Sunday, October 08, 2006

Crude Oil, the Bane of Nigeria

Pundits have severally proclaimed that the bane of Nigeria's sociopolitical and economic malaise is crude oil. The tussle to control the vast wealth that spews from beneath the mangroves of the Niger Delta and surrounding territorial waters has been central to all the conflicts that have befallen the country. From the days of Isaac Boro to the Nigerian Civil war, the Babangida and Abacha illegal usurpation of power and the recent onslaught by MOSOP, MEND and the ilk all have been impelled in some form by the hydrocarbon deposits beneath the Niger-Delta.

Add this to the incompetent and avaricious leadership, and a helpless populace and the result is chaos, exactly what we have today in Nigeria. Past and present leaders in Nigeria have abused their positions to engage in blatant acts of fraud and embezzlement, helping themselves to billions of dollars of the proceeds from the sale of the Niger-Delta crude oil. The late Abacha is reputed to have looted $3 billion, and his predecessor, Babangida, about $5 billion as alleged in the popular press. And these are just two out of several hundreds, perhaps thousands, of embezzlers.

Contemporary events in the news indicate that this culture of nauseating corruption is ever more so rife. With the indictment of several high-ranking government officials including incumbent governors, directors, an Inspector General of Police, businessmen and recently, the Vice President, there cannot be a more apt testament to the degree of debasement that the Nigerian polity has fallen to. In this cesspool of corruption, it is not out of place to have the kind of chaos expressed in the form of piracy, kidnapping, extortion, arson and sabotage that we have in the Niger-Delta. Using the pretext of governmental neglect (which is a truism) these criminals in the Niger-Delta wreak mayhem as they maim, murder and kidnap innocent civilians in exchange for ransoms. They couch their criminality in spurious social activism and time and again oil operators and the government fall for this and seek to pacify them by paying their ransom demands.

The solution to all this is simple. First, the Federal government should hunt these criminals down with the utmost force at its disposal, treating the crises strictly as the criminal acts that they are. Then the federal government should divest its interests in the oil sector and squarely concentrate on its role as a regulatory and monitoring body. If the NNPC were dissolved and the Nigerian government seeks its revenues purely through taxation and excise fees and duties then it would be more likely that we have government officials who are more accountable to the populace. It would force the state governments to be more creative about revenue generation rather than be the bottomless pits that they are into which the FGN keeps throwing away monies that are wont to be embezzled by the various state government officials.

Since a very high percentage of Nigerian businesses and individuals avoid or evade taxes, the general attitude is one of apathy towards acts of embezzlement and fraud. Perhaps if all Nigerian individuals and businesses paid their appropriate tax dues they would be more intolerant of gross acts of corruption and criminality perpetrated by various government officials and private citizens across the country, including those miscreants in the Niger-Delta and other hot spots in Nigeria.

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