May 30, 2008

The Iraqi War and the Plateau Man

Oil fields across the world have remained the bone of bloody contentions. This, undoubtedly, is due to the fact that oil brings a lot of wealth to whoever owns it. Except in the most developed nations of the world that are capable of generating wealth through other means, oil producing nations elsewhere around the world have had to contain with one crisis or the other. Southern Sudan not only hosts oil but has hosted one of the bloodiest and long lasting wars in Africa until a few years ago when a successful peace deal was brokered. The peace deal nonetheless left in its wake a shattered country that will take decades to rebuild. Angola, one of Africa’s oil producing nations has a similar story to tell. The Niger Delta has seen all forms of crisis including hostage takings, Killings, and sabotage to oil installations just to press hard their demand for a greater control of the oil resources in the region. In the Caspian Sea region, Russia has often used oil to punish its former territories that find common ground with the United States, its rival, on any political issue. The Middle East, the most endowed oil region in the world has been the unstable region. The Gulf of Mexico, the only oil region known to be innocent of human conflict has however been the region of natural disasters that can only be attributed to the fact that nature is indeed capricious. Hurricane Rita and Katrina are some of the most recent natural disasters in the Gulf of Mexico.
It has often been said that when the US sneezes, the world catches a cold. Recent events have however shown that this is no longer exclusive to the US as oil producing regions have shown that whenever they vibrate, the ripple effect travels across the planet. On the 20th March, 2003, the United States of America invaded the nation of Iraq with the aim of discovering nuclear weapons the American Government believed were hidden somewhere in that country. The Government of Iraq was overthrown and the country taken over. Against all these, no weapons were found thereby compelling people to believe that oil is at the heart of the matter. The continued occupation of the country by the invading forces and the regard of the succeeding Iraqi Government by Islamic fundamentalist as a puppet of the US have all contributed to an unexpected escalation of the war. The result is that the war now between the Iraqi and the occupying forces on one hand and the Islamic militia and insurgents on the other hand, has endured since 2003.
Iraq is the second largest oil-producing nation in the world after Saudi Arabia. The war in Iraq has ensured that the daily oil production in that country fell from 2.0 million barrels per day in 2004 to 1.5 million barrels in 2006. The economic principle of “ the lower the supply the higher the price” is never changing. The Iraqi case has proven not to be an exception as oil prices rose sharply to levels unprecedented in the history of the global oil market.
Iraq is not new to disturbing the equilibrium in world oil prices. In 1990, its invasion of neighbouring Kuwait led to short falls in oil supplies such that members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Counties, OPEC, had their daily production quotas raised. This is referred to in Nigeria as the “Windfall”. Nigeria been an OPEC member benefited a lot from the war. The present war has had a mixed outcome for the countries of the world. Oil producing nations have benefited favourably while the result has unfavourable for non-oil producing nations. This is because the oil producing nations have benefited from the increase in the prices per barrel of oil from less than $25 in 2003 to more than $110 at the present. Though the Iraqi war has been the primary cause of the upward rise in the price per barrel, it must be admitted that other factors such as the political instability and industrial unrest in Venezuela and the Niger Delta crisis have also been responsible. The Niger Delta actually comes next. As a matter of fact the May increase from $110. 20 in March to $114 in May was due to damage of oil installations belonging to the shell Petroleum Development Company and the industrial action by the staff of the Exxon-Mobil which cut down the production to less than 2.Omillion barrels per day.
Oil revenue to the nation has thus witnessed a dramatic increase between 2004 and the present. For instance the oil revenue shared among the Federal, State and Local governments was about N197 billion in January 2004. In November 2007 about N334 billion was shared to the same tires of government. This excludes excess crude revenue occasionally shared. This means that there is now more revenue for states across the nation to carry out their developmental activities. Plateau State is not left out. Recent remarks of Governor Da Jonah Jang have revealed that some financial deductions from the accounts of Plateau and Nassarawa States for debt servicing were made in error. By the time it was realized, the remittances were made to Nassarawa State alone. This, according to Jang, was due to the non-challance of the previous Government in the state. Jang said that the last remittance made to Nassarawa state was about $80 million and that when the state cried out the payment was halted pending the rectification of the problem, which will ensure Plateau receives all that is due to it. By the time that happens, it will no doubt add a huge sum to the coffers of the state Government.
As far as the development is concerned, the state and local government authorities are partners. Besides the subventions sent to the state Government, the local government also receive their own subventions from the same source. The increase is, hence not peculiar to the state governments. Thus the money made available to the Plateau man as a result of the Iraqi war and oil field instabilities comes through two inlets and is thus staggering.
It is one thing to have the resources that can be used to change the live of the ordinary man in Plateau State. It is however, another thing to put the money into proper use. It is only a strong political will that can guarantee a prudent use of resources for the state. The political history of Jang as we know it, is an attestation to the fact that integrity is still the most attractive political quality that can be used successfully against political rivals or opponents. Jang was said to have ruled with the fear of Heavens as the Military Governor of Benue and old Gongola States. By the time he retired from the military he was said to have but a single house built in his village at Du in Jos-south. Till today, it is still his only personal house. It is this political pedigree that has seen him through the stormy political climate in Plateau state to eventually place him on the highest leadership throne in the state.
