By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Few days ago, precisely on Tuesday August 10, 2021, I listened with real curiosity to Mr. Daniel Alabrah, Chief Press Secretary to Senator Douye Diri, the Executive Governor of Bayelsa State, speaks at the recently held GbaramatuVoice Newspaper 6th anniversary lecture at the Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos.
Among other things, Alabrah, who represented his Boss, noted thus; somebody mentioned to me a few minutes ago that Nigeria is a blessed Nation, blessed in the sense that we have oil, and we also have gas.
But looking at what we have done in our history as a country, he added, it is obvious that all these years, we took the less important resource and focused on it while leaving the more important resource which is gas. Maybe now we are beginning to realize it. If you check as of today, Nigeria has two hundred and sixty trillion standard cubic fields of gas reserves and what that tells us is that we are fortunate to have alternatives. If oil finish today, Nigeria has an alternative and let me also mention this that as at today, Bayelsa produces about 30% of the revenue derived from oil but more importantly, Bayelsa perhaps has the largest gas reserve in the country today, and now the question that arises is what is the way forward?.
Again lets listen to him; the way forward is nothing else order than investment in gas. But I am bothered and that fear arises from the fact that from the way we have treated oil, are we going to treat gas in the same way. If after sixty years of exploiting and exploring oil, Nigeria does not have a beautiful story to tell, what will happen to us when we begin to explore gas? The good thing is that Nigeria is beginning to wake up to that realization, that if oil finishes, that we have gas so let us begin to focus, I guess that is why the federal government in 2020 declared the next decade from 2020 to 2030 as the decade of gas. So let us see whether we will be able to answer that question, whether we will be able to utilize Gas better than the way we have done with crude oil. He concluded.
So, using the above scenario as a dashboard to correct our leadership challenge which is gravitating towards becoming a culture, it will be important to note that they are objective concerns. As a nation, we must openly admit and adopt both structural and managerial changes. To my mind, this will necessitate our leaders welcoming approaches that impose more leadership discipline than conventional and creating government institutions that are less extractive but more innovative in operation.
This shift in action is important as we cannot solve our socio-economic challenges with the same thinking we used when we created it. As noted by the Chief Press Secretary, our leaders must remember that today, a lot of people are afraid that oil is going to finish, that we are exhausting the oil resources that we have in Nigeria, a lot of people are wondering, particularly when you go to the Niger Delta region, every day when we talk about the state of affairs of the region particularly the kind of impoverishment you see in the region, many usually ask; if crude oil is a blessing or a curse to the Niger Delta?
While Nigerians awaits the Federal Government to provide answers to the above question, it must again be said that this time is auspicious for our government to bring a change in leadership paradigm by switching over to a leadership style that is capable of making successful decisions built on a higher quality of information while dropping the age-long mentality which presents execution as more important than idea incubation.
This crucial leadership fence-mending call for a higher level of transparency on the part of the government and an objective way of using the opportunity provided by gas deposit to find a solution to the societal problems vis-a-vis youth unemployment and developing a climate of sustainable future and innovation in the Niger Delta region.
Talking about youth unemployment in Nigeria, a report recently put it this way: “We are in dire straits because unemployment has diverse implications. Security wise, large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the centre of its programme will take us nowhere”.
Youths challenge cuts across, regions, religion, and tribe, and has led to the proliferation of ethnic militia as well as youth restiveness across the country. But this threat has become more pronounced in the oil-rich region of the country with the chunk of the proponents spearheaded by the large army of professionally trained ex-militants currently without a job. Proper management of these teaming youth is the panacea for determining the success or otherwise of the 2030 sustainable agenda, It is only by engaging these teeming youths through employment creation that the incessant youth restiveness can be abated.
Aside from implementing in a transparent manner the recently passed and now signed Petroleum Industry Act, we must all recognize that for peace to reign in the region, the International Oil Companies operating in the region must drop the attitude of viewing Niger Delta region as an endangered species strategically marked for extinction, using neglect and abandonment as a formidable tool. They (IOCs) must also do away with the age long but erroneous belief that so far the eggs are secured; the condition of the goose that lays the eggs becomes secondary. We must develop the Niger Delta region- geese that lay the golden eggs.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org