On the 15th of January, 1956, Nigeria discovered oil in commercial quantity near Oloibiri, Bayelsa State. Thus Nigeria joined the league of oil producing nations, with a chance to rapidly change the lives of her citizens, and boost development with the new source of revenue. Of course, as it has been seen after over half a century of oil production in Africa’s largest nation, it cannot be taken for granted that oil discovery equates with rapid national development or emancipation for the people. The aforementioned are only possibilities which are attainable even without the discovery of acres of oil, though such a discovery, when put under diligent management, hastens their attainment.
Unfortunately, though Nigeria has religiously developed and held on its acres of oil even through periods of violence, often triggered, unsurprisingly, by government’s financial maladministration, and in many cases ethnic clashes, it has failed to develop other important parts of its high-potential economy.
The fact that Nigeria occupies top spot among oil exporters on the continent hasn’t translated into commensurate results for the teeming populace. Meanwhile, countries such as Norway, that discovered their own acres of oil much later, have been able to plan for the future.
In 1969, Norway discovered oil in the North Sea, and thereafter created the Petroleum Fund in 1990, later renamed in January 2006 to the Government Pension Fund- Global. All surplus wealth produced by Norwegian petroleum income is deposited into this account. As of the June 2011 evaluation, this account was the largest pension fund in the world, though it derives its financial support from oil profits and not pension contributions. The fund was designed to protect the country from the disruptive effects of fluctuations in oil prices. Essentially, Norway has been able to largely secure the future of her citizens. By minimizing rent-seeking and corruption, Norway has avoided the resource curse. Its political leaders were accountable to the citizens and largely free of corruption. Norway absorbs 80% of the resource rent.
The Norwegian success story is a pointer to the fact that indeed, oil wealth, or wealth gotten from any other natural resource, does not have to result in the fulfilment of the resource curse. Nigeria as a major oil producer, with a large population (about 170 million) needs to find ways to utilize these great advantages. Over the years, it can be said that she has paid more attention to her acres of oil than to her equally large youth population, which accounts for about 70% of the total population (about 105 million people under 30).
The damnable living conditions have led to the dearth of quality manpower in the country either through the mass exodus of the skilled youth population or by the un-employability of the remaining youth population occasioned by the rapidly declining standards of education in the nation’s universities. This has left gaping vacuums in major sectors of the nation’s political and economic landscape. This can be seen in the re-emergence of leaders who have served in the first and second republics in the nation’s politics, with negligible youth involvement.
Like Dr. Russell H. Conwell’s treasure seekers, Nigeria has embarked on a search for wealth, without first beginning in the most important place- its own home. It can be argued that Nigeria’s youth population is her most important treasure/asset, and the higher the quality of this group, the higher the quality of the country.
With organizations like EiE Nigeria, RISE Networks, the picture is looking less gloomy. ‘Advocacy, Activism, Mobilization, Enlightenment,’ these are the words that are now being sold to the Nigerian youth. Though these are mostly privately supported programs, similar projects are springing up, and by the year 2015, the youth movement in Nigeria will be a huge factor in the nation’s socio-political landscape in a way it has never been before.
The major reason Nigeria has not been able to live up to her potential is the quality of its human capital, as seen on every major project around the country, which has to be supervised or managed by some foreign specialist or expatriate.
Hopefully, investment in the human capital of the nation- the real acres of oil- especially youth development, will gain more attention from the government, and the multiplier effect will manifest in no time, seeing Nigeria take its place in Africa and in the world.