by Pius Adesanmi
In my entire adult life, every government in Nigeria has mouthed the platitude of economic diversification. Whether military or civilian, every administration has gone to the Aso Rock Villa screaming her determination to wean Nigeria of oil dependency from the rooftops. Such administrations wax nostalgic about the groundnut pyramids of Kano, the rubber and palm oil days of the Edo/Delta axis, the cocoa plantations and other cash crops of the southwest. You hear of the abundance of solid minerals that we need to tap into all over the country. And patati. And patata.
To the best of my knowledge, no government has ever delivered on this promise of diversification. The one and the repeated tragic pattern of Nigeria’s political elite has been to get to the Villa and get drunk on oil. On occasion, they send the Minister of Finance or the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Solid Minerals to go and tell economic diversification lies to the international community.
Then everybody returns to Abuja to continue to gorge on oil while watching the Avengers on CNN or Al Jazeera as they destroy their own land and people while stupidly believing that they are really destabilizing the oil-derived personal bank accounts of those who really matter in Abuja. You may destabilize Nigeria’s income with your terrorism. Nothing do the personal billions of your real targets. Na mumu dey worry una.
However, and still to the best of my knowledge, President Buhari is the only one to have gone to the Villa with a peculiar understanding of the concept of economic diversification as the ability of the Federal Government to diversify the supply of oil by finding crude oil in the North, hence the obsessive missionary zeal with which he has been uprooting every dogon yaro tree across the vast expanse of the North, looking for oil. Finding crude oil in the North to supplement or replace crude oil from the Niger Delta seems to be his definition of economic diversification.
Truth be told, President Buhari is not the first member of the northern establishment to be fanatical about finding oil in the North. He is just the only one who seems to understand it as economic diversification. He also appears to be the most fanatical about saying to those constantly taunting him in the Niger Delta: “ntor! I now have my own oil!”
While it is true that every geopolitical region in Nigeria, every faith, every ethnic nationality, has contributed to the membership of the philistine and satanic comprador elite united by and around oil and corruption, only the northern component of this evil national class has repeatedly borne the insult of being stereotyped as parasites and leeches feathering their own nest with other people’s resources.
In essence, although there are Yoruba and Igbo elite thieves (and thieves from other ethnic nationalities) who have spent the past forty years gorging on oil and destroying Nigeria and the Niger Delta in the process, only the Hausa-Fulani oil thieves have been branded in our national imaginary as parasites and leeches.
This has a lot to do with their long stranglehold on Federal power and their allergy to fiscal federalism. Any policy, any vision, any strategy that would wean the North of dependency on oil has been taboo for generations of northern leadership. There have also been northern loudmouths in our postcolonial history who, wittingly or unwittingly, have made a name for themselves brandishing their manifest destiny to be lord and masters of the oil.
The constant allegations of parasitism is what has haunted the psychology of the northern elite throughout much of Nigeria’s postcolonial history. However, their reaction to this history of jeers and taunts has always been a maniacal and wrong-headed desire to find their own oil at all costs, at any cost, or to bring the oil closer home.
This explains why an early generation of Northern leadership somehow thought it was a good idea to build a refinery in the North and snake pipes across hundreds of miles from the Niger Delta to Kaduna. If you thought that a refinery in Kaduna was silly, well, successive generations of northern leadership have come up with even more foolish ideas, all boiling down to finding their own oil.
The inability of the northern elite to come up with creative, 21st-century post-oil solutions, drawing upon the strategic advantages of the region, can be explained by the fact that none of this is about the north or their people. When any regional elite controls what we stupidly call the national cake in Nigeria, they never feed the said cake to their people. The people never even get crumbs.
If it is not about the people, creative energies and imagination cannot be unleashed and harnessed. Hence, the northern elite doesn’t have to think beyond how to contain the impoverished people in mosques (build mosques with public funds) and how to dispose of their bodies when they die of hunger (buy coffins with public funds).
Give the people mosques and coffins and you are free not to think beyond oil and personal profit. You are free to sacrifice the future by failing to understand that the days of oil are numbered. From the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia, what are our Arab friends doing? They have been in a scramble for the 21st century. They have been in a scramble for the world after oil. Beyond oil, their major earnings now come from strategic investments in the global knowledge economy. They understand that the wealth of nations is now built on innovation and creative enterprise.
Google Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan and see where they are going after oil. Research how they are diverting their intellect and creative energies to life after oil. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asserts that Vision 2030 was designed to ensure that “we can live without oil by 2020”. This has been criticized rightfully as unrealistic but it is a pointer to the strategic thinking of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi is not alone. The United Arab Emirates, China, and the United States are in the race. This is the race to transform innovation, entrepreneurship, alternative/sustainable energy sources, 21st-century high-stakes investment, advanced technology, etc, into the building blocks of life after oil. If in doubt, google “Dubai looks beyond oil”. What you will find will make you shake your head for Nigeria.
It is against the backdrop of this 21st-century shift towards a scramble for our collective post-oil future that the tragedy of President Buhari’s obsession with oil should be gauged. Agriculture has been the greatest beneficiary of the global knowledge economy. I am not talking about the disadvantage of genetically modified foods. I am talking about the extent to which technology and apps and IT and other products of the global knowledge economy have transformed agriculture.
We are now in an age where, with visionary leadership, the north could for once rise up to her potential to feed Nigeria, feed Africa, and become one of the world’s frontiers of mega-industrial agriculture. We are now in an age where the north could leverage these new frontiers to build a wealth fund for the next three generations. Instead, a leadership suffering from vision glaucoma is casting her net wildly like a lunatic in the desert, looking frantically for a finite resource that is on its way out.
Everything is about a childish desire to say ntor to the Niger Delta. This is such a shame. The militants jumping up and down over oil in the Niger Delta are ignorant that they are chest beating over a finite resource. Oil is on its way out. When oil is gone, agriculture will stay. Meanwhile, we, Nigerians, have collectively destroyed the farm lands of the Niger Delta with our wickedness as oil buccaneers.
This means that the agricultural north has the strategic advantage. They can own the future if only they have leaders capable of thinking. Tomatoes will never be out of fashion. Onions will never be out of fashion. Wheat will never be out of fashion. The entire Western obesity industry is built on burgers. Have you ever seen a McDonald’s burger bun without sesame seeds on it? Sesame seeds are produced at the subsistence level all over the north by people who do not know that it is gold.
Where is the leadership to transform northern Nigeria into the global hub of sesame seed supply for the burger industry? Where is the leadership to send McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King to northern Nigeria looking for mega-deals for the supply of sesame seeds?
That leadership is looking for oil in Daura.
That leadership wants to say, “ntor, I now have oil!”
If you are not from the North and you see this treatise as an occasion for chest beating and gloating over your superiority “to the northerners”, as is always the case in matters Nigeriana, I am sorry for you. Whether you are Yoruba or Igbo, etc, your leadership is just as insipid and brain dead as those being critiqued here.
Take the case of Fashola. I hear he is now holding Sango responsible for not having added a single wattage of electricity to Nigeria’s capacity. These are interesting times when a living Minister who hasn’t added a single wattage to anything holds a deity that is sleeping jejely responsible for his own 21st-century cluelessness.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada