Africa is incredibly rich in natural resources. From gold to cocoa to petroleum, countries throughout the continent have benefited from high economic growth rates (pdf) over the last decade. But why then, do many governments fail to ensure all their citizens are able to attain even average living standards?

For Nigerians, there are several reasons ranging from the over-privatization of its natural resources, to ongoing corruption at various levels of industry and government. As the continent’s biggest oil producer, the global drop in crude oil prices along with the depreciation of the naira has been especially damaging to Nigeria’s most vulnerable citizens. While it may be argued that oil has led Nigeria to becoming Africa’s largest economy, it has also resulted in a complex series of detrimental effects on our nation.

The easiest way to describe these effects is by examining what economists call, Dutch Disease. Countries may suffer from Dutch Disease if they become too focused on a single commodity, exporting it at high rates to attract foreign investment while devaluing local goods. Industries such as agriculture in Nigeria have become increasingly dormant because of this, resulting in rising unemployment numbers, especially among younger people who make up a large percentage of the country’s total working population.

From, Nigeria’s Oil Sector and the Poor (pdf)

In general, the more that states depend on mineral exports, the more likely they are to suffer from these problems. Since Nigeria is remarkably dependent on oil, it has been highly susceptible to these tribulations. 

Michael Ross, Professor of Political Science at UCLA

In addition to Nigeria’s hyper-focus on exporting crude oil, a long legacy of corruption in Nigeria has seriously affected the lives of its citizens who should all be able to share in the benefits of its natural resources.

The revenues generated from our shared natural resources are not being invested into social infrastructure projects. This leads to even greater issues with critical institutions like Nigeria’s education and healthcare systems. Nigeria once had many of the best universities and health care facilities in Africa. Over the years, corruption has led to many students like myself leaving Nigeria to study abroad. If profits from our oil were better invested into the country, many of us wouldn’t feel the need to leave, potentially creating a scenario where many Nigerians will simply not return to contribute to our country’s future.

While our corruption may be homegrown, allowing multi-national companies such as Shell and BP to privatize much of our oil industry has resulted in negative effects on our environment, especially in the Niger Delta region. Damaging oil spills have led to multimillion dollar law suits agains foreign oil companies as people in the region are left to deal with polluted waters, contaminated fish and wildlife.

As multi-national companies export oil out of the country with little regard for the consequences to its lands or its people, and Nigeria then imports that same oil back in at a higher price, many citizens are left furious, demanding the government take over from these companies.

However, nationalizing Nigeria’s oil industry doesn’t seem to be a viable, or even plausible option. Nationalizing could bring negative consequences in our relationships with other global powers. It also would make very little sense to nationalize an industry when their is still so much corruption in our government that needs to be rooted out.

Once we as a country can bring an end to corruption, all our citizens could benefit in a more equitable way from our oil revenues. President Buhari’s administration seems committed to the problem of ending corruption but we can all only hope this is a beginning as new reports from recent audits of the NNPC continue to point to ongoing corruption.

As Nigerians, our version of Dutch Disease has already taken a toll on our nation. As citizens, we need to work with our current government to ensure all possible actions that can help the country economically and socially are pursued. Our natural resources should have positioned Nigeria as an economic leader for the world but the problems that arise from those same resources must first be addressed.

We need to solve these problems first through accountability and transparency, then as a united country, and finally as an African Union, working together to improve the lives of all African citizens.