Visionary Leadership and Development 1: 64 years and the Story of Nigeria
By Faith Berewa
There was no fun fare. No rolling out of the drums. No celebratory speeches. The anniversary was muted, largely went unnoticed.
This June marked 64 years of the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in Nigeria, thrusting the Country onto the world stage as a major oil player.
TVC News went to Otuabagi community in Ogbia Local government Area of present day Bayelsa State where oil was first discovered in commercial quantity in 1956. There it was, the famous location 1 or well 1, where oil was first discovered in the Oloibiri Oil Fields. An elderly man was featured – He was 15 when Shell Petroleum Development Company, (SPDC) then known as Shell D’Arcy came to their community. He spoke of their joy when the white men promised the development of their community would be like where they had come from. Another elderly woman who was also a teenager then, in her words stated “…..they started clearing white woods and mapping location 1. By the next morning, all cocoyams planted on the farm had been removed with one penny as compensation…”
Watching that clip should put one in a state of utter shock.
But nothing shocks us in Nigeria anymore. We have become numb to abnormality, shrugging our shoulders, accepting the unthinkable as the norm. What I saw in that news report is an aberration. This can only happen in Nigeria. We have come to accept irresponsibility as the norm from those who are supposed to be responsible for the nation’s well-being…..we don’t hold them accountable.
No words can describe the deeply uninhabitable, squalid conditions the people of Otuabagi are living in due to oil production activities in their communities.
No portable water, no sanitation facilities, no electricity.
In the words of TVC news reporter Ovieteme George “….the taps run dry, indicative of a non-functional project meant to provide portable water in the community. In the absence of toilet facilities, in Otuabagi people defecate into the creek, their only source of drinking water….” Sure enough, the people succumb to cholera, diarrhea and other water borne diseases, with women and children mostly affected. Including pregnant women! Can you imagine?
Any wonder we have one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world? At night, the community is dark except for solar powered street light provided by an interventionist agency.
In the words of a community member “no light, no hospital, we don’t have power to fight the federal government.” President Shehu Shagari came and laid the foundation for an Oil Museum, nothing happened.
President Olusegun Obasanjo came and laid the foundation stone for the Oloibiri Oil and Gas Research Institute in 2001. Nothing happened. The area is covered by bush. Failed promises. Failed hopes.
The well dried up in 1972. Neglected, abandoned, deceived, milked dried and left in the lurch in such deplorable conditions, the community have been left to their own fate. This sadly is the story of Nigeria. The story of a nation whose fortunes dwindled with the discovery of oil. An anomaly. An aberration.
“Nigeria is crumbling!” A friend exclaimed when he embarked on hours long journey by road early in the year. When you travel across the country, what do you see? Flourishing communities? Prosperous societies? No. You see communities’ dilapidated, enmeshed in poverty.
Decades of oil exploration have left our oil producing communities underdeveloped.
Who is to blame? The oil producing companies? The federal government? State and local authorities? How about OMPADEC that metamorphosed into the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)? All are culpable. The monies NDDC has received since its inception cannot in anyway be compared with development on ground. It has become a conduit pipe to siphon monies meant for the development of the region. In a 2019 report by BudgIT, a civic organization, the NDDC has received at least 40billion dollars, which is about 15 trillion naira since inception in 2000.
The outcome? Mismanagement, misappropriations, abandoned projects, phony contracts, “high failure rate of projects and programmes” that have left the region grossly neglected, underdeveloped, poor, impoverished. How about the recent alleged massive corruption which is under investigation, the sum of 40billion naira expended by the Interim Management Committee in just 3 months? Just days ago, the EFCC according to Premium Times stated that “investigations show that officials connive with contractors to misappropriate billions of naira meant for projects execution. …. Some contracts are not awarded for the benefit of the people, but for the purpose of embezzling public funds”. When you see the under development of our Oil Producing Communities on the T.V. you’ll be embarrassed, sad, angry, in disbelief- a whole mixture of emotions.
They are a people robbed, a people plundered, a people famished. Used and dumped. Their land, a minefield of sheer environmental degradation – no longer suitable for farming. Their waters too polluted for fishing. The air, too hazardous to breathe in. Due to the activities of oil exploration that have not made their lives any better.
This begs the question, what of the 13 percent derivation?
