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Agriculture: Solution To Hunger, Inflation, Food Insecurity

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In recent times, Nigerians have voiced their concerns about the persistent challenges of hunger, inflation, and the general increase in prices of goods and services. These issues not only affect the livelihoods of individuals and families but also pose significant threats to food security and economic stability in the country. In response to these pressing challenges, an educationist who is also an agricultural expert, Kazeem Akande, has shared insightful solutions aimed at tackling the root causes of these problems and fostering sustainable development in Nigeria.
In January, the UN estimated that more than 25 million people in Nigeria could face food insecurity this year—a 47 per cent increase from the 17 million people already at risk of going hungry, mainly due to ongoing insecurity, protracted conflicts, and rising food prices. An estimated two million children under five were estimated to be pushed into acute malnutrition in 2023. (Relief web, 2023). In response, Nigeria declared a state of emergency on food insecurity, recognising the urgent need to tackle food shortages, stabilise rising prices, and protect farmers facing violence from armed groups. However, without addressing the insecurity challenges, farmers will continue to struggle to feed their families and boost food production.
In addition, parts of northwest and northeast Nigeria have experienced changes in rainfall patterns making less water available for crop production. These climate change events have resulted in droughts and land degradations; presenting challenges for local communities and leading to significant impact on food security.  In light of these daunting challenges, it is imperative to address the intricate interplay between insecurity and agricultural productivity in Nigeria comprehensively. This necessitates a multifaceted approach that encompasses enhanced security measures, conflict resolution mechanisms, infrastructure development, climate-resilient agriculture, improved access to finance, and capacity building for farmers. By adopting such an integrated strategy, Nigeria can work toward ensuring food security, reducing poverty, and fostering sustainable economic growth in its vital agricultural sector. In this article, I  suggest solutions that could enhance agricultural production and ensure that every state scales its agricultural production to a level where it can cater to 60 per cent of the population.  I commend the efforts of the Oyo State Government under the leadership of Governor Seyi Makinde, who has paid due attention to developing agriculture in the state.  The governor has implemented brilliant initiative to boost agriculture such as the construction of Oyo-Iseyin road, suspending revenue collection on farm produce, and providing funds for tractors and fertilizers.  These solutions include:
Partnerships with tertiary tnstitutions: There is a need to emphasise the importance of collaborating with tertiary institutions to harness the potential of innovation and technology in boosting agricultural productivity. By partnering with these institutions, the government can leverage research findings and expertise to improve farming practices, develop high-yielding crop varieties, and enhance agricultural techniques. Additionally, providing access to farmlands for farming activities enables farmers to increase their production capacity and contribute to food security in the country.
Enhanced security for farmers: One of the critical barriers to agricultural productivity in Nigeria is the lack of security for farmers, particularly in rural areas. While I suggest ensuring safety and protection of farmers and their crops is essential for promoting food security and stimulating economic growth. By deploying security forces to agricultural regions and implementing proactive measures to combat rural insecurity, the government can create a conducive environment for farmers to cultivate their lands without fear of theft, vandalism, or attacks.
Engagement with research institutes: while there is also need to partner with research institutes; IITA, CRIN, NIHORT, IAR&T, FRIN, NCRI, NACGRAB, to drive innovation and knowledge exchange in the agricultural sector. By collaborating with these institutions, policymakers and stakeholders can access valuable insights, data, and expertise to inform evidence-based decision-making and policy formulation. Additionally, investing in agricultural research and development initiatives can lead to the discovery of novel solutions to pressing challenges, such as improving crop resilience to climate change and enhancing soil fertility.
Investment in mechanised farming and arable land allocation: State and local governments play a pivotal role in promoting mechanised farming and providing arable land for farming in communities. Additionally, allocating arable land enables smallholder farmers to expand their operations and contribute to food security at the grassroots level. Nigeria can unlock the potential of its agricultural sector to address the pressing need of its population and achieve sustainable development. Policymakers and stakeholders must heed Akande’s recommendations and take decisive action to ensure a food-secure future for all Nigerians.
Akande, a public affairs analyst, wrote in from Abuja.

