Transformation agenda and job creation for food security
By Chuks N. Nwagbara

“Nigeria can no longer continue to be a sleeping giant; we have to wake up and if we wake up, we must begin to do things differently” – President Goodluck E. Jonathan. As can be gleaned from the above statement, the 3rd President of our 3rd Republic right from the outset gave an early indication of his intention to rouse the nation from its ostensible slumber. And, pursuant to his professed objective of advancing our social and economic fortunes, his administration enunciated the Transformation Agenda (TA) as the veritable roadmap for leading us to the economic Eldorado.

Now, the TA is as grand and lofty as they come. With fantastic facts, impressive figures and beautiful charts; the Transformation Agenda will blow the mind of anyone who peruses it. But, one year down the road Nigerians cannot even see the vehicle let alone the opportunity of embarking on the journey to the economic utopia that has so eloquently been promised in the government’s economic transformation blueprint. When, our people have started asking, will this giant awaken? When, they want to know, will the actual journey begin?

Owing to the providential circumstance of his emergence, the Jonathan Presidency had excited a lot of enthusiasm and engendered so much hope amongst Nigerians cutting across virtually all socio-economic, ethnic and religious divides. Oh yes, much was/is expected of this administration. Even so one cautions that the Jonathan presidency should avoid the pitfalls of some previous administrations and resist the temptation to take on so many sectors without a chance of significantly delivering in any. In this connexion we may do well to pay heed to the exhortation of Franz Fanon when he advised that “Every generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission and either fulfill it or betray it”.
Every patriotic administration with an eye on the verdict of history must, amidst the competing demands on the finite resources of the state by various sectors and varied causes, set priorities on where to exert the most effort in the hope of leaving hallmark legacies. This demand cannot be any different for the Jonathan administration even as it grapples with the arduous task of steadying the ship of state in the face of severe security and economic challenges. Therefore, the primary great task of this administration is to figure out the key areas with the potential of fostering the most fundamental and profound changes in our nation’s socio-economic circumstance and then concentrate all out effort those directions.

While not lending credence to the school of thought which insinuate that socio-economic factors are at the root of the Boko Haram insurgency, and whilst not advocating a flagging of the counter measures of the security apparatus of the state in battling the unprecedented violence being visited upon Nigerians; government can actually take the wind out of the sails of the militancy by directing its focus, energy and resources on two or so sectors of the economy with the capacity to radically transform the lots of Nigerians. Without claims to any esoteric gifts, it’s obvious that amongst the chief problems currently confronting and confounding our citizens are the issues of energy inadequacy and rampant unemployment, especially of the youths. And, the two are really related because puny power supply stifles the economy and vitiates its capacity to expand or grow to create more jobs.

Apart from urgent need to deliver the megawatts of energy required to drive our idle industries and supply the economic oxygen for reviving the comatose small and medium enterprises alongside the roadside informal sectors, government needs to implement measures and reforms as well as furnish incentives to unshackle the economy and make ours a more business friendly environment. These measures, much more than any highfalutin precepts and platitudes, will naturally kindle fresh entrepreneurial zest and elicit fresh investments.

Official statistics aside, the average national youth unemployment is hovering in the region of 50% or more. Clearly, this is quite troubling as it constitutes both social and political time bombs. Government simply has to act to address the twin problems of inadequate power supply and festering national angst and discontent deriving from the widespread unemployment and poverty and psychological depression it breeds.

No nation can grow its economy with so much of its productive capacity stranded, idle and outside the economic loop of production, income earning, and the demand for/exchange of goods and services, and consumption; because in a virtuous cycle of sustainable economic growth each aspect is fed by and in turn spurs the other. Therefore, the overarching challenge or mission of the TA should be finding the ways and means of getting the horde of unemployed Nigerians into becoming a productive component of the nation’s economic architecture.

The government can – and must – take action to address the vexed issue of able-bodied but idle citizens who live on the margins of the society. However, the way that government can achieve sustainable employment is not through the addition of people who won’t have any work to do directly to the government staff roll. This merely bloats the wage bill, increases overhead costs, and drains resources that should have gone into capital projects that bolster critical development.

The Goodluck administration will record enviable achievements and secure its place in our nation’s annals if it can succeed in addressing the burgeoning youth unemployment. Without doubt, and as has been affirmed in the TA document, the sector with the requisite absorptive capacity to gainfully and productively engage the millions of unemployed youths and other jobless Nigerians is the agricultural sector. It therefore behooves the Coordinating Minister of the economy, working in tandem with the Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources as well as the Minister of Labour and Productivity to fashion out a sustainable programme to secure the interest and commitment of our youths to careers in the various facets of agriculture covering crop production, livestock, poultry, aquaculture, bush meat/exotic animal breeding, horticulture, fruits/vegetables, snailery, bee-keeping, processing/packaging and marketing etc.According to the Doreo Analysis of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), Nigeria spends over 1 trillion naira annually on the importation of four food items, namely wheat, rice, sugar and fish. The same report has computed that if Nigeria had maintained the market share she held in 1961 in four agricultural produce of groundnut, cocoa, palm produce and cotton, she would today be earning US $10.6 billion or N1.6 trillion each year.

Thus the country’s food import bill which is currently exceptionally high and growing at a rate of 11% annually is considered quite alarming and will not be economically and politically sustainable in the long term. Besides, the importation of expensive food items from the global market fuels domestic inflation and is a disincentive to local production.

Even if we discountenance the non-palatability of this scenario; experts are worried that with vast untouched arable land, good climatic conditions and a mass of idle people roaming the streets; Nigerian has no business importing the food items it can easily produce in abundance. On the other hand Nigeria can, with a focused agricultural policy underpin of the TA, reverse our food import regime and regain our global market position in those produce in which we hitherto enjoyed comparative advantage.

A Nigerian Youths in Agriculture Programme (NIYAP) can be packaged as a revolving scheme which in each operational cycle can recruit, train establish about 2000 youths from each LGA for careers in various aspects of agriculture. Upon their orientation and training, they are provided with in-puts, equipment, extension support, working capital, access to modern processing/packaging, and market. At about N500,000 in the training and establishment costs per participant, the programme will require around N800 billion. It is envisaged that the approximately 1.6 million enterprises that will be birthed under the scheme will averagely employ about four workers each thereby creating a further 6 million jobs. With very good planning and supervision, the projection is that in three years at least 50% of the agro-businesses shall be able to run at a profit and repay their loans in full. This will then create a pool for revolving the programme to embrace more youths in successive years.

With adequate political will, credible economic leadership, well articulated programme and legislative backing; government may have to commit only about 10% of the entire funding requirement as “counterpart fund” which will be leveraged to attract the in-flow of bilateral and multilateral funding for the programme from such institutions and lenders as the World Bank group, ADB, EU, IFAD, USAID, DFID and so on.

Fortuitously, the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, speaking with CNN’s Richard Quest during her recent race for the World Bank presidency urged that jobs creation should be at the heart of the global fight against poverty when she declared that: “I’ve never met a poor person who didn’t want the dignity of a job – if they have a job, they can take care of their health problems, their education problems…”.
Weaning the nation from unconscionable food imports which runs into trillions of naira annually and creating millions of sustainable jobs for the army of jobless citizens must be at the heart of the TA, or indeed any present or future economic development agenda. We really do not have much of an alternative in the quest to guarantee a secure future for our people. Economic imperatives compel it and political expediency demands it. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get down to work.

Nwagbara is a visiting member of The Sun Editorial Board.

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