According to the Guardian, the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) in its report defines 13 percent derivation “as the financial incentive that is enshrined in the constitution to be distributed to oil producing communities, based on the production input to serve as benefit and encourage the community to create enabling environment for more production of crude oil and gas” ‘…It is on this basis that Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa and Edo states have since December 2000 to 2018 received over 10 trillion naira as 13 percent derivation to serve as catalyst for the transformation of oil producing communities’, the report stated.
So why are the oil producing communities underdeveloped, devoid of amenities and in abject poverty?
Some persons have been tinkering with the 13% derivation funds meant for them. And look no further than the men atop running these States. This is gross injustice and a crime against the host communities.
Ours is a case of gross irresponsible leadership predicated on lack of vision over the decades. Visionary leadership would have utilized our oil wealth to develop agriculture and its value chain to propel the country into socio-economic development. Unfortunately, with the discovery of oil, successive administrations abandoned agriculture which was the mainstay of our economy before the discovery of oil, folded their arms, waiting for oil revenues.
I remember being told when I was much younger that Gowon once stated that Nigeria’s problem was not money, but what to do with money. This was when countries like Indonesia and Malaysia were sourcing money to fund their Development Plans.
Oil that has transformed countries and made human settlements flourishing societies has made us a by-word. Countries such as UAE, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Russia have made the most of their oil wealth. What have we done with ours? Just like the oil producing communities, the nation’s socio-economic development does not in any way match our revenues from oil. It is as far as the East is from the West.
According to the Economist, Chatham House, a British think-tank estimates that $582bn has been stolen from Nigeria since it won independence in 1960. This is money to aggressively develop our agriculture, making us not just food sufficient but a major exporter of food. This is money to develop our productive sector employing millions in decent jobs, tackling poverty, raising the standard of living. This is money to develop our infrastructure. This is money to provide quality health care for all. This is money to build good schools, giving all our kids sound quality education. This is money to diversify our revenue base, having so much in store for our children and their children. This is money to give every Nigerian a good life. This is money to make Nigeria an economic super power. This stolen money is a squandered opportunity for progress. So so sad. Those that pilfered the nation’s wealth had no vision for the development of the land and her people. And where there is no vision the people perish, says the scriptures.
Development is a deliberate act that starts with a vision, planning and execution. Here, I am talking about the vision to execute. We have had development plans, rolling plans, structural adjustment programme, vision bla bla bla, and now the economic recovery and growth plan (ERGP), but with no meaningful realities on ground, principally because the requisite visionary leadership to make great things happen has been lacking.
This brings us to my focus on visionary leadership as a catalyst for nation building and national development. For any nation to rise, flourish and continue rising, it must be led by a visionary or a group of leaders with the same vision. From the 16th to 19th century, life on earth was almost remote and ordinary across the entire planet until the emergence of visionary leadership in the West, and eventually Asia. Fast forward to the 20th century, there came new kids on the development block. Israel returned to a waste howling wilderness, a mosquito infested land in 1948, and their leaders transformed the land into a modern day sophisticated and technological advanced and prosperous nation.
History is replete with nations that have risen and still rising to greatness and notable among them are Singapore and China whose economic miracles are case studies of nation building and economic prosperity. These national transformation stories are all consistent with what history reveals about visionary leadership as the common denominator in all successful nations. China’s destiny took a new and better direction under the visionary leadership of Deng Xiaoping — ‘who emerged as China’s new leader in the aftermath of the death of Chairman Mao, laying out the foundations for China’s economic transformation’, which did not only ‘change China but changed the world’. We all know that Singapore was built by the visionary leadership of Lee Guan Yew.
Outstanding among visionary political leadership is that of Norway, a country that maximally utilized its oil wealth to flourish. In 1998, Norway used its oil revenues to create the sovereign wealth fund that grew to a trillion dollars. Last year, the sovereign wealth fund made a 19% profit on investments. That’s a record 180 billion dollar in 2019. Some years back I watched the head of their Fund stating they have money for themselves, their children, their children’s children. That’s a future assured. They had a vision to invest in the now and in the future. Juxtapose that with Nigeria. Only visionary leaders can take the direction Norway took.
Can we infer therefore that Nigeria’s development journey has not yet commenced?
I hope as a nation we will awaken to our need for visionary leadership and deliberately rise up against the form of leadership that has cumulatively made us the poverty capital of the world and one of the most insecure nations on earth. It is time to rise up.
*Faith Berewa is a staff writer with Sahel Standard