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Nigerian delegations push for diversification via agriculture at ECOWAS Parliament

By Linus Aleke
“I have always been a big believer in diversification for anybody. It’s never good to put all of your efforts and all your time and your financial resources into just one project. Diversification is key for any individual and any business.”

The above quote from American professional wrestling manager, Mr. Paul Heyman, vividly captured the reasons why the Nigerian delegation to the ECOWAS Parliament is calling for the diversification of Nigeria’s economy away from oil.

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The reasons are not farfetched, Nigeria is solely dependent on one source for her foreign exchange earner in the face of multiple sources. Secondly, there had been forecast by reputable local and international organisations of an imminent famine in sub-Saharan Africa which, of course, Nigeria is one.

Also, the national and multilateral measures put in place in the past to mitigate this impending doom of hunger were treated with kid gloves, just as the current forecast is more or less falling on deaf ears of policymakers and drivers of the government machinery.

Just last week, the Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, raised a frightening alarm in the media, when she said that the government may not be able to make provision for treasury-funded capital projects in the 2023 fiscal year.

She also proposed to borrow over N11trn to finance the proposed 2023 budget deficit.

The minister further revealed that the budget deficit for the 2023 fiscal year may run between N11.30 trillion to N12.41trn depending on the choice that will be made by the government on the issue of subsidy payment on premium motor spirit.

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The Finance Minister, who was speaking during the presentation of the 2023-2025 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper before the House of Representatives Committee on Finance, put the aggregate expenditure of the government for 2023 at N19.76 trillion.

She hinged her projection on crude oil production challenges and PMS subsidy deductions by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), saying that those constitute significant threats to the achievement of the nation’s revenue growth targets.

The above paragraph is not only a sad commentary on the management of the nation’s economy and sources of revenue but further signposts the danger inherent in being dependent on one source of foreign exchange earner.

It is on the strength of the above that some members of the Nigerian delegation to the ECOWAS Parliament and members of the Joint Committee on

Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources/ Infrastructure/ Energy and Mines/Industry and Private Sector, at the just concluded delocalized meeting in Bissau, the Capital of Guinea Bissau, trumpeted the need for diversification of the Nigerian economy.

Speaking to newsmen on the sidelines of the Joint Committee’s Delocalised Meeting, a member of the Nigerian delegation to the Community Parliament, Senator Biodun Olujimi, called for more investment in Cashew nuts to boost Nigeria’s potential in commodity export.

She said that Nigeria’s annual commodity export is nothing compared to crude petrochemical and gas.
To this end, Olujimi called on the Nigeria Government to harness the opportunities in Cashew plantations which, of course, are abundant in the country.
Olujimi, who represents Ekiti South Senatorial District in the Nigerian Senate, said MPs from Nigeria will learn from Guinea Bissau’s experience in cashew nuts export and will engage the Nigeria Government to see how the same thing could be replicated in Nigeria.

She said, by so doing, not only that employment opportunities would be created but it will create a huge opportunity for foreign exchange earners.

According to her, “I’m shocked that Guinea Bissau exports only Cashew Nuts and they are doing well, while we are focusing all our energy and attention on crude oil, even when we have this cashew in abundance in Nigeria.

“We have not been able to harness what we have and it boils down to the fact that nobody wants to go to the farm, most people just want white-collar jobs, there is a need for us to look at ways in which we can compel our youths and women to go back to the farm and give them the implements that they need because when they go to the farm and find out that it’s difficult and energy sapping, they will all come back to look for white collar jobs.

“But if we can get them modern implement, we can also export these things. That is what we can do in Nigeria, on the roads, you find plenty of these Cashew Nuts in bottles, why can’t we harness and export like they are doing here in Guinea Bissau?

“When we get back home, we will have to engage the Ministry of Agriculture to let them know that we can engage smaller countries on how they are making these things work and I believe the Cashew thing will work.”

Supporting Olujimi’s propositions, another Nigerian MP, Oghene Emma Egoh said the States in Nigeria need to go back to farming and rely less on the Federal Government handouts.

Egoh, who represents Amuwo-Odofin Federal Constituency of Lagos State in the House of Representatives and is a member of the delegation to ECOWAS Parliament, said that oil which is relied upon by Nigeria will not last forever, hence the need to diversify into Agriculture.

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Abdullahi Balarabe Salame in his contributions frowned at border closures around ECOWAS states.
He specifically urged the Nigerian authority to endeavor to allow free movement of goods between ECOWAS states.

He said, “All the authorities concerned, especially those in charge of the Nigerian borders should try and comply with what we agree with other states concerning the movement of goods and persons.

“A lot of things are happening and to me, it should not be that way because wherever we produce in these ECOWAS countries should be allowed to move from one country to the other. If we produce anything, we should allow it to be moved to other countries where our farmers will be able to get market.

“Same to the other ECOWAS States, they should also be allowed to move their good to Nigeria if they have the market in Nigeria. Especially, the rice produced in our neighbouring countries, it should be allowed into Nigeria.”

Lamenting the negative effect of climate change on food security in West Africa, the Second Deputy Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Sani Chaibou Boucary, said the strategy for adapting to climate change and the actions necessary to improve agricultural production to ensure food security in our region has been the subject of extensive developments and fruitful discussions.

He posited that the committee’s well-structured report, exempted him from making lengthy comments, adding, that the report will be submitted for consideration and adoption by the Plenary of Parliament at its next session.

Giving credence to this view, the Co-Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Samson Ahi, expressed fear that the climate change crisis may frustrate the attainment of the newly adopted ECOWAS Vision 2050.

He averred that climate change is the greatest threat to development and progress in the ECOWAS region.

Samson said, “If we are not careful, these negative factors could permanently jeopardise our gains and frustrate our goals and dreams as contained in the newly adopted ECOWAS Vision 2050”.

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“Conscious of the fact that climate change is one of the greatest threats to development and progress in the region, ECOWAS adopted several initiatives within the framework of the implementation of its environmental policy.”

Similarly, our Bissau meeting intends to review all mechanisms and provisions aimed at mitigating the negative impact of climate change while highlighting the role that Members of Parliament ought to play in the implementation of the regional climate strategy.

Furthermore, the ECOWAS Parliament joint Committee, through the biennial review process of the agricultural production, aims at acquiring more information on the progress made in terms of agricultural production, food, and nutritional security”.

However, notwithstanding the current rhetoric, there was a passive effort in the past to prioritize Agriculture. Notable amongst these efforts are the famous AU Maputo declaration on percentage budgetary allocation to agriculture and the Abuja Declaration on Fertilizer for the African Green Revolution.

Recall that the African Union (AU) in 2003 at Maputo called for increased annual national budgetary allocations for agriculture to at least 10% as well as ensure the growth of the agricultural output of at least six per cent annually.

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