President Muhammadu Buhari undertakes the political ritual of Independence Day broadcast to the nation this Sunday morning, in a speech that highlights major strides in the pet themes of the administration: anti-corruption, war against terrorism, economic revival and infrastructure development.
The President comes before the nation with a better result than he had shown the year before.
This is an important year for Nigeria, not only because the economy has just exited recession. The fight against terrorism has turned the corner with Boko Haram pushed to the fringes of the Lake Chad, restricted to hit-and-run strikes. In this fight, Nigeria is no longer standing alone. We are being supported by our neighbours and the international community.
On the war against corruption, the President, in a story he told the cabinet, illustrated how far the war had come.
Fifteen years ago, he said, someone hinted to him that a day will come in Nigeria when they will show a man a house he owned and he will say “no, it is not mine,” denying thereby its ownership. Knowing Nigerians, the President himself did not apparently believe this will happen in his lifetime. But we are already there.
Nothing confirms this more than the eerie silence in the courtroom when the Lagos High Court judge, Justice Chuka Obiazor asked the question: “who owned that Diezani Allison-Madueke USD 37.5 million Banana Island property?” No one stepped forward to claim it. It was thereafter forfeited to the Federal Government. In the same way and manner several others are being so forfeited.
With serious efforts being made to improve the ease of doing business, government just instituted a visa-on-arrival scheme at our major airports. We may not be clearing goods in 24 hours at the ports just yet, but things have changed so much, to the point that importers no longer wait for eternity to remove their goods from the Lagos Harbour.
Violence in the name of religion and ethnicity is being tackled as effectively as can be done. The success against Boko Haram in the North-East is being matched with success in the North Central, troubled by farmers-herdsmen. There is now a gradual return of calm and order, in turn paving the way to the return of workers to the farmlands and increasing food production.
In the South-East, the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra has removed tensions in much of the country, bringing with it relief that the nation is not up in flames as its promoters had planned.
The President comes before the nation against the backdrop of a bumper farm production that hit a new record high, impacting positively on the economy by hammering away at food price inflation.
In his speech, while presenting the 2017 ‘Budget of Recovery and Growth,’ President Buhari restated his abiding belief in the adage that a nation that cannot feed herself is a slave nation. He described this period as one of great opportunity.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) defined this as thus: “If you had to sum up our vision for the Nigerian economy in a few words, these would suffice. Grow what we eat, produce what we consume.’’
Speaking on the same issue, the Minister of State, Agriculture Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who frowned at the nation’s $22 billion annual food import bill, said: “We are at a very critical time in our nation building. The cardinal objective of this administration is to see how we can feed ourselves in the shortest possible time because we can no longer afford the import bill of $22 billion on staple foods. So the objective of this government is to be able to produce enough food for ourselves and export.”
It will not amount to an overstatement to say on this day, October 1, the real independence we must be celebrating is freedom from enslavement to foreign food sources and the arrival of that moment that has seen us feeding ourselves as a nation. Government just won a major victory against food importation and food price inflation. It is a critical battle won with a direct bearing on the budget of all citizens. As a saying goes, the touchstone of a good administration of any government lies in the benefits that accrue to the last person.
The economic situation in 2015 when he took power was broken, characterised by mismanagement and corruption; a primitive type of corruption that weakened the ability of government to tackle poverty, at the same time holding the nation from the race towards development. At a time when oil earnings had dropped significantly, President Buhari inherited a country heavily dependent on food imports but he realised soon enough that for things to change, he needed to usher in an era of expansion in agricultural production.
Nature herself became more generous. The rains were good this year and last year and this, combined with government policies on local fertiliser production that is about to deliver 10 million bags by the year’s end and delivering credit to farmers on low interest. All these, coupled with the supply of improved seeds have together led to increases in crop and cereals production, fisheries, eggs, poultry and these are still getting better.
Local fertiliser production has led to annual foreign exchange saving of more than USD200 million and eliminated annual subsidies in the region of N60bn. The cost per bag of widely-used NPK brand dropped from N11, 000 to the current price of N5,500. Growth in agriculture has in turn translated to good fortune not only for farmers but also for producers of consumer goods due to increase in purchasing power. The National Hajj Commission said 80 per cent of this year’s pilgrims were farmers. In many of our towns and villages, young men are abandoning the occupation of driving okada and taking to the farms.
Following increased efforts by the security agencies particularly the Customs, this county’s agriculture is emerging from the strangulating competition of foreign food suppliers who have swamped our markets with foreign food at prices that are subsidised by foreign governments. When country neighbouring you with a population of less than 1/20 to this country’s becomes the world’s second largest importer of parboiled rice, you know that a new game is in play.
As we celebrate the 57th year of our political independence, which many radicals had derisively called flag independence, it is apt that the nation steps forward to mark the freedom from the political and economic shortsightedness of the past that tied Nigerians to the consumption of imported food.
With every day, month and year, government under President Muhammadu Buhari is unravelling problems that have absorbed the public mind for years without solutions in sight.
Government policy of economic diversification is leading to a multiplication of wealth and riches for those who have seized the moment.
As the President said in that budget speech, “Across the country, our farmers, traders and transporters are seeing a shift in their fortunes. Nigerians who preferred imported products are now consuming made in Nigeria products. From Argungu in Kebbi to Abakalaki in Ebonyi, rice farmers and millers are seeing their products move. We must replicate such success in other staples like wheat, sugar, soya, tomato and dairy products.”
Although Nigeria is not the only country to face the problem of food price inflation, the Buhari administration had in the past two years come under unprecedented attacks by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. However, now that the administration has overcome that volley, this talking point has suddenly disappeared from their lips. Month after month, the National Bureau of Statistics reported government as having put in place good policies and actions that are taming the monster of inflation.
The News Agency of Nigeria correspondents recently visited markets in Plateau, Benue, Nassarawa, Kogi, Niger and Taraba states and found that food costs have gone down. NAN found that nine tubers of yam, which used to cost an average of N3,000 were sold for between N1,300 to N1,500 depending on their sizes.
The price of Garri, Cassava flour, according to NAN had come down from N380 and N400 per measure to between N220 to N260.
A farmer in the region attributed this change of food prices to good rains, return to farming by the youth and the security situations (which) has improved, making it possible for farmers to go to their farms.
Elsewhere in the country, reports show that a 100 kg bag of Guinea corn, maize or millet which cost N16,000 a year ago now sell for as low as N8,000. One hundred kilogram bag of home grown rice is down to N20, 000 from N32, 000. One hundred kilogram of beans is down to N26,000 from more than N30,000 a year ago.
What all these tell you is that government is aware of the problems facing the citizens and is working day and night to solve them.
President Buhari has a vision of building a new nation which resents and fights corruption, free of terrorism and a nation in which the poor have food to eat and a roof over their heads; a country in which the youth are job creators, not job seekers.
What it means to achieve food self-sufficiency is that the scarce foreign exchange available to the country can be used to procure plant, equipment and industrial machinery to drive the industrialisation of the country; that we will not be spending all the money we earn on food import but spare much of it to develop infrastructure as the administration is already doing with power, railway and roads.
The strive for the achievement of food self-sufficiency in two years of the Buhari administration is gradually ushering in the real independence for the people of Nigeria without any dramatic flair. In the coming years, government policy as manifested by the school feeding programme will take us from food security to nutrition security and hopefully, to a country in which no one is hungry. A country in which the people grow what we eat, and eat what we grow.
Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity