With the present drive of the Aregbesola administration in revamping agriculture in Osun State, NIYI OLASINDE brings the plight of trainees in the “Songhai Experiment” of the immediate past administration under focus; stressing the need by the incumbent administration to revisit the scheme and give it proper repackaging and utilization.
In the earliest days of his administration, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Governor of Osun State, came out pungently to demonstrate his unflinching commitment and determination to turn around the civil-service status hitherto worn by the state. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)-led administration started this new focus with a view to ensuring food security, provide farm produces for use by domestic industries; creating excesses in agricultural produces to make exportation possible; and improve Internally-Generated Revenue (IGR) base of the state thereby. Before the coming on board of the Aregbesola administration, the state had become a victim of visionless administration with no focus or will-power to improve the revenue profile of the state and save it from financial embarrassment. The prevailing situation around here had been that of overdependence on the monthly statutory allocation coming from the centre, which could hardly settle the overhead bills of governance, not to talk of providing infrastructure, making industrialization more formidable, creating wealth and saving the people from the fangs of unemployment, poverty and squalor by improving their general standards of living.
Early enough, the administration of Engineer Rauf Aregbesola brainstormed and identified that there existed a vacuum, created by underutilization of a vibrant sector which had been the pride of the nation in the pre-independence era till about a dscade after the nation’s independence in 1960. This was prior to the oil boom of early 1970s. In those times cocoa, palm produce, groundnut, rubber, kolanut, timber, to mention just a new, created wealth for the nation. In addition, the agricultural sector of our economy engaged well above 80 per cent of our workforce productively such that our appellation among the comity of nations was “the Giant of Africa”. This part of the nation, which is now proudly being referred to as the South-Western geopolitical zone was then wondrously blessed, since it made utmost use of its natural, God-endowed resources. A combination of crave for leisure; sloth; carelessness; poor leadership lacking in vision, foresight, discretion and willpower; irresponsible followership; and lack of focus contributed to the prevailing situation of “land of plenty and want” that pervaded the area. Needless to say, the sector which had been so neglected is Agriculture.
At the very inception of the incumbent administration, the helmsman of the state, Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola constituted a committee of experts which was saddled, prior to the commencement of rolling out his programmes of relief, encouragement and assistance to farmers and practising agriculturists in the state, to tour and accurately capture the thirty (30) local government council areas of the state, with the inclusion of Ife East Area Office. The committee, which comprised agricultural experts, geographers, soil scientists and engineers toured the wide expanse of the state in a week-long exercise between late January and early February. Their professional tour took them to various local government areas, farm settlements, farm centres and villages where discussions were held with practising farmers on their farms, with a view to getting first-hand information on how to assist them in achieving increased production of food and other produces this year and years to come.
The committee, which approached the exercise on zonal basis, left no stone unturned in pin-pointing the numerous challenges which had militated in the past to hamper the growth, development and productivity of agricultural sector in the state. At the end of its exploratory tour, problems identified to be inhibiting agricultural prosperity in the state include financial limitations, bad road network and storage facilities.
While in active tour of all the nooks and crannies of the state, the chairman of the committee, Mr. Bayo Ojo, was reported to have defined the terms of reference of the committee to include mainly going round all farm settlements, centres and villages in all council areas of the state to ascertain the problems facing crop and farm-produce production in order to proffer timely and lasting solutions. The committee observed that though the agricultural policy of the nascent administration was still on course, the Governor had considered it necessary to tackle head-on the issue of rendering timely assistance to farmers so as not to waste the whole stretch of this year’s (20ll) rainy season, which held high promise of bumper and prolific harvest for the state.
Integral part of the committee’s activities and findings included feeling the pulse of farmers in situ, in all the locations where practising ones are found in the state. Findings revealed that farmers made a clarion call on the State Government to assist them in ensuring the eradication of the numerous challenges facing them, with a view to empowering them to increase their production in the areas of food security and other numerous farm produces. It was also reestablished that the state is naturally endowed and well-positioned for a prolific harvest in various food and cash crops including animal produces.
