Another Presidential Message

IN the month of March, some cities and states recorded the first heavy rain. With this drop of rain, the very strategic Igbe road in Igbogbo area of Ikorodu Lagos is as usual condemned till sometime in November or December when the dry season will set in again. Governor Akinwumi Ambode who has given signs that he can be trusted to govern Lagos perhaps needs to be reminded that Ikorodu with its landmass and phenomenal population growth in the recent past can no longer be treated as just any local government area. Did Lagos State officials see the state of the roads leading to the Babington Seminary School where three school girls were kidnapped recently? Ambode was in Agric area of the town two months ago and must have seen how vast this part of Lagos is.

Truth is that Lagos with all the aura has many rural communities begging for infrastructural attention. This piece is rather devoted to farming, indeed to President Mohammadu Buhari’s statement that agricultural revolution is a considered option out of the economic difficulties of the present. That statement requires a breakdown, just as is done after his budget presentation, without padding, to enable a layman’s understanding. The layman must understand and key into it if we must begin to scratch the challenges Nigeria faces today, because things are really bad. Prices of goods have in the past three months risen so swiftly, frighteningly and unabatedly, engendering fear of the worst. In many cases they have jerked as high as 50 per cent while some have even doubled. The Naira continues the dangerous slide in the exchange market due to low foreign currency inflow. Gradually, the high hope of better days following the swearing in of the new administration is giving way to despair. What is agricultural revolution? If it will hinge on government action or inaction then it has already failed. In fact, government does not lead a revolution, the people do. A quick response to the hunger in the land today is for every Nigerian who has a parcel of land or small space even in his yard, front or back, to clear it and as the rains drop plant any crop of their choice.

This should cut across – public servants, businessmen, private sector employers and employees, professional farmers, youth, job applicants and students. Everyone should maintain a farm no matter how small. Anyone who needs fertilizer should but it in the open market. Any policy that will return the country to fertilizer allocation by the government must be resisted at all cost. This should appeal more to public servants who in many states are being owed arrears of salaries even when their governors who now behave as sole administrators are property developers and merchants, indeed living in unimaginable affluence. To federal civil servants, this may serve as an immediate bail out from blocked avenues for extra income occasioned by the introduction of the Single Treasury Account (TSA) while they perfect strategies to circumvent it. How do I mean? How, for instance, did over 23,000 ghost workers who received salaries worth billions of naira find their way into the payroll of the federal government after the biometric capturing exercise which cost a fortune and which we were assured would nip such cases in the bud?

The maize you drop in the ground today will in three months become a cob of thousands that provide variety of nourishing meals, just as melon and okro. Yam can be harvested from the sixth month and cassava in nine months; rice and wheat from the fourth month. The plantain sucker you detach from the mother and plant in another location this month will fruit around December. The head part of the yam that house wives usually throw into the dustbin can turn to a big yam tuber some months later if buried in the soil at the backyard. Take maize and plantain. If you consider what it takes to produce these two and the rich harvest from them you weep for the country. Corn of all varieties is among the healthiest foods in the world. It can be boiled or roasted for meal, indeed be used to produce a variety of nourishing dishes. It is used by industries to produce flour, malt drink, cornflakes, syrup, animal feeds, beer, starch and others. With all the arable corn friendly land in every state, good weather and high population, Nigeria is not mentioned among the top ten maize producers. The United States remains the unbeaten largest maize producer with over 40 per cent of the world’s output. Even the backyard neighbour, South Africa is ahead of Nigeria in maize production.   Yet, what it takes is to drop maize in a shallow ground, cover it with sand, weed at least once if you care, and in three months go for the rich harvest. Plantain does not even require fertilizer for good harvest, just warm temperature, bright soil and good moisture. This modest, simplistic proposition can in the next three months and beyond help to address food shortages in the country, while we wait for the ‘revolution’. And when you remove hunger as the adage goes, you have broken poverty’s backbone.

This will also reduce the pressure on the foreign exchange market. In Abuja and high brow areas of Lagos in particular and some GRAs in some other cities, the elite compete to show off in their compounds shrubs and trees with only aesthetic value. Yet these still litter the compounds with dry leaves just as other economically viable yet aesthetically priced trees like mango, orange, guava, pear, paw-paw, and others which they should have planted. The architects of the make Abuja green programme willfully ignored the economic benefits and emphasised the environmental beautification aspects. The so called experts disparagingly call this subsistent or local farming. But it fed our fathers and mothers and paid their children’s school fees. The commercial, mechanised, inorganic driven method they have been propagating for many decades now is still test-running in the face of ravaging hunger because it is one of the prototype universal models that do not have a blend of indigenisation. Nigeria’s hope for food security and national development still depends on mechanised farming and industrialisation. We can begin to pursue and achieve this if we adopt right policies and attitudes. In fact, government stranglehold on virtually all sectors of the economy including land ownership must abate for private businesses to step in and make the desired impact. This is still in the realm of aspiration. The reality is that there is an emergency and some contingent measures must be adopted. The slight increases in crude oil prices do not still translate to anything yet since the amount of imports is unbearable. All should wake up to this reality. This is the President’s message to all Nigerians. Mr. Collins Obibi, a media practitioner, wrote from Lagos.


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