When Oil is Not All

THISDAY - - WEDNESDAY SPORTS -

The gen­tle­man is in charge in a tiny coun­try, but he has big ideas. With a pop­u­la­tion of about 192,000, his coun­try is the sec­ond small­est in Africa. How­ever, his huge vi­sion of a peo­ple-cen­tred de­vel­op­ment is one that big­ger African coun­tries should read­ily em­brace. In­deed, the mag­ni­tude of his vi­sion is dis­pro­por­tion­ate to the size of his coun­try in de­vel­op­men­tal terms. He is 53-year old Pa­trice Emery Trovoada, the Prime Min­is­ter of Sao Tome and Principe, the is­land na­tion off the coast of Cen­tral Africa.

Mr. Trovoada made some in­spir­ing re­marks as the Key­note Speaker yesterday in Abuja at a col­lo­quium on “Se­cu­rity in the Gulf of Guinea.” The fo­rum was or­gan­ised by the Kaduna-based Gusau In­sti­tute, founded by for­mer De­fence Min­is­ter, Lt. Gen. Aliyu Gusau Mo­hammed.

A smart economist, Trovoada must have stunned his au­di­ence when he said un­equiv­o­cally that oil “is not im­por­tant” to the bud­get of his coun­try. Ex­plo­ration for oil is, of course, tak­ing place in Sao Tome and Principe. How­ever, in his tren­chant state­ment, Trovoada de­mys­ti­fied oil as the main­stay of an econ­omy. Ac­cord­ing to him, the em­pha­sis of his coun­try “is on agri­cul­ture and tourism.” Rev­enues from the petroleum sec­tor could only be a “bonus”, he added with a quaint smile. Now that is an un­usual state­ment to make in this sea­son. This is be­cause pol­i­cy­mak­ers in coun­tries whose bud­gets de­pend on petro dol­lars are fright­ened that the price of crude may fall to as low as $20 a bar­rel. The de­mys­ti­fi­ca­tion of oil as the bud­getary oxy­gen of a coun­try may well be an idea whose time has fi­nally come!

To start with, not a few in Nige­ria would see the dis­cus­sion of se­cu­rity in the Gulf of Guinea only in the light of the pro­duc­tion of oil in the Niger Delta. The body of wa­ter called the Gulf of Guinea is the part of At­lantic Ocean into which River Niger drains. The Is­land of Sao Tome and Prin­ci­ple is squarely in this Gulf, which is con­sid­ered to be one of the rich­est in oil de­posits.

How­ever, Trovoada is not mes­merised by the petrodol­lar-ma­nia, which rules the world of some eco­nomic man­agers. His in­spir­ing state­ment amounted to a wake-up call in many re­spects. The prospects of oil rev­enues should not make a coun­try solely de­pen­dent on petrol dol­lars. Now, you would prob­a­bly be quick to say that has been a fa­mil­iar phrase for years in the dis­cus­sion of Nige­ria’s po­lit­i­cal econ­omy. In­stead of liv­ing on roy­al­ties from oil, Trovoada of­fers a model of eco­nomic man­age­ment in which the peo­ple con­sti­tute the sub­ject and ob­ject of de­vel­op­ment. The bud­getary process in Sao Tome and Principe is par­tic­i­pa­tory. Peo­ple at the grass­roots are ac­tively in­volved in shap­ing na­tional pri­or­i­ties based on their in­ter­ests. No won­der, Trovoada, a Mus­lim, was re-elected again in Oc­to­ber last year hav­ing served twice as prime min­is­ter in a coun­try that is 99% Catholic. You may also say that such a bot­tom-up ap­proach is only pos­si­ble in a tiny coun­try; yet in a large coun­try such as Nige­ria class in­ter­ests of the peo­ple could be safe­guarded by es­tab­lished in­sti­tu­tions and mass or­gan­i­sa­tions. Here we are re­fer­ring to the in­flu­ence on pol­i­cy­mak­ing by a peo­ple-ori­ented par­lia­ment, public in­tel­lec­tu­als, labour and other civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Talk­ing about se­cu­rity in the Gulf of Guinea, Trovoada spoke about the “lead­er­ship role” of Nige­ria, sketch­ing a di­vi­sion of labour like this: Sao Tome and Principe would be the “ear and eye” and Nige­ria would pro­vide the nec­es­sary “force” in a re­gional col­lab­o­ra­tion for se­cu­rity. Af­ter all, Sao Tome and Principe can only boast of a con­stab­u­lary navy. Ac­cord­ing to him, ships laden with stolen oil from Nige­ria sail through Sao Tome and Principe. But for him the Gulf of Guinea should be se­cured not only for the pur­pose of oil pro­duc­tion. Trovoada won­dered why Nige­ria should be spend­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars yearly im­port­ing frozen fish when the fish­ing po­ten­tials of the Gulf have not been fully har­nessed. He would rather adopt a re­gional ap­proach to the se­cu­rity prob­lems even as Dr. Mo­hammed Ibn Cham­bas, who was the chair­man of the oc­ca­sion, pointed to the fac­tor of the “friends of the Gulf of Guinea” in the global con­text. Cham­bas, who is the Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive and Head of the United Na­tions Of­fice for West Africa, was re­fer­ring to the G7 coun­tries and oth­ers.