In addition to the three challenges earlier-mentioned in this report, other challenges were identified first-hand through a working interaction with practising farmers. Far from theoretical abstractions, other identified challenges include those connected with marketing, non-availability of tractors and modern equipment that could make for economies of scale brought about by agricultural mechanization, non-availability of chemicals (pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and the likes), shortage of fertilizer supply and lack of facilities for irrigation to ensure an all-year-round production of vital staple farm produces and food items. Closely knit to this last issue of all-year-round availability of produces is poor storage facilities, which threatens conservation and preservation of harvested crops and livestock, cause colossal waste; forcing farmers to quickly dispose what they laboured hard to produce at exorbitant cost at give-away prices
Central to the problems identified by the committee is that of poor infrastructure at the grassroots, which perpetually keeps agricultural productivity at an abysmally low level and compels massive drift of working population from rural areas to urban areas where little or no farming activities could take place. In other words, it was found out that with the focus of the incumbent administration in the state which is bent o give a boost to agriculture, the coast is clear to making agriculture more attractive and far more profitable – all to the enhanced prosperity of the macro society.
Apart from the committee’s achievement is getting the input of the farmers direct, it also succeeded in ensuring that individuals and communities volunteered the release of parcels of land areas to the State Government for cultivation to enhance a boost in food productions and production of other farm produces. The released land areas per local government council area measured up to 1,000 hectares each. This development was, and is still a signal to better things to come for our state and its people under the administration of Engineer Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola.
The foregoing is a preamble to other frantic efforts put in so far by the Aregbesola administration to better the lot of the State of Omoluabi by turning around agriculture as a trade, a vocation, an industry and an income-earner. The administration is also committed to transforming Osun State into the food basket of the nation in no time. Subsequent segments of this report shall reveal more of this policy and the frantic steps taken so far.
Following the groundwork tour of the Agriculture Committee discussed above, the Osun State Government, under the governorship of Ogbeni Aregbesola has launched its first agricultural programme. The programme, tagged Osun State Rural Enterprise and Agricultural Programme (OREAP), has as its focus granting assistance in finance, materials and equipment to individual farmers and farmers’ cooperative societies with a view to boosting their scope of operations, productivity and ensuring abundance in food production and raw materials for existing and emerging industries.
The Osun Rural Enterprise and Agricultural Programme (OREAP) has distinguished itself already by winning widespread acceptance and praises by residents of Osun State and people from other states who view it as a right step in the right direction. By the tone and spirit of the blueprint and activities rolled out for the programme, it becomes clear that the efforts of the becomes clear that the efforts of the incumbent administration in the state to revamp the economy of the state through massive food production and cash crop production would go a long way, not only in quelling the devastating blows dealt by hunger, unemployment, starvation and sloth, but also in improving the revenue profile of the state and launching the state forward into a highly industrialized society.
According to findings through the feelers sent into the field by OSUN DEFENDER Magazine, the major besetting of some earlier administrations in the state was that loans given or intended to be given to farmers or farmers’ cooperative societies ended in wrong hands as pen-brandishing farmers took it up and considered it their own largesse or share of the “national cake.” Under the immediate past administration of Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola in particular, findings revealed that enormous proportions of micro credit facilities for farmers and Fadama project loans went into wrong hands which diverted the funds into uses that were totally unconnected with farming.
Already, the Aregbesola administration has proved its worth and mettle at safeguarding against this misadventure. Governor Rauf Aregbesola has embraced the practising farmers in the state warmly, first by making them feel involved and second, by encouraging them to form cooperative groups through which they could more easily access loans and credits with easier and more comfortable repayment. The loans, by their fat sizes, could stand them in better stead to afford procurement of tractors and other equipment which would enhance their productivity and prosperity.
Already, the Aregbesola administration has commenced a state-wide crusade for opening of rural areas and farm settlement to the urban areas. Governor Aregbesola, noticed with discontent that much of the food consumed in the state were imported from other places, while our fertile arable land lay fallow. This said development presents sharp deviation to known standards set by the late avatar, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his days as Premier of the defunct Western Region. At the zenith of that Region’s glory, Awolowo turned agriculture to wealth by effectively generating revenue from it and efficiently using the wealth to build infrastructure for the benefit of all. Good road network, decent and befitting school buildings, the famous Cocoa House Building in Ibadan, the first television station in Africa (known today as Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Ibadan), and the Liberty Stadium (now Obafemi Awolowo Stadium) also at Ibadan remain till date legacies from the benevolence of the good leadership of the late sage. These are not to talk of enormous fund spent on the free education programme of that era, which till date has launched the region to the fore-front of educational progress and advancement in the country. Also, the free health services of that glorious and illustrious past era broke the jinx of superstitions and untimely death. Like legendary Mary Slessor, Awolowo saved a whole generation from extinction via his free Medicare, financed through proceeds from agriculture.
