Time to retool the economy


Aside from fghting corruption, another vision of the President Muhammadu Buhari led administration is to diversify the economy of a country rated as the largest in West Africa. The retired general and his foot soldiers believe it is time to grow and develop other sectors of the economy in order to ensure that a further slide in the prices of crude oil in the global market will not crash the economy, in the nearest future.
So, it gladdened the hearts of many Nigerians when the Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Mr. Babatunde Fowler, disclosed that 70 per cent of the N559 billion generated revenue in June 2016 was from nonoil receipts.
Apart from the contribution of the non-oil sector, it is noteworthy that the gross revenue generated by the Federation increased by N310.32 billion, the highest in about two years.
“We are proud of the development and we tell ourselves that this is the time to fund the budget of the Federal Government from non-oil sources,” an elated Fowler told newsmen in Abeokuta, early this week.
The milestone, which was the highest the Federal Government shared among the three tiers of government in 2016, has earned the government some praises from different quarters and a few knocks from critics, especially economic experts and industry watchers, who expect more from a government they describe as doing ‘less action, more talk.’
The experts urge the ‘change government’ to borrow a leave from the first republic. They believe early leaders of the country attempted to diversify the economy by using agriculture and they succeeded. Policies and strategies were put in place to encourage the establishment of agrobased industries. The outcome was encouraging and the export-led industrialisation policy ended up a huge success.
Then, Nigeria was known to be rich in agriculture before and shortly after the attainment of independence. And of course, most of the infrastructure landmarks that today stand as the pride of the country, still bear testimony to that golden era.
There used to be the Cocoa House in Ibadan, which was the pride of the Western region, groundnut pyramid in Kano, Abakaliki rice in the old Anambra State and other viable and income-generating agricultural products, scattered across villages and towns in the country.
These agricultural products were the livewire on which the economy was run and they accounted for over 85 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic earnings. The buoyancy of the economy was self-evident in the standard of living of citizens and their social life, as everybody saw the need to invest heavily in agriculture because nature endowed us with rich vegetation.
Though, the military interregnum that for long punctuated the democratic process did not have much positive impact on the economy, as Nigeria fell into the trap of fghting a civil war, the country did not have to borrow from foreign powers while this lasted. As Nigeria recovered from a war that has today become a watershed in our chequered history, the agricultural policy that was shortly introduced by the Murtala-Obasanjo regime only saw us, once again, towards economic buoyancy. With its Operation Feed the Nation initiative, Nigerians were encouraged to invest human capital in agriculture, with government giving out soft loans and fertilizer to farmers.
However, the compass of self-reliance on agriculture soon changed course when the Oil Producing Exporting Countries raised the bar in prices of each barrel of crude oil, a sector in which Nigeria is one of the major players. The craze for petro-dollar irrevocably changed attention and orientation, as farmers abandoned farming for oil that apparently takes no labour to harvest.
Cocoa plantations in the Western region have became sources of frewood for housewives; the groundnut pyramid disappeared, while the Abakaliki rice was replaced with Taiwan’s Stallion rice on the menu list of most families.
The resultant effect of this social miasma is the galloping inflation that has today hit us, as a people. The immense Gross Domestic earnings from agriculture had since become depleted.
Abandoning farming for white-collar jobs, has, today, accounted for a chain of tribal unrests and agitation for self-determination by some sections of the country, claiming that they have been marginalised. Today, illegal arms procurement by hungry-looking youths, who want to get rich quick, is the order of the day.
Nigeria must go back to the good old days when hardwork was the hallmark of virtue. We need to let the youth know that oil is not the only natural resource that can generate money. We have to demonstrate this by example.
What more! Our border-posts are no longer safe, as they have become a haven for all manner of smugglers. It is disheartening to even note that our country has now become a dumping ground for expired and contaminated foods items and drugs.
Malaysia came to Nigeria some decades ago to procure palm-kernel seeds? We taught the Asian country the rudiments of planting the crop. Today, they are the largest producer of palm oil in the world. Interestingly, today in Nigeria, a gallon of palm oil sells for N3, 000 as a result of its scarcity.
The culture of laziness is very alien to our society. But it is curious that as very hardworking as we are, Nigeria still imports tooth-picks.
It is our considered opinion that government should encourage individuals to invest in agriculture by granting soft loans to farmers; providing enabling environment for people to form agricultural societies with a view of procuring land for the purpose of large scale farming. With farm products, our dead industries can resurrect. Nigerians are known to be hardworking people. The total dependence on oil, to say the least, is no longer an option.
There is a need for an alternative to oil and that alternative is agriculture. After all, agriculture is our heritage.