By the above, I certainly do not mean what an average Nigerian would construe the title to connote. It is certainly neither referring nor demanding the dissolution of any political structure, as easily perceived in our clan. I know that the perception of the title in the context of our polity is usually in connection with politics and governance. I will therefore not be surprised of the perception in that context if an average reader of this column sets out with that mindset; in the light of the reigning outrage and confusion around the outcomes of the election petitions in the country. Recall that there have been continuous protests recently in states like Kano and Plateau against the decisions of the Court of Appeal on the election petition appeals in those states, notwithstanding the ban by the police commands in the states. Certainly, a state like Kano is a volatile one that no one can predict the outcome of any conflagration. So, apportion no blame to anyone that rushes to that conclusion on seeing the above title of this engagement.
I, therefore, would hope that I have not disappointed anyone if you now read that I am not patronizing that perspective, but only alluding to adeclaration of state of emergency on food security by the President of Nigeria on 13th July, 2023. Just a week ago also, the Vice President reiterated the same demand from the governors at the routine Economic Council meeting. I am sure no one is left guessing why this declaration of emergency must not only be, but auspicious. Don’t get me wrong, I am not alluding to the implementation nor the actualization, but to the demonstration of the political will to intervene. In fact, enquiry into the realization of the steps taken if any, or to be taken, forms the fulcrum of this conversation.
Few days ago, precisely on Saturday the 25th of November, 2023, the United Action for Change, the non-governmental organization which I am the convener held its quarterly roundtable on food securityin furtherance of the said avowal of the government.The essence of the engagement was to unveil the challenges of guaranteeing food security in the country. By food security, we do not just simply mean abundance of foodstuffs in the country but the affordability, although there is a nexus between the two. As at date, food inflation is hovering around 30.64 percent referencing the September, 2023 data, which shows a yearly increment of 7.30 percent.
I recall that in September, 2022, food inflation percentage was 23.34. This frightening growth in the food inflation index probably informed the declaration of state of emergency on agriculture in the country. It is an indisputable fact that there is hunger in the land. Quite apart from the economic depression in the country, there is soaring food prices due to myriads of challenges in the food production chain. Beyond the above, there is a growing literature around the fact that the general insecurity in the security can equally not be divorced from food insecurity. A hungry man is said to be an angry man. Hunger makes one lose one’ssense at times. This can be further interpreted to mean a man in the feat of hunger can do and undoanything, including crime. Under the sharia, the Islamic legal code, it is excusable to ‘steal’ food in the face of acute hunger, the evidential justification is all that is required as a good defence. The preeminence of food in the existence of a man can never be over-estimated or discountenance.
That explains why in Yoruba parlance it is said that, ‘ti ebi ba ti kuro ninuise, ise buse’. Once hunger is out of a man’s challenges, he cannot be said to be wretched. Without shelter or clothing, a person can still survive. However,without food, death becomes imminent. This explains the intervention of the government in food security, though it cannot be safely said that the pronouncement is gaining any traction. Again, a country that cannot feed her citizens is unfit to be regarded as one. The good news about hunger is that it affects all strata of human beings regardless of status, class, tribe or ethnicity. As a wealthy man requires food intake to survive, so also is a wretched man. It is a common denominator. It is in the context of this that an intervention by the government of the day is welcome and can never be discriminatory.
It is a policy that transcends bias in any form or manner. Truth be told, since the declaration of the state of emergency by the President and reiteration by the Vice President, let me courteously state that no radical step has been taken nor any motion witnessed. No laurel has been earned by anyone in the implementation chain. As remarked above, this made compelling or imperative the convocation of the UAC’s roundtable discussion, not only to ex-ray the challenges but provide pragmatic prognosis to them.
With the declaration of the state of emergency by the President, what are the pragmatic steps expected to be taken in order toaddress the challenges of the sector? In this edition, we might not be able to catalogue exhaustively the issues involved due to space constraint, hence the subsequent parts to this intervention. Let me commence with the constitutional structure or arrangement around agriculture in the country. As at date, all the levels of government are charged with the responsibility of promoting and engaging in agriculture. This arrangement on its own, in my humble view, isdisastrous. In the first instance, which land is available to the federal government to practise agriculture? By the Land Tenurial System, all lands are vested in the Governor of each State except those in possession or use of the federal government and its parastatals. Hence, there is no available land to the federal government to allocate to anyone for the purpose of agriculture.
