President, Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), Sunday Olusoji Salako, has said that Nigeria’s technological challenges cannot be met by financial fire hoses alone, but by the input of technological advancement and entrepreneurial solutions. In an interview with Senior Correspondent, SYLVESTER ENOGHASE, he insists that Nigeria has all it takes to be the most developed nation of the world, but that the political leaders and Nigerians need self-discipline to ensure that the potentials bestowed on the citizenry by God are not wasted. Excerpts:
President Goodluck Jonathan recently directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to set aside N50 billion for full-scale mechanised farming. Do you see this directive transforming the nation’s agricultural sector?
President Jonathan’s directive to the CBN to set aside N50billion mechanisation intervention fund is a welcome development. This is because, if judiciously use, the agricultural projects will in both short and long run, speed up the full establishment of the 1,200 private sector driven agricultural equipment hiring enterprises all states of the federation.
As a farmer, I am aware that other Nigerian farmers, when fully supported by the government, will not only feed Nigeria, but a major contributor to feeding the world.
This is why in our recent policy statement, while we were inspecting our farms in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, we called on the three tiers of government, the federal, states and Local Governments, to put in place policies that would ensure complete mechanisation of agriculture in the country as this would jump start economic growth of Nigeria.
It is unfortunate that for far too long, our farmers have depended on rudimentary tools such as hoes and cutlasses and as a result, small scale farmers that produce 80 per cent of our food in the country have very little or no access to modern agricultural machineries. This low level of mechanisation limits the abilities of our farmers to expand to sophisticated areas, reduce chances of performing timely farm operations, hinders opportunities to achieve economic of scale in raising food production and lower return on agricultural investment.
Sir, are you saying the current farming system will not provide needed surplus food for Nigerians?
Yes. One of the challenges is the low level of mechanisation of the agriculture sector. While our farmers toil, day and night, working their fields, they do so with rudimentary implements. The high cost of land clearing is a major disincentive for the expansion of cultivated area, especially in the southern parts of the country due to the dense vegetation coupled with the high cost of mechanisation, from plowing to harvesting.
These pose great challenges to farmers across the country.
How then are the farmers surviving the economic crunch and issues surrounding their faming profession?
Farmers in Nigeria are greatly affected by both the economic realities as they spend a significant portion of their time and energy supporting their agricultural livelihoods. It is unfortunate that they do not have access to training programmes, secured land from government, credit and input supplies such as improved seedlings. And these affect them in their farming
Why secured land tenure?
When farmers have secure land tenure from government they tend to invest more and make longer-term investments. And that is good for the economy. It also tends to encourage more sustainable natural resource management. Nigerian farmers are more likely to plant trees and perennial crops like cocoa and conserve their soil and water if they know that they’re the ones that will benefit most through government protection to invest in large-scale farming. As a farmer, I want to make it clear here that in most circumstances, secure land tenure promotes long-term investments even in less environmentally friendly activities, such as cocoa farming or oil palm plantations where land grabbers or touts are taken care of by government laws.
With your experience in farming, looking at the international level, a country like Indonesia stockpiles foodstuff for the rainy days. Why has Nigeria with her population not have such experience?
It is unfortunate that the three tiers of government are not paying enough attention to agriculture as their policies does not seem to be alive to this responsibility in that area. What I would have expected the Federal Government to do, as it was done at the period of Chief Obasanjo, is to encourage agricultural mechanisation programme like Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), through the public private partnership (PPP). These could be achieved by ensuring that every available space should be made use of in farming activities.
This is because a farmer with access to a tractor will be able to plant 10 hectares per day, compared to just one hectare per day if the same operation is being done manually with hoes and cutlasses with human labour. Also, it is worrisome that the current method of harvesting with cutlasses or sickles is not efficient, and leads to high losses from harvest and post-harvest operations.
As a farmer, what advice do you have for the government on how to support the farmers, grow the economy through agriculture?
Our leaders should recognise the potential impact that the economy can achieve through outreach with farmers. The three tiers of government, federal, states and Local Governments should be proud to support and manage programmes that are designed to affect the lives and livelihoods of farmers, by encouraging them through training programmes and soft loans to sustain adequate food production.
The government should strive to strengthen a greater population of farmers in the country to ensure that they are directly empowered through provision of secured land for farming, loans, and training programmes to support the socio-economic development of the country and the lives of their families.
I suggest that the three-tiers of government revives agricultural training progammes to support farmers to boost sustained food production in the country.
With your experience in farming, do you think Nigeria can survive the on-going food crises affecting developing countries, and even the developed countries of the world as a result of global climate change?
Nigeria will surely survive the on-going food crisis. I do not see the relevance of Nigeria importing food from foreign countries. To be precise, the global climate change cannot become an excuse for diminished ambition and inaction by the government not to support the nations farmers to produce crops for local consumption and for export, instead it offers government the opportunity to train, equip and implement the policy measures that support the farmers to boost crop production for recovery and for sustainable development of the country.
I think we must scale up action and move into a higher gear by the three tiers of Government through training farmers to be more equipped on food production because the situation calls for a re-energised campaign against poverty. On a serious note, the Local Governments have high stake in the wake-up call to boost food production in the country and reduce unemployment.
Is it possible for local governments to encourage rural development through agriculture to reduce rural-urban drift in the country?
Yes, I strongly believe we will see a paradigm shift if the local government s in the country develops rural communities with needed infrastructural facilities for training centres for farmers as well as extensions services.
