Chikwendu Christian Ukaegbu (Published in The Nation, April 24, 2015)
In 1958, Nigerians received the message of the maiden extraction of crude oil with euphoria.
Exploration and the revenue therefrom accelerated at the end of the civil war in 1970. Money
was flowing into Nigeria’s treasury in the early 1970s to the extent that the first impulse of the
then head of state was that the country had so much money than it could spend. It did not
occur to that government and subsequent governments that saving national revenue is one of
the building blocks of economic development defined as industrialization in this commentary.
Although the price of crude oil has fluctuated since 1970, Nigeria’s revenue from the
commodity has remained high enough to give the country’s economic planners and leaders
sufficient resource to shepherd the economy to the doorstep of industrialization. The latter has
not happened 45 years after the civil war.
Price of crude oil has been impressive and the quantity of production has skyrocketed
since 1980. Nigeria produced 8.5 billion barrels of crude oil in the 10-year period 2004-2013 of
which 8 billion barrels were exported while the balance was distributed to domestic refineries.
NNPC data also show that Nigeria produced an average of 800, 000, 000 barrels of crude oil a
year from 2004-2013. This means that aggregate annual revenue each year was equally
impressive. Recent figures from OPEC show that Nigeria earned $84 billion and $77 billion from
export of crude oil in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The drop in earnings in 2014 was the result
of the fall in the price of the commodity in the fourth quarter of that year. However, $77 billion
from one commodity is an impressive earning in a developing society if leaders know what they
are doing. But the irony is that the more money Nigeria makes from crude oil, the more its
political leaders put the country in debt through constant borrowing from international
Debt -servicing cost the country approximately 9 billion dollars in 2005 alone. The lack
of economic development, a crumbled social and physical infrastructure, high rate of
unemployment, and extreme deprivation the citizens experienced since the second decade of
the end of the civil war was once blamed on the notion that debt-servicing severely
handicapped the ability of the government to pursue economic development. Nigerian
leaders, military and civilian, floated the idea that reduction, or elimination, of the debt
burden would provide them with the revenue to embark on the project of national
development. Then debt relief the awaited saving grace came to the rescue.
Nigeria’s external debt in October 2005 was $30 billion. The Paris Club offered a debt
relief of $18 billion that same year. Nigeria paid off an outstanding amount of $12 billion in
April 2006. Proud of its role in the negotiations, as it should be, the Center for Global
Development (CGD) called Nigeria’s debt relief a watershed deal. It was a turning point, indeed
a landmark in the state of affairs of the country. But there has not been a significant change by
way of economic development except that Nigeria was recently named the largest economy in
Africa because of growth in GDP.
Economic development is what the people of a country do for themselves by
themselves in search of sustainable means of sustenance and individual and national selfactualization under the leadership of a development-oriented state. Discounting the immediate
independence years, 1960-1969, consumed by civil strife and war, Nigerian leaders have always
had opportunities to move the country to economic development since the end of the war in
1970. But successive generations of leaders squandered and continue to squander those
opportunities till the present day. The missed opportunities fall under five levels namely, a
group of immediate post-independence politicians desirous of development epitomized by the
investments they made in education, agriculture, industry and infrastructure; a relatively
efficient public bureaucracy or civil service; a high quality educational system left behind by
erstwhile colonizers; a succession of military governments unencumbered by opposition and
high cost of government; and debt relief which Nigeria has enjoyed since 2006; plus a steady
flow oil revenue .
The immediate post-independence political leaders were enthusiastic about national
and regional development. Michael Okpara in Eastern Nigeria, Obafemi Awolowo in Western
Nigeria, and Ahmadu Bello in Northern Nigeria were and still are worshipped by their
constituents because of the foundations they laid in education, agriculture, industry, and
physical infrastructure. Nnamdi Azikiwe led the founding of the first indigenous university in
Nigeria with the apt and inspirational motto, ‘To Restore The Dignity of Man’, meaning that
Nigerians would have their destiny in their own hands and turn things around for a better
society. Major roads sprang up in many parts of Nigeria. Regional and national governments
funded their annual budgets and fulfilled the promises of their development plans using nonoil resources of their regions. The civil strife of 1966-70 arising from the country’s faulty
geoethnostructure halted those moves towards development. We will never know whether or
not the immediate post-independence leaders were indeed a developmental elite. But they had
the hallmarks of that label compared to successor generations of leaders.
Like their elected counterpart, regional and national bureaucrats of the immediate
independence period were efficient, in fact well educated, intelligent and developmentoriented compared to their present-day counterparts. The civil service of today is broken. The
majority of employees are idle and unable to justify the reason for which they were employed.
Anyone who wants to see the meaning of underemployment defined as workers with fewer
tasks than they are supposed to perform, or are capable of performing, should take a focused
observation of state and federal government offices in all parts of Nigeria. There are little or no
tasks for employees of an overstaffed institution. The politicians and the bureaucrats of the
immediate post-independence years were not saints. But they invested their knowledge,
sentiments, and best capabilities to better the lives of their constituents. Names like N.U.
Akpan, Allison Ayida, Jerome Udoji, Simeon Adebo, and others of the same generation were
conspicuous in the national psyche. That the likes of the latter did not continue is another
missed opportunity.
Chikwendu Christian Ukaegbu, Professor of Sociology and National Development writes from
[email protected]