By Remi Adebayo.
Amidst growing discomfort over Nigeria’s overdependance on oil, it became imminent that the country collapsed into mediocrity and its development arrested due to inability to develop the non-oil sectors, chiefly agriculture and solid minerals. Year in and out, the country flowered on oil, producing briefcase billionaires but unable to feed itself, yet unemployment keeps climbing while the population keeps growing.
Even without consulting any data, number of youths thrown into crime, prostitution, political thuggery and all sorts of vices attest to the fact that all has not been well with a free-meal economy operated in this clime.
Pray! How do we justify the paucity of basic needs, not least the required nutrients for infants and children when we have these vast land across the country, complimented by growing number of unemployed youth population?
The last two years have been very tough because borders were shut against importation of rice and other sundry food items that we all relied upon at the greatest risk of huge capital flights into growing the economy of other nations.
Import bill for food in Nigeria used to be annoyingly high at an unsustainable rate of 11 percent annually. Ironically, Nigeria was importing products it had capacity to produce in abundance thereby weakening local farmers and displacing production amidst growing unemployment in the agricultural sector.
For instance, between 2007 and 2010 whooping N98 trillion ($628 billion) Nigeria was spent importing basic staple foods like rice, fish, sugar and wheat, that accounts for about N24 trillion yearly. In 2010 alone, N632 billion was spent on wheat; N356 billion on rice; N217 billion on sugar and N97 billion on fish.
Estimated annual fish demand for Nigeria is about 2.66 metric tons but the 2009 annual domestic production was about 0.78 metric tons with a supply deficit of about 1.88 metric tons.
Properly put, Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, summarised the Nigeria’s agricultural sector to be faced with challenges of outdated land tenure system, a very low level of irrigation development, limited adoption of research findings and technologies, high cost of farm inputs and poor access to credit.
Others include inefficient fertilizer procurement and distribution, inadequate storage facilities and poor access to markets with high postharvest losses and waste.
Confronted with these realities, the Buhari Administration which inherited a global low earnings from oil resolved to face the realities and diversify the economy leveraging on the nation’s potentials in agriculture and solid minerals; the two key areas the north cannot pretend to be unconcerned.
Although the initiative is already gaining momentum, considering the growing interest in the agriculture sector for instance, the number of rice millers and producers, backed with the Federal Government’s Anchor Borrowers Programme which farmers have been harnessing to storm out of poverty and the nation out of food insecurity.
In line with this need to key into the window and engendering ways of developing better agricultural programmes, a summit was convened by Media Trust Ltd in Lafia the Nasarawa State capital recently. The summit intended to bring major stakeholders in the north central together for improved practices to guarantee food security and increased income.
However, aside the Nasarawa State governor, Alhaji Umaru Tanko Al-Makura as the host who was present at the event, no other governor in the geopolitical zone came or was represented.
Due to this, a frustrated Senator Abdullahi Adamu, himself a former governor of Nasarawa state bemoaned the dreary commitment of political leaders in the north central to the economic diversification policy in the zone.
“I am saddened to say that apart from the host governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura who has encouraged Daily Trust, a private organisation that targets to get peasant farmers improve their productivity, the absence of governors from Benue, Plateau, Kogi, Kwara and Niger states who were not only absent but did not sent their representatives speaks volumes of our lack of readiness as a government to improve agriculture for sufficient food security,” Adamu fumed.
But that was not the first, the Lafia summit was just coming back-to-back with similar initiative in the solid mineral sector barely a week earlier, in Kaduna.
The Kaduna Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture in collaboration with Proedge Ltd, another private company had organised the First Northern Nigeria Solid Minerals Fair and Workshop targeting all the states in the region and the Federal Capital Territory for a Three-Day summit with the theme: Building a Solid Ground for a Resilient Economy.
The gathering brought stakeholders from government, its agencies, the academic, mining companies and private individuals on the table to suggest modalities for developing the sector for economic inclusion and job creation.
In the same pattern, participants came from Kaduna, Sokoto, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Jigawa and Gombe states in official capacities while corporate organisations including the Bank of Industry, Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Raw Materials Research and Development Council, Julius Berger Plc, small scale miners and students from students the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Kaduna State Polytechnic.
Low turnout of state governments did not escape the lens of the Sokoto State Commissioner for Solid Minerals and Natural Resources, Hon. Bello Muhammad who berated businessmen and political leaders in the north as unprepared to buy into the Buhari Government’s economic diversification policy.
“The North is not yet ready to support President Buhari’s government’s call for economic diversification. It is evident by not registering presence overwhelmingly in this hall,” he said.
How well these states interact with stakeholders to brainstorm for the sake of promoting the non-oil economic alternatives will be a great deal to fast track development.
It remains unthinkable that the northern region with these potentials would jettison these initiatives and fora meant to help it improve its earnings, get the youth to work and break the jinx of reliance on petrol dollars.
Absence of these governors and their government at these gatherings signpost paying lip service and outright lack of commitment to the development of these key sectors and clearly show that aside oil, the north may still be comfortable with the hands-in-pocket monthly queues to collect from the federation account without clues and preparedness to shore up their Internally Generated Resources. To prove this wrong, only them can do it.