The Seventies: Part Seven.
Oil, also known as “black gold”, was a crucial driving force in Nigerian affairs throughout this era. In 1970, Nigeria’s oil production generated a meagre revenue of N166 million. However by 1973, after the Arab countries of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) placed an embargo on certain Western countries for their support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War, world oil prices skyrocketed from $3.80/barrel to $14.70/barrel, and Nigeria’s oil revenues jumped to N3.7 B and later to N5.6 B by the following year. This prosperity, although short-lived, brought about an era of economic boom and flourish throughout the country, which, coupled with the steady availability of capital, led people to develop tremendously generous spending habits. Spurred onwards by a sea of oil revenues that would never seem to run dry, the Federal Government dangerously increased national spending and launched a ferocious indeginization campaign in which it sought to “reclaim” the country’s industries by either nationalizing foreign companies or forcing their owners to sell the majority of their stock to Nigerian shareholders. These actions, in addition to corruption and mismanagement, later crippled the country’s economy by the time oil prices fell towards the end of the decade. Because of the strength of the Nigerian Naira at that time, local industries and trades suffered, as Nigerians simply preferred to import rather than to produce. In Igboland, as well as in other parts of the country, agriculture suffered, as local rice and yam farmers watched helplessly as Asian and West African produce took the place of their goods in supermarket shelves. This same oil which set into motion this “golden age” proved to be a curse in its own right, more especially for the peoples of the former Eastern Region. Home to the Ijo, Ibibio, Efik, Urhobo, and the Ogoni as well as the Igbo and a host of other peoples, the Niger Delta, the region where the vast majority of the country’s oil reserves is located, is responsible for 90 percent of the government’s revenues. In this era,
the foundations for the decades-long traditions of wanton environmental degredation and abuse were laid by foreign oil companies, who, backed by the Federal Government, would recklessly pollute local forests, streams, rivers, lakes, and lands with hazardous waste and oil spillage, renderring them useless to indigenes. In the decades that would follow, this phenomenon would lock various groups in perpetual conflict with oil companies and policy-makers as they would struggle to preserve their ways of life and hold their very rights to the lands of their forefathers.