President Buhari in January this year directed the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to establish agro-allied industry in each state of the federation.
According to Mariam Katagum, the minister of state, the plan to establish agro-allied industry in each senatorial district in the country is part of government’s effort to achieve food security and stimulate economic activities.
She also spoke about the textile industries where over 150 textile firms responsible for about two million jobs were forced to fold up due to smuggling of textile goods. CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele estimated the cost to the nation as an import bill of over $4bn
This commendable initiative is the right step in the right direction. I think it was Simon Kolawole of Thisday that reminded us not too long ago that the solution to our food problem is not in directing everyone to the farm but in adding value to some of our farm produce.
Akinwunmi Adesina of African Development Bank was also recently quoted as saying he was looking forward to the period Africa would be able to produce chocolate and sell same to 300 million Chinese as against the current exploitation by the west.
The truth is that our food security and general prosperity lie in adding value to our farm produce as against commodity trading that has impoverished African nations for three centuries.
For instance, it has been said the total revenue accruing to Cote D’Ivoire, the world biggest exporter of cocoa is less than 10% of the profit made by just one chocolate manufacturer in the USA.
Buhari’s new endeavour is also in line with the dreams of our founding fathers notably Ahmadu Bello, the premier of the North during the first republic who set up the biggest public enterprise conglomerate in Africa and Obafemi Awolowo, his counterpart in the West who set up the Oodua group that became the backbone of the region’s development efforts.
It is also on record that the federal government between 1960 and 1997 invested about $100 billion in public enterprises.
But throwing borrowed funds into agro-allied industries if we don’t first address the reasons why those public enterprises set up by our founding fathers collapsed and bring to book those responsible for disposing off $100b worth investments for a paltry $1billion will amount to hitting ourselves with a hammer a second time and expect a different result.
This column along with many other well-meaning Nigerians had pleaded with the president after his inauguration in 2015 to revisit and place on record for posterity, those behind the collapse of those enterprises as well as the main beneficiaries.
What the president was asked to do was not new. President Vladimir Putin revisited the sales of public enterprises in Russia and compelled those who were not faithful to the terms of sales to return same to government.
Putin’s initiative led to creation of millions of jobs for Russian youths and the economic recovery of Russia that was at a period a candidate for foreign aid.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo once spoke of the greed of the Nigerian educated elite and their dishonesty. According to him, given a choice between them and the colonial masters, ordinary Nigerians would choose the latter because with them they are guaranteed of justice and fair play.
A journey through memory will readily confirm the Nigerian political, economic, intellectual and military elite are the curse of Nigeria.
Babangida, in order to consolidate his position after he and M K O Abiola had been used to depose recalcitrant Buhari in 1985 surrounded himself with some Aso rock political and economic professors.
Knowing what Babangida wanted, the former convinced him he could decree political parties and also cut the umbilical cord between the old politicians and their political offspring while the latter fraudulently claimed there was no alternative to Structural Adjustment Programme despite warnings by the likes of respected Professor Sam Aluko who maintained there was an alternative even to death.
And that was the intellectual legitimacy Babangida needed to embark on sale of federal government owned companies with directive to his military state administrators to do same in the name of commercialization.
Thus Ile Oluji Cocoa Industries was sold at give-away price while Cocoa Industry Ikeja was sold at an amount less than the cost of the land on which the industry was located, not to the children of cocoa farmers whose fathers’ sweat built the company, but allegedly to Babangida’s bidder from Kaduna State.
The southwest military administrators led by Bode George were said to be instrumental to the buyer’s securing of bank loan.
Using Margret Thatcher’s 1979 privatization exercise in Britain as justification, President Obasanjo and his PDP at the onset of the fourth republic sold off those enterprises Babangida could not sell before he was disgraced out of office over the June 12 debacle.
However, unlike Thatcher’s British privatization scheme through which about 50 public enterprises were sold to about 10 million shareholders of Britain’s 52 million population bringing over 50 billion pounds to government purse, our own Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) under Obasanjo, Atiku and El-Rufai according to report of a House probe, merely “supervised underhand dealings by privileged groups as shown by the sale of Daily Times, NICON, Nigeria Airways, Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company (NNMC) Oku Iboku and Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) Ikot Abasi”.
Peugeot Automobile Nigeria Limited (PAN), Volkswagen of Nigeria Limited (VON), Anambra Motors Manufacturing Company (ANAMMCO) Enugu, Steyr Nigeria Limited Bauchi; National Trucks Manufacturers (NTM) Kano and Leyland Nigeria Limited Ibadan in the 70s, although not sold but were mismanaged by the elite.
Automobile plants designed to produce 108,000 cars, 56,000 commercial vehicles, 10,000 tractors, 1,000,000 motorcycles and 1,000,000 bicycles annually with a prospect of providing an estimated 300,000 jobs collapsed.
The thriving automobile support industry including Michelin, Dunlop and 16 battery manufacturing firms spread across Nigeria from Ojota, Lagos Trade Fair Complex, Nasarawa Kaduna, Jimeta-Yola, in Adamawa State, Oluyole in Ibadan and Nnewi in Anambra suffered similar fate.
Importation and smuggling of used cars, sub-standard or used tyres and batteries, from China, Korea and Turkey have become thriving industries among Nigerian elite that ran the automobile industry aground.
Criminality and lawlessness thrive in Nigeria because of absence of governance. There has really been no governance since the end of Obasanjo’s presidency in 2007.
It is worse under President Buhari who has done everything to delegitimise his own government by some of actions and inactions.
Those who are importing the labour of other societies into the country while our own children roam the streets for job are not ghosts.
Past successive government as well as Buhari’s current administration simply lacked the political will to confront those who place their personal interests above that of the country.
The setting up of agro-allied industries in each senatorial seat of the 36 states is desirable but as our people say – the virus that afflict the vegetable lives within the vegetable.
With President Buhari’s ‘government of delegation by abdication’, the end products of his proposed agro-allied industries may not withstand an assault from unrepentant enemies that destroyed our once thriving pharmaceutical industry through flooding of Nigeria market with substandard drugs, the automotive support industry with the popular Michelin and Dunlop tyres the Exide and Ibeafo batteries with China-faked substitutes and the sabotage of the textile industries costing the nation an annual import bill of over $4bn.