Over the past few decades, Nigeria has emerged as one of the key political leaders in Africa. Despite a long history of under-performance, driven primarily by leadership and visioning problems, it remains a key global strategic energy partner. It has crude oil and thus the capacity to influence the dynamics of global commerce and industry. But when our oil reserve gets exhausted, we will witness dramatic national transformations with enormous consequences.
Oil has been the driving force of Nigeria’s economic wellbeing. Oil dominates our foreign earnings. The progress we made in agriculture before the dawn of petroleum has been left behind.
However, the challenge for Nigeria is not necessarily what happens now, but what happens when the oil wells dry up. In others words, what would be the position of Nigeria, politically and economically, when the country can no longer generate foreign exchange from the sale of oil.
Our nation remains governed in a political system of extreme stagnation and avalanche partisanship. A system that breeds venoms with capacity to destroy the heartbeat that keeps the nation moving forward. It has created a syndrome that continues to prevent the nation from utilizing the gains of oil sales to advance the citizens, the infrastructure and give Nigeria a needed clout in the global arena.
The nation has failed in many areas because our leaders are entangled in managing government processes and political pandering instead of being servant leaders, by serving the interests of the masses. However, a look into Nigeria’s future without oil will be challenging. At least, the nation will come to reality after years of poor judgments and mismanagements which have caused deep pains on the citizens.
The first challenge will be cleaning the empty oil wells. It is unfortunate that the oil companies, who despite knowing the public health and the environmental impacts of gas flaring, continue to flare gas recklessly in Nigeria. We hope they will have the morality to clean those wells and restore them to pre-drilling ecological landscapes before they depart.
Within Africa, Nigeria’s influence will be tested. Since our nation has not developed any creative technology that will sustain the economy, some African nations may dominate us. South Africa could become like a hegemonic empire in Africa with extreme power. That nation continues to invest massively in education, giving Africa its best universities, and attracting the best African brains.
From banking to technology, South Africa will be unrivalled and could rule Africa. As the economies and political power of other African nations such as Ghana, Libya (which continues to deport Nigerians in hundreds) and Egypt grow; the capacity of Nigeria to define and influence in the African Union will shrink despite enormous opportunities for new Africa leadership to position the continent competitively.
As South Africa takes the central role, there will be broad impacts across the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region. A post-petroleum era will produce massive complications and fundamental dislocations in Nigeria’s capacity to influence the region as South Africa becomes more prosperous owing to a highly diversifying economy.
As it buys into more African markets, its abilities to influence governments will become more pervasive and that will dwarf Nigeria’s influence. Also, there will be tendencies for more educated Nigerians to move abroad with potential strangulation on the economy. Nigeria could emerge as a true federal system from its present quasi-federal structure.
While the Nigerian union will be continuously morphed to remain strong, the states will be expected to go back to fundamentals to develop ways to function because central funding will diminish. Without crude, assessing external (international) loan will be difficult and many Nigerian states will be challenged to be accountable and innovative with their resources. They will establish structures and institutions to create wealth and inter-states competitions will emerge. This will be followed by effective tax and revenue collection techniques.
From federal parliament to state assemblies, the political system will be revamped. The present system which is extremely expensive and supported by the largesse of the crude oil will be transformed. Some states will become creative in representative system in order to save cost.
I see a scenario where some states will sponsor representatives on part-time with the number of positions reduced by half. Yes, new politics will evolve and the democratic system will be seriously tested.
One cannot imagine what will happen to education in Nigeria if it cannot be funded properly with the enormous oil revenue. In the post-petroleum era, the present model of higher education in Nigeria will collapse and government will request schools to fund themselves with minimal central supports.
Schools will have to become very competitive and innovative to attract grants and revenues to survive and grow. Unfortunately, it must still overcome the present lost years of decay perpetuated by poor funding and outdated model.
What can be done? The nation still has time to prepare for the post-petroleum era. It has to invest in education. This is important as education remains one of the best ways to sustain any economy. It is an organic engine for national political and economic succession and catalyst for national prosperity. It must also take the Millennium Developmental Goals (MDGs) seriously, while also shifting our focus away from oil gradually.
Author/ Ndubuisi Ekekwe
originally published in Tribune Nigeria, 2010