All is now set for an agricultural revolution that would set Nigeria’s economy free from over dependence on the oil sector, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, has said while unveiling the new policy initiative of the Federal Government tagged The Green Imperative.
In his press briefing in Abuja early this month, he said the adoption of the policy measure followed the outcome of Nigeria’s decision to enroll in Brazil’s Government-to-Government More Food International Programme (MFIP). The US$1.2 billion bilateral Programme, he explained, would be “implemented over a period of five to10 years with funding from the Development Bank of Brazil (BNDES) and Deutsche Bank; with insurance provided by Brazilian Guarantees and Fund Managements Agency (ABGF) and the Islamic Corporation for Insurance of Export Credit (ICIEC) of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), and coordinated by Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV).”
According to him, the President Buhari “administration is set to revolutionize agriculture in Nigeria through a programme called ‘The Green Imperative, a Nigeria-Brazil Bilateral Agriculture Development Programme.”
He disclosed that the programme would involve, among other things, reactivation of six tractors and implements assembly plants in the six-geopolitical zones of the country, establishment of 142 agro processing service centres for value addition with one centre in each Senatorial District, establishment of 632 mechanization service centres to support primary production in the 774 Local Government Areas and the Federal Capital Territory as well as creation of about five million jobs through injection of over US$10 billion into the economy within 10 years.
Contrary to this rhetoric, some critical stakeholders who spoke with Sunday Sun were, however, quick to predict an imminent failure of the programme.
Yoruba leader, Prof Banji Akintoye, reacting to the development in a telephone interview, said that the Federal Government had no business dissipating its energies on uniform agriculture policy for Nigeria, declaring that it would lead to chaos and corruption.
He said in a cynical tune: “Brazil is the way to go now? It is no longer with China? They are talking chaos and corruption. The Federal Government cannot develop agriculture for Nigeria. It is not possible. There is diversity in geography, which makes central control of agriculture unrealizable.
“The other thing is that the real people who are going to carry out agricultural revolution are the people of the states and the local governments. The Federal Government has no business to mobilize those people. As long as Federal Government insists on holding on to money, what happened before will happen again. Have you forgotten that we once had Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) and Green Revolution? Where are we after all that? After spending trillions of naira, where are we?
“The Federal Government cannot change the economy of Nigeria, especially at the level of agriculture, at the level of lower education, at the level of local trade.”
Akintoye, therefore, renewed the call for a restructuring of the country to empower the states to take full charge of the Agricultural sector for the realization of the ultimate diversification of the economy.
His words: “The Federal Government is obsessed with controlling the states and that is why the constitution of Nigeria has gradually been turned to a unitary system. And that is why people are saying we should restructure so that governments can do what they ought to be doing for their people.
“If agriculture is to take off in Nigeria, the state government must participate in allocation of particular kind of crops, and be ready to pay compensation to those whose lands were taken over for agricultural revolution. In Yorubaland in particular, where land belongs to the ancient lineage, the state government must be ready to pay compensation to the people whose lands were taken over for the new revolution in agriculture. It is only the state government that can decide on the basis of knowledge of the geography of the area and the quality of the land the type of crops to produce. The states must decide the crops that are the best for their lands.
“In Yoruba land, statutorily, government is the owner of the land, but in reality, the land belongs to the ancient lineages that own the lands. So, the state government must be ready to pay compensation for any existing crops that have to be destroyed from the land. Only the state government can handle such things. The Federal Government cannot sit in Abuja and handle that all over Nigeria.
“If we want agriculture to develop in this land, we must put it in the hands of state and local governments not in the hand of Federal Government because the federal bureaucracy will consume all the monies and we will see the lacuna there. We have seen it happen before. I was a Senator during the Green Revolution initiated by the late President Shehu Shagari. I saw people who were given contract to go and plant plantain suckers in a farm. They bought some plantain suckers, dumped them at the site and nobody ever went there again to see what was happening.
