Nigeria and Petroleum Oil

It was on the 15th of March 1956, that crude oil — which is often referred to as the black gold — was first discovered in Nigeria, in commercial quantities. The site was a little village called Oloibiri which was then in the Eastern Region of Nigeria and following the creation of states in 1966 and 1996, is now in the Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta of the South/South geopolitical zone of the country.

The expectation at that time was that the discovery, exploitation and marketing of the black gold would bring the much needed finances with which Nigeria was going to be able to solve its many problems. It would evolve a harmonious and egalitarian society with a stable and responsible government, which would be based on the rule of law. The country would develop rapidly to an extent that poverty and want would be reduced drastically and the large majority of its people would be provided with the basic necessities of life — food, potable water, shelter, good health and employment.

From the merger output of 6,000 barrels per day in 1958 which sold at less than $US2 per barrel, Nigeria’s current production stands at over 2 million barrels per day which sell at over $US 50 dollars per barrel, bringing in whooping sums of money, at least by the standards of developing countries. But have the anticipated changes for the better in the quality of life in the country been realised? The honest answer to this question is that Nigeria has not been that fortunate. With a GDP per capita of $US 875, a gross income per head of $US308 and a good many of its people still living below the poverty line. Nigeria’s economic indices could be described as being unfavourable: nor can solace be taken in the health indices of the country. With a life expectancy of mere 50.9 years, a cumulative death rate of 13.76/1000, and an infant mortality rate of 70.49 per 1000 live births, Nigeria’s health indices are a marked departure from those of developed nations Accordingly, Nigeria’s Human Development Index [HDI] is put at 0.463, thus categorising it as a country where “the quality of life is very poor.” Despite its vast arable and rich landmass, a correspondingly large population of able-bodied men and women, and immense proceeds from its oil exploitation, Nigeria, still finds itself grappling with major developmental problems.

You may then ask why has Nigeria been unable, so far, to convert the large proceeds from its crude oil sales into concrete and meaningful developments which are designed to enhance the quality of life of its people. For an answer, let me say that this address will not be drawn into the debate on the merits of the possible explanations that have commonly made the rounds. Neither the theory of military incursion into the body polity of the country which institutionalised corruption with all its attendant negative effects nor that of the abandonment of a diversified economy for one that is based largely on the proceeds from the sale of a single commodity, petroleum, will receive our attention. Accordingly, the address will not engage in the vacuous exercise of recrimination. But rather it will be forward looking and will concern itself with what the country is currently doing to meet the challenges of its development.

Meeting Nigeria’s Challenges of Development through Education

Since 1999 when there was a return to democratic governance and the readmission of Nigeria into the global comity of nations, there has been a renaissance in the country with very strong efforts that are being made in a more determined manner than ever before, to tackle the nation’s many problems and to offer a better quality of life to its people. While not neglecting the extractive hydrocarbon industry, stringent efforts are being made to return the nation once more, to a diversified economy where agriculture and tourism play major roles. Furthermore, technological advancement as a means of job creation and for the furtherance of national development is being pursued with seriousness, while the eradication of corruption is receiving robust attention. Government has instituted a National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy [NEEDS] which is designed, among others, to make a fundamental break with the failures of the past and to lay a solid foundation for sustainable poverty reduction, employment generation, wealth creation, and value reorientation.

Happily, because government accepts that investment in education is the key to success in its drive to change the fortunes of the people of Nigeria, it has, in recent times, showed an unparalleled commitment to the enhancement of education in the country. There has been a massive increase in subvention to the educational sector which will be further enhanced by a plough back of the bulk of the $US 18 billion debt relief that was recently granted by the Paris Club.

Furthermore, cognizant of the multiplier effect the establishment of universities has on national development, government has recently approved the establishment of many more universities in the country, which now stand at 72, owned by federal and state governments as well as private individuals and organisations. It is envisaged that these universities will address themselves not only to issues of manpower production but also scientific advancement and value reorientation.

The University of Port Harcourt and Shell

Our university, the University of Port Harcourt is the foremost university in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria, the home of the country’s oil and gas industry. It is also a major player amongst tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria. Established by decree in 1977, the university consists of two colleges, eight faculties and five academic/professional institutes. So far, the university has produced graduates who are holding their own satisfactorily in their various endeavours within and outside Nigeria.

In 2000, with the superintendence of the Governing Council and Senate, the university launched a new drive that was directed at converting it into a forward-looking and dynamic institution which is seriously engaged in its calling and is reaching out to its local, as well as international communities.

Accordingly, the university has aggressively pursued international cooperation and linkages with other institutions of higher learning and forged bilateral and mutually beneficial relationships with the private sector, industry, governments and other stakeholders in education. And it is this dynamism and desire to reach out that encouraged the MacAuthur Foundation, a major benefactor to the university, to organise a meeting in New York in early 2001 between the authorities of the university, and those of Shell, the major oil producing company in Nigeria. At that meeting, Shell committed itself to a long-term assistance to the developmental efforts of the university. With the formation of a conglomerate of Friends of the University of Port Harcourt under its leadership, which brought together philanthropists and captains of industries to assist the university, the equipment of the university’s Information and Communication Technology Centre [ICTC], I am glad to announce that this commitment is being actualised

Encouraged by this success in its relationship with industry, the University wishes to press on with its leadership role in education in the Engineering Sciences in Nigeria, especially in Petroleum and Gas Studies. The Senate of the university has approved the establishment of a Petroleum Museum which will serve as a repository of artifacts, information, documents, machines, and everything that is associated with oil and gas. Although the outlook of the proposed museum will be global, its focus will be Nigerian. The university wishes a rapid conclusion of agreement on its ongoing discussions with Shell with regards to taking over the operations of Shell Intensive Training Programme [SITP] in Warri and also for Shell to take interest in the establishment of the Petroleum Museum as well as the other developmental projects which the university has placed before it.

Congratulations and Expression of Gratitude

Let me now welcome you all, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, to this special convocation ceremony of the University of Port Harcourt. Next, I wish to congratulate Mr. Jeroen van der Veer for being found worthy by the Senate of the university for the award of the Degree of Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa. As he receives this honorary degree today and signs the Honorary Degree Register and so becomes an alumnus of the university, I urge him to associate himself at all times with the good course of the institution.

May the industry/university relationship between Shell and the University of Port Harcourt continue to flourish and may the friendship between Holland and Nigeria grow even stronger.

I thank you all for your attention.