By Dele Sobowale
“FG to inject $10bn into economy, create 5m jobs through agric revolution programme” – Vanguard, June 5, 2020, p 8.
Two Ministers represented the Federal Government at the media briefing where this copy-cat programme was announced – indicating that all the noise about “CHANGE” was a swindle. A political party introducing a “revolutionary” programme in its fifth year in office has confirmed that it had no programme before and after the 2015 election for transforming our agricultural sector. They now expect Nigerians to believe they can leave a legacy in three years after failing to make any progress in the previous five. Incredible!!
Buhari, obviously, like me, cannot learn new lessons. One of the enduring verdicts of history continues to escape our President — the messenger is as important as the message. Any message is more readily accepted if delivered by a credible messenger. Send someone whose reputation is already impaired to deliver your message and you can bet that a good part of it will neither be believed nor acted upon by recipients.
Dr Sabo Nanono entered my radar when shortly after being appointed Minister of Agriculture made the ridiculous statement that nobody is hungry in Nigeria. I am prepared to take Nanono to at least twenty places in his own state where he will count thousands personally within one hour. Since then, he had announced plans to start farms in ALL the Local Governments of Nigeria. I am waiting to see where in Lagos Island, Lagos Mainland, Victoria Island/Lekki, Ikeja, Enugu, Kaduna Metropolis, Awka, Uyo, Jos etc he will establish those farms.
Did they present a truly revolutionary programme? That wouldn’t have redeemed the image of the FG. The answer is NO!
According to Nanono, “the present administration would ensure the success of the Green Imperative which would be private sector driven and devoid of any form of political interference,” To start with, anybody who claims that a $10bn programme mostly funded by government will be devoid of any form of political interference must also believe that Nigerians are fools or he is a fool himself. With government as guarantor of the loans, FG will be actively involved.
Lai Mohammed had earlier tried as usual to paint a picture of what Green Imperative is all about. According to him, “The stage is now set for an agricultural revolution that will strengthen food security, create massive jobs, transfer technology, revive or re-invigorate many assembly plants, strengthen the economy, save scarce resources, mechanize farming and lead to the emergence of value-added agriculture, among other benefits.”
This sounds good to an audience of very young media people who have very little idea of Nigerian history with respect to agriculture. They also lack any reference points against which to compare what they have heard. Anyone, like me, old enough to have been a living witness to Obasanjo’s “OPERATION FEED THE NATION; Shagari’s GREEN REVOLUTION and Babangida’s DIRECTORATE OF FOOD, ROADS and RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE, DFRRI, would have laughed in the Ministers’ faces.
Chapter three of IBRAHIM B BABANGIDA 1985-1992: LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM will prove to any objective reader that what Buhari and his ministers present as a revolutionary programme is nothing more than “the same old stew, warmed up and served in new plates,” (Apologies to Babangida). Obasanjo’s efforts in 1977-9 led to the proliferation of poultry farms, Shagari’s dam projects opened up Kano, Kaduna and Sokoto States and IBB’s tenure witnessed the rapid expansion of grain production. I was one of the initiators of the Goronyo dam in Sokoto and the Fadama agricultural scheme which made year-round cropping and harvesting possible – on account of investment in a rice project in Sokoto.
Unless government has others in mind, the assembly plants in Nigeria during the OBJ/SHAGARI/BUHARI/IBB era were the following: PEUGEOT (Kaduna), VOLKSWAGEN (Lagos), ANAMCO (Enugu), LEYLAND (Ibadan), STEYR (Bauchi) AND NTM (Kano). To the best of my knowledge, PAN, VOLKS and ANAMCO still assembles cars. That leaves only the three at Ibadan, Bauchi and Kano to be revived – because they have been idle for so long. Even with all the money in the world available now, it will require more than two years to get them going. By that time, the Buhari administration should be packing its bags to go. The next government will be saddled with the idea.
“Wise scepticism is the first attribute of a good critic.” — James Russell Lowell, 1819-1891, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS.
The Ministers pointed out that $10bn will be invested over ten years to ensure the delivery of the benefits outlined – including creation of five million jobs. Given the benefit of Nigerian history from May 29, 2015 till now, when Buhari promised to create 10 million jobs and lift 5 million out of poverty, it is totally strange that anyone in this government actually expects Nigerians to believe them – especially when most of the promise delivery will depend on Buhari’s successor(s). For people above 60, who are aware of the multitude of abandoned projects, one can only wonder if they actually expect another government to spend seven years completing a project not even half-completed by the time Buhari departs from office. It will be the first time it will happen.
More to the point, anybody still alive and who was directly involved in the establishment of mechanised farms in 1985-87 when breweries were compelled by the Buhari junta to establish them as a condition for obtaining foreign exchange allocations, will confirm one thing. Mechanised farming and large employment of labour are mutually exclusive. Nigerian Breweries, GUINNESS and North Brewery Limited, Kano, were the first in the private sector to take up Buhari’s challenge. I was redeployed to NORBRU FARMS situated off Kilometre 5, Keffi-Abuja, Nasarawa State road. GUINNESS had its farm on the Mokwa-Bida road in Niger State. Each farm covered at least 10,000 hectares. But, none planned to employ more than 2,000 workers. Mechanised farms are never labour-intensive. None of those farms survived more than three years after Buhari.
Obviously, the Buhari administration is planning to repeat the same mistake made in 1985 in 2020 under the GREEN IMPERATIVE which is neither original nor well conceptualised. Most of the $10bn loan will be wasted as usual.