Nigeria government should look at the past when the country was thriving on cotton, groundnut, cocoa and palm oil. It is not too late. I think it will be absolutely be necessary for government to develop the rural areas with adequate infrastructural facilities to prevent movement of people to the urban areas in search of white collar jobs.
The urban growth is a threat in many perspectives because there are vast untapped lands in the rural areas and by theory very many of the biggest cities in the world expanded on the bases of agricultural land made available to farmers. I think land protection in the rural areas will be very important in future in Nigeria.
What necessary measures would you suggest to the government to reduce corruption?
Well, we appeal to our political leadership at all levels in the country to redouble their efforts in curbing corruption. We are of the view that unless there are prompts deterrent sanctions against those brought to book; the problem will continue to fester. This is because recent developments and revelations concerning the various probes in the country give much cause for concern. It is difficult for an economy bleeding from corruption to recover quickly and deliver value to the citizens.
What is your view on the security situation in the country?
Well, we can only appeal to government at all levels to further intensify efforts at ensuring the security of lives and property, especially in the area of intelligence. The security situation has become a major challenge for both local and foreign investors, as it is already taking its toll on the economy of the affected states. The economy of the Northern parts of the country is on the verge of collapse with implication for investment losses and job losses.
The hospitality industries for instance in the affected states have been paralysed and many investors, especially SMEs, are relocating to other states with the attendant challenges. We are worried that the manufacturing firms sourcing raw materials from the north are now facing serious challenges and from record, inventory and stocks of many companies have been trapped in some locations in the affected states.
What, in your view could be a way forward to add value to the transformation agenda of the Federal Government?
Nigeria has all it takes to be the most developed nation of the world, but our political leaders and Nigerians need self-discipline to ensure that the potentials bestowed on the citizenry by God are not wasted. This is because if we can discipline ourselves and take priority in the longevity of our future, it will be better for us all. I am of the view that wiping off corruption should be taking serious by our leaders through self-discipline, as everything that is not working in Nigeria is man-made.
Talking from your leadership experience in the banking sector, how do you think unemployment could be reduced?
The innovative ways to tackle unemployment and inequality in Nigeria must be found quickly by the Federal Government through ensuring the delivery of socially sustainable inclusive development in the economy of Nigeria. It is my view that to achieve developmental progress, the three tiers of government, the federal, state and Local Governments have to innovate and build social development models that go beyond public finance in order to have much wider impact and scale. This can only be done by leveraging on private initiatives through public-private partnerships or through social entrepreneurship. This can be achievable because the walls between public and private sectors are disintegrating in the developed countries and as a result, more innovative technological structures are introduced into their economies.
It is evident that the challenges we face in Nigeria cannot be met by financial fire hoses alone, by the input of technology and innovative, entrepreneurial solutions are needed. It is also my view that despite the challenges and the realities of hyper-connected states in the country, the response the high unemployment rate has remained largely unchanged for the past 13 years of democratic rule.
This is because our government depends on a country based negotiation process to resolve our public good challenges, such as trade, climate change and sustainable development, but the world needs a paradigm shift where entrepreneurship is the driver of economic progress that must always be in service of the society. The private investors have to work hand in hand with government and civil society to create the synergies needed to improve and create job opportunities.
In a nutshell, I am of the view that strategies to restart economic growth in Nigeria should aim at boosting employment. In addition, there is need for structural reforms, which would restart of public investments in infrastructure and human capital, research and innovations, especially in the 774 Local Government Areas of Nigeria. I am also of the view that there is urgent need for private business investors to work hand-in-hand with government and civil society to create the synergies needed to improve the job opportunity potentials for Nigerian youth.
In what ways do you think that government can address the numerous socio-economic challenges in the country?
There is an urgent need for the current democratic structure of Nigeria to be restructured through participatory democracy that would complement representative democracy for all citizenry to be involved. This would ensure that the diversity of voices in the Nigerian society would make the entire citizenry to want to be part of the conversation and of the decision-making from the local to the national level, and that would reduce the tension in Nigeria’s democratic process. It would make the role of public-private partnerships to grow in Nigeria, especially in areas such as energy and the environment; transport and infrastructure development; education and capacity building; making the financial system service the real economy, and transition to new forms of growth. And when the issue of participatory democracy exist, the issue of social justice, fairness and reduction of inequalities will gain ground as the feeling of disconnect between citizens and governmental and private governance grows.
The issue of decent work has been very controversial in Nigeria. As a labour leader, in your opinion, is Nigeria government actually practising or planning for workers to have decent work in the country in accordance with ILO standard?
I see that as a hope that will be long to achieve because if the Nigeria Government is talking of creating opportunity for jobs without creating the enabling environment for decent jobs, then the problems of the Nigerians getting decent jobs cannot be archived. It is unfortunate that workers in the banking industry for instance, are given certain conditions that are far from what should support the decent work practices and because their concern is to have three basic necessities of life, food, shelter and clothing, they have not choice that to accept the jobs, even, if it affects their health.
We urged the government of Nigeria to ensure the implementation of decent work policies across the length and breathe of all sectors of the economy, but if the government is not there to ensure that Nigerian workers are protected, and must not be exposed to things that are not acceptable within human endeavours, then, the actualisation of decent work programmes is a mirage in Nigeria.
This is because the promotion and implementation of decent work programme by government would jump start the nation’s economic recovery. The issue of decent work also goes beyond just talking about it, it goes beyond the government providing necessary enabling laws, but must put in place, measures that would ensure that employers respect and comply with policies and laws of the land.
Source : Independent