THE CURSE OF THE BLACK GOLD.

Gore Verbinski’s blockbuster- the 140 million dollar budgeted project-, in the form of the everlasting movie; the Pirates of the Caribbean(Curse of the black pearl)  was a production that received for the worth of it, a preposterous amount of accolades upon its release. The success story, with its spectacular plot and peculiar casting, boasted and still boasts various awards and prizes upon its name and for its genuine genius. To say the movie was a good one would not only be more than saying the obvious but may well be interpreted as a attempt at courting the unnecessary modesty. It was a great work no doubt. Hurray Jack Sparrow!

Now, every Movie aficionado is certainly acclimatized with this movie no doubt (unfortunately so for those who are not) and this is not saying too much. As such, the allusions of this expose’ would not be so foreign after all. In pirates of the Caribbean; curse of the black pearl, a beautiful plethora of stories added up to create a very interesting and rather brilliant plot. This is true. True also, is the fact that the bulk of the plot was wedged on the outstanding strength of amythical background story, that would serve as the back bone upon which the entire movie would play.What was the background story? This single story, constituted itself in a myth that would rather impressively, turn out to be more than merely mythical-at least in the letters of the movie-;the myth of the Aztec gold. Apparently, a fable went that, whatever souls who took it upon themselves to play the itchy knave with a deposition of Aztec gold in the treasure cavern of ‘Isla de Muerta’, would be visited by a curse so vile, it would torment their souls and give them unrest and dissatisfaction….so much that they would have to return the stolen good. Well it was a myth, at least until Captain Barbosa and the crew of the black pearl played the itchy knaves with the forbidden gold. But enough side talk already.

The Famous nomenclature “black gold” has been tampered numerously over time as an alternative means of referring to the great gift; crude oil. Crude oil, that is to say, has been tipped by many as the ‘black gold’. Ideally, one need not gawk too much to decipher the rationale behind the sobriquet. Crude oil is painfully black- black as tar. And it is expensive. Just like gold. That is to say, it has much worth…like gold. Calling crude oil, black gold however may in a sense be an understatement of crude oils worth. You see, gold is worthless, In the face of this fantastical good. But sobriquets are not meant to be exactly definitive of their bearers are they?

Oil was first discovered in Nigeria in Oloibiri in 1956, by Shell B.P and other developers who had at the time been in search of the commodity in commercially available quantity. They found gratefully, a good reposition of the revered good in Africa’s most populous country; Nigeria. Oil at the time, and as made rather obvious by the west, was (and probably still remains) the most efficient source of energy the world could boast of. Having crude oil as such, was having the world at your feet in plea for energy. I won’t go into the aspect of the importance of energy in the world, but I would say this, energy is preposterously important, and Nigeria had the source of it. It was like God had gifted Nigeria in no uncertain terms and in a generous quantity too. It would make sense to assume that Nigerians or at least those of them aware of the worth of oil would have been overjoyed on that day when oil was proudly declared to have been found in Nigeria. If they were not, they would have been subsequently, when they would hear and probably feel the promise oil brings. Even more so, when Nigeria gained independence few years later and became a sovereign nation-a rich sovereign nation. The prospect must have been tantalizing. Dreams and hopes would have been built on this charming promise of wealth, and with good reasons too. More causes for joy would have been perhaps upon the subsequent constant discovery of more and more depositions of the liquid blessing in various parts of Nigeria. Imagining the picture now, one could well imagine the countenance of the Nigerian government as at 1956. It must have felt like finding “a chest o’ gold”.

Flash forward 59 years after the discovery of oil in Nigeria, one would expect to be encountered by a country, laden with the exquisite milk and honey; Flowing in an aqua of prosperity as such, if not for any other thing.  What else would you expect of a man who found a treasure of gold he never worked for nor dared to dream of, than to at least have the good sense to partake in merriment and luxury? His palace would be scented with the most grand of perfumes, his mansion grandiose, his ceiling carved in the most artistic of styles and his floor paved with polished cedar. Why not? Well not with Nigeria! You see, you are encountered upon your arrival into the future by a deafening slap of embarrassment. You would encounter a country whose populace is swiveling and swerving in pathetic squalor; 90 % of the entirety living within the poverty grade. You would have more than a swallows sighting of depravation and a mouthful exhibition of ineptitude choking down your throat like mistaken sweets. How do you relate this with the entire prospect of blessing and wealth provided by the discovery of crude oil? Simple….Nigeria found “cursed gold”. Cursed gold! Not Aztec gold, no. Black Crude gold.

The proposition is preposterous no doubt, but not beyond conception. It should be noted though, that Nigeria’s gold is not cursed in the same context as the gold of Isla de Muerta. No…our gold is cursed alright, but not by some fantastical external factor. Our gold, is cursed by none other than ourselves (or at least some of us).Interestingly, we’ve cursed our gold. We sat under the moonlight, and made a complete mess of god’s gift to our domicile. We cursed it to be associated in excruciating respects with as much vices as one could imagine; greed, ineptitude, waste, misappropriation, mismanagement, corruption, self-enrichment, Avarice, unscrupulousness, as well as the putridity of exploitation. These amongst others are the curses we have in tandem, levied upon the black gold. Now to the interesting detail.

