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Monday, 21 July 2008

Squandered oil wealth leaves Nigeria in dark age

TUME AHEMBA | LAGOS, NIGERIA - Jul 21 2008 07:53

With oil prices at record highs, government coffers in the world's eighth biggest oil exporter are swollen to unprecedented levels.

Yet the vast majority of Nigeria's 140-million people live in no better conditions than their neighbours in West Africa, the least developed region of the world's poorest continent.

The same is true of many of Africa's major oil producers -- including Angola, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea and Chad -- but Nigeria's sheer size and two-million-barrel-per-day output make the poverty-wealth contrasts more striking.

Nigeria has earned the equivalent in today's terms of nearly $1,2-trillion from oil production over the past four decades, the sort of money that enabled oil-producing Gulf states like Qatar to develop some of the strongest economies in the Arab world.

But its four state-owned refineries are not fully operational, largely due to mismanagement and vandalism, its distribution network is chaotic, and it relies heavily on fuel imports, which cost about $4-billion each year.

In Lagos, a mega-city of more than 10-million people, the elite sip champagne on exclusive islands -- albeit to the incessant drone of diesel generators -- while the masses live in mainland slums without water or electricity.

Ask an average Nigerian on the streets of Lagos how he is and he will likely tell you "things dey hard, but we dey manage".

Healthcare is virtually non-existent, the roads are potholed, unemployment and crime are on the rise, and Nigeria is suffering from spiralling food prices.

"Nigeria is making more money from oil now, but look at the street we are living on," said Efe Oyingbo, pointing to a dirt road where passers-by waddle through muddy waters and motorists try to navigate cavernous, submerged potholes.

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