Times change and people change too, physically and psychologically. Hence we are not supposed to base our prophecy of the leadership direction of the Governor on events that were recorded decades ago. Perhaps Jang was naïve and lacked ideas as to what to do with the type of public resources his colleagues personalized. There is wisdom of basing our prediction on the events of today.
Late Police Commissioner, Joseph Gomwalk was the first indigenous Governor of Plateau State. He is not only revered because of his mark as a pioneer Governor of the state but also remembered, as the most distinguished Governor Plateau State has ever known. In a nutshell, he holds the best administrative record of all past leaders in Plateau State. During the 31St anniversary of the dead of Gomwalk, Jang did not hide his admiration for Gomwalk. In other words Jang sees himself as a protégé to the pioneer Governor. Protégés always follow in the footstep of their role models, eventually living a life comparable to that of the role model or even beating their records.
Since real democrats managed to salvage Nigeria’s democracy from the embers of military leadership in the late 90s, only a few Governors have been heard to talk about finances saved for the states despite projects undertaken. Atahiru Bafarawa at the verge of living office in Sokoto State, in 2007 declared N13billion left over. Umaru Yar’Adua was also said to have left some billions of naira in the coffers of Kastina State. These they declared at the end of their second tenures. In Plateau state Jang saved N6billion in less than one year. This is a demonstration of an amazing transparency that is rare in present day Nigeria.
The ordinary citizen in Plateau state, over the decades, has been oppressed by the absence of quality education for his children, scarcity of potable water supply, poor state of health facilities, lack of jobs, irregular salary payments and denials of certain allowances to the civil servants, a limited number of roads and the poor state of existing roads. So far we have seen a genuine and unprecedented effort to address these woes. For example the state government has commenced the payment of pension and this includes civil servants that retired as far back as the 1970s. Since Plateau state was created in 1976, the message is that all the administrations before that of Jang have failed to address these problems. This is an indication that the combination of factors needed for the prosperity of Plateau state are within the tips of our fingers and these of course, are the political opportunity, will and the resources.
Prophesy of prosperity for the state based on the favourable consequence of the Iraqi war may however, not materialize if certain factors fail to play out favourably. Industrial actions by the workforce in the state have become critical in deciding the future direction of the state. This is because labours have continued to lay ambush to public finances since the issue of the consolidated salary took centre stage. If labour is able to sway the state authorities to yield to all their demands, it is likely that the expected infrastructural, social and economic changes of the state may not become a reality. According to the Governor, yielding to all the demands of the workforce will leave the state with a lean purse that cannot adequately support the dream of the authorities for the Plateau man.
The second factor is the possibility of the restoration of peace in the troubled oil regions of the world. The Iraqi war has shown that peace may be by the corner as the level of violence is receding and Moqtadar El Sadar, the Shiite Islamic cleric and commander of the Mahdi Army that has engaged the US and Iraqi Armies in some of the most fierce battles in Iraq has increasingly expressed his willingness to engage in peace talks. As a matter of fact the oil production level has risen above pre-war levels. In addition to possibilities of stability in Iraq, the Nigerian Government has not rested on its effort to successfully broker peace in the Niger Delta.
One factor that has however shown signs of spurring the increase in oil prices is the rapidly growing economies of China and India. If the continuous demand for oil to support these economies becomes persistent, it is unlikely that prices will drop.
Since the increase in oil prices affected non-oil producing nations negatively, the idea of the use of fuel such as ethanol to supplement oil supplies became very appealing. The success of this may force prices down. The use of grains to produce ethanol has however, led to global food crisis. So far, demonstrations due to increase in food prices has been recorded in Haiti, Ivory Coast, Egypt, and Senegal this year. The continued production of ethanol from food crops such as sugar cane, potatoes, corn, cassava and so on depends on whether the world food production can improve enough to feed the hungry and at the same time serve as raw material for the production of the bio-fuel.
Another factor that can frustrate the realization of the changes the huge financial resources can bring is the problem of corruption especially at the local government level. The local government has had corruption as its greatest woe. Corruption is largely responsible for the problem of zero allocation that has made it impossible for many local governments to pay salaries between 1999 and 2003. When it eventually became possible for local administrations to pay accrued salaries, most council chairmen were non-challant to addressing the problem. Following the inauguration of the State Government on May 29, 2007, the authorities acted gentlemanly when it ensured it used its influence to sway local governments into paying huge portions of the unpaid salaries. If the State Government can sustain that control on the local governments, the ordinary Plateau man should be able to enjoy the benefit of the huge financial resources the Iraqi war has placed in the coffers of the state.



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