If the leaders of northern Nigeria, in one of their fabled nocturnal meetings, decide not to allow their agricultural produce to head South, there will be starvation of near biblical proportions in the South, at the very least in the short term. Once the order to stop the southward flow of agricultural produce filters through the communication system peculiar to the North, it will become law and inviolate to the peasants and all. Such is the hold of Northern leaders on their people. Such is also the reality that the North feeds the South with its vast agricultural output. A visit to any market in the South will reveal that at least seventy percent of the foodstuff are of Northern origin including but not limited to beans, tomatoes, ginger, onions, pepper, potatoes, guinea corn, millet, wheat, yams, benniseed, cowpeas, ground nut, carrots, sugar cane, the full range of livestock and so on. Have you not noticed that every time it is Islamic fasting season, the quantity of agricultural produce to the South is reduced to a trickle with attendant spike in prices, even in the face of reduced quality?
While many including this writer doubt the population figure ascribed to the North and abhor the injustice behind the lopsided number of local government areas, inflated and skewed respectively to unfairly corner a larger piece of the national cake, its vast territory and agricultural potential are real but grossly underutilised. This scenario of stopping the flow of foodstuff to the South will not happen because firstly, the North cannot consume all it produces and secondly, its highly impoverished people need the money that their back breaking farming activities yield.
The current level of agricultural output from the North is less than the tip of the iceberg of their true potential to feed Nigeria and Africa and supply the agricultural raw materials required to sustain a wide range of agro allied industries that should be located in the North. The North is blessed with renewable agricultural resources, unlike crude oil which in Nigeria’s case will run out in less than forty five years, that is, if technological advances will not make crude oil irrelevant long before the wells dry up. What will it take to make the North realise their full potential and march into the 21st century confidently and emerge as an economic miracle? The world will always need agricultural produce for food and industrial raw materials, in ever increasing quantities, thanks to the red hot economies of China and India, who in addition to their industrial demand, also produce staggering numbers of newly emerging middle class every year who feed better.
The astronomic rise in the price of crude oil has also led to increasing production of bio fuels from agricultural produce, whose additional advantage is its smaller carbon footprint (when compared to fossil fuel), in a world caught in the understandable frenzy of global warming. All the foregoing explains why prices of agricultural produce are going up and will continue to go up. The agro based industrial parks that should blanket the North will produce processed livestock, canned, bottled, bagged or tetra packed food for local consumption and export to a world that still craves rapidly disappearing processed natural foods and not their synthetic replacements. Imagine processed tomatoes, onions, ginger, carrots, beans, chilli pepper, potatoes, ground nuts, vegetable oils, sweeteners and syrups from grains, livestock feeds, cotton etc, proudly made in Northern Nigeria.
To attain these desirable goals will mean taking quantum leaps in attitudes, behaviour and political will, because what is required is far beyond the present level of thinking made worse by mental laziness at all levels of officialdom. The starting point is large scale mechanised agriculture. Before the issue of land reform and redistribution became a victim of political brinkmanship, 4,500 commercial farmers were the cornerstone of the Zimbabwean economy. Their mechanised farms earned Zimbabwe most of its foreign exchange and the title of the food basket of Southern Africa. The territory of Northern Nigeria is bigger than Zimbabwe and already has existing dams and irrigation systems which can be expanded to make the North the food basket of Africa.
Presently, only Kwara State is making marginal head way with a handful of erstwhile Zimbabwean commercial farmers. The attempt in Nasarawa State is mired in all kinds of difficulties starting from official indifference, lack of basic infrastructure to foot dragging by banks that daily change the conditions for even already agreed commercial loans.
Why is the North not willing to shake itself out of its self imposed lethargy and take advantage of these unique opportunities? For how much longer will they remain victims of the curse of oil and the dismantling of regional governments in Nigeria? The curse of oil has made them seem lazy and contended with the monthly handouts from the Federal government. In 1967, General Yakubu Gowon in order to weaken Biafra, created twelve states and destroyed regional systems of government during which ground nut pyramids were part of the Northern landscape. Today, we have states that are too small to be viable and too weak to challenge the accumulated powers of a federal government which has repeatedly failed to provide the kind of leadership regional leaders like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Dr Michael Okpara provided. Apart from Lagos, other states of the federation are not viable, especially the Northern ones. I believe that if the monthly allocation is stopped, the North will witness within two years an agricultural revolution that will be the spring board for an economic miracle that will change the face of the North within a generation. Why not pretend that the federal allocations have ceased in order to focus on the problems? Can Northern leaders summon the political will and moral fibre that will cause them to look upon their own people with pity and resolve to push past official indifference and develop a concerted plan of action with measurable yardsticks, to chart its progress?
