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Curse of oil: Time to return to agriculture

By Zayyan Gwandu, Taremi Zuokumor & Maryam Zakari

THE good old days are certainly gone when groundnut grown in Northern Nigeria was a major contributor to the national economy. The famous groundnut pyramids were the admiration of everyone from far and near; a pride of the nation. Indeed within the West African sub-region, Nigeria dominated in groundnut production, with 41% of the produce coming from the Northern part of the country.

As far back as 1880, there were also cocoa farms in Western Nigeria, including Lagos and Otta. By the 1950s to 1970s, Nigeria was the second highest producer of cocoa in the world. In the South Eastern part of the country, oil palm flourished. Apart from groundnut, cocoa and oil palm, there were other agricultural produces like rubber, cotton, tobacco, to name but a few. All these accounted for  the economy being stable and Nigeria was the better for it.

But in 1956, Nigeria received further blessings in the form of crude oil. Crude oil was discovered in Oloibiri in the present day Bayelsa State. This was to change the course of our beloved country’s history in magnanimous proportion.

Following the discovery of crude oil by Shell D’Arcy Petroleum, pioneer production began in 1958 from the company’s oil field in Oloibiri in the eastern Niger Delta. By the late sixties and early seventies, Nigeria had attained a production level of over two million barrels of crude oil a day. This meant daily remittance of millions of dollars into the foreign reserves. The country began to make strides in oil exports; before long, Nigeria was being recognised amongst the elite and was even touted to become a ‘Super Power’ soon. The Naira commanded respect everywhere in the world.

In the midst of all this economic boom revolving around crude oil, the country managed to shun many of its leading economic drivers and focused mainly on oil. Corruption started brewing in the oil sector, successive governments – especially during the military regime – kept a lot of the proceeds from crude oil sales for themselves. It was easy money; our former ‘farmers’ suddenly became ‘oil block owners’. This unfortunate development, of course, had a negative effect on the country’s agricultural sector. Production was severely affected. In the ’60s and ’70s groundnut production was still significant to our economic development, with production being more than 1.6 million tonnes. But during the early ’80s, the production of groundnut deteriorated to 0.7 million tonnes.

The groundnut pyramids soon became one of the victims from the oil boom that started in the late ’50s. Cocoa production in the South-West was affected also. In the 1950s and 1960s, before crude oil was discovered, cocoa was the dominant foreign exchange commodity that secured the national wealth of the country. According to Pa Olusina Adebiyj: “Cocoa used to be the glory of the West. The nation’s contribution of cocoa production in the global market degenerated when the oil boom set off effortless outflow of capital; that removed the earnings from agricultural export and tax as a considerable derivation of revenue for the nation.”

Now, how does Nigeria intend to make it right? How does Nigeria diversify and explore other viable options to strengthen its economy and make it independent of the global crude oil price which seems to dictate the livelihood and welfare of the average Nigerian citizen? Scholars, politicians,  journalists, commentators, have proposed different measures to revive the once vibrant agricultural sector in the country.

Critics have called for the adoption of fiscal federalism. Fiscal federalism is a kind of approach with the devolution of governmental responsibilities, power, and especially state earnings and local government earnings. It has been argued that each component unit in government will have autonomy over financial resources. The decentralisation of governmental powers, and other functions, will enhance economic development and also revive the agricultural sector that have been abandoned.

Another solution is for the Federal Government itself to put more effort to support diversification. More investments should be made towards agricultural research and development, including science and technology. This area is where Nigeria has been left far behind and it has greatly hampered the country’s production capacity compared to Western countries or even our ‘jollof rice’ rival and neighbour; Ghana.

If adequate investment is made in this area, Nigeria will surely begin to see progress in production. The present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari, has laid different policies for a diversification of the economy away from oil. In July 2016, the President initiated the Presidential Enabling Environment Council, PEBEC, “with the objective of improving the business environment in the country”. The President has displayed outstanding passion for the quest for diversification to non-oil sector.

Some states have done this. For example Kebbi, which has made huge strides with its rice production initiative. The state has partnered with Lagos to produce ‘Lake Rice’. This initiative has created jobs and has encouraged many to even quit their jobs and go back to the farm. At the end of the year, Kebbi State is able to raise about N150 billion as reported by Vanguard in August 2018. According to the state governor, Atiku Bagudu: “A nation that cannot feed its people will suffer a lot of international market vagaries.” According to him, the state has also entered into partnership arrangement with an indigenous company for an ultra-modern world-class sugar processing plant with a total cost of about $330million when completed.

The project is sited in Augie Local Government Area, a border town between Kebbi State and Sokoto State. All these agricultural transformation drive of this administration has encouraged farmers to not only be active and productive but has to a large extent reduced youth idleness as the state is adjudged as the most peaceful state in the Northern geo-political zone. This is a very good example of when agriculture pays. If other states would invest into agriculture, maybe Nigeria’s good old days have a chance of repeating themselves. Maybe younger Nigerians would get to witness a diverse and vibrant economy that is not decided by a simple fluctuation of the price of one commodity.

  • Gwandu, Zuokumor and Zakari wrote from Federal Ministry of Information, Radio House, Abuja.

 


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.