Abeni Aso-Oke

A Journey to Yesterday. By Olushola Omogbehin

A Journey to Yesterday

Abeni Aso-Oke

Abeni Aso-Oke

The Biblical aphorism that “if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” is the best question to ask in the face of the current uncertainties facing Nigeria, particularly as our history since the past 60 years has justified in various ways that African leaders who stepped into the shoes of their former slave masters did so without any form of preparation as Frantz Fanon puts in The Wretched of the Earth. Having towed this part for more than six decades, we must be sincere with ourselves to return to where we were in case our destination is blurred and uncertain. After all, President Tinubu has demonstrated through the national anthem that our tomorrow is in our past.

As the great French poet, essayist and novelist, Victor-Marie Hugo said that an idea whose time has come is stronger than all the armies in the world, it was as if Prof. Soludo of Anambra State was aware of this piece when he said at Pastor Poju Oyemade’s 2024 edition of The Platform that the nation’s sudden reverse to the old national anthem is a pointer that our future is in our past. If this is so, we must then examine how our past was and what was there that should be replicated to the present day Nigeria?

Abeni Aso-Oke

Long before the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity in 1956 in Oloibiri which is located in the present day Bayelsa State, Nigeria was known for her agrarian economy. In this direction, Agriculture was then the bane of our foreign exchange earning with massive exportation of cash crops such as cocoa and coffee from the western region, rubber from Delta State and other south south states including Ogun State in the south west. Groundnut, hide and skin were produced from the northern region whereas states like Enugu and Anambra in the east were known for palm kernel production and some part of south west. There was also cotton pyramid in Sokoto and also groundnut pyramid in Kano with massive exportation.

As these generated great income to Nigerian economy, industries that generated employment were all over the various regions. Few among such industries are Cocoa Industries, Oil Palm Plc, Michelin and many others. According to ResearchGate – a research carried out by Sylvester Okotie of the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, in those glorious days, agriculture catered for 95% of food needs of Nigerians and also contributed 64.1% to Nigeria’s GDP as well as employed over 70% of the Nigerian population. As well, export of agric produce amounted to 80 % of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and 50% of government revenue.

It was a glorious era that unemployment was anathema in the society with job waiting for you before graduation. It was an era when no region depends on the other to survive but rather competed one with another because each was able to harness its resources and sell to the world. Even the almighty federal government, depended on the regions to survive. But then, what happened? The oil boom of 1970s made Nigeria to abandon her first love (agriculture) just because of the quick wealth the latter brought that would quickly align the leaders with their wealthy counterparts around the world. But instead of seeing the discovery of oil as another blessing that should be simultaneously explored to moving the new independent nation to her land of promise, it became more of a curse and stagnated us simply because the first wife was abandoned.

In the 90s during my primary and secondary school education, my parents would only buy rice, beans and fish from the market just because we could not farm them while other food items were provided through farming including meat. This was the situation in almost every home depending on what they farm. But generally, there was nothing like buying vegetable in the market, pepper, tomato, yam, maize and other salient farm produce which were all available in our backyard but today, we German floor our house after foundation without any garden where we could farm.

In those days as well, our parents reared local cow called “Erinla” in Yoruba Land and Western Nigerian Government also had cow in ranches in places like Erinfun in Ado Ekiti, Mariwo in Ifedore Local Government in Ondo State while many state governments later invested in agriculture. For instance, Ondo State had big farm where maize was planted, vegetable with many others ditto to other states with different peculiarities. Today however, the reverse is the case as nobody wants to farm anymore because it is no longer lucrative as people see it as dirty and job for the unfortunate members of the society. As people began to abandon farming and moved to the cities in order to enjoy oil wealth, government too shifted attention away from it thereby gradually creating a situation where we now find ourselves.

As such, export in agriculture reduced drastically, cocoa industries died, rubber industries and other agricultural related industries. As age set in too and our parents and grandparents who were involved in farming left the scene gradually through death, their farm died with them because their children did not continue from where they stopped mostly because of the attitude of government to farming.

*What should we do?*

Bishop Kukah captures Nigeria right when he said in the just concluded 2024 edition of The Platform that Nigeria does not think and plan beyond a particular time such as the eyes of many Nigerians are now on 2027. Of course we all remember vision 2000 and vision 2020 without any result only for the country to get worse. As the eminent bishop recommended Michael Pillsbury’s The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower, which talks about China’s plan to rule the world in the next 100 years from 1949 to 2049, this decision which was taken by China after the Communist Party won election in 1949 should be taken now that there is crisis of hunger in Nigeria.

If Nigeria is to survive the looming crisis of hunger, we must take strategic steps backward without any shame. We must bring back our glorious agricultural era at least to make food available by going the way of Hon Dogara at The Platform. What’s his submission?

As nature has subdivided Nigeria into strategic economic zones that we previously mismanaged for our greed, government should make deliberate policies that will take us back to where we were. Let the north concentrate on massive commercial farming involving sustainable transformation from irrigated farming to manufacturing, food processing innovation and entrepreneurship.
The south east should be encouraged to concentrate on agricultural produce such as red oil production, palm kernel and others that the region is currently known for while south-south should concentrate on petrochemical, oil and gas and other agricultural produce that is peculiar with it. South west should also go back to the farm and produce cocoa, kolanut, rubber, red oil, palm kernel and others.

Government should incentivize farming to encourage people go into it and make deliberate policy that will mandate every residential building to have small vegetable gardens that will at least, provide quick vegetable, pepper, garden egg and other soup ingredients that will guarantee basic domestic needs. State government should also go back to farming as it used to be. Let this be number one long term plan that will give Nigeria the needed freedom.

Government should promote small scale industries such as shoe making, tooth pick industry, tooth paste and tomato paste industries, revive the various moribund agricultural industries such as cocoa industries, Oil palm Plc, Michelin, rice and all the cottage industries across Nigeria. If possible, government should revoke the 32 privatized agricultural mechanized businesses (which I will write about in days to come) so we can start exporting agricultural product again like in those glorious days.

As export-driven economy is a sine qua non for naira recovery, let President Tinubu be reminded as Prof Soludo puts at The Platform, that he has historic duty to mobilize Nigeria to clean up the current mess for future generation. The best way to actualize this however is through agriculture because while oil can dry, land to farm will not finish. Tinubu must be deliberate in this direction.

To further actualize this, since discussion around restructuring has refused to go and having been supported by almost all the socio-political groups like Afenifere, Ohaneze, PANDEF, Middle Belt Forum and others that there is no sustainable future for Nigeria without addressing the issue of restructuring, the current APC government that has it boldly written out in their manifesto to restructure Nigeria should do so without delay. This will at least give regions and states the opportunity to tap into their natural endowment and compete favourably one with another for the benefit of all of us.

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