Three reasons informed my decision to pick up this issue. One is to disagree with those who think that Nigeria can’t survive on any other commodity(s) except oil. Two is to portray our successive leaders’ failure to reposition Agriculture as mainstay of our economy and ask Nigerians to do an honest self re-examination and try to reinvent themselves as a nation. Three is to suggest the way forward to our leaders.
Nigeria did not start on the miserly note of the present experience. Before the advent of oil and its emergence as the mainstay of the nation’s economy, Nigeria was on record as doing very well economically. It maybe true that it did not have the bloated population it has at present but it was able to manage its modest wealth to take care of its citizens.
At that time Agriculture was the mainstay and pillar of the economy. The Eastern, Northern and Western regions of Nigeria sustained themselves through palm products, groundnut and oil and Cocoa, and there was enough left over to run efficient bureaucracy, compact armed forces, good and functional education, sustainable healthcare delivery, good infrastructure etc.
Then standard of living was high and comparable to what obtained elsewhere in the world. The ethos of the time revolved around hard work and frugality and food was in abundant supply. The prospects of a strong nation were so high and achievable such that the regions which were self sustaining started dreaming of becoming viable nations that could compete in the comity of industrialized nations.
It was a time the regions established well grounded schools and Universities as well as public corporations that girded their quest for greatness and it was then the foundation and template for strong and viable growth were laid. In the then Eastern Region, it was the period when the University of Nigeria Nsukka, the African continental bank, the various farm settlements, the durable secondary schools, hospitals, road and bridges were built. More importantly, it was the time the region embarked on the training of its second generation of graduates, after the era of the legendary Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. These included Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe, Dr. Ikejiani, Mazi Mbonu Ojike, Prof. Kenneth Onwuka Dike, Prof. Eni Njoku, Dr M.I. Okpara, Dr Akanu Ibiam, Dr. Alvan Ikoku Etc. These played pivotal and central roles in the quest for Nigeria’s freedom as well as the evolution of tertiary education in Nigeria. It is germane to mention that all these great minds were trained through scholarship schemes financed by the agrarian economy of the period before the advent of oil.
As we have these people trained by the agrarian economy of the eastern region so also we have hordes of such men in the Western and Northern Nigeria educated with the groundnut pyramids of the North and the Cocoa product from western Nigeria, among them are the late Sunday Awoniyi, Chief TOS Benson, Maitama Sule, and others too numerous to mention. It is important to note that the pioneer role these great minds played in the evolution of modern Nigeria remains unparallel and has hardly been replicated in the history of Nigeria. It is a fact that were this initial effort sustained till date, Nigeria would have been an aspiring world power instead of a crumbling midget it is today.
The advent of Oil coincided with the end of The Civil war and when it came despite the enormous challenges posed by the damages of the war, Nigeria appeared least prepared for the windfall brought about by Oil due to mismanagement. With Oil the thesis of living out of government was written and it has further been modified to the present case where the sharing and of course, stealing of oil money has become the primary occupation of successive governments that have plundered this country.
In the wake of this unmitigated plunder of Oil wealth is a distraught and disenfranchised citizenry that have been incited to factor their success on how well connected they are to the Oil chain and nothing else. Agriculture and all it represents was booted to the winds. The advent of Oil has spawned a huge oil chain that grids all sectors of our national wealth.