This explains the clashes experienced, and the difficulty in executing Ruga, ranching in the country, despite the allocated financial resources. Why then the need for the Federal Ministry of Agriculture?What purpose is the ministry serving? Procure fertilizers and equipment for distribution to the farmers in the States? What an inefficiency? This is what is called merry-go-round. Why can’t the resources be directly allocated to the States for implementation?
The federal government, at times in a comic manner,tends to fashion out one-fits-all solution across the country without considering the peculiarities of the States. This equally applies to policy formulation. My perception of the arrangement, I stand to be corrected, is that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is nothing but a procurement agency. The best role the Ministry can play in the realization of the food agenda is policy formulation. This will not match the resources appropriated to the Ministry. My contention therefore is that rather than being that wasteful, why can’t we amend the Constitution to vest the responsibilities in the States? If this is out of political exigency, which is the best rationale I can foresee, can’t we recalibrate by decomposing the responsibilities and limiting the role of the Ministry to setting standards and policies while the States remain the implementation arms?
I recall my interaction with the Federal Transit Authority in my days as the Commissioner in charge of transportation in Lagos State. The transit authority, a federal authority in America, does not implement but regulates standards and funds implementation of transportation projects. Nothing more. This agitation, I am sure, is no news to our President as this was part of the focal points of Lagos State when he was Governor and part of the case for fiscal federalism, where power is decentralized to the federating units. This is,therefore, just a refresher of the President’s memoryas I am sure the idea is not novel to him. This is the best attainable in our circumstances too in the interest of efficiency. With this disposed, the next enquiry is how do we make the practice of agriculture attractive to an average youth in Nigeria, considering the pertinent fact that the current farmers in the country are ageing?
Prior to delving into the substance of thissegment, it is important to remind us that youth unemployment is still soaring in the country. This needs to be tamed as we know that the youth are the most restless, and devil finds work for an idle hand. One recalls the former President Buhari once justifiably or otherwise describing our youth as being lazy. The veracity of this allegation is best benchmarked against the available opportunities to the youth. It is often said that farming is one of the veritable options for the youth to embark on.
How many heroes of farming can be paraded in the country so as to serve as models for them, unlike in the entertainment industry. Recall, as succinctlyrecognized by one of the facilitators, historically in schools, farming used to be a means of punishment for misconduct. The import of this is that youth grew up to have the phobia for it. They, therefore, require reorientation. Besides this, the truth remains thattoday, virtually all farmers in the country are groaning under one form of liability or the other.
Having personally experienced same as a misadventure, I can boldly say that nothing is currently rosy about agriculture. How do you now expect the youth to move into it? Even the youth in the rural settings who werebrought up in the trade are leaving it in droves formore rewarding enterprises. This is aside the infrastructure and amenities not being available in the rural areas. You want to keep them there, then there is the imperative need to make available such corresponding amenities in the rural areas.
Again, I recall, during the campaign period where the President of Nigeria alluded to the practice of agriculture as one of the panaceas to youth unemployment. To what extent have we been able to implement this remains debatable. Without making agriculture attractive to the youth, we cannot commit them to the venture. The state of agricultural practice today is unattractive, and as one of the facilitators at the roundtable aptly captured it, farming is fast becoming a career for the hopeless, practised either out of lack of alternative engagement or passion.
The latter certainly cannot account for the country’s desire for food security. Before I draw the curtain on this edition, let me quickly discuss the issue of scarcity of agriculturalland, the basic raw material for the practice of agriculture. Apart from the fact that there areinsufficient hectares of land for farming, the little available are not mostly allocated to the genuine farmers.
To a large extent, they are dispensed as political patronage largely and left in the hands of speculators who have no desire to practise farming on them. Beyond that, there is diversion and conversion of lands meant for agriculture to other unsalutary purposes. This is besides encroachment by trespassers. There is also the challenge of urbanization which oughtnot to impact on the agricultural lands but is affecting same because there is no legal appropriation. Except we gazette and criminalize the conversion of agricultural lands, the aberration will continue.
This is the status of the agricultural lands presently, and radical steps need be taken to reclaim the lands back from impostors masquerading as farmers. As aptly captured at the roundtable, ‘bring back our lands’. This is how far the space can accommodate us, next week, God willing, we will continue our interrogation.