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Coronavirus as lesson for diversification

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In the history of any nation, there are special moments that the citizens hold dear in their mind. For much of Nigeria’s 59 years of independence, several historical events and occasions continue to shape and define the country positively or otherwise. However, the discovery of oil remains very memorable in the minds of many Nigerians. This is because oil discovery made Nigeria to deviate from its dignified earnings in agriculture, a period where every hand and region across the country was seen to be at work and contributed to the nation’s development.

Since the emergence of crude oil, the nation spread still beautifully like the ostrich and it is being admired and wooed by powerful nations around the globe just to milk its resources. However, the cheap earnings from oil made Nigeria stands out spectacularly from the rest of African countries as a country not only rich in crude oil but cursed by it. This is as a result of the trajectory of poor leadership that has bedeviled the nation.

Of course, the above phenomenon explains why the crude oil wealth does not reflect in the lives and living condition of the majority of Nigerians, neither could it be linked to infrastructural development. Rather than use the nation’s huge oil earnings to develop the country’s infrastructure, boost education and improve healthcare services among others, governments past and present chose to immerse itself in corruption, politics of ethnicity and religious favouritism. Before the 2015 elections, many Nigerians argued and could bet with their lives that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government would be one of the best things to happen in the life of the nation.

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To this school of thought, much of Buhari’s energy would be centered on corrective measures and an aggressive drive to implement positive policies that would shape and quicken the desire to achieve a strong economy. Regrettably, over the years Nigerians are biting their fingers in disblief as ethnic politics and religious bigotism is openly displayed through appointments and projects on Buhari’s watch. It is a shame.

Indeed it is no longer news that oil and gas are Nigeria’s most export earnings. That Nigeria remains so reliant on crude oil is largely the fault of the ruling government. Despite its election victory on the wings of diversifying the economy, the Buhari government is yet to record significant success in that area. As it were, diversification has become a mere lip service as the ruling government and its officials continue to shy away from balancing rhetoric with action.

Therefore, diversification remains a long night of watch and pray as the ruling government’s attempt to diversify the economy failed to achieve as much as envisaged due to lack of a clear sense of direction and the momentum things should follow. Perhaps, the reason being that first, politicians love oil and selling it generates easy money for government, much easier than agriculture or taxing the citizens or anything else.

In addition, petrodollars can buy the government whatever it desires. For instance, mansions abroad, exotic cars or private jets, vote-buying during election, silencing of rivals or funding a comfortable retirement abroad among others. Second, Nigeria’s politicians and government’s unapologetical love for oil made the majority of Nigerians to believe that Buhari was the only person capable of correcting the mortal errors of past governments. Hence the task to steer the ship and reshape the nation’s economy was bestowed on Buhari owing to his election promises, one of which was diversifiying the economy. But unfortunately, since the inception of Buhari’s government, governance seems to be struggling in murky waters of failed promises and from one controversy to another.

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The other day, when the price of oil fell drastically because of the coronavirus epidemic, many politicians were aghast even as the ruling government became very sober and humble. Of course, such reaction shows that the ruling government is less prepared to deal with an oil price shock. Regrettably, Nigeria remains a mono-economic nation as the export of oil and gas provides over 90 per cent of vital income to finance the nation’s budget. However, the federal government had no option than to swallow the bitter pill as it took steps to slash the budget by N1.5 trillion, reduce the benchmark of oil to 30 dollar per barrel.

The fear that the masses will revolt reportedly made the government to reduce the pump price of fuel reduced from N145 to N125. No doubt, these parliative measures are indeed laudable, but there is the need for government to do more. For example trimming government’s spending by axing or delaying big capital projects, and most importantly, cutting salaries of ministers, senators, House of Reps members and senior officers in the public sector.

The current weakness in Nigeria’s economy goes beyond the coronavirus outbreak. The threat from proposed ban on the use of petrol and diesel-powered vehicles among major buyers of the nation’s crude oil in the coming years is a great worry for a country like Nigeria whose economic strength is mostly dependent on oil revenue. Therefore, the collapse in the oil price caused a lot of earthquakes in government circles.

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But, it is heartening to note that the Buhari’s administration has decided to consider the erstwhile diversification project that has until recently been a mere lip service. Last week, at the unveiling of the National Broadcasting Plan 2020-2025, communications and digital economy complex, digital innovation and entrepreneurship training, Abuja, President Buhari noted that the diversification of Nigeria’s economy had become an urgent affair in the face of the falling oil prices at the international market. No doubt, Nigeria needs to brace up on agriculture but the most persuasive justification for all the drama around diversifying the economy is for the ruling government to be seriously seen leading the way.

Currently, the campaign of anxiety and fear among members of the House of Representatives about electric cars is another clog on the wheels of oil revenue to the country. The House believes that the emerging trend and preference for electric cars will reduce demand for oil, thereby putting asunder and technically causing a divorce with their first and true love, oil revenue.

Does it mean Nigeria cannot brace up with the challenge of diversifying its energy from oil to wind, sun or hydro energy that will power electric cars? By the way, what could be better than having several sources of income? Diversification means much to Nigerians, especially the younger generations and government must be serious about the project. The drumbeat at every corner by the ruling government over local rice production is no where near sufficient. In other words, Buhari can do more in other areas and win the confidence of the people that he is a change maker and truly taking Nigeria to the next level.

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