Oil Discovery in Nigeria; Blessing or Curse
Oil was discovered in large commercial quantity by Shell BP in 1956 in Oloibiri (present day Bayelsa State) and has since then been Nigeria’s cash cow. The question of whether crude oil is a curse or blessing for Nigeria, has remained and will continue to be an inconclusive one.
Those of the opinion, that oil is a blessing to Nigeria state that it brought about a great revenue turnaround for the country. It has increased government revenue, foreign exchange earnings, exports and also provided jobs for teeming unemployed youths. Moreover, the discovery of crude in Nigeria also placed the country in the front row in the committee of nations and increased opportunities for the country to seek foreign loans.
On the other hand, there are those who opine that crude oil is a curse. They argue that the discovery of oil has made us mentally and physically lazy as a people. Petro dollars – as foreign exchange, earned from the sales of crude is called – comes so easy that it has dissuaded us from thinking thoroughly and planning strategically for our economic future.
Other negative impacts that the activities of oil companies have on, not only oil communities but our country as a whole, include loss of farmland, water and air pollution, disease spread, birth defects, poverty, rural to urban migration and loss of indigenous occupations in local communities. For instance, it is on record that Shell Petroleum has been responsible for about 1823 oil spills between 2007 and 2015 in the Niger Delta region alone.
Corruption is cited as another cog that has caused set-backs for the country as regards oil discovery. The people of Nigeria have suffered a great deal as a result of our inability to manage the wealth from our oil resources responsibly especially since the oil windfall of the 1970s (the oil boom period). The wealth extracted from under the people’s feet is not put in their hands and this has resulted in serious social, economic and political challenges for the country. The mismanagement of oil resources has also resulted in strife and conflict with armed militancy as its highest manifestation.
By critically examining both opinions, one will come to understand that oil by and in itself cannot be a blessing or a curse. It being a blessing or curse, is dependent solely on the decisions and actions of its custodians. Oil itself can be likened to a double edged sword, or a seagoing vessel that will sail in the direction that the captain navigates it. Therefore it is not oil that is a blessing or curse, it is our actions and inactions as a people that determine whether oil is a blessing or a curse.
“The problem is not in the heart of the land but in the heart of the people living on the land and using its resources.”