By Zayyan Usman Gwandu, Taremi Zuokumo & Maryam Zakari
Gone are the good old days when the groundnut pyramids in northern Nigeria were a major contributor to the economy. They were the admiration of everyone from far and near, and the crop was one of the prides of the nation. The production of groundnut in northern Nigeria dominated the West African region, 41% of the produce were from northern Nigeria. There were also Cocoa farms in western Nigeria as far back as the 1880’s, in Lagos and Ota. Between the 1950’s to 70’s, Nigeria was the second highest producer of cocoa in the world. There was Oil Palm in the south-eastern states; rubber, cotton, tobacco, to name but a few. The economy was stable. In 1956, Nigeria received further blessings in the form of crude oil. Crude oil was discovered in Oloibiri, in the present day Bayelsa State. This was to change the course of our beloved country’s history in great proportion.
Following the discovery of crude oil by Shell D’Arcy Petroleum, pioneer production began in 1958 from the company’s oil field in Oloibiri in the eastern Niger Delta. By the late sixties and early seventies, Nigeria had attained a production level of over 2 million Barrels of crude oil a day. This meant daily remittance of millions of dollars into the foreign reserves. The country began to make strides in oil exports; and before long, Nigeria was being recognised amongst the wealthy nations .Touted to soon become a ‘Super Power’, the Naira commanded respect everywhere in the world.
In the midst of this economic boom revolving around crude oil, the country managed to shun many of its leading economic drivers, and focused mainly on oil. Corruption started brewing in the oil sector; subsequent governments – especially during the military regime – kept a lot of the proceeds from crude oil sales for themselves. It was easy money. Our former ‘farmers’ suddenly became ‘oil bloc owners’. This unfortunate development, of course, had a negative effect on the country’s agricultural sector, and production was severely affected. In the 60s and 70s groundnut production was still significant to economic development, the production used to be more than 1.6 million tonnes. But during the early 80s, the production of groundnut deteriorated to a smaller extent of 0.7 million tonnes.
The groundnut pyramids were not the only victims of the oil boom.The cocoa production in the south-west was affected also. In the 1950s and 1960s, before crude oil was discovered, cocoa was the dominant foreign exchange commodity that secured the national wealth of the country. According to Pa Olusina Adebiyi, “Cocoa used to be the glory of the west .The nation’s contribution of cocoa production in the global market degenerated when the oil boom set-off effortless outflow of capital, which removed the earnings from agricultural export and tax, as a considerable derivation of revenue for the nation.
Now, how will Nigeria get it right? How does Nigeria diversify and explore other viable options to strengthen its economy, and make it independent of the global crude oil price, which seems to dictate the livelihood and welfare of the average Nigerian citizen? Scholars, politicians, journalists, commentators, have advanced different measures to revive the once vibrant agricultural sector in the country. Critics have called for the adoption of fiscal federalism. Fiscal federalism is an approach with the devolution of governmental responsibilities, power and especially state earnings and local government earnings. It has been argued that each component unit in government will have autonomy over financial resources. The decentralization of governmental powers and other functions will enhance economic development, and also revive the agricultural sector that has been abandoned.
Another solution is for the federal government itself to put more effort to support diversification. More investments should be made towards agricultural research and development, including science and technology. This area is where Nigeria has been left far behind, and it has greatly hampered the country’s production capacity, compared to the western countries, or even our rival and neighbour; Ghana. If adequate investment is made in this area, Nigeria will surely begin to see progress in production. The present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari, has laid different policies for a diversification of the economy away from oil. In July 2016, the President initiated the Presidential Enabling Environment Council (PEBEC), “with the objective of improving the business environment in the country”. The President displayed outstanding passion for the quest for diversification to non-oil sector.
There are some states, for example Kebbi, which has made huge strides in this respect, with its Rice production initiative. The state has partnered with Lagos to produce ‘Lake Rice’. This initiative has created jobs and has encouraged many to even quit their jobs and go back to the farm. Kebbi state was able to raise about N150 billion, as reported by Vanguard in August 2018. According to the state governor Sen. Atiku Bagudu, “A nation that cannot feed its people will suffer a lot of international market vagaries. According to him, the state has also entered into partnership arrangement with an indigenous company for an ultra-modern World Class Sugar Processing Plant, with a total cost of about $330 million when completed. The project is sited in Augie Local Government Area, a border town between Kebbi State and Sokoto State. All these agricultural transformation drives of this administration ,have encouraged farmers to not only be active and productive, but has to a large extent reduced youth idleness ,as the state is adjudged the most peaceful state in northern Nigeria.If other states like Kebbi, would invest in agriculture, maybe Nigeria’s good old days have a chance of returning. Maybe younger Nigerians would get to witness a diverse and vibrant economy, which is not decided by a simple fluctuation of the price of one commodity.
Messrs Gwandu, Zuokumor & Zakari wrote from the Federal Ministry of Information, Radio House, Abuja