It is great news that West African countries, including Liberia and Senegal, not forgetting our beloved country, Sierra Leone, are now looking forward to oil find which will indeed change the fortunes of our countries forever. It is most heartening that African Petroleum, an indigenous company founded by Frank Timis, an international businessman and philanthropist, has recently found oil in Liberia.
I can safely predict that in the next five to ten years, many of these countries will never be the same again, since oil is a product that has very long time benefit to any nation where it is found in commercial quantity.
Let us look at Nigeria as a case study. Before 1959 when oil was found at a place called Oloibolu in the Niger Delta, economic problems was the bane of that great nation. Because of the huge population and lack of funds, struggle was the order of the day for the ordinary masses. That changed a bit when oil was found and the nation started making money from that black gold.
Today, Nigeria is the sixth oil producing nation in the world and General Yakubu Gowon used the wealth from oil to transform his once shanty country into a paradise of some sorts, developing infrastructure, like roads, skyscrapers, setting up vehicle assembly plants, manufacturing companies and so on.
Things were rosy in Nigeria in the 1970s that by 1975, a commission was set up led by one prominent man called Udoji, who recommended that a windfall must be given from the state to all Nigerian workers. That gesture is fondly called the Udoji Award and every worker was empowered to buy TV sets, radio sets, fridges, and many other household appliances that lifted the standard of living of the people.
The same might soon happen to Liberia and Sierra Leone, if the oil is found in commercial quantity and the regulations are right to manage it.
Today, Liberians are jubilating that oil has been found by African Petroleum and they are all hopeful now that their fortunes will soon change.
But oil can also be a curse for some parts of the country as it happened in Nigeria. Where the oil is mined, the Niger Delta, remains the most impoverished part of that country and that is where all social vices and problems are multiple. Prostitution, pollution, poison to marine life and even to agriculture are some of the problems oil producing areas face. We must not lose sight of that.
But a difference can be made by African petroleum if measures are put in place to mitigate pollution and destruction of the natural habitat of marine dwelling mammals and fishery. The fishermen and farmers who will be displaced must be adequately taken care of and adequate compensation must be paid to allow them find alternative sources of livelihood.
Oil will no doubt bring wealth, but it can also fuel political problems if the resource is not shared proportionately among the people who rightfully own the oil under their soil or waters.
This is the challenge African Petroleum will face in both Liberia and all the other countries where they are prospecting and will find oil by God’s grace. This is a challenge I believe they will meet as they have done with African Minerals.
Let’s brace ourselves up for a change in our material and social condition as a people of the Mano River Union. More grease to the elbow of African Petroleum and Frank Timis.
That is my view.