One reason many people think the recent presidential election should be put behind us as quickly as possible is because there is a lot of work to be done and distractions are the least the country requires at this point in time. The problems bedevilling the country are many and solutions, if we must state the truth, will not come easy. Another reason is that there is sufficient enough evidence from the polls to suggest who, out of the four leading presidential candidates, was preferred by the electorate, regardless how imperfect some may deem the election to have been for, in truth, there are no perfect elections anywhere in the world. The positives in that election, however, override the negatives and in saner climes, those concerned would have highlighted and celebrated the positives, shade the negatives and work towards improving on the process going forward. But here we are still bugged down by allegations and counter-allegations; plots to truncate our democracy and bring back military rule or force an interim government have reportedly been uncovered; and, in all, those who think their purpose will only be served if they make the country ungovernable for the in-coming president have bluntly refused to hear word, as they say. They have blatantly stuck to their guns; bent on having their way willy-nilly. In a democracy, the minority are not content with having their say but must have their way as well, to the consternation of the overwhelming majority! Their logic is warped; it is also pedantic! Their way is that of the anarchist!
But the minority must not be allowed to hold the majority hostage. Nigerian voters have spoken and we heard them loud and clear. Their mandate they have given to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. In the face of the avalanche of evidence available even in the public space, going to court to press a case by the bad losers is a mere academic exercise; a face-saving measure that pales into significance when placed side-by-side what they, and the nation, stand to gain if they had been good sportsmen and statesmen of repute. Not being so, their good grief! While legal teams attend the court, the president-elect by now must be putting his team together. Policy papers must also be rolling in by now. Like I have said before, winning an election is one thing – Herculean as it might have been – governing is another kettle of fish. The special circumstances of the Tinubu/Shettima presidency will not make decisions easy to take. The Muslim/Muslim ticket is one such headache. While this may be easy to tackle as Tinubu composes his cabinet, it will be trickish when it comes to choosing the principal officers of the National Assembly. The voting pattern in the presidential election is another. The “95 percent and one percent” voter dichotomy that President Muhammadu Buhari spoke about has returned to also confronts Tinubu. The South-South and South-east geo-political zones – the South-east especially – that gave the least number of votes to the president-elect are jostling for the Senate presidency and Speakership of the House of Representatives with zones that made the APC presidency possible. Reaping where they did not sow! Robbing Peter to pay Paul! I think this is the time for Northern Christians especially and Christians all over the country as a whole to stand up as one man to promote the candidacy of Northern Christians for the position of Senate President and or Speaker of the House of Representatives. But, characteristically, they are as silent as the graveyard now; they will only wake up after the deed has been done to begin to disturb our peace. They only know how to shut the stable after the horse has bolted!
By now, the president-elect ought to be consumed with finding solutions to four key problems; the first of which is insecurity. This is one problem that has cost the country a lot in human, material and capital resources. The money wasted on this could have been better utilised in other areas. The corruption witnessed in this sector under Buhari is said by some commentators to be worse than the arms bazaar of the President Goodluck Jonathan era. But how will those who have come to see the insecurity situation as their pot of soup be weaned off it? Buhari, a two-star General and one-time military Head of State, promised to tame insurgency but ended up performing woefully. Not only that, the problem got worse under his watch. Will Tinubu, a “bloody civilian”, succeed where Buhari failed spectacularly? If Tinubu fails in this sector, whatever success recorded elsewhere will only be qualified.
Then, there is the problem of crude oil theft. Only God knows how much this country has lost, and is still losing, to this monster. This is money that should have gone into critical sectors of the economy. Unless the leakages are blocked, the bleeding will compromise whatever effort of the Tinubu administration to resuscitate and revamp the economy. Next is fuel subsidy, another drain pipe that has to be completely blocked, but will Tinubu muster the political will to remove subsidy? The Labour movement, which is a partisan of Peter Obi and his Obedients, has threatened hail and brimstones should subsidy be removed; will Tinubu call their bluff? Subsidy has to go; the local refineries must be made to work so that importation can become a thing of the past and petrol, diesel, kerosene and other petroleum products can become available locally at reasonable prices. How fast Tinubu can make this happen will be critical.