Like Joseph in the foreign land of Egypt, Aregbesola is set and determined to explore and use our abundance in natural endowments and climatic conditions to provide for now and the future. He is also resolute to help other lands through our own vibrant agricultural sector. The wisdom which distinguished Joseph to excel and get elevated to the exalted position of Prime Minister in a foreign land spoke for Aregbesola to become and perform creditably as Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in Lagos. The selfsame wisdom is at work for him in his home state today. Like Oyinlola, Aregbesola first functioned in Lagos State before his home-coming. Most unlike Oyinlola, however, he had good credentials out there and is already making a mark here at home.
Still in the area of infrastructure as a fillip to agricultural productivity, Aregbesola is already busy working on building railway network across Osun State to link cosmopolitan Lagos State. This is with a view to getting farm produces, labour and material inputs easily transported with lower expenses. Much outcry was heard from farmers during the locust years of the Oyinlola administration concerning diversion of fertilizers, poor storage facilities, poor market conditions, lack of requisite infrastructure, poor access to credit and loans facilities and other problems. In spite of boastful ranting by that administration, nothing significant was done to assuage the sufferings of these members of the most productive segment of our economy, who were relegated to the lowly status of peasants of pre-Adam Smith era. The pact of the Aregbesola administration with the Chinese railway construction gurus shall soon materialize into flowing economy with easy access to market in Lagos and overseas.
In replication of the agricultural drive of Osun State Government, local government caretaker committees across the state; which were inaugurated in February 2011 are also taking decisive steps to give support and encouragement to agriculture. Forming an integral part of their 100th day anniversary in office was the donation of various agricultural items, materials and implements ranging from improved seeds and seedlings to agro-chemicals (i.e. pesticides, insecticides and herbicides), with implements of various kinds and fertilizers to bring relief and soccour to farmers.
Already, various local government administrations are involved in agreements with Leventis (Nigeria) Schools Limited to enrol youths for entrepreneurship/empowerment training in different fields of agricultural operations. A case in hand is the visit by the management team of the school in Ilesa to the chairman and cabinet of Ilesa West Local Government in May to work out an action plan on how to revolutionize agriculture in the area. The Caretaker Chairman of the local council, Alhaji Honourable Azeez Isa Adesiji provided an enabling environment by promising to tow the line of the State Government in pursuing a replica of its agricultural policies to the letter.
This was the situation across all local government council areas in the state. In Odo-Otin, Boripe, Ifelodun, Irewole Ayedaade and Irepodun for instance, the chairmen and members of the councils’ caretaker committees gave generous gifts and donations to farmers to enhance their productivity this season and yonder.
Time and time again, Governor Aregbesola has always reiterated his commitment to make Osun State Economically viable through agriculture and industrialization. The government spares no occasion to renew his avowed determination to turning the tide of the state around by generating greater Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) through agriculture. To him, it is first thing first-agriculture first; then industrialization. The budget analysis for year 2011, presented by the Permanent Secretary for on public advocacy on agricultural policy and food the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Budget, Elder Abiodun Akintaro, JP in June 2011 contains details of activities and programmes planned for execution in this direction. It was not surprising to find items like silos, tractors and other equipment forming part of the details and breakdown of the agricultural sub-sector.
Also, at the instance of the Special Osun Businessmen Quarterly Retreat titled “Opening of the Untapped Business Opportunities in Osun State” held sometimes in June 2011 at the Club House, De-Place Funcity Osogbo, Aregbesola renewed his vow to make Osun State a treasure trove of human and material resources capable of making it a veritable economic hub of the South-West geopolitical zone of Nigeria. The governor promised that economic development would soon take place under the astute leadership which his team would provide so as to pool the various opportunities and resources.
