Urhobo Historical Society

Charting A New Course in Economic Growth and Human Development

By Emmanuel Urhobo, Ph.D.


Being a paper delivered at the 5th Annual Conference of Urhobo Historical Society on the 29th of October, 2004, at Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun, Delta State of Nigeria.

President Matthew Olusegun Obasanjo, in his first outing as the Military President of Nigeria, made a profoundly accurate statement on the nature of the Nigeria economy at the opening of Nigerian’s First International Trade Fair, when he described the Nigerian economy as “A TRADING  POST ECONOMY”   (page 2023 of West Africa Magazine September, 1985)

Senator David Dafinone in his forward to Environmental Issues and Challenges of the Niger Delta by Deacon Gamaliel Onosode stated as follows: “The region called the Niger Delta is a paradox.  It is the richest but the poorest region in Nigeria. The area constitutes the oil belt and produces the wealth of the nation.  For decades the country has depended on it (still is) to transform lives, cities and impose civilization on rural communities. Ironically, the owners of the wealth wallow in abject poverty, unaffected by billions of dollars taken away from them.  They have no access to clean water, electricity and majority of them live in thatch houses. The long years of painful neglect and delays coupled with unbridled explorations and exploitations of their oil and gas have laid the region bare as evidenced by large-scale want, squalor, ignorance disease and idleness. He argued that Resource Control ! is a vital ingredient of federalism. "It is only through it that the region can address the poor state of infrastructural network necessary for sustainable economic development. For the sake of justice and equity, now is the time for the country to take a bold step and act to restore hope and reduce human misery in the region . . . .” 

Mr. Lolu Akinwunmi in his thoughts on Nigeria 44 years after Independence stated as follows: “The Independence we got in 1960 was more political than everything else in the sense that at that period, we were too closely tied to Britain to even begin to talk about any manner of economic independence. The challenges that Nigeria faces now is largely of leadership and the other one is the problem of the elite.  If you look at much of the socio-economic and political problems that we have had in this country, you can trace them to the elite and to our leaders. They have not kept pace with the things they are supposed to deliver. If you look at how the resources have been managed; if you look at the kind of political arrangement that we have; if you look at the provision of infrastructure, you will understand the situation “My hope is that some time, somewhere, someday, this Country will produce a different generation of leaders that will really be compassionate about the thing!s that affect Nigeria.” (Nigerian Vanguard, Friday, October 1, 2004, at page 59)

I have never met Mr. Lolu Akinwumi, But for someone who was only two  years old when Nigeria had its Independence, his insight on Nigeria and its leadership, gives me some hope that an indigenous, intellectual and social revolution in Nigeria, which will change for good the fortunes of this nation, is still possible. It may no longer be in my life-time, but it is still possible.

It is my intention in this paper to ague with data from our past economic performance -- since  Nigeria’s Independence  exactly frty-four years ago -- that  Nigerians in control of economic and political  power have been ungodly, criminally selfish, lazy, and/or they have ignorantly and unconsciously directed the  economy and benefited  themselves and their families and friends only from it, without caring for the great majority of the people who are made poorer by their  mismanagement of Nigeria’s resources. What is glaringly clear and inescusable  is that they know the economy is not working  for the majority of the people of Nigeria but they have no original thoughts on how to make it walk for the people and they have become  insensitive to the plight of the  poor by continuing to expropriate  as much  of  the  wealth that  belong to the people , to themselves, as is physically possible. Not only that , they  surround themselves with security walls a! t the expense of the people flaunting  the wealth so acquired provocatively before the masses and they tell  the people sweet stories about how well- intentioned their intentions are for the people they are ruling.  They refuse to  follow the examples of good leadership in the  world, especially in Asian, countries like China, Japan, Malaysia, or India, counties with very large populations but less endowed with natural resources than Nigeria is.

The only way out for the future ,in the absence of a bloody revolution is to arrest political and economic power from  those who have seized it; is for every community to look inwards for its own salvation, while continuing to dialogue and negotiate for more political and economic concessions  from those who have monopolized both.


After the Second World War (1939-1945), Western economists advocated several models of growth and development, particularly for the less- developing and dependent economies like Nigeria.  The most popular, though unsuccessful, model was “Trickle Down Theory.”  The advocates of this model insisted that greater growth should be pursued in the less-developed economies, as a means of solving their economic problems and moving towards the self –perpetuating growth stage. Not much thought was given to the nature of the growth itself and the nature of the relationships between the developed and the less-developed economies in the capitalist system of the then world which favored the developed economies to the disadvantage of the less-developing ones.

Structural changes were advocated in the non-developing economies to encourage foreign investments from the developed economies to the less-developed ones, so as to accelerate their growth and development. Expected investments from the developed economies only trickled into the areas which benefited the developed economies mostly. The net result of this policy was a net cash flow from the less-developed to the developed economies through the medium of trade.

It was expected that as a result of greater growth, which  would result and spread throughout the economy, the benefits of the greater growth  would trickle down to the masses EVENTUALLY. But we shall see from my presentation of data in this paper that between 1960 and 2003,  the  Nigerian economy continued  to  grow in the  narrow oil export  sector, excessive imports exceeding its income, service sector, particularly the ever expanding public sector, while the agricultural sector particularly and the industrial sector recorded negative growth, whic! h  left  more and more people ,at least 80% of the population , outside the  organized public and private sectors of  the  economy,  who were getting poorer as the economy continued to grow in only a narrow direction without their participation in it.


How did the Nigerian economy perform from the colonial days to 1980? Nigeria thrived as an agricultural economy producing palm oil in Eastern Nigeria, rubber, timber palm oil and cocoa in Western Nigeria and cotton and groundnuts in Northern Nigeria. It had a small colonial administration, and thrived as a promising agricultural economy producing some surplus for growth. It is to be noted particularly here that there were hardly any divided interests or loyalties during he period of colonial administration. The British administrators served their national interests very well and there were very little if any business  relationships between the British administrators and their fellow citizens  in the private sector, such as Lever Brothers or  John Holt.  Corruption, divided loyalties and the penchant for gaining  control  of  government by foul means, as was later characteristic of  military and  lately civilian governments, were therefore not attractive nor possible.

The Nigerian economy had its focus on narrow growth in trade and services only and this has been at the root of its lack of balanced growth and development. An economy can grow in one or more selected sectors, drawing all resources from  the other weak sectors to itself, while these other sectors  of the economy stagnate, as we  will find in the Nigerian experience.

Growth took place in Nigeria between 1960 and 1980, in the oil extracting, industries, public sector and private services sectors. This contributed about 80% of the GDP by 1980. In terms of the spread of growth, it  was limited to a few  enterprises and it affected  only a small percentage of the population living and working in the urban centres.

Increased public spending mostly on recurrent rather than on capital for infrastructural and social development, had little impact in stimulating growth generally or the diversification of the economy horizontally.

The Agricultural sector became stagnant as very little changes occurred in the sizes of farms, land holding system, methods of production, or inputs  into agriculture. The contribution of agriculture to GDP therefore fell drastically in this period 1960 to1980 from 64 % to 23%. Industrial growth was very slight and hardly affected the agricultural sector.

The Petroleum sector increased dramatically between 1964 and 1980 by about 40% a year on the average. Its production rose from 5,100 to 2.3 million barrels a day and has been  curiously hovering around that figure ever since (in 24 years) In monetary terms the increase was from about N64 million to about N 1,841 million per annum. The oil  industry remained mainly an oil-extracting industry.

By 1980, oil contributed 80% to total revenue of Government compared  with 1% in 1960.  Its main contribution to the economy in the period was the revenue generated for the Federal Government, which led to increased government expenditure on employment, administration and social services and more importantly the increase in the consumption of imported goods. During this period also the industrial sector contributed only 7% to the GDP and total imports rose 15 times from N420.9 million to N6, 709.8 million from 1964 to 1980. In 1977 there was a deficit of imports over exports of N26 million. The Federal Government had a surplus of N4, 041.3   million over expenditure including accumulated reserves from the previous year due to a large improvement in the price of oil.  It enabled the Federal Government to increase infra-structural, social and capital development in the three planned periods which were financed from oil revenue and the internal money market. The development budgets grew from N1, 353.6 million in 1962 to over N45000 in the 1976 – 1980 plan period. But in spite of this high income and investments, Nigeria had the lowest number of vehicles per tarred kilometers of roads compared with other African countries.  The transport sector was not able to grow rapidly enough to meet the growing demand for all forms of transportation in the country. Illiteracy during the period remained high and stood at 80 % of the population. Only a small percentage of children of school age went to school and completed their education.

 The health situation in the country during the period did not improve as health facilities were inadequate and they were concentrated in urban centers.

Nigeria’s potentials from oil wealth increased within only the small modern sectors of oil production, imports, services and it did not spread to the rest of the economy with over 80% of the population.

THE ECONOMY 1981 - 2003

The Economy followed the same pattern of growth during this period.  As more income form oil became available to the economy, public expenditure and imports increased rapidly. Although I did not have complete data from 1981 to 1987 the same pattern continued.

