• Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Untapped economic opportunities

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Before independence in 1960, the Nigerian economy was classified as one of the most promising in Sub-Saharan Africa. This consideration was based on the country’s rich natural and human endowments. At independence, agriculture accounted for up to 60 per cent of the country’s GDP. But with the discovery of oil, those ratios changed.

A close look at the huge non-oil natural resource deposits that have been found in Nigeria should cause other African countries to go green with envy and, together with the oil deposits, are enough to drive the country’s ambition to become a top 20 industrialised nation by the year 2020.

Regretably, however, the oil boom of the 1970s and further discovery of more oil deposits caused Nigeria to lose focus. A country which, hitherto, had an enviable agricultural economy as a major exporter of cocoa, cotton, groundnuts, beniseed, palm oil products and leather, was transformed into an oil producing and exporting country. In other words, Nigeria became a mono-product economy in which oil exports now account for over 80 per cent of total export earnings.

A statistical and data excursion is necessary here to help us put the whole picture in better perspective. Nigeria has 68 million hectares of arable land, 12 million hectares of fresh water and 960 kilometres of coastline. The country is blessed with a range of ecological belts favourable to producing a wide variety of commodities such as cereals, legumes, roots and tuber fruits, vegetables, tree crops, industrial crops, forests and shrubs, livestock and fishery.

There are at least 34 solid mineral deposits in commercial quantity and of international standards across the country, and there are more than 450 locations of solid minerals across the states with new occurrences being discovered from time to time. The bitumen deposits in Nigeria are equivalent to 27 billion barrels of oil. Over 40 billion barrels of bitumen deposit is said to be in the South Western area of Nigeria. Exploration/explorable coal deposit is 1,487 million metric tonnes inferred resource; gold in 10 locations amounts to 250,000 ounces in deposits; while barites is 16 million metric tonnes inferred resource.

Specifically, northern Nigeria is blessed with not only a large area of farmland with thousands of kilometres of monotonously flat surface which is suitable for mechanized farming, and billions of metric tonnes of solid minerals, in Sokoto, Niger, Kwara, Kogi and Kebbi states, there are also some two million tonnes of gold and unquantifiable illegal minings in Bauchi, Kaduna, Nassarawa, Plateau and Kwara states.

In Abuja, there are 40 million tonnes of talc, a useful raw material in the cosmetic, paint and ceramic industries; three billion tonnes of kaolin (used in the ceramic, paper, paint, cosmetics, rubber and pharmaceutical industries) in Kano and Katsina states. We have 12 billion of barites (used for petroleum drilling) in Adamawa, Plateau and Benue states. Benue, Kogi, and Gombe states have 800 million metric tonnes of limestone deposit which is used in the production of cement, glass and fertiliser. This is just to mention a few.

It is clear from the foregoing that our problem is not that of dearth of resources but many years of failure to diversify our economy by tapping into these resources. It is our view that our current structure, which resides absolute control of natural resources in the federal government, by way of the exclusive list, is a major clog in the wheel of progress regarding the tapping of these resources for economic gains.

An arrangement or structure whereby each state controls the exploitation of its natural resources and pays some agreed royalty to the federal government, we believe, is the way forward if we ever hope to get out of this economic quagmire and hopelessness.

Much more important, perhaps, is the need to use these resources to create the kind of economy that thrives on its human capital much more than natural resources. The latter is what develops nations in the long run.