Nigeria’s oil riches benefit few 50 years after independence

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The Lagos textile trader’s two-bedroom apartment went up in flames after a lantern fell on a leaking fuel container.

Lanterns are needed because the country has been unable to provide adequate electricity. Fuel is required for generators.

“As if our personal losses are not enough, our landlord has sued for negligency,” said the 45-year-old, who now, along with his wife and two children, lives with a friend. “He is demanding damages for his house.”

Nigeria celebrates 50 years of independence on October 1 and many are taking stock of the nation’s progress, but one of the country’s best-known exports — oil — has done little to help average citizens.

The country, Africa’s most populous nation, is the world’s eighth largest oil exporter, yet the vast amount of revenue the government rakes in from the petroleum industry has not filtered down.

Infrastructure remains in horrendous shape in much of the country.

In the massive city of Lagos, the country’s commercial heart and home to about 15-million people, many roads are in such bad condition that potholes form mini swimming pools when it rains.

The country’s four refineries do not function properly, a situation many blame on corruption, poor upkeep and powerful lobbies that profit from a situation that sees Nigeria import most of its refined products.

Other parts of the economy have been neglected since oil has been so readily available, making Nigeria a poster child for the so-called “oil curse”.

“Look at our politicians, look at the kind of characters that constitute our National Assembly,” said respected economist Pat Utomi, also a longshot candidate for president in elections early next year.

“Most of the fellows who run Nigeria should be in prison. That is the truth of the matter, and this is because those who should lead Nigeria don’t want to mess with this dirty thing, so all kinds of crooks are taking the country over, and we got where we got.”

Nigeria, where production began at 5 100 barrels per day in 1958, now produces an average of 2,1-million barrels per day.

“The Nigeria of our dream was to be the power of Africa, a major power in world politics,” said 77-year-old Femi Okunnu, a former works minister.

‘Corruption has taken us backward’
“Unfortunately, we have wasted time and resources. Corruption and, above all, lack of visionary leadership has taken us many years backward.”

As proof of the problem, the country’s main oil region, the Niger Delta, has been a pocket of deep instability.

Oil thieves have continually sabotaged petroleum facilities. At the same time, militants demanding a fairer distribution of oil revenue have carried out scores of attacks on petroleum installations and kidnappings in recent years.

An amnesty offered to Niger Delta militants last year has greatly reduced unrest in the region, but criminal gangs continue to carry out ransom kidnappings.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who is from the Niger Delta, is under pressure to improve the situation.

Some say a long-debated oil industry reform Bill currently before the parliament could be a step toward changing the situation.

With the Bill, the government is looking to gain a larger chunk of oil revenue, particularly from offshore projects, but there are no guarantees the additional money will be put to good use.

There are also measures aimed at increasing local input in the oil industry, which has been dominated by multi-national companies, including Shell, Exxon, Total and Chevron.

Anti-corruption crusader Debo Adeniran called for an “ethical revolution to change the perception of our leaders to service rather than personal aggrandisement.”

“This sort of money ought to have been used to construct roads, build schools, hospitals and other infrastructure,” he said.

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