1            During the period of 1998 to 2002 for which I have data, the GDP increased from N2, 756,670 billion naira to N5,723.19 billion naira, an increase of over 100% but the components of the GDP did not show any appreciable improvement in the contribution of industry, particularly crude oil, to the GDP.  In 1998 crude oil contributed only N781.2 billion to the total of N2,756.670 billion while agriculture contributed  N1,057,580 billion 28% compared with nearly 40% for Agriculture.  Of N5,723,190 million, only 40% of the GDP, while Agriculture still contributed about 26% (See Schedule 1 below).

2            The Federal Government Revenue and expenditure grew rapidly over the period.  Expenditure grew from N12 billion in 1982 to 1,600 billion in 2004, an increase of 1,310% in 22 years.  (The Federal Government recently submitted a budget for the year 2005 to the National Assembly of N3,200 billion on on the 12th of October, 2004)

3.         The National debt grew from N1,190,446 billion in 1998 to N4,941,200 billion in 2002, an increase of over 40% in 5 years.

4.         The Federal Government deficit spending increased dramatically from 1980 and is currently in 2003 standing at N1,334 billion Naira. This has been responsible for growing inflation, devaluation of the naira and restriction in banks lending

5.         The Federal Government is currently raising a loan from the open money market of N150 billion for financing long term projects, a good development on the one hand but a bad one on the other because it is inflationary and will reduce further capital available for investment in the rest of the economy.

            6.       Exchange rates movement during the period 1980 to 2003 had fluctuated badly against the Naira with devastating consequences to the purchasing power of the people.  The cost of imports and all other goods continue to skyrocket, while the receipts for exports were tied to the dollar Which was fairly stable. The cost of imports of goods and services exceeded the income from oil, while the prices of essential goods and services rose to between 3,100 and 17,499% between 1980 and 2003. (See Schedule 2 below)


1.         Nigeria represents about 25% of the population of Africa and it contains the greatest number of Africans in one political unit. Africans the world over look up to Nigeria with great expectations which has not been justified by the proud and wasteful ways the ruling class conducts their lives in full glare of the world. 

2.        Nigeria is number 105 out of 115 poorest countries in the world. That is, it is number 10 from the bottom.

3.        Nigeria is also the only poor country in the world with oil resources

4.        Nigeria is the 5th country with the highest mortality; it has the 10th highest infant mortality rate in the world. 

          5.       Nigeria ranks 10th  world lowest in Health delivery services for people.

          6.      As far as Nigeria is comparable with countries which were in similar economic situation as Nigeria, like Malaysia,                                    Singapore,Taiwan and Korea,40 years ago, these countries are now economically miles away from Nigeria in growth and development.

Malaysia and Singapore got palm oil and rubber seedlings from Nigeria but today, they are the main stay of these economies. They export cooking oil to Nigeria and rubber to the rest of the world, while rubber and palm oil have almost become extinct products  and occupations in Nigeria. India, China and Japan have achieved remarkable industrialization while not neglecting agriculture and rural development.  Japan has no oil  or steel but it imports  both, and it is the most advanced industrial and technological nation today, and sells its products throughout the world cheaper than any other nation on earth.<>

From my analysis of the Nigerian economy above, you should have been convinced by now that Nigeria’s growth has not only been one sided, a growth in import and export trade exclusively, in which only a small percentage of the population of Nigeria, perhaps only less than  20% of the 120 or 150 million Nigerians benefit from.

<>Sadly, the Urhobo Nation from whose soil nearly 50% of the wealth of Nigeria is produced is among the 80% of the Nigerian people who are living in ever- increasing poverty, as this type of growth continues. It is therefore correct to say that Nigeria is growing through the reckless consumption pattern of its small privileged rulling class, from the proceeds of its natural resources (oil) and in excess of its income which produces two-digit inflation every year and reduces rapidly the value of Nigeria’s currency.  By the same token, it diminishes the income available to the majority of the population who are poor because they are either unemployed or under- employed.

This single direction and destructive growth trend in Nigeria compels me to contend, seriously, that there is no probability, in the foreseeable future, for Nigerians in the seat of Political and Economic Power (the politicians and governments at various levels, the Bankers, importers, contractors, etc who control the economy), to pursue a new economic policy that would be balanced and would eliminate  poverty in Nigeria.

The Urhobo Nation therefore needs to develop a new strategy of development and initiate a developmental  process directly with the people as entreprenural stimulators in the important areas which I have enumerated below. This will give our people not only hope, but opportunities for job creation, productivity, and prosperity.  I believe this strategy, when properly articulated, would enable the Urhobo Nation to tap the vast resources of the Nigerian Banks, when those that survive the hurdle of the minimum of N25 billion capital, would then be more willing to get involved in long term funding of projects, in addition to funds which would be sourced from outside  Nigeria.

