Afe for Vanguard

March 13, 2024

Hunger and violence, by Afe Babalola

Afe Babalola

I HAVE said at different fora and in many of my lectures in the past that an hungry man can become an angry and an angry man can be violent, while a violent man can do anything.

This brings me to some unpalatable developments in the country where people reportedly looted government silos in search of food items, while some others way-laid food-laden trucks in different parts of the country. Some others even go to the ridiculous extent of stealing pots of food from their owners. 

This trend worries me and I think it should worry any right thinking Nigerian. It worries me because I remember what Lord Macauley in his address to the British Parliament on February 2, 1835 said: 

“I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient educational system, her culture, for if the African thinks that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”. 

But then, it must be appreciated that this problem is not that of government alone. As a matter of fact, the present government cannot be blamed for problems that have taken root long before this present government came into power on May 29, 2023.

The major problem this country has today is the abandonment of agriculture by successive governments since independence.

When Macauley wrote his opinion in 1835, the enclave known as Nigeria today was largely underdeveloped. The question that comes to mind is that, 64 years after independence, can Nigeria be said to have developed or be developing?

This article will attempt to proffer solution to our malaise.

This first thing government should pay immediate and urgent attention to is agriculture. Governments keep saying everybody should go back to the farm, but how many Nigerians have listened to them over the years.

Every developed country puts priority on agriculture and they are doing that by encouraging farmers by giving subsidy to them to protect their products and by ensuring that everybody, and not the ordinary people alone, are engaged in agriculture.

Afterall, farming has been in existence from the beginning of time as exemplified in Genesis 2:8 where God planted the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve to tend.

The British appreciated the importance of farming very early in life. That was why they ran in droves to the US where the land was fertile to plant tobacco which they were exporting in large quantity. 

However, Britain started taxing tobacco exports which led to war between Britain and the 13 states of the United States. It was that war that led to the independence of the United States of America from Britain.

It can be said therefore that it was agriculture that led to the Independence of the United States of America after which US ceased to be a Colony of Britain and other former British colonies. 

Ever since, US has been putting priority on agriculture so much so that food has never been a rare commodity in the US. That is the same position in Australia and South Africa. 

And now to Nigeria. Soon after independence, Nigeria’s Regional Governments appreciated the importance of agriculture. That was why the respected Chief Obafemi Awolowo took the lead by setting up Agricultural Settlements in the Western Region and encouraged the teaching of Agriculture in Primary and Secondary Schools. 

In addition, the Government of Western Region provided seedlings and encouraged large plantation of cocoa, palm oil and palm kernel so much so that Western Region was the largest producer of cocoa, palm oil, palm kernel and timber in the world.

While all these were going on in the West, the North was flaunting its Groundnut Pyramids while the Mid-West was flaunting its Rubber and Oil Palm Plantation. It is a notorious fact that Malaysia came to Nigeria to pick oil palm seedling, but today, we are now importing palm oil from Malaysia. What a shame, indeed.

But what has happened to our achievements in the First Republic which is often referred to as the “Golden era of Nigeria’s politics”? They have been washed away by politics. Politics has taken over. The mindset of the average Nigerian is that if you want to make money, then go into politics. 

This is prevalent to the extent that every student in school would tell you that as soon as he/she graduates, he/she would go into politics to make money. Unfortunately, you cannot blame anybody for wanting to be rich. Afterall, the richest Nigerians are politicians.

This can be vividly illustrated with the case of a Chemistry Graduate who made a First Class in Chemistry during my stint as Pro Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Lagos. 

Impressed by his performance, I offered him a scholarship to pursue his Master’s Degree in Chemistry. Later, the young man came to me to thank me for encouraging him to run his Master’s Degree.

I was about prodding him to register for his Ph.D, but the young man told me, point blank, that he was not interested in running a Ph.D programme. That he was prepared to leave academics to go into politics in order to make money. What was his reason? He told me that a classmate of his who was not as bright as he was when they were in the secondary school had become very rich with many houses after veering into politics and had become the chairman of their local government. 

Way out of the malady:

* The curricula of our educational institutions from primary school to tertiary levels should be amended to ensure that Agriculture must be taught at all levels of our educational system. When we were in primary school in those days, every Wednesday was devoted to practical Agriculture. That system should be re-invented such that part of a day in the week should be set aside for practical agriculture to work on the farm.

* Like we do in our university, each school should grow food as practical example. Here in ABUAD, whatever might be your course of study, you are made to participate in Agriculture. As part of our resolve to encourage the youth to return to the farm, the university has reduced the school fees of students studying Agriculture by 50%.  In addition, we give a seed money of N250,000 to every graduate in Agriculture from Afe Babalola University.

* Universities of Agriculture or those teaching Agriculture should reduce the school fees by 50% as in ABUAD.

* The Federal Government should encourage farming and include successful practising farmers among National Honorees. Unfortunately, award of National Awards are limited mostly to politicians.

* Monthly allocations to state governments should include special allocation to local hovernment for farmers.

* Local governments should purchase agricultural implements such such as ploughs, harrows, harvesters and ridgers which farmers can hire.

* Local governments should form cooperative societies for farmers to enable farmers to take soft loans at low rates.

* The Federal Government should encourage banks to grant soft loans to agricultural cooperative societies. 

· Churches and Mosques must emphasize the importance of agriculture.

To be concluded 

*Please send your comment/ contribution to [email protected]