According to the Governor, the usual reference to the state s a “civil service state” is an anathema. Describing this reference as derisive, the governor observed that other charitable commentators were in the habit of referring to Osun State as centre of arts and culture. This development, Aregbesola reasoned became the norm because when compared with other states like Lagos, Oyo and Rivers, Osun is not yet in the business league of Nigeria.
Excerpts from the governor’s speech at the occasion read:
“Osun State is often derisively referred to as a civil service state. Those who will be more charitable will refer to Osun as a centre of art and culture. This is because compared to Lagos, Oyo and Rivers states; Osun is not yet in the business league in Nigeria. Ironically, Osun sits on a treasure trove of human and material resources capable of making it a veritable economic hub of the South-West.
“What we can make of this is that no matter the degree of potentiality, economic development can only take place where there is astute leadership to pool together the various opportunities and resources.”
The governor confessed that upon his assumption of office, his team discovered that the economic potentials of the state were just lying fallow while there were opportunities that could have been channelled to create jobs, economically empower the people and increase the income base of the government. He added that a good majority of the people of Osun State comprises farmers who are blessed with good arable land to cultivate food and cash crops. In effect, if the fertile soil had been well-harnessed, agro-allied industries and several other opportunities in the area of food processing would have thrived.
In his further submission, if the fertile soil had been well harnessed, a waiting market would have been sighted to absorb the agricultural produce of Osun State. Identifying this waiting market, Aregbesola revealed that there exists a daily N3 Billion food market in Lagos, Nigeria’s former federal capital and commercial cum industrial nerve-centre of Nigeria.
Governor Aregbesola promised the commitment of the State Government under his leadership to position farmers to take a sizeable chunk of the N3 Billion food market in Lagos while also working with financial institutions on how farmers could be helped to begin a transition from subsistence to large-scale commercial farming.
Earlier this year, the Governor paid a visit to the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (ITTA) which headquarters in Nigeria resides in Ibadan, Oyo State. Also, reference has been made in an earlier segment of this report of plans to provide the state with adequate railway network, linking up with the agricultural market in Lagos. It was at the occasion that Governor Aregbesola announced that all arrangements had been concluded to partner with the IITA and the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) in the respective connections concerning their auspicious services.
In his words at the occasion, Governor Aregbesola declared that:
“There is a daily N3 Billion food market in Lagos and we are positioning our farmers to take a sizeable chunk of this. We are working with financial institutions on how our farmers can be helped to begin a transition from subsistence farming to large scale commercial farming. Towards this, we are also working with research institutions like IITA to provide them with techniques, modern implements and improved high-yielding seeds.”
Finally, the governor made a categorical statement on the intended overall benefit of the Osun State Rural Enterprise and Agricultural Programme (OREAP). He promised that his administration would do everything necessary to empower men, women and youths through agriculture, and via the instrumentality of the programme.
The agricultural cum food security campaign of Governor Rauf Aregbesola is not confined to Osun Sate alone. The amazons of solutions gave his model a global perspective when he counseled the Federal Government to adopt a national food sufficiency policy which is reasoned to avert an unpleasant diplomatic situation for the country.
Featuring at an event held recently, where he was represented by the co-coordinating Director, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Dr. Adegbite Ojo, the governor noted that Nigeria is poised with challenges associated with food security. He therefore called for the development of a policy that would guarantee food sufficiency. The governor had this to say:
“A food-dependent country can be brought to its knees very easily if supply is withdrawn by the supplying nation.”
He pled that the Federal Government should act fast in view of what he described as “the international system that is increasingly becoming hostile and insatiable.”
Food security, according to the governor, has become a national security since any country that could not feed its population is diplomatically weak, dependent and vulnerable to external aggression and manipulation. He further stressed that the development of any nation is always preceded by development in agriculture which provides most of the raw materials for industrial development. Once a nation is able to master its agricultural potentials, such a country would be almost immediately able to master other areas of development. Wondering on the reason why children of war-ravaged countries should look well-fed while Nigerian children should look gaunt and malnourished, Aregbesola said:
“I have often wondered on the national food crisis. When I look at the pictures of children from war-ravaged countries, how they look healthy and robust while our own children in a war-free country look gaunt and malnourished. Our people are not well-fed.”
