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Dissecting Buhari’s Owerri Sermon, By Isidore Emeka Uzoatu

President Buhari never fails to blow his trumpet occasionally. The more so when those he assigned the job forget. More like the storied lizard off the dizzying height of a tall tree. He had cause to do so again in one of his speeches at his recent visit to Imo State. According to him, his government has done its best in the bizarre circumstances surrounding their ascendance to power.

He, in effect, reeled out statistics to prove his case. As though urging all to verify – a la one of the leading candidates contending to take over from him. It all bothered on the price of crude before he took over as compared to when his predecessors held the reins. And, of course, the infrastructural deficit he inherited – and bettered!

Indeed, since the Scot Mungo Park ‘discovered’ the Niger, many things about the people living in its general area that Britain forged into a country shivers timbres. Like how it has only occasionally failed to have the most inept in its ranks leading it. In consequence, perhaps, the most intriguing now remains how it has coped with the huge revenues accruing from its vast oil and gas sector over the years.

According to a recently-released compendium covering the years from 1990 to 2017, the nation made a total of close to a trillion US dollars from the sale of crude alone. Of this humongous amount, it can be argued that the nation currently has nothing to show for it but a head covered with spittle. But much unlike the guy defending the proverbial never-do-well in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, ours happens to be more recidivist.

At the last count, more than 23 million of its citizens are not in gainful employment. Coupled to this, no less than 82 million of them are living beneath the poverty level. A development that has seen us emerge as the latest poverty capital of the world.

Indeed, save of course for a few notable stand-out moments, this mismanagement of its oil wealth holds out for the entire stretch. Without an iota of doubt, ever since the discovery of our sweet crude at Oloibiri, we have never really enjoyed its supposed blessings.

Like under President Obasanjo’s 1999-2007 interregnum, when a total of $261.8 billion accrued to the nation’s account from the source. But, in an apparent over advertisement of his economic eptitude, all he opted to do was pay up all our outstanding debt. Sans even the mere buffer of a debt moratorium plea.

Much as some critics used it to get at him, he remained nonplussed. At least, unlike some in his shoes, it can be argued that he did something with the money. Not unlike when he was military head in 1977 and used some of our surplus to host the 2nd World and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC 77).

Well, that’s by the way.

But yet again, under General Sani Abacha’s maximum rule, something commendable repeated. Back then, a total of $64 billion was said to have been made from the sector. Before the grim reaper came calling at the presidential villa, he was at least able to set up the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).

Supervised by General Buhari, he used it to effectively fight our massive infrastructural deficit. An opportunity many suppose that endeared Buhari upon becoming elected president to continue where he had stopped then. Talk, though, has been rife ever since of a protracted monomania being among his many ailments.

But unacknowledged by the new man at the helm is the reality that there’s no more boom in the sector. A rare combination of factors ranging from the Covid pandemic and the concomitant drop in oil prices has since put paid to that. And a quick revert to non-oil proceeds is yet in abeyance.

So what does the new man do? Rather blindly, he resorts to internal and external borrowing. And as at date our public debt stands at more than 32.915 trillion of our embattled local currency.  Meanwhile, permission for new loans are easily given by a rubber-stamp national assembly. Not minding that more than 80 percent of our budget is now used to finance the old ones.

Like expected, many are the voices calling for a redressal of the anomaly. The more so given the roadmap the government is presenting. Most of these borrowed funds where they don’t end up in individual pockets are purportedly being used in funding projects that will pay them back.

Like railways. But rather sadly, the lines are currently being built to stations that can hardly make this possible. For instance, one runs all the way to an arid neighbouring country where the president has cousins. And this at the neglect of tasted composils that boast larger markets and traffic.

Added to this is the fact that the struggle for non-oil revenue appears to have been relegated to the backseat. What with the government petroleum corporation still seeking investment in private refineries. As though the nation is unaware of the impending divestment from fossil fuels the world over.

While mightier oil-producing nations are already preparing for life after oil, we appear to be living in the past. Not unlike the storied mad woman chasing after rats escaping from the inferno of her smouldering house, we clutch at the air in vain. Making many aptly wonder whether we are under a curse or something worse.

But this train of thought, if considered, takes us back to where we started. After all, before oil we were not worse off. Every section of the country reaped from where they sowed. Most importantly there were no sectional products to be piped elsewhere for lucre.

Musa and Oghene managed whatever grew in their backyards with no interference from Idowu and Tamuno. Who were, anyway, up to their hilt in their own localised pursuits to be bothered by what whoever else was doing across the border. 

Then oil came calling and the rest is now contemporary history. Leaving some of us lost in wonder whether the mineral resource is a blessing or a curse. Most so when crossed with our poor leadership potentials.

During the Gulf War under the Babangida ‘presidency’, for instance, the quantity of money made from windfall following it was legendary. Apart from a correspondent of an international news agency being fired, it would have been swept under the carpet as usual.

Thanks to General Abacha who used the surplus of his time effectively. And, of course, Buhari’s discovery of our infrastructural deficiencies back then. Only that the situation now is different from under Abacha’s command.

But, even then, President Buhari as the minister for petroleum has more explanations to do to win us over to his side completely. Reports have it that Saudi Arabia’s Aramco posted a profit of $87 billion profit in six months on account of high oil prices due to the war in Ukraine. But here our own NNPC only has excuses, like his, on offer.

*Uzoatu writes from Onitsha, Anambra State.

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