Since I grew up to differentiate my right from my left, I have heard it said ad nauseam and ad infinitum that Nigeria would diversify its economy but the economy still remains largely mono-cultural, depending on the sale of crude oil. We have played lip service to plans, policies and promises to return agriculture to its hitherto pride of place and develop the non-oil sector. Before the discovery of oil in commercial quantity at Oloibiri in 1956 (and production of crude oil began the next year), agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. We had groundnuts, hides and skins, cocoa, coffee, timber, coal, palm oil, and the likes. We were also self-sufficient in food crops production. Largely, we consumed what we produced but when crude oil dollars flowed in, we abandoned agriculture and our taste buds took interest in anything and everything foreign. That was where the rain started beating us. When we talk of structural transformations that Nigeria needs to survive and flourish again, we mean two things: Restructuring of the country and diversification of the economy. It bears repeating again that if Tinubu paves all Nigerian roads with gold and puts dollars in everyone’s pockets but fails to do these two, he would have failed ab initio.
We must bring the groundnut pyramids back. Cocoa must return to its pride of place. We must reclaim our seat as leaders in palm oil production and lots more. We must retrieve positions we lost to countries like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Malaysia and others. The in-coming administration must actively promote the production of cash crops for exports and we must add value to whatever we produce locally. We need to earn more foreign exchange and consume less of imported goods and services. Knowledgeable Nigerians will tell you that Nigeria is actually not a rich country but we have the potential to be rich and much of this potential lies in agriculture – and mining – which we have left largely untapped, focussing all attention on rents collected on crude oil exploitation by foreign multinational companies.
A controversy loading at the moment is whether we should maintain the free market policy of farmers selling their commodities in the open market or the government should bring back the days of the agricultural marketing boards. Cross Rivers State Gov. Ben Ayade is leading the agitation for a return of the marketing boards while the Federation of Agricultural Commodity Association of Nigeria (FACAN) opposes the move. Last December, the FACAN president, Dr. Victor Iyama, decried a return of the marketing boards, saying it would be counter-productive as it would amount to an ill-wind that would not blow any of the stakeholders any good. Comparing Nigerian cocoa farmers with their Ghanaian counterparts where marketing boards are in operation, Iyama said at a press briefing that the Nigerian farmers fare better. Marketing Boards, he said, short-changes farmers and discourages direct foreign investment.
The present controversy would have been unnecessary had the government followed through with its plans and policies. In 2017, the then Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, had promised that the Federal Government would organise a national debate on whether or not to re-introduce agricultural marketing boards. He was reported extensively in the media; one of the reports went thus: “The Federal Government says it is planning a national dialogue to consider the re-establishment of marketing boards. The Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, disclosed the plan in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, in Abuja… Mr. Ogbeh, who was speaking on the country’s 57th Independence anniversary, said that although marketing boards facilitated exportation of agricultural produce in the past, there was the need for stakeholders to deliberate on their revival. He said the dialogue would enable agriculture stakeholders to discuss and analyse the impact and challenges of the boards during its operation with a view to deciding whether or not to re-establish them. The minister noted that the boards, while in existence, ensured that exported agricultural produce were not rejected at the international markets as they met the required standards and quality”
Audu was further quoted as saying: “About two months ago, we met in my office with the Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture. We wanted to hold a major national discussion on this matter to know whether we should go back to the marketing boards. They (marketing Board) were people who taught farmers how to grow things, how to harvest, how to dry them to meet international standards. They went round villages telling farmers what to do, what not to do, how to do it and they would buy the crops, organise a ship for exports. They were abolished in 1974 under the military and, since then, there was only one attempt to replace the marketing boards with the commodity companies but they never functioned. People are saying we should introduce the commodity exchange but I do not want the ministry to wake up and say we are going back to this. I want Nigerians who know about it to come out and talk. There are those who said that the marketing boards were abused and their major operators defrauded farmers but there are those who said that it was because they were abolished that agriculture declined. We want to debate it, let’s make decisions together’’.
It is unfortunate that the planned debate never took place but now is the time for it! The Tinubu administration must put agriculture on the front burner. With the unemployment rate climbing dangerously towards 40 percent with most of this figure being able-bodied youths, many of whom have passed out of college with no job in sight; agriculture holds the prospects of providing gainful employment for this critical mass of the nation’s burgeoning population. The time to act is now! We welcome readers’ reaction to this very important topic! Let the debate begin in earnest!
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*Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.