According to him, the implications of citizens not being well fed are evident in the mental capabilities, physical prowess of the youth and longevity in general. He then called on researchers to look into the situation. While paying glowing tributes to the foundation Vice-Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Professor Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, Aregbesola challenged scholars to find out whether there are correlations between mass failure in secondary school examinations and nutrition deficiency in the kids; since the cognitive capacity of children is largely proportional to their access to basic nutrients. Excerpts:
“Do you often observe how underperforming athletes upon getting to Europe and America suddenly become physically big and are catapulted to world beaters’ class? Does recess to good nutrition play any role in this transformation?”
He then threw further challenges to social scientists and nutrition experts to start embarking on public advocacy on agricultural policy and food security. He made it expressly clear that the best way to create wealth, provide jobs, grow the economy, expand government income and uplift the standard of living of our people is to develop agriculture with the right incentives including land, soft loans, modern farming techniques and implements, improved seedlings and extension services.
From the horse’s mouth, it was made known at the occasion the giant strides of the Aregbesola administration – how the administration has been favourably disposed to tackle head-on the problems of food security in the land. According to him, his government had secured 30,000 hectares of land across the state to produce food crops through the Osun Rural Enterprise and Agricultural Programme (OREAP). This aspect deserves documentation to substantiate our earlier claims and authenticate the achievements so far pointed to in this edition. The governor declared as follows:
“In Osun State, our commitment to agricultural development is total and irrevocable. Though our Osun Rural Enterprise and Agricultural Programme (OREAP), we are working to revitalize agriculture and empower our people. We have acquired 30,000 hectares of land in all the local government councils in the state for the purpose of commercial farming. We want to transform our farmers from subsistence farmers to large-scale commercial farmers.”
As earlier pointed out in this edition, given a daily N3 Billion food market in Lagos, the governor made it categorically clear that his team would position Osun State farmers to tap into 10 per cent of this while arrangements are being made to partaker with the Nigerian Railway Corporation and other partners to give farmers direct daily access to sell their produce.
The foregoing does not bare the full list of efforts by the present-day administration of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola in Osun State to lift the state’s economic viability through agricultural renaissance. There have been other areas where the present-day administration is making ground-breaking moves to revolutionize agriculture and turn the economic fortunes of the state around positively. OSUN DEFENDER Magazine shall devote this segment to those salient measures already being adopted or embraced to make agriculture and our entire economy vibrant once again.
Within the first six months of his administration, Ogbeni Aregbesola has set the stage for the state’s unparalleled growth and transformation in the area of agriculture. His intellectual preparedness, strategic planning, administrative sagacity and infectious hardwork are not in doubt – they have begun to manifest with great rapidity. In that length of time mentioned, the incumbent administration has set mark to achieve what the inept Oyinlola administration could not achieve in the entire seven-and-a-half years that it sat tight in office.
Today, the atmosphere has changed. A set of Korean investors has come to invest in agriculture in the state. This is a separate arrangement from the Osun Rural Enterprise and Agricultural Programme (OREAP) earlier natured. They are however complementary. The truth of the matter is that agriculture is now considered as a matter of priority and great urgency as a veritable resource base, revenue earner and employment generator.
With the present development, citizens of the State, youths and incoming generation in particular can view the future with greater confidence. Agriculture in Osun State has started to witness rejuvenation with the ageing population of farm workers being replaced with vibrant youths. This trend would produce greater yield. Also with the higher educational attainments wielded by a new entrants into the agricultural sector, the sector shall witness total reinvigoration. In a fell swoop, the effect would be triple-attracting youth employment, increasing agricultural yields outputs and boosting our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
Korean farmers have a brilliant focus for investing in an area. Their primary focus is large-scale mechanized farming. Our besetting hitherto had been gross reliance on crude implements and traditional/agrarian farming method/techniques, which limits productivity. The modernize techniques do not suggest utter jettisoning of peasant farmers. They are to be incorporated into the scheme of reinvigoration. In other words, the large scale mechanized farms can find these peasants useful as out croppers who are incorporated into contact schemes, this shall produce an end-result of getting them well conversant with more up-to-date methods of farming, while at the same time allowing them to be trained in the use of new improved seedlings, storage facilities, systems and marketing techniques.
