By Victor Anya
It is rather unthinkable that in spite of the overhyped talks by President Muhammadu Buhari to diversify the economy into solid minerals and agriculture, no farms can be traced to the local, state and federal governments! All Buhari is telling Nigerians is the diversification of the economy without plans on ground as to how Nigerians would access land, fertilizers, seedlings, tractors, pesticides, herbicides, plowers, slashers, farm settlements, funds etc. Methinks the federal government should lead by example by being in the forefront in cultivating its own farms so that both the local and state governments would emulate it, but this is not so. From a closer observation, it appears there is insincerity on the part of the federal government with regard to the diversification policy.
This is so because about $10 billion has been spent on prospecting for crude oil in the north without success yet Mr. Buhari has continually urged the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to continue with the search for crude oil which has just been extended from the Lake Chad Basin to Sokoto State! While President Buhari has continually ordered the NNPC to prospect for crude oil in the north, such push has not been mounted on the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to revamp the agriculture sector!
In October 2016, Buhari unveiled what he called Petroleum Industry Roadmap which Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of State for Petroleum, renamed “Seven Big Wins.” The seven big wins are targeted at security, policy and regulations, business environment and investment drive, transparency and efficiency, stakeholder management and international coordination, gas revolution and refinery and local production capacity. One can’t see the same attention given to the agriculture sector and this is the irony of Buhari’s diversification policy! It is a herculean task to fathom why the APC-led federal government is so interested in oil, the same product every Nigerian knows as the bane of development in the country. So, why is this current government concentrating and exerting all its energy in the oil sector? Is APC government really sincere and committed to its diversification policy? If the answers to these queries are in the affirmative ,why is the APC government still giving the oil sector so much time, attention and funds to prospect for oil in the North-East?
President Buhari and the APC-led federal government can’t feign or be oblivious that Britain has vowed to ban the sale of all diesel and petrol cars and vans within her territory from the year 2040. That is just 13 years from this year! Retrospectively, in 2011 Obama said, “We will end our dependence on foreign oil.” At the time Obama made that statement, Nigeria was the fifth largest exporter of oil to the United States. Just three years after Obama vowed to stop the importation of crude oil into God’s own country, America stopped the importation of crude oil from Nigeria because she had discovered shale oil.
Thus, since its discovery of shale oil, it has replaced crude oil, so America no longer needs the crude oil from Nigeria! In addition to those two pieces of gloomy news, Tesla has just invented a model 3 car that runs 215 miles on fully charged battery! The model 3 car does not use plugs, valves or combustion engine for it to function. For this simple reason, it does not also need petrol or diesel for it to function; the two major products from crude oil! Again, Volvo has also alerted the world to its intention to phase out production of cars powered by diesel and petrol by 2019; a period of two years from 2017!
It is nonetheless bewildering that in spite of this depressing and overcast information about the possible decrease in the use of crude oil in the very near future, a product which is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, Buhari and his leadership team are carrying on as if nothing untoward is in the offing. This is, indeed, worrisome. Nigeria as a mono-product economy should have accorded these warnings from Britain and France the seriousness they deserved, but from all indications, the government under the leadership of Buhari is not giving these warnings serious thought. It is expected that a serious government would have learnt a teachable lesson from the alert given above by Britain and France but this is not the case because Nigerian, nay African governments, are not known to be pro-active.
Owing to overdependence and the inordinate craving for oil money, 18 soldiers, 15 civilian Joint Task Force, 30 NNPC workers and five university workers were sent to their early graves early this year! Undeniably, the untimely death of these compatriots is a huge and irreparable loss to this country. Occurring at a time when the entire world is gradually walking away from the use of two major petroleum products: diesel and petrol, one is in deep rumination trying to ascertain whether the leadership of this country has foresight and direction.
It is necessary to state that if a quarter of the measure of seriousness and attention being accorded the search for crude oil in the north by this administration is extended to agriculture and solid minerals, unarguably by now, there would have been many farms across the country and perhaps the country would have also witnessed super bumper harvests of rice, cocoa, groundnuts, palm nuts, cassava, tomatoes, beans, yam, wheat and other agricultural produce on which the country expends much of its foreign exchange! On the other hand and by extension, there would have been an upsurge of mining companies that would mine the numerous solid minerals that are spread across the country.
This would have caused an avalanche of industries that would create great job opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths. The resultant positive effects would have been heartwarming as this would have in turn diminished the crime rate that has already ascended to a crescendo across the entire country.
Early last year, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, said Nigeria spends $20 billion annually on the importation of food. In March last year, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, said Nigeria spent N972.59 billion on importation of staples alone in 2015! According to Emefiele, wheat, sugar, milk and fish cost whopping sums of $966.13 million, $337.89 million, $582.70 million, $590.27 million respectively in 2015 while $2.41 billion was expended on rice importation between January 2012 and May 2015!
Considering the foreign exchange being expended on the importation of food annually, one would have expected government at all levels to have expedited action in cultivating farms across the country but this is not so. What are the measures put in place for Nigerians to access land, fertilizers, seedlings, tractors, pesticides, herbicides, farm bikes, irrigation, plowers, slashers, farm settlements, funds etc? These are the necessary tools needed for farming. It is not enough to make pronouncements about the diversification of the economy, such pronouncements should be backed with actions to translate them into reality. Anything short of this will amount to a waste of time and energy.
Thus, there is need for all levels of government to introduce agricultural programmes such as Operation Feed the Nation (OPN 1976) and The Green Revolution (GR 1981), Federal Buffer Stock Programme (1981) and Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI 1987) of yore in order to reawaken the consciousness of farming in Nigerians. The above mentioned farm programmes were relatively successful hence there was food security in the country in those times.
The federal government should work in conjunction with the state and local governments to provide land, fertilizers, seedlings, tractors, pesticides, herbicides, farm bikes, irrigation, plowers, slashers, farm settlements and funds for farmers. Security measures should also be put in place to checkmate and contain the frequent herdsmen and farmers clashes across the country.
Anya, a public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos.
Beyond farming and harvesting, there is also an urgent need for government to build silos and preservation centres to preserve the huge harvests that would come thereafter. Just as it is in the agriculture sector so it is in the solid mineral sector. No serious attention has been accorded this sector, hence much has not been said or done on it.
Indeed, there is nothing on ground to show that the Buhari-led federal government is serious about the diversification of the economy into the agriculture and solid minerals sectors. The interest of the Buhari-led government is still in the oil sector and this will not be in the best interest of the country. There is urgent need for a paradigm shift from the oil sector to agriculture and solid minerals.
Victor Anya, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Ikeja. Tel: 08039181737