 years, have remained talks, recycled the same way they recycle politicians for appointments, some dating almost that far back.
The saddest aspect of the patch Nigeria is passing through is that once oil revenues climb to levels that can fund budgets, managers of the economy would happily return to their spending sprees.
Oil accounting for 95 per cent of exports and 75 per cent of consolidated budgetary revenues in Nigeria, is a bigger danger than the volatility of oil prices and thieves who are exploiting weaknesses in the oil production chain.
The end of oil theft, which some see as the elixir to the economy, misses the point again about the importance of the future. Stable oil prices serve the West’s interests. A stable Nigerian economy, with a broad manufacturing base to serve Nigerians would not benefit from the West’s help, which wants Nigeria to be a net importer.
Nigerian authorities should be planning an economy above oil thefts. The only way that would be possible is by diversifying the economy. Oil would still be useful by providing the resources to redirect the economy.
The current practice of consuming all the money the country makes each budget season is another version of oil theft. Indifference to the future is new slavery awaiting Nigerians. Our governments owe us a responsibility to rescue Nigerians from that blight instead of rejoicing that oil theft is ending.