• Monday, July 22, 2024
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Life without oil

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For the record, I do not come here as Governor, I do so as a friend and I am pleased that George has asked me to be a part of his special day.

Having paid what I believe is a very modest tribute to a very fine gentleman, I would ordinarily have been content to say no more.

Regrettably, George has put a delicate twist to what should have been a simple day.

I say regrettably and I mean it, because he has asked me to talk about our country or one of its issues.

I am uncertain if you would like to hear what I have to say, because I doubt that there is anything new to say.

This is why I say it is regrettable, because I believe we have said all that needs to be said.

We know the problems, so why should we still be talking. We should be doing, because we have left too much undone.

If it will make George happy, I will say a few words about the subject – “life without oil”.

The question is whether there will be such a life?

Not only will it require a scientific exploration and expedition of monumental proportion to know the extent of Nigeria’s deposit of hydrocarbons especially oil, it will require much more scientific calculations to predict whether it could ever be fully used up.

This will be the quickest way to know whether there will be a period where we will be without oil.

But while that scientific undertaking may or may not happen, practical choices that we have made in over a century of industrialization and automation suggest that a life without oil is not reasonably foreseeable.

The choice of petrol instead of ethanol as the preferred fuel for the first combustion engine for the automobile has driven up the quest for more drilling of oil.

So many other items of daily survival, clothing, electronics, telephones, computers, ipads, you name it, have one form or the other of plastic, petro-chemical compound or derivative of oil as a production component.

While we have not found substitutes for all these items of daily and sometimes disposable use, and whilst re-cycling and re-use, are forms of reducing demand and controlling over extraction, even the alternatives to hydrocarbon fired energy sources, such as solar and wind are not yet in a sustainable quantities of production.

There is a strong argument that even at optimum capacity, renewable energy sources can only provide not more than 30% of the world’s global power needs.

If true, it only suggests we may only do with a measured percentage of less oil.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, if I stop here and thank you for your attention, I believe I would fairly have answered question about life without oil.

But I think that our birthday boy George, who has very deep roots in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria where most of our oil is currently produced, had more than this in mind when he chose the topic.

The domestic stage, the unsaid question about my topic seems to be whether Nigeria can develop herself and her people away from oil?

Some have called it diversification; others have called it a reversal of the oil curse. They are all descriptively correct.

For me the real question is why we should be in trouble because of a gift (of nature). A gift that for now is in sufficient quantity. A gift that has value.

The problem is not the oil, it is us.

It is how we have responded to its abundance in our land.

This is why in seasons of almost one and half to two decades each, we have had one large scandal after the other which has left us as a people with our hands soiled in oil in utter embarrassment to put it mildly.

I was a student when the N2.8 billion oil scandal broke in the early eighties. By the 1990s, the numbers were now in billions of dollars, I think about $12 billion,ala the gulf war windfall.

Of course today, it is now $20 billion that we are asking to be accounted for over only a period of 19 months.

There are many more questions that I could ask that have already been asked in local and international circles about why NNPC, our national petroleum company is not as efficient as its global competitors.

The question that seems more appropriate is not life without oil, but whether a better life with oil is possible.

The answer I will offer is an emphatic yes.

The road to that better life is not too difficult.

It requires us to eliminate corruption at all levels of the oil industry.

It requires us to reform NNPC especially in terms of personnel and replace them with more committed professionals.

It requires us to reform the industry by legislation such as the Petroleum Industry Bill but perhaps not in the model of the current draft, but one which infuses more transparency into the acquisition process of oil assets, eliminates rent seeking and collection, and focuses on local value added capacity across the spectrum as part of the pre-conditions for participation.

The road to that better life requires us to understand that although oil is currently selling at over $100 per barrel, it has not always been so and will not remain so.

That road to a better life therefore requires us to take developmental and life changing infrastructure projects like the East West Road, 2nd Niger Bridge, new refineries and petro-chemical plants that will create economic growth and jobs out of the pipelines, where we have kept them for a long time and put them on the land of the people to see and use.

I am told, jocularly, that part of the reason for increased pipeline vandalization is that citizens are looking for them in the pipelines which is where we have told them whenever they demand from our leaders about the progress of these projects. It is always in the pipelines.

The citizens seemed to have taken our leaders’ words for it and have since been breaking the pipelines.

Alas, instead of projects, they have only found oil.

If we commit income from oil sales to financing infrastructure projects, only or largely, we will realize first the need to focus on other sources of income such as agriculture, the agro chain, tourism, technology and research.

In that way, whenever the shocks and politics of global oil prices hit the stage our economy and our lives will not come to a shocking grind.

The worst that can happen is a slow down or stoppage of construction until the situation reverses.

I have tried very hard to avoid it, but I have come to the point where I cannot avoid referring to the United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular.

Instead of building their economy and their lives around oil, they used the proceeds of oil to build the economy around tourism.

A city state of only about 2 million people built an airport that processes 80 million passengers a year and built a country that is the story of fairy tales and an airline that has become a global leader.

With every sense of modesty, I dare say there is a local model in Lagos.

Every kobo of excess crude that has accrued under my tenure, has gone to capital projects only.

Therefore,what needs to be done now is to find the will to do what is simple and which has been done before. We should stop talking and we should start acting.

Time is ticking, we are vulnerable, we import the final products of a resource that is under our land.

As you imagine a life without oil, imagine Nigeria with the oil resource, but without petrol, kerosene, jet-fuel and diesel.

Imagine if those we import from suddenly become angered and refuse to export to us.

Imagine how you would get here without petrol, or go to Abuja without jet fuel, or power your home without diesel.

Imagine how vulnerable the giant of Africa is.

Add this to our importation of food. It does not look good.

Nigeria is heading in the wrong direction.

We must resolve to reverse this. In my humble view the starting point is the urgent need to lend our voices to a resolution of the “missing $20 billion”.

A resolution that must be in favour of the Nigerian people.

If you remember how vulnerable you and I are, and you know that $20 billion is an awful lot of money, you must not keep quiet.

If you know how much $20 billion can do to clean up environmental degradation in the Niger Delta, water pollution in Alimosho, Diamond Estate, and Baruwa, you will not keep quiet.

If you know what it can do to stop desertification and erosion in the North and East, you will not keep quiet.

If you listened to Senator Chris Anyanwu a few days ago, on the floor of the Senate saying during the consideration of the 2014 Budget, that the Navy does not have enough money to fuel her ships, you will not keep quiet.

If you listened to the Inspector General of Police complaining before the Senate that he does not have enough money for his men, you will not keep quiet.

These are but few examples of the possibility of a better life without oil.

All you need to say is simple, what happened to $20 billion?

Excerpts of His Excellency, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola speech as the special guest speaker at the inaugural geplaw speaker series held at Agip Recital Hall, Muson, Onikan, Lagos on Friday 28th February, 2014

Babatunde  Fashola