By: Kazeem Akande

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Opinion

Rivers Desire Genuine Leadership 

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In the realm of political leadership, the true measure of a leader lies not in the ability to wield power but in the capacity to exercise restraint and demonstrate an unwavering commitment to the common good of the led. This requirement, which of course is  not  without a cost, is critical for fostering a stable and prosperous society. In politics, leaders do not die, but work tirelessly to remain relevant in the scheme of things; this is as they would cherish beyond everything else, an enduring political structure upon which the embers of their relevance is consistently fanned. However, this can only be achieved when they  choose  to exercise restraint and demonstrate an unwavering commitment to the common good of the led.  The transient nature of power is the reason the society is inundated with leaders, meaning that once any has controlled the baton of authority, the same becomes automatically enlisted among the roll of leaders whether he remains or ceases to be in control eventually.
The quest for relevance among political leaders has on many occasions, led to clash of interests betwee the formers and their successors with each trying to protect his own, sometimes at the detriment of the masses calling to mind the story of when elephants fight, the grasses suffer. This scenerio can only lead to a breakdown of  trust, respect and tolerance for one another which if sustained over a period unchecked, could nosedive into public discord and animosity, wooing sympathetic followers or public into taking sides. This deterioration, which is usually symptomatic of a broader issue within political leadership where personal grievances often eclipse the collective interests of the populace, can only be healed not with time, but also by sincere dialogue and  setting aside of personal grievances for the benefit of the state they all  pledged to serve.
Leadership, at its core, no doubt, involves engaging in sincere dialogue. Thus, leaders are  required  to transcend personal differences and focus on the common good. Unfortunately, the relationship between Governor Siminalayi Fubara and the FCT Minister, Nyesom  Wike, has been characterised by a public power struggle rather than constructive communication, a situation that has hindered their ability to collaboratively address the challenges facing Rivers State. A genuine commitment to the common good should supersede individual ambitions and personal vendettas. Could it be wrong to hyphothesise that the ongoing conflict between the two hitherto friends  is an indication of personal grievances  being prioritised over their pledge to serve the state?. This approach to leadership is counterproductive, as it shifts attention away from policy implementation and governance to personal disputes, no matter how the saner mind struggles to handle it.
Exercising restraint is a cornerstone of effective leadership. It involves acknowledging the importance of unity and prioritising the collective welfare of the people. Real leaders must not at any point demonstrate  a  lack of this essential quality. Public altercations and confrontations can only  deepen political divisions within the state, making it difficult to achieve meaningful progress. For Rivers State to thrive, its leaders must adopt a more collaborative approach. This necessitates Fubara and Wike putting aside their personal differences and working together for the state’s development. Engaging in sincere dialogue and showing a genuine commitment to the common good can pave the way for a more stable and prosperous future for Rivers State.
The unhealthy political relationship between Governor Fubara and his predecessor also highlights a broader issue within Nigerian political culture. Often, political offices are viewed as avenues for personal gain rather than platforms for public service. This mindset contributes to the kind of power struggles seen among political leaders of our time, where personal interests overshadow the responsibilities of leadership. Setting aside personal grievances for the sake of the state is not just an ideal but a necessity for effective governance. Leaders must prioritise the needs of their constituents over their own ambitions. In the context of Rivers State, this means Fubara and Wike must recognise the detrimental impact of their conflict and take concrete steps toward reconciliation and cooperation.
The public expects leaders to work harmoniously towards their  common good while a looming  discord between them  puts  this expectation at risk.  Citizens of Rivers State deserve and desire  leaders who can rise above personal animosities and focus on the larger goal of state development. This is the essence of true leadership – putting the people first. The political instability resulting from their feud has tangible consequences for the state’s governance. Development projects stall, administrative efficiency declines, and public trust erodes. These are serious repercussions that harm the very fabric of society and undermine the progress that Rivers State desperately needs.The resolution of this conflict requires humility and a willingness to engage in honest conversations.
Both leaders must acknowledge their roles in the dispute and commit to a path of mutual respect and collaboration. Only through such sincere dialogue can they hope to restore stability and foster an environment conducive to growth and development. Moreover, the political culture in Rivers State, and indeed Nigeria, must evolve to emphasise service over self-interest. This cultural shift is imperative for nurturing leaders who prioritise the common good and exhibit the restraint necessary for effective governance. Fubara and Wike have a unique opportunity to set a precedence in this regard. Their reconciliation could serve as a powerful example of how leaders can overcome personal differences for the greater good of society. It would signal a commitment to the values of democracy and the principles of good governance, thereby inspiring confidence among the citizens and setting a positive tone for future political engagements.
The media and civil society also have crucial roles to play in this process. By holding leaders accountable and advocating for dialogue and cooperation, they can help create an environment where political conflicts are resolved constructively. Public pressure can compel leaders to act in the best interests of the state. In conclusion, the unhealthy relationship between Governor Fubara and his predecessor, Wike, serves as a stark reminder of the importance of true leadership. Leadership that is not about wielding power but about exercising restraint, engaging in sincere dialogue, and demonstrating a commitment to the common good. For Rivers State to achieve its full potential, its leaders must embody these principles and work together towards a shared vision of progress and prosperity. Only then can the state overcome its current challenges and build a brighter future for all its citizens.

