Is Nigeria ready for Big League with its refinery?

Saturday May 27 2023
dangote oil company

A general view of the newly-launched Dangote Petroleum Refinery in Lagos, Nigeria on May 22, 2023. PHOTO | PIUS UTOMI EKPEI | AFP


Nigeria has opened one of the largest oil refineries in the world. The country will now produce refined oil products for both local and international consumption.

Despite being Africa’s largest oil producer, Nigeria imports refined oil products, and often experiences petrol shortages. This new refinery will not only be a game-changer in the oil and gas sector, but should also put the country’s economy on a trajectory of rapid growth.

Energy costs will come down, spurring foreign and domestic investment. Sale of refined oil products will generate billions of dollars, while savings from import substitution can go into building the infrastructure needed to support a fast-growth economy.

If this new windfall is managed well, in addition to diversification into industrialisation, information, communication and technology services and agriculture, Nigeria can double its $400 billion GDP in 10 to 15 years, thereby moving — like China did in the 1990s — millions of poverty-stricken Nigerians into the middle class.

Read: NGUGI: Commonwealth is no longer an entity for colonies, so don’t disband it

The operative word in that hopeful sentence is “if”. Will the Nigerian leadership see this windfall as an opportunity to rescue their country from the indignities of poverty and underdevelopment or will they see it as a way to increase their personal millions? Will they see it as a way of ending the shame of their citizens drowning in the Mediterranean Sea trying to flee to Europe or will they see it as opportunity to enrich family and cronies? Will they restore Africa’s waning belief in itself or will it be business of stealing as usual?


Nigeria has no excuse to remain an underdeveloped country with a large impoverished section of the population. In 1956, it discovered oil, yet that discovery did not do for Nigeria what it did for Saudi Arabia, when the desert Kingdom discovered oil in the 1930s. In a few decades, Saudi Arabia transformed from a desert wasteland with poor nomadic people into one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Nigeria has well-educated and enterprising people, yet this advantage has not benefitted the country. Many educated Nigerians have left the country and are now key innovators in ICT, finance and engineering in foreign countries. Nigeria has agricultural and fishing potential, but both sectors have remained underdeveloped because those in charge are otherwise engaged in stuffing their pockets with dollars.

Read: NGUGI: A grain of wheat will stop Africa’s begging missions

How is it possible that Switzerland, a country of few natural resources and a population of eight million, has a GDP double that of Nigeria, a country of 200 million people endowed with fabulous natural resources?

For a long time, African countries have given this or that excuse for their underdevelopment. But we have always had — some countries more than others — what it takes for an economic take-off. Our Achilles heel is thievery and mismanagement.
If we don’t cure these vices, no matter what windfalls come our way, we will remain the “sick man of the world.”

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.