THERE were two major national problems our military rulers managed poorly. First was the enormous wealth that came our way in the oil boom of the early 70s. One martial ruler said his headache wasn’t money: It was how to spend it. Whereupon the country under him took upon itself the Father Christmas role. We gave and gave to African countries that were not as oily endowed as we were. When we could no longer locate the needy in Africa we turned to shores outside the continent.
There was that distant Caribbean island. One of the reports on the matter said we paid the salaries of that country’s civil servants when the government couldn’t oblige their servants. Was it a loan? Was the money paid back with interest? Or we gave it to them not hoping it will be returned?
After that era, another military leader came into the scene. He also enjoyed economic prosperity, engendered by the then Persian Gulf War that made Nigeria’s crude oil much sought after. His own problem was that despite applying all the political and economic strategies that big money could afford, a socio-politically ailing Nigeria failed to stabilise. And so he threw up his arms in despair and said the country had defied every solution in the books. Many astute observers wondered what became of the wise counsel of the galactic cabinet of his junta.
Now in our day, in the period that would soon pass as the post-oil age, there is another challenge: what do we do without oil wealth? Can we manage the country and its teeming population with depleting wealth from crude? Is it possible to run this huge economy without the black gold?
Those who have a keen sense of history, those who know what played out in the days of the old Western Region under Chief Obafemi Awolowo wouldn’t beat about the bush to answer those questions in the positive. They would tell you offhand that if he and the premiers of the other two regions developed their areas without oil in their days, Nigeria today would also thrive without oil, if we had the right leaders with bold and resourceful ideass.
Oil wealth is receding, incapable of matching fiscal policy while there is a massive pressure on our leaders to sustain the machinery of government and to meet the yearnings of those who enabled their existence in our democratic process. So our leaders and their partners in industry are expected to move with lightning speed and walk away from oil as a base for development. We must think out of the box. Doing so means generating wealth from ideas such as countries without oil are doing and moving their societies into the league of leading nations of the world, far ahead of those with oil weapon which is now proving inadequate.
Lately, we have seen this movement of idea power put to work in Ogun state. Faced with a bleak future for oil revenue and a rush of social and economic migrants from Lagos and other peripheral states, the administration of Governor Ibukunle Amosun has had to initiate creative strategies to raise good money to fund gigantic projects and meet the needs of the state’s burgeoning population. He is beating a retreat from resting on the rickety base of oil economy.
Amosun resorted to the bold and imaginative step of what the government has since described as the Homeowners Charter project. It entailed a drastic discount in the process of acquiring the all-important Certificate of Occupancy for landed property in the state. It will cost close to N600, 000 to possess it. But in the arrangement initiated by Amosun, a property holder will pay less than N100, 000.
Late in November in Abeokuta, the state capital, when he presented C of Os and Building Plan Approval to some 1000 more of the Home Owners Charter beneficiaries, Amosun alluded to a major advantage of the scheme: employment generation. Now I add four more: Home Owners Charter reduced crime in Ogun through its direct and indirect employment of the youth; it raised more funds for the mammoth capital development projects going on all over the state; it brought security of property ownership in Ogun; finally it enhanced the owner’s mortgage loan potential.
Now oil revenue hasn’t played a role in all these. It’s been the result arising from a sheer stroke of an idea. Just as it was when the illustrious leader of the sprawling Western Region of Nigeria Obafemi Awolowo didn’t have oil money but still performed wonders under a cocoa economy. He was creative with what he had to introduce- free education for his people. It was the same enterprising mentality that made him build the Western Nigerian television station in Ibadan, which was reputed to be the first in Africa. In the North, it was Ahmadu Bello working without oil but relying on imaginative programmes who built the groundnut pyramids to develop his region. And in the East, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe employed a coal industry to raise a solid economic base for the Eastern Region of Nigeria. In all these instances it was the spirit of creativity that performed the magic.
What Amosun has also achieved with the Home Owners Charter scheme represents a spark from the realm of creativity. It has as we have seen led to ripples of other life-giving projects to the benefit of society. What he and other men and women of ideas in our midst are teaching is that the country can be run on the wheels of ideas and enterprise in this age of dwindling resources from oil as we rely on science and technology rather than on the brawny oil regime.
Mr. Ojewale, a national affairs commentator, writes from Lagos