This development strategy will focus on the impact of development on the beneficiaries of development: men, women and children and their environment and not on mere statistical growth in imports or Nigeria oil exports or profits made by banks or the size of the Nigerian capital market.






E)            SECURITY.



In Europe and later North America, historically development started with agriculture and animal farming and gradually the industrial revolution occurred and excess labour was attracted to the cities while the rural farms became enclosed and large-scale farms with very few labour emerged  and producing food for the nation with plenty to spare for exports. This led gradually to balanced growth and development, with Europe and North America subsidizing farming and providing social benefits and social security for their people including unemployment benefits, health scheme, subsidized rent, food subsidies and pensions amongst others.

<>Lately India, Japan and China with very large populations accounting for two-thirds of the population of the world at 9 billion people, have adopted a development strategy with human face, which has reduced yearly the numbers of the poor and raised the standard of living of their people considerably.

For Nigeria, agriculture should be our first priority in economic growth and development without ignoring the advantages of industrialization. We have the people, land, capital, plenty of rain, sunshine and water and rainfall and with little or no fertilizers, grains, fruits and carbohydrates can be grown easily and there is plenty of room for animal breeding, fishing and fish farming.

My analysis of the Nigerian economy has only confirmed that oil has only brought increasing poverty to the majority of the people but wealth to only a few people who are involved in either exports or smuggling of our crude oil or in importing fuel and selling it and other manufactured goods.  If the 80% of Nigerians who are poor are to survive, we must go back to agriculture as the first stage of our growth and development process, to create employment for our people, so that they may feed well and live well, selling their surpluses internally and internationally.

Since the banks which are beneficiaries of the oil boom will not get involved in any long-term investments like agriculture, we must create a strategy to assist farmers directly to become productive and prosperous.  By doing this, we will not be helping only the Urhobo nation but our neighbours and the rest of Nigeria who would benefit directly or through our example:

(1)     We can grow cassava for consumption and starch for industry and exports. We can grow corn and rice, pineapple and all other types of fruit.  The choices are unlimited.

(2)    We can develop the technique of food preservation processing and storage. We can produce raw materials of various types for local industries and exports.

(3)  We need to pursue the establishment of agro-industries for internal consumption and exports.



The agricultural and agro-industrial policy must involve farmers, the transportation and marketing of their goods and personnel and transportation generally, in and around their communities. 

The farmer has always been in the receiving end of exploitation and has never made any real or substantial gains. It was only a little different during  colonial times because the prosperity of the farmer provided a tax base directly and indirectly to fund for government administration.

Transporters, middle men, market unions, take away over 200% of what should have been due to the farmer and that is why, with increasing costs due to inflation caused particularly by incessant fuel price increases, for instance, shortage of labour in the farms, diseases and lack of capital for inputs and expansion of farms, the farmer has always remained poor and disillusioned.  For instance, a bunch of plantains in a village less than 35 Kilometres from Warri, sells to the end consumer in Warri for N600.00 but it is bought for from N100 to N200.00 from the farmer who spends 12 months tendering the tree which produces only once in 12 months and dies.  If the farmer could receive 2/3 of that price directly and indirectly, his standard of living would immediately appreciate by between 100 and 300%.


Countries in Europe, India and Japan have no oil but they are highly involved in down stream oil industries. They import oil, process them for their use and sale to the rest of the world, while Nigeria's participation in the down stream oil sector is deliberately abysmally small because the oil companies and the Federal Government of Nigeria are not interested in processing crude oil which would create more employment and create more wealth from exports of processed oil related goods for Nigeria, inspite of all the talk about privatization and  deregulation. That is why Nigeria's four Refineries are still dead and buried today.

The Urhobo Nation can and ought to have an aggressive policy in getting involved in the down stream oil sector since about 50% of the oil and gas in Nigeria comes from Urhobo land. The strategy must include attracting Countries like Japan, China and India to partner with the Urhobo people as individuals, groups, companies or associations.  Policy makers for the Urhobo nation should direct this involvement passionately in the interests, not only of the Urhobo people but the preservation and protection of the environment of the people, including that of our neighbours.


Oil exploration in Urhobo land is being carried out without regard to international health and safety standards or observed minimum levels of protection of the environment from chemical pollution, in the air, land, rivers  and water table. Gas flaring has continued unabated because it is cheaper to produce oil in Nigeria with gas flaring than not and because the Federal Government and the oil companies are not yet ready to invest the necessary capital on the technology for the collection processing and exportation of gas which would add tremendously to Nigeria’s wealth.