“When Buhari/Idiagbon came to power in December 1983, they ordered the arrest of some of the people who were given such contracts and locked them up for months. What happened to them in the end? They were released, but then the money had already been wasted.
“The obvious answer to agricultural development is that agriculture is a local phenomenon. The land is out there, the farmers are out there. If we are going to build an additional number of farmers we can call the modern generation farmers, the facility for building it is in the hands of the states not the Federal Government. The Federal Government is not in the position to know the difference between agriculture in Sokoto State and agriculture in Akwa Ibom State or Ondo State.
“There must be a national programme for agric revolution which must involve the inputs of state and the local governments. The implementation must also rest with the state and local governments not the Federal Government.”
Similarly, the Second Republic governor of old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, out rightly declared that the plan would fail.
“The plan will not succeed unless the Federal Government decides to reconstruct the economy on the basis of socialism. It is only socialist reconstruction of Nigeria’s economy that can take care of agriculture properly,” he posited.
He, however, disagreed with Akintoye on whose responsibility it is to formulate policy for the country, insisting that only the centre has the powers to evolve agric policy that could guarantee uniform land ownership.
“To make sure the North and South go together, there must be one single land policy under which variation of practices that provide for a certain level of private ownership that doesn’t undermine the national interest can be allowed. There must be a uniform national system under which there is provision for different historical realities in different localities.
“There must be variation according to the nature of particular nationality. For instance, in the North here, land has always been a public property. But in certain parts of Southern Nigeria, to a large extent, land is a private property. The state will play a role according to what the centre has decided because the state is a unit of the nation not a nation itself. Where there is conflict between the federal and state law, the federal law takes precedence,” he said.
Also, Chief Chekwas Okorie, indifference to the cynical disposition of the two elder statesmen, expressed strong optimism that the initiative would lead the country out of the woods.
He enthused: “Government is very serious about diversification of this economy. My perspective on it derives mostly from the confidence I have in the present administration for some of its policy initiatives. There is no initiative of this government that has been abandoned after public announcement. The President has realised that it is quite dangerous to rely on a mono-economy, especially oil. I think agriculture has high potentials in terms of food security and export earnings. So, I have no doubt in my mind that if the new initiative is implemented as proposed, it will give tremendous boost to the agric sector.”
While attributing the failure of past programme to insincerity of the previous administration, he assured that the Buhari administration would nurture The Green Imperative to full success.
“It will not go the way of Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) or Green Revolution of the past. Those ones were disrupted by the change of governments. But the method President Muhammadu Buhari has used since he came into office is to continue with laudable programmes of the previous administrations. And with that mindset, I see this one enduring beyond the tenure of this government. So, I can see it succeeding. The problem we had in the past was sincerity of purpose,” he added.
Okorie further explained that the new policy initiative was not without due consideration to the issues of diversity of geography and land ownership.
He argued: “I think government is already aware of issues of diversity of geography and land ownership. Due to soil diversity, certain crops do better in some areas than others. It is not such a uniform initiative as to compel every part of the country to go in one direction. What government is doing is to provide enabling environment. It has not excluded the states; after all, land belongs to the states.
“Until there is restructuring of government in which states can very well explore their comparative advantages, the Federal Government has the responsibility to evolve suitable agric policy. What the government is doing now is to provide enabling environment for those who are investing in agric sector not only to access loan facilities, but also invest in crops that will do better.”
On the measures to curb corruption, he opined that combined effects of whistle blowing and social media awareness would expose the antics of any corrupt individual.
“Nigerians are more conscious now about the way funds are used. Government can now deploy technology for generation of funds and disbursement. So, it will no longer be a secret thing. People can go to a particular site to know how much has been disbursed and for what purpose. And with the level of public awareness, it is very easy to capture areas that have been cleared for agriculture where nothing is happening and share it. What’s even more is this policy of whistle blowing which is generating income for the whistle blowers. Everybody is at alert. It can no longer be business as usual,” he declared.