Is the North patently lazy as their sole dependence on federal allocations seem to suggest? The vanished ground nut pyramids which made them the world’s largest exporter up to the early 1970s and the various food stuff in our markets are proofs that the answer is an emphatic-no, because they bear testimony to a people as industrious as anyone in Nigeria. The only problem is that this back breaking farm work is at subsistent level. This is where the governments, leaders and wealthy moguls of the North should step in to fashion out investor friendly packages that will bring in commercial farmers from all over the world. How I wish that Sir Ahmadu Bello is alive to run with this vision, because the present leaders of the North who benefited prodigiously from his policies think of no one else but themselves. Will they shift their gaze from influence peddling, manning the choicest ministries and government agencies, oil blocks and crude oil lifting contracts to look upon their own suffering masses? Will they be willing to stop the exploitation of the minds of their own people while they grow obscenely rich? These are the leaders who as military and civilian rulers are responsible for the disgraceful failures of Nigeria and the abject poverty which every study has found to be more acute in the North. It is traditional, perhaps fashionable but nonetheless selfish to make Northern communities believe God ordained one person in their community to be the heart of that community whose name he bears. It is mindless exploitation to offer these leaders their daughters in return for basins of food placed under dogonyaro trees for the wretched of the community.
And while this exploitation of Northerners by Northern elite is going on, their masses are told that Southerners are the scourge of Nigeria, irrespective of the fact that in the only free and fair presidential election in Nigeria in 1993, Northern masses voted overwhelmingly for a Southerner ahead of a Northerner. Unknown to them, their worst enemies are not Southerners but their leaders who have left them and other Nigerians adrift. As long as these Northern leaders focus their eyes on crude oil, they will never allow the Niger Delta keep 50% of revenues derived from their land and waters that can no longer support farming and fishing activities of any kind. They fear that with 50% derivation, they will lose their oil blocks and crude oil lifting contracts. Do these leaders not know that the North will earn billions of dollars annually from agriculture, a renewable resource unlike crude oil that will some day run out or become irrelevant? Do they not know that while they amass amazing personal wealth, the ranks of their wretched, the ‘legendary almajaris’, armed with begging bowls and gullible minds swells, perhaps someday soon, to their own peril?
Very soon, what worked between the 1960s to date, that unleashed the almajaris on the streets of the North against Southerners will no longer work. When you look to the Gulf and see what their Muslim brothers are doing in Dubai, Oman, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, to reinvent their societies to face the challenges of the 21st century, you will realise that the failures in Northern Nigeria has got nothing to do with their religious beliefs. The example of the Gulf nations is an eloquent testimony that poverty is not a virtue but along with its twin brother ignorance, are curses.
The North which once produced 80% of Nigeria’s total grains output must use its agricultural endowments to dig itself out of the hole which she dug and fell into. They must take away the begging bowls and daggers and send their children to school to equip them to work in the farms and factories that will spring up all over the North. When we add to the equation, the equally untapped, vast mineral deposits beneath the soils of the North and their potential multiplier effect, then we can begin to understand how big the economic miracle of Northern Nigeria can be.
If they chose to continue to ‘almajarise’ Northern youths in sustained poverty and ignorance, someday soon they will sink their daggers into the opulent flesh of their leaders in what will be fits of righteous anger for making their lives meaningless. Imagine for a moment the additional vast agro based industries in other parts of Nigeria based on cocoa in the Southwest; oil palm, rice, coco yams, yams and cashew in the South East and parts of the South South; cassava, corn, mango, citrus fruits, plantain, banana, rubber and timber in parts of the South East, South West and South South. I believe I am not the only one the Lord has allowed to photograph the great future of Nigeria and its endless possibilities. If our leaders are clueless and not interested in sacrificial leadership, then they do not deserve to be called leaders but thieves!
PS: This article, reproduced intact with the original title was written and posted on online portals including Nigeria Village Square on July 9, 2008, when crude oil sold at $147 per barrel and a bag of rice went for N12, 000 in Nigeria. A few months after, the states of the north organised an agriculture summit with great fanfare. But as soon as the lofty speeches ended and the cameras stopped rolling, it was back to business as usual. Four years later nothing has happened. If the groundnut pyramids and indeed pyramids of many grains and produce are to reappear, and poverty’s march slowed, stopped and reversed, a new way of doing things must be adopted by the north. Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the Founder and President of Dangote Group appears set to take action. In the December 2011-January 2012 edition of Forbes Africa, he said as follows: ‘In terms of agriculture, we have a sugar refinery where we process imported raw sugar, but we are looking at backward integration that will lead to the employment of 50,000 Nigerians.’ I believe that Alhaji Dangote’s usual single minded focus on projects will not only infect and galvanise other entrepreneurs but also governors of the northern states to begin the processes that will usher in the region’s economic miracle built on its vast agricultural and agro allied industrial potential.
Okechukwu Peter Nwobu