The Urhobo Nation need to establish, as a matter of urgency, experts to look into the effect of environmental pollution due to oil exploration on the lives of  people, in collaboration with World experts. This should be the most immediate vital concern and urgent action to  be taken on behalf of the Urhobo people, so that the Federal Government and the oil Companies would be made accountable to the people affected by their negligence and to attract international attention to pressurize the Federal Government and the oil companies to comply international standards for the protection of the health and safety of our people and environment.

Another environmental issue which begs for attention immediately is the question of dredging of land to provide access to oil flow stations by oil companies. But the most immediate major concern now is  the proposed dredging of the Niger River from its mouth to Lokoja  to construct an inland port for the North about 1,000 kilometres from the sea.

Most of Delta, Ondo, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa lbom and Cross Rivers States are below sea level and if the River Niger is dredged upland for 1000 kilometres to Lokoja, the released incoming sea waste, would wipe out most, if not all of Delta State and all these other States. People’s homes and sources of income and life would be wiped out.

The Urhobo Nation should support the Ijaws and say NO! to the Federal Government's proposed dredging of the Niger, because it is a real threat to the lives and properties and incomes of the people of the Niger Delta Area. The Urhobo Nation should produce its own impact studies and invite the international arm of the UN and other organizations in the world with similar expertise and concerns about  the environment, to undertake  studies to ensure that the whole world is made aware of the consequences of such a Federal Government proposal to the people of the Niger Delta area and dissuade it from embarking on the project.

5.            SECURITY

In view of the poor security situation in the Nation, no serious development can take place in an atmosphere of unrest, insecurity, armed robbery, piracy and brigandry in the Nation (not exclusively in the Niger Delta region) which the Federal Government is not able or willing to prevent, contain or, find permanent solutions for.

The Urhobo Nation should improve the Police Community Relations System by establishing a body to enlighten the Urhobo people about the importance of personal/property, community and inter-community security, so as to be vigilant in preventing incursions of criminals into their communities and to defend themselves against them, in collaboration with the Nigeria  Police and other Security agencies that are statutorily empowered for  security matters in the Nation.  This education should include the people mobilizing themselves to ensure that (a) Security officers assigned to perform their duties effectively are supported and (b) to report any breaches of the standards of policing to their superior officers and the leaders of their Communities. This should provide adequate checks and balances on security matters at the Community level.  Lives and properties in rural and Urban areas would be protected if security becomes a community affair.  It is only then that we can have peaceful and meaningful development.


My recommendationa are as follows:

1.         A  DEVELOPMENT  PLAN:

In order to stop the continuing poverty of the Urhobo people, the Urhobo Nation needs to produce within a very short time a BLUE PRINT OF ITS POLICY ON DEVELOPMENT.  A DEVELOPMENT PLAN  of its own should be produced so that when it is put in place, and competent persons dedicated to the development of the Urhobo nation are nominated to execute the plan, I am convinced that it will snowball very quickly into a new dawn of excitement, hope and, accomplishments for the Urhobo people. It would be an engine for the creation of employment opportunities, productivity and prosperity, in Urhobo land. It will  bring to an end youth restiveness and the pains of deprivation and oppression being suffered presently by our people.  Our neighbours, and other peoples in similar situations like ourselves in other parts of Nigeria, will follow our example in a mass movement to  emancipate the people  from the existing oppressive Nigeria’s politico-economic system.


I humbly suggest that those who are convinced of the creation of an URHOBO DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY here present, should wait behind today so that the idea can be further discussed and goals enumerated, after which, the body can be expanded and, as soon as possible, to include eminent professionals. Philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, educationists, engineers, economists, accountants, consultants, management experts, etc., can be invited to produce a Development Plan for the different identified projects, including the planning and implementation and the financial proposals for implementing them which would be enumerated and quantified.


A Finance and Development Company would then be incorporated and a body of selected experts could be nominated to run the company which should eventually, in course of time, transform into a Development Bank.

 (1)       The organisation should be a grass-roots one operationally. The Head office should be centrally located in Urhobo land end the branches should be cited in economically viable centers in the eight Urhobo Local Government areas including Urban Warri.

I am fully convinced and wholeheartedly committed to this vision which I believe is not only possible now but imperative and practicable   for the spiritual, political and economic liberation and survival of the Urhobo Nation in the Nigerian milieu.


Long live the Urhobo Nation!

Long live the Executive Governor of Delta State Chief James Onanefe Ibori!!

Long live the Urhobo Historical Society!!!

And may our dear Nation Nigeria recover soon from its many ills and also live long!!!! 


Emmanuel Urhobo

Agbarha-Warri Kingdom
Delta State of Nigeria