A Year of Surprises

Someone sent me a text message on May 29.  He asked if I was watching Mr. President chatting with the media.  I said I wasn’t, that I had no light.  I had been angry with Lawrence. Lawrence is my genset maintainer.  His fault was that he had told me that the genset had a problem and could not be used on the night of May 29.  Why should he be the harbinger of such bad news?  I had many things to do and how was I going to cope?  That was not the first time the genset would fail me; not the second time; not even the third.

And on all those occasions, PHCN hardly was available to redeem the situation. The power holder has not even tried to quit the status of a standby generator. I had spent money on that genset all year round; repairing and fuelling it.  The fuelling started with N65 a litre a year ago and as at May 29, had risen to N140 a litre.  I told someone in Kaduna the high cost of fuelling gensets and he told me we were lucky in Lagos we had diesel!   The punishment the cost of living was inflicting on me extended to food and every other thing that you spend money on.

The day before May 29, some people were having drinks at a joint in Anthony Village and they were pounced on by young able-bodied men who in other countries would be working in factories or farms or building rail-roads.  They removed everything they could find, apologized for “inconveniencing” those they robbed and spoke about the times we are in before they drove off in a jeep they had seized. Right there on the road near my house, it is almost routine that people in traffic are dispossessed of their purses, handsets, money, anything.

The welfare and security of the citizens is why government is there – federal, state and local council.  Between May 29, 2007 and May 29, 2008, I cannot swear that I got welfare or security.  I do not know if you did.

So when I got the text message asking me if I was watching the President speaking to us, his people, I was eager to watch.  As if in answer to a silent prayer, the lights came on and I headed for my private sitting room and switched on the television set.  The president was there all right.  He was discussing his state of health when I came in.  But in the next 15 minutes the lights went off five times.

When he was rounding off and John Momoh who anchored the programme asked him to say in one minute what would be expected in the next one year, he said there would be surprises!  That is that Nigerians would begin to see the results of his one year of planning! But the year past was full of surprises, too, for me. It was a year the story of the gazelle and the tortoise came to mind. The gazelle outpaced the tortoise in a race, expectedly; but the tortoise won it!  It was the year when due process, which was what we opted for when the military left in 1999, became an article of faith that government seemed to be asking us to accept as an achievement.

Well, it was an achievement because the one who left believed that due process was a minor procedural chore which could be cured in due time. It was a year when the structures put in place for the take-off of an economic programme seemed to have been neatly dismantled.  It was a year when everything seemed to have stood still.  Yes, it was a year of surprises; a year when everyone thought a departing president had put an unexposed team in charge of affairs so he could pull the strings from his farm, but discovered that those on the saddle were reluctant consulters or  allergic to consultations.

The surprises the president wants us to await with beating hearts have to be expectations of the good things to come.  They must not be speeches and resolutions and accusations.  The people want light, food, roads, peace in their homes and the streets.  These were missing in one year of office of President Musa Yar’Adua.  But Presidential spokesman Segun Adeniyi has come up with an explanation that the president is neither too slow in coming up with solutions to our problems nor that he has no clue as to what to do.

The conclusion, he says, is wrong. He says his boss wants to end the “stop-and-go policies of past administrations”, and so had been involved in planning.   As an analytical chemistry graduate and teacher, the president has been looking our needs straight in the face so that he can tackle them short-term, medium term and long-term!  Next year will therefore be a year of surprises.  But not, to me, in the area of most critical need, agriculture.

I am not comfortable with what Segun is telling us.  He says in his report card through the media that the ministry of agriculture and water resources has been directed to “undertake more research into crops and seedlings improvements, mechanization and extension services as well as rehabilitating and upgrading moribund facilities at our river basin development authorities through partnership with the private sector”.

Any one in government who says he wants to find out what is happening in any sector of the economy is not serious and cannot be serious.  All the facts are there and all the solutions are crying for accommodation, right there in the file cabinets of the ministries, parastatals, research agencies, the private sector participators in the economy, and even the relevant world bodies.  Take agriculture, the sorest area because of the decision of government to encourage the importation of rice which obviously is a panic measure that has taught us serious lessons in the past.

If any top civil servant who was there in the 70s and 80s is told that the government is undertaking “research into crops and seedlings improvements”, he will laugh because what Segun is saying the president has ordered has been settled over the years.  Even the ministry of agriculture’s website is begging that those visiting it should send the data there to friends and others who may be interested in investing in the agric sector in the country.   The data on agriculture, reviewed in November 2001, give the areas of each state of the country, from Abia to Abuja in hectares, square kilometers, acres and square miles.

It then provides information on our land use in hectares from 1981 to 1996 showing total area, how much of it is land, how much is the agricultural land area, arable land, area for permanent crops, permanent pastures, forest and woodland.  All the information, presented on the website of NigeriaBusinessInfo.com came from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.  The volume of production of our principal crops is even listed for the periods 1996, 1997 and 1998.

The principal crops include wheat, paddy rice, maize, sorghum, millet, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, yams, coco yam (taro), pulses, soyabeans, groundnuts, sesame seed, cotton, coconuts, palm kernels, tomatoes, green peppers, sugar cane, carrots, citrus fruits, mangoes, pineapples, plantains, papayas, cashew nuts, cocoa beans, tobacco and natural rubber.

The production in metric tones is shown.  Also provided is the estimated area in hectares planted yearly with crops between 1992 and 1997.  The crops include millet, guinea corn, beans, yam, cassava, rice and groundnut.  There is even information on planting and harvesting periods for different crops for export. Even in respect of many other crops this is the planting season.  Information is there on how we rate in livestock, listing the number of horses, cattle, camels, pigs, sheep and goats we have.

Not left out is fish production in metric tonnes between 1993 and 1997, and the type of fish caught in inland waterways and the Atlantic Ocean.  I have done my patriotic duty by telling you about that page.  So exhaustive is it that I am surprised that many of our state governments with so much land have not done what Governor Saraki did in Kwara State, that is bringing to this country those displaced farmers in Zimbabwe.  That country’s loss would have been our gain!

On what we really need to zero in on, I am surprised that government is so much in love with providing rice for the populace.  Whose products are we promoting in this country?  Which of the Nigerian tribes has rice as its staple food?   I am not aware of any.  Yams, maize, cassava and lots of other crops were more of our staples before the advent of rice which was synonymous with agriculture in China some 4,000 years ago.

How much of what is being done at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) have we accessed to address the food question?  Maize feeds more than 300 million people in Africa and it is the continent’s most important cereal crop. Our own potato is cassava and Nigeria is the world’s greatest producer of it.  Hundreds of millions of people depend on it in Africa.  Yams are the staple for more than 100 million people in West Africa alone. How many months does it take to grow corn, to grow cassava, to grow yam?  IITA is an Africa-based international research for development organization established in 1967.

More than 100 international scientists in various IITA stations in Africa are working to enhance food security and improve livelihoods in Africa through research for development.  Its global mandate is to address the problems of cowpea, soyabean, banana, plantains and yams.  But it has a specific brief to address the cassava and maize problems, which it has done with flying colours.

If President Yar’Adua wants to succeed in addressing the food question, he must stop the expenditure of even one kobo on food import.  Let us perish as worthless human vermin if with so much there to tap, we refuse to grow our food.  Manna falling from heaven was a specific event to cure a specific ailment.  It can never happen again. Never.

(Published in Vol. 3 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 86 – 90; Lagos, 2011).

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