The initiative that gave birth to the advent of Koreans instills fresh lease of life that eventually, Osun State has begun to be seen as a land of prolific harvest and profound resources. This is a vital impetus to the overall economic regeneration of the state. More so when the socio-political climate prevailing in the state today is friendly and congenial to investors who may wish to sink heavy resources into production on our land. Thank God for the peace that we enjoy.
Also, a robust partnership is in the pipeline between the incumbent Osun State Government and People’s Republic of China in areas as critical as agriculture. This could be the best explanation for the governor’s working visits to that foreign land. Cooperation and partnership in agriculture is of particular interest to the State Government, which has the focus of boosting the economy of the state as its topmost priority.
During a recent visit to China, Governor Aregbesola presented the Osun State Economic Development Agenda to a gathering of Chinese investors and government officials at a seminar facilitated by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. The ACFTU has vested interest in incurring huge massive investments in critical areas in Nigeria with special attention on Osun State.
In his quoted speech to Chinese Xinhua recently, the following excerpts by Aregbesola are of relevant interest to OSUN DEFENDER Magazine:
“We are keen on agricultural programmes and projects, particularly food. So we are going to explore possibility of engagement in food production programmes and activities. We are equally keen on logistics, improvement of agricultural produce from our remotely located state to Lagos where the market is.”
In addition, it is imperative that through the bond, Osun State would also explore the possibility of having investment in heavy agricultural equipment.
Recently, the State Government approved a sum of N255 Million for release to execute Rural Access Mobility Project (RAMP) to assist farmers in getting their farm produces transported from rural areas and farm centres to urban centres. This step is a giant stride in opening rural areas up to large markets in urban areas.
Also recently, the government of Engineer Rauf Aregbesola signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Synctop Corporation Limited, a Korean Company, to the tune of $400 million (equivalent of N60 Billion) on an investment deal in food production and other areas of agriculture. This deal is expected to bring 127,000 jobs into Osun State and bring a boost to our Internally-Generated Revenue (IGR) base.
However, there is a segment of new-breed, young and vibrant trained farmers in the state who are waiting, like an untapped resources to be enlisted and incorporated into the Aregbesola agricultural revolution. Last April, about one-hundred and forty-Nine (149) graduates who participated in the Songhai Agricultural “Experiment” of the Oyinlola administration trooped into the venue of the Justice Odewingie Uwaifo-led Truth and Reconciliation Commission to lay their grievances over the breach of the bond agreement signed with the ousted administration. Among the grievances laid before the commission was the delay and denial of other opportunities caused the participants by the retention of their academic certificates in the custody of the last administration as part of the bond agreement. Also the youth agitated over the economic hardship they had been subjected to. They therefore requested a handsome compensation of N500, 000.00 per participant while they asked the commission to bar Oyinlola and his Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy Affairs and Community Development, who doubled as the anchor for the Songhai Programme, Professor Muheeb Opeloye from holding public offices.
It would be recollected that the Osun State Government under Governor Aregbesola inaugurated the Osun Truth and Reconciliation Commission (OSTRC) on Thursday, February 17, 2011 to identify the causes of human rights abuse and violation with a view to preventing similar future occurrences.
If it is agreed that our agriculture here had suffered terrible besetting in the past and that a large proportion of our farming populace are ageing, then it is true that such ageing workforce cannot be vigorous and vibrant. Furthermore, the ageing workforce cannot be receptive to new ideas, modern concepts as well as change brought about by different ways of doing things. The various youth employment/empowerment programmes embarked upon by the Aregbesola administration are a clear demonstration that it is determined to infuse new blood into the system.
By bringing in fresh blood, the agricultural sector will be reinvigorated. A new, innovative educated workforce is vital to resuscitating the sector. With new personnel coming into the agricultural sector, a modern rural economy can now be built. This was where Oyinlola failed. The effort he put into the pursuance of this lofty agenda was overglossed by self-seeking ulterior motives which hijacked the Songhai programme in the midstream. As it is, the Songhai programme is potent tool which Ogbeni Aregbesola could use to kickstart the home-based personnel component of his agricultural drive.
