On manufacturing, there are four action points on the what- to – do segment of which I welcome the decision to review import duty on raw materials available in the country and on imported machinery. Beyond that I am sceptical about the efficacy of delaying all major economic policy formulation until consultation with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Chambers of Commerce and all stakeholders are completed. For goodness sake, it would have been helpful if members of the bodies mentioned were among those invited to Dubai where the document was finalized. I honestly hate to believe that a number of the advisers have no idea on how to address Nigeria’s poor manufacturing capacity to the extent that the document failed even to identify manufacturing entities that the country urgently requires. What would have been appropriate and indeed what is being suggested is reflected further in the document in the health segment where it was noted that the Atiku government would “encourage medium and large scale pharmaceutical industries for the local production of essential drugs.”
Thirdly, on Agriculture, you see the same lack of dynamism, definitiveness and focus on the things we should be doing. There is the need for broader policy beyond the promised financial incentives that includes identifying the products the nation should focus on in order to achieve its dream of becoming an export nation.
If we really want to improve agriculture and its contribution to the nation’s GDP we should focus on reviving Nigeria’s traditional cash crops like cocoa, oil palm, cotton, rubber, timber, groundnuts, etc. To be successful, the federal government under Atiku would have to work in concert or compel the states to focus on developing agriculture something most of them currently do not show much interest in. In most of the states, funds are voted annually for agriculture with very little spent often times, on the purchase of tractors that are never used. A few years ago, the Akpabio administration in Akwa Ibom, voted N11 billion on agriculture but spent only N900, 000 on some empowerment programs which had little to do with agriculture. The middle belt or north central which should be surviving as the food basket of the nation, given its great agricultural potential is perennially engaged in either indigene – non indigene conflicts or indigenes and herdsmen war of attrition and a region so blessed, wallows in poverty. Edo State was advised in late 1999 to focus on growing rubber across the value chain in order to become a global supplier of rubber products. Rubber like oil palm takes about five to six years to mature and produce raw rubber, but almost produces for life. Eighteen years later no successive regime in Edo has given thoughts to that suggestion.
I mentioned oil palm not only because of the domestic and global shortages but because it still holds a lot of promises for the south-south and south-east which in the 1960s survived on it. Indonesia and Malaysia with annual production of 45,000 and 40,000 metric tons respectively are the major producers in the world and both survive on it. They are followed by Columbia, with a million metric tons and Nigeria at 900,000+ metric tons and high domestic shortage. As a result, in 2011 at the directives of the then governors of the six South South states, the BRACED Commission, working with the states and a number of local and international experts and agencies, came up with a regional policy on agriculture which essentially asked all the six states to develop oil palm throughout the region in the first instance, and to choose, two other products from cassava, cocoa, rice, rubber, timber, banana/plantain and aquaculture in which they have comparative advantage and develop across the value chain. Instead the emphases of successive governments in the states have been on projects, essentially roads, building or rehabilitating a few schools and hospitals.
In highlighting these examples, it is simply to say that the states hold the key to the success of any diversification efforts with agriculture and industry as priority. It is also to emphasize as much as I can that to succeed the Federal Government as a matter of national interest or deliberate state policy must find ways of persuading states to put agriculture at the top of their agenda. If states are encouraged to focus on one or two major crops, significant progress will be made. Let us bear in mind that a number of countries in the world still depend on these primary agricultural crops to survive.
Somewhere in the Atiku document it was outlined that states that are progressive in teams of development or doing well would be financially compensated as a form of encouragement. This however should not be open ended, but should be qualified and limited to states that are doing well in agriculture and human capital development, particularly education, health and ICT. The criteria and evaluation must be stringent, high standard performance and evidence based to encourage seriousness and focus. It must not be federal characterised, as that remains the source of the injustice and unfairness in this country. At this juncture, may I propose to the Atiku team to give serious and reasoned consideration to encouraging the creation of zones of economic development to promote regional economic cooperation and integration. This enables states to pool resources together for the development and prosperity of the regions. In the south west and south- south where this is being attempted, it is just the absence of the knowledge of the benefits of sub regional cooperation and lack of political will that continue to hinder progress. Besides, governors in this country have the mindset of local champions.
Third, very few would quarrel with the priorities in the document, which includes infrastructure. Again I return to the need for quick, bold and decisive actions that can resolve problems that appear intractable. I do not like tentative steps when the problems are obvious. On power for example, there are those who find it worrisome that the focus is on the Discos to the detriment of the Gencos or off/ mini grid solutions and the metering gaps. The way forward is to review and resolve all the problems post privatization including government doing its own bits with transmission or increasing gas supply. Besides, we need to build more power plants. It is encouraging to read in the document that a number of roads would be concessioned. While this is welcomed, it is important to observe that the first major concession, the Lagos Ibadan road, has been the subject of bitter legal disputes and this must be avoided going forward. Anybody who has travelled around the country in recent times would not only be disturbed by the magnitude of the deterioration of the roads in Nigeria but also by the realisation that at current budgetary allocations, there is absolutely no way any government can guarantee good, all year round roads throughout the country whether now or in the near future. Thus, I support concessioning of all federal roads but to a consortium of foreign and Nigerian companies, which should raise the funds to build, rehabilitated and maintain the various roads for about 10 to 15 years and allowed to toll the roads. First, this is the only way the nation can simultaneously and within the next four years have good and durable inter-state motorways. Most of the roads awarded by the Buhari administration if you check were awarded and rewarded by previous administrations. Secondly, the idea of involving foreign companies, possibly apart from access to some cheap funds, is to ensure quality and durability especially in difficult terrains. Thirdly, one corruption driven/ riddled sector and of which no attention is paid to, is the construction industry. At current budgetary level the close to N900 billion to over trillions of Naira that would be saved can be poured into reforming, rebuilding, strengthening and improving our education and health systems.
To be continued tomorrow.
Ambassador Keshi wrote from Lagos.