`Nigeria before independence was a budding Nation. A nation that in the rather cynical view of the west was yet considered to be one of the best promises of the Africa continent. Nigeria was known and is still known to be endowed with resources, both Natural and human. It was self-evident that Nigeria had great lengths to go, but it was just as evident that she had the capability to go the length.  After all, it was the same Nigeria that had been the clamour of European nations during the colonization spree. That was before the 1960 ordeal. After independence, as expected, the West continued keeping a tab on the Nigerian polity (Not always with the exploitative intent though). Nigeria moved fast on track after independence quiet alright. At the time, it could be argued that Nigeria still was yet to sit under the moon and pour spittle on her own beard. Nigeria forged on no less, and soon enough, she would be associated with the sobriquet, “giant of Africa”. And come to think of it, she may have been deserving of the accolade at the time. It should be noted at this point, that Nigeria as at then, was still yet to discover oil in outrageous proportions as she still would. That may explain why she was referred to as a producing country then. And indeed, she was a producing country, notorious for her exporting prowess and evidently envied by the entirety of Africa and congratulated by others. To emphasize just how much of a promise Nigeria held before the oil flood , I would draw reference to a publication on a British newspaper in 1962. it had referred to Nigeria as having the potential to cross over the Rubicon of third world in few decades at most. You see, Nigeria had an enormous stake in the cash crop exportation business. Nigeria exported things like groundnuts, cocoa, cotton, rubber, palm oil amongst others.She was basically almost self-sufficient nutritionally, that she was soon to start exporting food crops.

However, everything headed towards a permanent decline after the 1970s with regards the Nigerian agricultural sector in particular and the economy in general, So much that the contribution of agriculture to GDP, which was 63 percent in 1960, had declined to 34 per cent in 1988, not because the industrial sector increased its share but due to neglect of the agricultural sector. This was after the oil flood. (I wouldn’t call it bloom for want of a negative connotation). It was therefore not surprising that by 1975, the country had become a net importer of basic food items. The apparent increase in industry and manufacturing from 1978 to 1988, was due to activities in the mining sub-sector, especially petroleum.

What followed after all these were mainly subsequent manifestations of the curse of the black gold. All the vices that had been earlier mentioned swam right into play and Nigeria was never to be the same again. The economy never experienced double-digit inflation during the 1960s. By 1976, however, the inflation rate stood at 23 per cent. It decreased to 11.8 per cent in 1979 and jumped to 41 percent and 72.8 per cent in 1989 and 1995, respectively. All this indeed subsequent of the newly discovered or if not newly discovered, newly reemphasized trend in shrewd exploitation and corruption by Nigerian politicians and government personnel all not unassociated with the oil flood. Unemployment rates averaged almost 5 per cent for the period 1976-1998.It appears that the economy performed well during the years immediately after independence and into the oil boom years. However, in the 1980s the economy headed the path of recession and has yet to derail from same path even at the time.

The oil boom of the 1970s led Nigeria to neglect its strong agricultural and light manufacturing bases in favor of an unhealthy dependence on crude oil. In 2000 oil and gas exports accounted for more than 98 % of export earnings and about 83 % of federal government revenue. New oil wealth, the concurrent decline of other economic sectors, and a lurch toward a statist economic model, fuelled massive migration to the cities and led to increasingly widespread poverty, especially in rural areas. A collapse of basic infrastructure and social services since the early 1980s accompanied this trend. By 2000 Nigeria’s per capita income had plunged to about one-quarter of its mid-1970s measure, below the level at independence. Along with the epidemic marginalization of Nigeria’s non-oil sectors, the economy continues to witness an excruciatingly lacklustre attitude towards new initiatives and incentives that have not to do with oil. Apparently, oil has become the only source of revenue in Nigeria, the only worthwhile export commodity, the only inclination of the Economy. The most disturbing part of the entire discuss would constitute in the aspect of thought in line with the proposition that Nigeria’s overdependence on oil is not in itself as disastrous as the prospective corruption the overabundance of oil wealth has brought about. In the end, it’s a curse we are battling against, with nerve and sinew here in Nigeria; the curse of the black gold. The gold found by Barbosa’s crew was to cause/curse the crew so much unrest and dissatisfaction that they swore even death to return the gold. Nigeria’s curse is not as dire, but only just as destructive. The curse of oil, mostly independent of oil itself but a consequence of it as much, leaves Nigerians with so much dissatisfaction that we today contemplate “returning the gold” (or having it exhausted at least).But unlike as was with the pirates of the Caribbean, it is beyond our powers to so do. The question however lingers; wouldn’t Nigeria be better off without the gold? In the end, it is no less than a curse we have been burdened with in Nigeria-and it’s not a curse merely fictional as was with Gore Verbinski’s production. Today, we pray for a Jack Sparrow to lift the curse. And God help us we find one soon.

WRITTEN BY VINCENT OKONKWO

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