When in early 2009 the announcement came through the air by the ousted Osun State Government of Brigadier-General Oyinlola, through its Ministry of Local Government, Chieftaincy Affairs and Community Development, requesting unemployed vibrant youths of the state’s origin who had deep-seated interest in agriculture to apply for a training programme at the Songhai Centre, Porto Novo, Republic of Benin, most youths in that category, their parents and other concerned relations breathed a sigh of relief, hyping that the long-awaited employment opportunity which had been elusive had at last come their way. Little did they hope that the newly-emerging scheme would end up a trap of deceit, aimed at further subjecting them to a difficult situation which would be unequalled in their post-graduation years.
The announcement, which was given wide publicity on all the state-owned media stations instructed the youths, who were expected to be university graduates or Higher National Diploma (HND) holders to proceed to the secretariats of their local government council areas of origin to obtain application forms free of charge. In a swift response characteristic of someone that has apparently found what he had been searching for, interested unemployed graduates of Osun State origin jostled and scampered, to the seat of their local councils of origin to obtain the forms, in order not to be left behind in making the best use of the new opportunity, which they viewed as emerging ray of hope, a dawn new era. That was even as most of them found, embarrassingly, that the forms that were claimed to be free were not free afterall. Authorities of most local government councils in the state did not part with the forms until the needy youths were made to cough out some whooping sums of their meagre means.
Though not all unemployed youths in the state were interested in farming; just as it was not all unemployed graduates who were so interested that met the 36-year-old age requirement, the invitation/job vacancy announcement received a rousing response as it was greeted by a multitude of youths and graduates at that, whose disciplines cut across different fields of human endeavour. Really, it was a parade ground for different age grades as several classes of young graduates, including those with fair measure of hoary hairs and ageing lines milled in for the application forms.
The mammoth crowd that greeted the Songhai training invitation is characteristic of any similar call for job application in this part of the nation where graduates are present in large number without surety of a timely employment after school. Prior to that year’s call for Songhai training in agriculture, many youths had been subjected to hardship, disappointments and frustration occasioned by dashed hopes of securing employment under various job selection exercises that came up earlier; such as Osun State Civil Service Commission, Osun State Universal Basic Education Board, Teaching Service Commission or even, the Reality Television, Iwo and the Osun State University (UNIOSUN) which was much flatulently celebrated.
For some of these graduate applicants, it was not that they did not have some kind of job in hand. The fact of the case was that the job they held was just not enough as a means of livelihood. A good number of them had got employed in the private sector, mainly in private educational institutions, while others were in ad hoc employment of the State Government of the time, especially Oyin Corp in this regard. The common feature with all these engagements was that they offered the youths mere stipends which could neither commensurate with their levels of academic attainment and years of certification nor meet up with their ever-surging responsibilities.
The foregoing analysis became necessary to make readers asses the true situation with the affected youths, so as not to keep anyone in ignorance of what could push graduates into a farming scheme organized by a state government under a political dispensation which lacked focus and secretion. This feeling that a government that operated under the aegis of a political party could not pursue such scheme to a logical conclusion was justified, especially with the wishy-washy performance of the Oyinlola administration in all schemes embarked upon. The Graduate Gainful Employment Scheme, the Multi-Purpose Micro-Credit Scheme, Fadama Credit Scheme, Government-Guaranteed Agricultural Loan Scheme, Osun State Micro-Credit Agency Fund for Agricultural Development and Osun State Agricultural Youth Empowerment Programme (OSSAYEP) – all came and passed as figurehead, money-gulping programmes which their initiators intended them to be, without fulfilling the yearnings and aspiration of the people of Osun State in the least.
If on the basis of the abysmal failure of these earlier programmes we attempted to blame the youths who took up the Songhai programme, our assessment would not be fair enough. The fact is that we are in a world unlimited opportunities and as human organisms; we continue to explore new opportunities until our lots are bettered. More so, the initiators of each new programme make them so attractive in their branding and definition, so much that our minds are made to trust that each new programme would not be a failure that its preceding counterpart had been
To be continued..