By Otito Greg-Obi
On May 20th, 2015 the lights went out in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer. Nigeria suffers from a phenomenon known as the curse of oil which is a subset of a larger issue known as the resource curse. The idea behind the curse of oil is that countries with large oil reserves cannot seem to manage revenues in a way that benefits the majority of the population economically and socially. Some of the symptoms of the curse of oil include lack of economic diversification, revenue volatility, inability to provide public goods and services, corruption, government inefficiency and the Dutch Disease.
As soon as the massive fuel shortage in Nigeria struck, numerous businesses and banks shut down. Power outages also affected common households because neighborhoods are typically powered by individually owned generators due to inconsistent provision of public utilities. As soon as licensed gas stations closed down, black market vendors looking to make a quick Naira (Nigeria’s currency) began selling low quality oil at exorbitant prices. The shortage exemplifies the curse of oil by revealing an inability to provide a crucial public good. Furthermore, the shortage unveils the existence of corruption in black market practices.
Oil importers shut down operations claiming that the government owed them $2 billion. Nigeria’s Minister of Finance Okonjo-Iweala countered that importers misrepresented the debt in an attempt to recover lost revenue from the recent decrease in value of the Naira due to global declining oil prices. The global decrease of oil prices is a perfect example of the volatility that comes with the curse of oil and how it can complicate economic transactions between the governments and oil corporations.
Fortunately, oil suppliers and distributors eventually met with the government for negotiations that put an end to the crisis. The specifics of the negotiations have not been revealed but it appears that the crisis has been averted for now. But as global oil prices continue to decline, economic shocks are imminent. What will the government do to thwart the curse of oil?