Sylvia ThankGod-Amadi

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Opinion

Serving Personal Interests

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Serving personal interests was a statement which started some heated arguments at a conference held at Friends International Centre in London, December, 1980. Happily, the tactful moderator of the conference, a Buddhist monk from Afghanistan, brought the arguments to a halt. Among other issues of vexation was a trending television documentary in the UK, Squandering of Riches, which depicted how Nigeria’s wealth was being spent in lavish flamboyance by the political class and leaders. That was how statements from two Nigerians at the conference sparked off arguments. “Serving Personal Interests” was followed by another statement by a Nigerian: “Our problem is not money, but how to spend it”. Juxtaposing these two statements with the trending television documentary: Squandering of Riches, one other Nigerian raised an objection at the conference, on the ground that a particular section of the country was being vilified and put in bad light. The deep insight of the moderator of the occasion saw the need to steer the discussions on a neutral line. But the point had been made in 1980, that insolvency was looming!  Current trend is how to continue with lavish and flamboyant spending even when the country is laden with huge debts, borrowing here and there, to service old debts, buying exotic cars for political office holders, while the masses are hungry and gnashing their teeth. It is not that concerned Nigerians are not speaking up against these insensitive frame of public policies and programmes, rather the truth is that “serving personal interest” is a vital driving force in Nigerian politics.
What economic sense does it make that billions of public funds should be spent to buy a yacht for the luxury of those who enjoy political comfort, build a befitting house for a vice president whose dignity would abhor occupying a “tukumbo” house? The same culture of vanity and hedonistic interests makes it difficult for political office holders to inherit and use facilities which served their predecessors. Even if more debts would be incurred to be able to provide such obscene luxuries, the Nigerian senate would approve the budget! So, it came to be that Nigeria is so prone to lavish and profligate squandering of the nation’s wealth, that fatuous habit or culture cannot be curbed. Several honest studies have indicated that insensitive leadership is usually a primary cause of mass revolts. Such insensitive leadership is always made possible by the fawning attitude and self-interests of a political class that seeks to short-change the masses. The sure result of this scenario is usually the fall or economic collapse of a country.
How would an insensitive and profligate leadership expect deep loyalty, patriotism and sacrifices from the masses that have been deliberately impoverished and browbeaten to a state of stupor? it is sad that state security organs of government are not seen to serve as impartial eyes and ears of the nation’s leadership, thus creating a scenario where those in power banquet day and night, when the nation is burning and bleeding. Security apparatus, like the mass media, should serve the purpose of putting a check on excesses of the masses, as well as the leadership class. Dancers rarely see their back! Someone must draw their attention!  The fact that several Nigerian professionals are leaving the country for greener pastures, should serve as an indication that the leadership and political economy of Nigeria are faulty. Neither must we wait until there is a mass revolt before it would dawn on our leaders that the masses are very hungry and sad. What led to the intervention of the military in Nigeria’s politics in 1966, were far less disturbing than the current situations. The truth is that the military and the entire security organs of government are in a dilemma; who to support: the leadership class, or the long-suffering masses?
There is little doubt in the minds of many Nigerians, who the real destroyers and problems of this country are. In the evolution of a viable political system, efforts by money-bags to form an elitist governance, known as an oligarchy, can produce a stable polity. But this is so only where the money and elite class are not predators, serving personal interest under the guise of governance. In the case of Nigeria, the evidence is clear that politics, even under the false name of democracy, is a self-serving engagement; an investment gamble! Many Nigerians are now aware of “serving personal interest” component of the nation’s political industry. The masses become ready tools and accomplices in the self-serving political shenanigans, especially those who can be used and discarded at will. It is quite a dangerous game to play, but it works, because of the use of money as a juicy lubricant. Part of the game plan is to create misery, poverty, divisions and political structures serving vested interests, such that the hungry masses look for where to find “palliatives”. Those who offer such palliatives win mass support.
Surely, this kind of political game plan is not only risky but also destructive. Perhaps the foundation of this faulty political system was laid by past military administrations since 1970, whereby the oil and gas resources of the Niger Delta zone, became the bases of Nigeria’s political economy. Practical meaning of political economy is simply the use of political strategies to determine who gets what quantum of the national “cake”, with little input but maximum benefits. This is where the issue of “structure” counts in politics, which serves personal interests; faulty, self-serving structure! The ripples effects of the monopoly of the oil and gas resources of a section of the country for the maximum benefits of a chosen few, are beginning to manifest in current state of the nation. Late Bola Ige gave some hint long ago that some blacklash would follow, because “it is a sin to plunder the resources of the Niger Delta People”. Turn and twist the issues as political power merchants may, the truth remains that Nigeria’s political economy is a booby-trap, cleverly designed by some master strategists, as if “marching to war”!
The aforementioned heated arguments during a conference in London, 1980, involved five Nigerians, each in favour or against a political economy that would use gangsterism and blusters, to legitimatise illegality. Thus, the basis of Squandering of Riches was the availability to easy wealth provided by the oil and gas resources of a “conquered zone”. Someone at the conference raised objections at the statements “serving personal interest” and “conquered zone”. Maybe hate speech, 1980!.

Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer of Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

Lagos-Calabar Highway  Must Wait

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Had the Presidency not responded to the allegations of the former Vice President, Atiku Abukakar, concerning the process of awarding of the contract for the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway, it would have been most surprising. People must do the job for which they were employed and that includes ensuring at all costs that their principals and their families are constantly blameless and spotless.
Atiku, through  his Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, had alleged that President Bola Tinubu’s son, Seyi Tinubu,  being a board  member of one of the firms  owned by Gilbert Chagoury, the owner of Hitech, the contractor that was awarded the contract  constitutes a conflict of interest; that the contract was awarded in contravention of the procurement laws, that it is being done in a hurry purely because of the business relationship between President Tinubu and Gilbert Chagoury, that the project is  expensive, ill timed  among others.
But in a swift response the presidency through a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, countered Atiku’s claim, saying that as an adult Nigerian, Seyi has the right to do business in the country and that his membership of the board of CDK in no way constitutes a conflict of interest.
Onanuga went down the memory lane, recounting how the former Vice President had revealed that he formed Intels Nigeria with an Italian businessman when he was serving in the Nigeria Customs Service, which in his view is a clear breach of extant public service regulations; how, as Chairman of the National Council on Privatisation, Atiku approved sales of over 145 State-owned enterprises to his known friends and associates and openly said during his failed campaign for the presidency last year that he would do the same, if elected.
The Special Adviser dwelt so much on Atiku’s past that he probably forgot to address some other key issues raised by the former VP about the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway project which had also been harped on by several other Nigerians. First is the issue of the contract’s awarding process and priority. Nigerians needed to hear directly from the presidency whether this huge project went through a competitive bidding process as required by law or not.  Section 16 (1) (c) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 provides that “All public procurement shall be conducted by open competitive bidding.” Section 16 (1) (d) stipulates that all public procurement shall be done in a transparent, equitable manner to ensure accountability. Was the contract awarded in compliance with this and other relevant laws?
There is also the issue of the highway project not complying with the Environmental Impact Assessment Act. The Pan-Yoruba Socio-Political Organisation, Afenifere, had through Prince Jide Faloye of its Publicity Department joined some other groups and individuals to raise concern about the serious issue. The organisation said, “The Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway project must be re-examined, for not only breaching competitive tendering stipulations but for also contravening the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, as stipulated in EIA Decree No. 86 of 1992, which places the project type in Category 1 and affecting the natural environment, making an ESIA report mandatory before commencement.”
Afenifere also noted that, “the $13 billion Lagos-Calabar project is not only environmentally and economically destructive, but also irrationally replaces the 1,400km $12 billion Lagos-Calabar railway project along East-West Road, adjudged to be the single most important economically empowering infrastructural development project in Southern Nigeria in over 100 years, commissioned by both the Jonathan (2014) and Buhari (2021) governments.”