This warped chain has robbed off negatively on all spheres of national life, be it educational, value system, economic system, cultural system security system, politics etc. Ask an average school child what he or she would like to do after school and the ready answer would certainly be “to work in an oil company”. The oil chain accounts for the present worsening security situation in Nigeria, it accounts for the unending hostage taking and kidnappings in the Easthern part of the country; it accounts for most of the heated contentions that have put the Nigerian nation on the paths of perpetual crisis. It accounts for the destructive corruption that has completely over swayed all sectors of the country’s formal and informal lives. Is it surprising that at the period Nigeria is making so much money from Oil, the roads, and rail are in all time terrible condition? I wonder how many of us have traveled through the Enugu- Port Harcourt road or through the Onitsha-Enugu road in recent times or contemplated the Nigerian eastern rail corridor that is no more today. These are viable metaphors for the worsening condition of Nigerian roads and rail at this period of unceasing Oil wealth. What about the intractable security situation in the country where armed insurgents, bandits, armed robbers, kidnappers, hired assassins, drug addicts, prostitutes, 419ers etc are having uncensored liberty at the expense of law abiding citizens. Farmers in Nigeria can no longer access their farms in fear of Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram, ISWAP and bandits who are daily killing, raping, kidnapping and maiming our farmers and this has pushed the price of foodstuffs through the roof. What of the power system that has defied the capacity of successive governments despite the free flow of oil wealth? What about the collapsed educational system that is breeding half baked charlatans that can hardly survive on their own?
In a nutshell, we can summarize the negative effects of Oil on Nigeria as follows; Oil has interred the great prospects agriculture offered the country in the first republic and the period before its advent as the mainstay of the country’s economy. Oil has come to provoke a corruption culture that has unleashed tremendous scars on all facets of national life. Oil has come to sever the chain that binds the nation together as the various entities that make up the country jostle for prime position to partake in the sharing of oil wealth. Oil has interred creativity such that it does not pay anymore to think about ways of solving developmental questions that baffled Nigeria in all front. Rather, it pays to acquire a prime position that gives one access to oil. The incentives for innovation and creativity that could be brought about through quality and sound education have been lost to the dumb guest for oil wealth, therein lies the dilemma. A deep reflection of where we are now comes with broken hearts, a sad realization that is underdevelopment, extreme poverty, hunger, unemployment, unprecedented inequality and disease, all of which have squeezed millions of people into a corner. That is one of the outcomes of bad leadership. The greed, corruption, incompetence and abject ignorance of our leaders has truncated the destines of Nigerians. From being the poverty capital of the world to 133million Nigerians being ranked in a 2022 World Bank report to been multi-dimensionally poor.
Today with the slump in crude oil prices in the world market and the western industrialized nation’s current efforts to seek cleaner energy to replace fossil fuels, nations like Nigeria that depend solely on oil wealth are faced with the grim task of diversifying their economy from total dependence on oil or face economic and social upheavals. This therefore presents Nigeria with the golden opportunity and mixed blessing to go back to agriculture that have been the mainstay of the country’s economy in the early days before oil came on the scene. If the successive governments in the country have really made use of the huge amount of money budgeted for agriculture from the federal, state and local government levels yearly to really work on agriculture, Perhaps the woeful state of the agricultural sector today may not have arisen. The era of paying lip service to agricultural production by our leaders must be replaced by serious and concrete investments in agriculture through reactivation of our various research institutes to produce improved crop varieties and livestock to farmers. It is quite disheartening to witness the sorry state most of our research institutes have degenerated to, due to neglect. One wonders if the federal government still remembers that it has a horticultural research institute at Umulolo Okigwe in Imo state, a cereal research institutes at Amakama-Umuahia the Abia State capital etc. As you have these decaying research institutes in the Eastern part of the country so you have others like them in other parts of the country still struggling to keep alive.
Governments and people of Eastern Nigeria must never lose sight of the fact that the first republic administration of Eastern region sustained itself through massive investments in the oil palm produce – through countless palm plantations and farm settlements. Today, these farm settlements have been left to die away while the oil palm have been neglected and allowed to outgrow their productive years without new improved yield varieties that are usually due for harvesting from the age of five years to replace them.
When we recall that Malaysia which today ranks as the world largest producer of palm oil took their first palm seedling from Eastern Nigeria, we call on our leaders across the 36 states of the Federation to work to return the lost glory of the oil palm, groundnut, cotton cowpeas ginger cassava, cocoa and other cash crops and use them both to empower the people and sustain the economy.