The theme of de-em­pha­sis­ing the fac­tor of oil was also echoed in the very il­lu­mi­nat­ing pre­sen­ta­tion by for­mer Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Ad­mi­ral Dele Ezeoba. He spoke on “Re­gional Mar­itime De­fence Frame­work: The Lo­cal Se­cu­rity Per­spec­tive” in a man­ner in which em­i­nent jour­nal­ist, Mal­lam Haroun Adamu, de­scribed as “pro­fes­so­rial”. In fact, with much en­thu­si­asm, the for­mer naval chief dom­i­nated the fo­rum with his ex­pert knowl­edge of the is­sues at stake thereby an­i­mat­ing an oth­er­wise dry topic. Ezeoba ex­am­ined the pol­icy gaps that make piracy, oil thefts, kid­nap­ping and other crimes to flour­ish in the Gulf. He re­viewed sev­eral pol­icy doc­u­ments and the ef­fi­cacy of many or­gan­i­sa­tional re­sponses to the se­cu­rity prob­lems in the Gulf of Guinea. It is, there­fore, re­mark­able that in Ezeoba’s hi­er­ar­chy of the se­cu­rity prob­lems of Gulf of Guinea, oil theft is not top­most. He ranked re­gional is­sues, hu­man se­cu­rity and so­cial se­cu­rity higher than oil theft. In fact, he was far from be­ing rhetor­i­cal when he asked: “if the big men in­volved in oil thefts are known where not name them”? He also am­pli­fied Trovoada’s re­mark that fish­ing po­ten­tials in the Gulf of Guinea are ig­nored while the fo­cus is only on oil. In Ezeoba’s per­spec­tive, the agri­cul­tural po­ten­tials of the Gulf of Guinea could pro­vide more wealth than oil, which is the fo­cus at the mo­ment. Ezeoba added that the Gulf of Guinea is home to many min­eral re­sources yet un­ex­plored. In other words, oil is not all that is avail­able in terms of wealth in a se­cure Gulf of Guinea. Hence, Ezeoba ad­vo­cated a Global Mar­itime Part­ner­ship in which the mem­ber-coun­tries of the Gulf of Guinea could ben­e­fit from economies of scale and com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage.

Per­haps, those who say cyn­i­cally that that the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari has done noth­ing in al­most 100 days should lis­ten to the Group Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of the Nige­rian Na­tional Petroleum Cor­po­ra­tion (NNPC), Dr. Ibe Em­manuel Kachikwu. For him, se­cu­rity of the Gulf of Guinea is im­por­tant to the ex­tent that a se­cure at­mos­phere is pro­vided for the oil sec­tor. Although Kachikwu could only make brief re­marks at the fo­rum (be­cause of some of­fi­cial en­gage­ment), yet he gave a fair pic­ture of the well-known prob­lems of oil theft and other leak­ages in the oil sec­tor. He also brought the good news of the struc­tural steps be­ing taken to fix the prob­lems in next eight months. His re­port card in the last three weeks holds a lot of prom­ise. Ev­i­dently, from Kachikwu’s per­spec­tive a lot still de­pends on oil in the run­ning of Nige­ria’s econ­omy. As they say, it is dif­fer­ent folks, dif­fer­ent strokes.

It is salu­tary that the Gusau In­sti­tute is pro­vid­ing the plat­form for the clash of per­spec­tives on the big is­sues of the mo­ment – the in­ter­play of se­cu­rity and the po­lit­i­cal econ­omy among oth­ers. Even more ed­i­fy­ing is the fact that the per­spec­tives are thor­oughly in­formed. One can only hope that pol­i­cy­mak­ers would find the ideas gen­er­ated in this fo­rum and sim­i­lar ones use­ful in con­fronting the bur­geon­ing prob­lems at hand.

Pa­trice Emery Trovoada, the Prime Min­is­ter of Sao Tome and Principe

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