Convincing explanations to their salient concerns are what Nigerians want from the presidency, the Minister of Works, Dave Umahi and other relevant authorities instead of them resorting to name calling and describing the views as “ intrinsically superficial, baseless, self-serving and politically motivated to imprint malice in the minds of unsuspecting members of the public, especially the gullible”, as the Special Adviser (Media) to the Minister of Works, Orji Uchenna Orji did in a statement a few days back.
Government is all about the people. Fortunately, Nigeria is operating a democratic system of government widely known to be the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Therefore, the leaders put in power by the people should listen to the people and should always prioritise the interest of the people.
And talking about priority which was among the issues raised by Atiku, is the Lagos-Calabar highway the most critical need of the country right now? Yes, the road when completed will be of immense benefit to the coastal states and the country in general. Economic growth, easy transportation, improved quality of life will be assured, but is that what we need now in Nigeria?  Two weeks ago, Rivers State and the entire nation were thrown into mourning as a result of the vehicular accident that happened in the Eleme axis of the East-West which claimed several lives and damaged property. The lamentation of many people, including the State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, was that the accident and the great losses could have been avoided had the road been fixed.
The about 328-kilometer road which was awarded in 2006 by the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, and meant to be completed in 2010 is yet to be completed despite the billions of Naira that has gone into it. The Enugu-Onitsha road, Makurdi-Enugu road, Port Harcourt-Enugu express road and many other federal roads across the country have long become death traps. People have protested, demonstrated, appealed to the authorities to have them fixed, yet little or nothing has been done on most of them.
Could it not have been better to fix these roads before embarking on a new road that will cost nothing less than N2.8 trillion? A ready answer by the works minister and other government functionaries might be that N300 billion was provided in the 2023 supplementary budget to address the poor federal roads but how far can that go?
There is undoubtedly nobody in Nigeria that is not feeling the pinch of the current harsh economic realities in the country. Prices of food and other items in the market keep skyrocketing every day. The cost of transportation has quadrupled since May 29 when the announcement that “subsidy is gone” was made. For some weeks, there has been fuel scarcity in Abuja and other parts of the country which the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) blamed on “logistic issues”.
The NNPCL keeps shifting the goal post on when Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna refineries will become operational. The latest being that the Port Harcourt Refinery will start functioning by the end of March. In the second week of March, the Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) of the (NNPC) Mele Kyari, reportedly told the senate ad hoc committee investigating the various turnaround maintenance (TAM) projects of Nigerian refineries that, “In the next two weeks, production will start. We did mechanical completion of  Port Harcourt Refinery, that was what we said in December 2023,”
“That means we are done with our rehabilitation work, now you are to test if this completion is okay.” Has this happened?
The point is that the federal government should suspend the massive, flamboyant Lagos-Calabar coastal highway project pending when the economy is up and running and some critical infrastructure in the country are adequately attended to. If part of  this huge sum could be used to build new refineries and make the old ones bounce back to life, Nigeria will be on the way to achieving energy security which will impact positively on every sector of the economy and the lives of the citizens. Efficient and transparent use of the nation’s scarce resources is an important quality that our leaders must imbibe.

Calista Ezeaku

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