When Oil is Not All
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.