The way forward: Nigeria’s runaway, worsening insecurity situation must be seriously addressed by government for anything to work again in this country. Because of insecurity many Nigerians who could be productive in their farms are languishing in IDP camps their ancestral homes/land overran and taken over by hoodlums and Fulani herdsmen while the Buhari government keeps mum. You don’t give people fish rather you teach them how to catch fish, this our leaders can do by providing freely to the people, improved varieties of cash crops on yearly basis plus fertilizer as sure dividend of democracy. This way the people will replace the old palm trees with new improved yield varieties, keep in business and government can correct the problems mismanagement of oil money crated in the country. Government of Northern and Western Nigeria must equally do same and revive the production of their cash crops through commercial farming etc.
The federal government on its part will ensure that all the agricultural ministries from the federal, State to the local government embarks on building nurseries for the nations cash crops from where improved varieties of seedling will be made available to the farmers. The agricultural extension workers must return to supervise and teach the peasant farmers new methods of agriculture. There is no way we can talk about reviving agriculture if we don’t make serious efforts to return the groundnut pyramids, Cotton, Millet, Cowpeas Cocoa, cassava and the oil palm produce in the Northern, Western and Eastern parts of the country respectively. Though when we talk about food pyramids it is not in the form of the recent Federal Government and Central Bank of Nigeria, Abuja rice pyramid gimmick where despite the televised rice pyramid jamboree price of rice is out of reach of the ordinary Nigerian. The federal government must ensure ceaseless cultivation of all the nations’ cash crops making sure that their nurseries are kept by the ministries from the federal level to the State down to the local government which will make the seedlings available to traditional rulers, the village heads and then down to the peasant farmers in the villages for cultivation.
Government must also make sure that new improved farm implements and machinery are made available to the farmers to make agriculture less burdensome. Government penchant in the past to give businessmen import license to import palm oil must be seriously discourage if our effort to diversify the Nation’s economy from over dependence on oil wealth to agriculture and small and medium enterprises scheme SMES must yield fruit.
While working to improve on our land tenure system, government should not lose sight of the need to make the micro finance Institutions provide low interest loans to farmers. It is not that Nigeria lack laudable projects and programme that can uplift agriculture and ensure food security in the country but poor implementation of projects have left the nation in a very poor state agriculturally. Take for instance, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers Programme that was projected to extend loans directly to peasant farmers but was poorly implemented as businessmen are now known to have also benefited from the loan scheme.
Finally, when we talk about the problems of man, we usually make the mistake of not realizing the great place of Almighty God, the creator of man and the universe to help resolve the issues and give peace and succor to His creation. Who takes care of the flies that pester the life of a tailless cow but God. We must not lose sight of the fact that God is interested in the affairs of men. God can inspire leaders who will be at their wits end to find creative solutions to the country’s problems. God can force the hands of our leaders like He forced the hands of Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod and Ahasuerus. Proverbs 21: 1 says “The kings heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes”. And 2chronicles7:14 “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins and heal their land”.
We must commit ourselves to doing the right things by our country. Righteousness not Religion turns things around for nations. Nigerians cannot engage in all forms of corrupt practices, cheat on themselves and hope for God’s intervention or that their country will change. Even the Bible already has eliminated that prospect or how do you interpret: “If I regard iniquity in my heart. The Lord will not hear”. And there is no easier way to measure iniquity than the things we do to jeopardize the interests and wellbeing of fellow human beings. A true religion is a religion of love, not murder, arson, rape, kidnapping or hostage taking, armed robbery, and ethnic cleansing or religious supremacy, but love of neighbor, action love, the love of Christ gathers us together. We must eschew ethnic, class sentiments in our efforts to live for each other. We must be prepared to help others even when we think they brought calamity on themselves. Any person in need is our neighbor, the help must be practical. Our compassion must be real, we must speak with action, what God requires from us is mercy being sensitive to others, I three relationship. We must be compassionate, care and be sensitive with each other. Whenever you want to do good don’t listen to your head but obey your heart, see the need of others and act. When you obey your heart is when you will go the extra mile to help others and get the crown of life from your God. Our inability to understand this and realize that we are indeed serving God through anything entrusted in our hands, has resulted in our inability to turn our laudable projects and programmes to productive reality, even as it has also been at the root of our failure as a country.