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Nigeria's Oil: Boon or Doom?

Address by Archbishop John Onaiyekan

ENUGU, Nigeria, NOV. 25, 2006 (Zenit) - Here are excerpts from a speech that Abuja Archbishop John Onaiyekan gave at a Nov. 2-3 gathering of the Catholic bishops' conference of Nigeria. The theme of the gathering was "Making Oil and Gas Wealth Serve the Common Good."

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Ethical Issues
By John Onaiyekan
Archbishop of Abuja

The oil and gas phenomenon anywhere in the world today is a highly technical and specialized issue. On a few occasions, I have looked at the reports issued by government on the movement of incomes in the oil sector. They are written in such technical language that the more you look, the less you see; the closer you read, the less you understand.

Since the crude oil is underground in deposit, how do we know how much is taken out and how much is left? I imagine we have to rely heavily on the experts, most of whom are also our partners in business. This is probably why the oil sector is so liable to manipulation and dishonest practices. I leave others to go into these technical details. Thanks be to God among the speakers during this workshop, there are indeed experts in the field.

I hope that they will present their contributions in a language that we shall all be able to understand. I look forward indeed to being enlightened by them. On my own part, however, I believe that whether we understand the intricacies of the oil business or not, we should be able to address some ethical issues that surround the oil and gas industry in Nigeria, seen in terms of a gift of God to our nation. It is in this perspective therefore that I make my brief contribution.

The wealth of the nation

I wish to start with the observation, which for me is a strong conviction, that the most important wealth of any nation is its people. Persons are the most valuable resources of any nation. In the case of Nigeria, we are blessed with huge population of over 130 million men, women and children.

Apart from sheer numbers, we have also proven that Nigerians are resourceful, highly motivated and can show themselves as brilliant as any group of people can be. This is our greatest wealth.

Our nation will never be truly great until the people are well managed and motivated to perform at their optimal standard. In a nation where many young graduates roam the streets unemployed for years or are underemployed, selling phone cards and newspapers, there is something seriously wrong.

Every able-bodied hand that lies idle is a loss on the nation. Every well-trained brain that is left to lie fallow is a major dent on the productive capacity of our country. In many countries, the rate of employment is a major concern of public authorities. People win or lose elections on the basis of how many of their countrymen are in productive employment.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, this has not been the case. Government and governance has been practically reduced to merely manipulating oil wealth. It seems nobody really cares whether Nigerians have jobs or not. So we spend all our resources buying from all over the world, goods that other people have produced, while our factories are left to rot.

Worse still, as some recent clamorous events have shown, many of our leaders steal the monies of the people and use it to buy up useless property abroad, or stash it in foreign banks. We should note that these funds are not just sitting in the vaults of the foreign banks. Rather, they are being used to oil the industries of those countries, thereby giving jobs to their own people while Nigerians have no capital available to carry out small- and middle-scale industries.

It is not surprising that the authorities in these countries look for every excuse not to release to us the loot that they are holding. I believe that the nation needs a complete change of attitude in this regard and we pray that our leaders will understand this.

The example of some countries clearly illustrates the truth that people are the wealth of a nation. Some of the nations that are now in the frontline of the world economy have little or no natural resources. Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are examples. They have no crude oil, hardly any minerals, and little or no land even to farm on. All they have are people who are educated and prepared to work and who are put in the position to work and to produce. The result is a wealthy and an affluent nation.

I read recently that Dubai, the gem of the Gulf States, derives only 10% of its fabulous wealth from oil. The rest comes from the good human management skills of their rulers and the keen business acumen of its citizens.

There can be no substitute for proper deployment of human resources. Lack of natural resources can be remedied, if the people are resourceful. But no matter how rich a country ...

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