how to run a government

By Dele Sobowale

“We have met with the CBN. We submitted detailed complaints about our experience with the programme [ABP]. It is a failure and many farmers across the state [Ogun] share my opinion” – Biodun Ogunjimi, Ogun State Secretary of the Farmers Council Association of Nigeria, FCAN.

The only alarmingconclusion anyone can reach after reading an investigative report on Ogun State farmers participating in the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, ABP, is that Nigerians must brace up for food scarcity and mass starvation on an unprecedented scale in history. The failed expectations from the introduction of ABP were already felt before the massive floods now ravaging several states.

The apparent failure of ABP nationwide was already underway before the floods. That catastrophe has only finished the demolition jobs which programme inadequacies, poor implementation and the ubiquitous corruption have done on ABP – one of the programmes which the Buhari government introduced; with financial support from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.

Many Nigerians would remember Buhari, flanked by Ministers, the Governor of the CBN and other state actors, standing in front of pyramids of paddy rice in Abuja, in order to assure Nigerians that we are close to self-sufficiency in rice production. The first pathetic thing about that show was the fact that the paddy rice on display, even if produced locally, could not have fed Nigerians for a day.

Secondly, the rice on display was probably not grown in Nigeria. No reasonable rice farmer or miller will store paddy rice in the open field for three days without inviting all the rodents from half a kilometer around to “come and eat”. So, the “rice pyramid” was probably a scam; and it serves as the starting point for today’s observations regarding the consequences of the ABP collapse.

THE ABP MANDATE

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

In the beginning, Nigerians were told that the mandate of the ABP, launched in 2015, was “to create a link between anchor companies involved in the processing of crops and smallholder farmers (SHFs) of the key agricultural commodities. The programme thrust of the ABP is the provision of farm inputs in kind and cash (for farm labour) to boost the production of Rice, Maize, Wheat, Cotton, Roots, Cassava, Potatoes, Yam, Ginger, Sugarcane, Oil palm, Cocoa, Rubber, Soybean, Sesame seeds, Cowpea, Tomato, Fish, Poultry and Ruminants; and stabilize inputs supply to agro-processors, to address the country’s negative balance of payments.

At harvest, the SHF supplies his/her produce to the agro-processor (Anchor); who pays the cash equivalent to the farmers account.”

On paper, nothing could be better. In practice, the programme was repeating all the mistakes of previous programmes, honestly conceived by government officials and consultants, without previous farm level experience. It was disaster waiting to happen for reasons which should have been anticipated as well as those that were just unfortunate. A wise and successful farmer told us the truth over 200 years ago.

WHY ABP IS FAILING

“Farming is easy if it has to be done with a pencil [or pen and computer] sitting in an office.”

Let us start by exonerating the ABP of factors that have caused its failure; but, which are completely beyond its control. Given President Buhari’s previous reputation as a tough leader, nobody in 2015 would have expected that he would have allowed bandits, herdsmen and kidnappers to operate for one year. But here we are, with only seven months to go in his eight years in office; and those hoodlums have driven an estimated 4 million people, mostly farmers, from their ancestral home.

Even given all the inputs in the world, a man without a farm will produce nothing. Nigeria’s herdsmen are in a class of their own among arsonists. They invade farms with impunity and destroy crops, rape women and murder men. Thus, the same Federal Government, which launched ABP, has unleashed terrorists who make food production impossible. FG builds with one hand and destroys with the other our food supply. Bandits now order farmers still on the farm to deliver food to them, pay protection money to be allowed to farm. Obviously, nobody can expect success with all the atrocities going on.

Climate change and floods were also not put into consideration. Right now, a substantial percentage of the harvest for this year and early next year is under water in several states. Massive food importation is inevitable next year; otherwise widespread starvation will occur. The floods have also increased the chances of ABP loan defaults – despite the boast by the CBN to recover all the loans. Just as you can’t squeeze water out of stone, you can’t collect debt from a farmer in an Internally Displaced Persons Camp who is begging for food to survive. A lot of the money is lost for good.

That said; it is now indisputable that the programme as conceived was defective in many fundamental ways. The attempt to promote 20 different agricultural products at the same time betrays a fundamental lack of priority. There is no food sufficient nation on earth which grows or produces everything.

They invariably target at most five crops, produce more of those than they need for domestic consumption; export the rest and use the export revenue to import what is not produced locally. I challenge the reader to Google Food Production by countries in the world and find out which are the world’s top three exporters. You will be amazed that no country is listed 20 times; and for a good reason. 

God in his infinite wisdom has given no country comparative advantage in everything. So, nations, from time immemorial, have been forced to trade. A Jack of all trades has always been a master of none of them. That is a fact of economics which should guide our choices at all times. Incidentally, Nigeria is only among top three in okro as food item; yet it is not on our list of 20.

Nigeria caught the attention of the world when, under Obasanjo, we focused on cassava and yams. Chief Audu Ogbeh, perhaps because he is aware of the untapped potentials of Benue and Taraba States, was pushing for yam exports. But, just because of one disaster, we ran away from it. The truth is, we are wasting our efforts on at least eight of those items on the list. Wheat and cotton are examples of self-deceit.

The notion that Nigeria must grow cotton to have a textile industry flies in the face of facts available worldwide. There are countries with textile industry which don’t grow cotton; and there are nations which grow cotton without mills. The bulk of the loan on cotton went to one beneficiary and about 80 per cent to one state. Today, we have nothing to show for the loans provided; and, it is unlikely the money will be repaid in full.

“Every great enterprise starts off with enthusiasm for an exalted aim; and ends up bogged down in petty politics…” – Charles Peguy, 1873-1914.

Buhari’s government conceived of the idea. The Central Bank was persuaded to fund it; despite the fact that it was a major departure from the bank’s own mandate. It was risky; now, it is becoming embarrassing. The states got involved. Inputs were to be provided by contractors who invariably were selected by politicians.

Farmers now complain that they were short-changed by contractors and cannot pay back. According to a CBN official, “We lent N1trillion for the ABP of which we have got N400 billion back.” He vows to collect the balance. He must be living in his own paradise; not Nigeria. He never heard of “national cake”.

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