Players, analysts and critics of agricultural strategy in Nigeria have welcomed the modernisation jab yesterday whereby movement of the cattle component of the country’s agricultural advantage concentrated in the north will now be by rail to the southern part of Nigeria. The process commenced yesterday with about 500 cattle heads in 15 wagons billed to arrive Lagos today in contrast to the one week it would have taken if it were by trucks. Described as signifier of the government’s vision of taking Nigeria beyond oil by Abdulhameed Aliyu, the Managing Director of the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agriculture, (NIRSAL), the poster agency superintending the initiative, it leaves conflict management experts worrying that it does not address de-escalation of herdsmen-farmers conflict which some scholars claim could lead to a civil war, (see www.intervention.ng).
Critics, however, share Aliyu’s view. Dr Abubakar Sokoto Mohammed, a Sociologist of agrarian change at Usman Dan Fodio University in Sokoto said doing so is one of the key areas that have been neglected in Nigerian agriculture. That was the practice during the colonial period but it was just abandoned, he told Intervention. Mallam Yunusa Zakari Y’au, the Executive Director of Centre for Information and Development (CITAD) running the ‘Peace Now’ campaign also endorsed the modernisation view of the initiative, saying though that those doing it are looking at it from the point of how economical it is, how it reduces loses to accidents, how it enables buyers to pack more but not about the tension over grazing. Efficiency rather than peace is what is at stake, he argued, pointing out how welcome it is for the larger political economy.
At the Seventh anniversary of the transition of Dr Tajudeen Abdulraheem on May 24th, 2016 in Abuja, Odia Ofeimum, the poet had lamented how the Nigerian State had not been responsible enough by failing to develop an industry around every occupation such that every occupational group is defended by the state. He particularly noted how a Chief Awolowo proposal to make Lagos and Kano one city by linking them with speed rail should have disallowed what he called the allowance of 15th century feature in the negative interaction between herdsmen and host communities.
Although NIRSAL’s Managing Director spoke of how the initiative took hard thinking for two years, some analysts link it to how oil price collapse, forex crisis and negative accumulation tendencies such as cattle rustling and banditry have combined to compel the government to pay better attention to agricultural innovation. That analysis is borne out by the calculus of nearly a trillion naira projected to be realized from north – south live animal trade. Above all, this is to be transcended shortly when the cattle are to be butchered, refrigerated and transported in coaches to chosen destinations down south.
NIRSAL, a CBN agency which acts as a kind of regulator in risk management for the agricultural sector is operationalising the initiative through Contact Rail Services as the technical partner but the fingerprints of a government anxious to make a statement in agriculture is everywhere in the programme just as it in rice production. Some analysts invoke necessity as the mother of invention to explain the development.
By Sokoto Mohammed and Odia’s testimonies, Nigeria is doing what ought to have been the case nearly fifty years ago. Not to worry! ‘Better late than never’ is how such is responded to. Dr. Mohammed who, in an earlier interview with Intervention, had canvassed for a more strategic view of Nigeria’s agricultural advantage instead of splitting hairs on oil, welcomed this jab, reiterating the argument that oil ought not to be a matter of life and death if the opportunities hidden in agriculture were well explored. Parts of his interview in the story in question, “Does the North Need Oil?”, (www.intervention.ng) is reproduced below:
…There is nowhere in the south where you do not find northerners trading in agricultural produce and livestock. It has dawned on the south that the north is contributing its quota in food security and industrial raw materials. The astronomical rise of the prices of foodstuff during the June 12 debacle made this evident to the south especially, Lagos. The prices of beef, tomatoes and onions went up astronomically when it was no longer safe for trucks to go down south. It was that instance that explains today why some of the states in the north are thinking of cargo airports. With cargo airports, stuff such as fresh carrots, cabbage, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, onions, yams and the likes from Sokoto, Kano, Makurdi, Jos, etc. can be taken straight to Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar and so on as well as other West African destinations.
While I was in NIPSS, we undertook Study Tours of African countries. In places such as Sierra Leone or Senegal, you find that they import much of their Irish Potatoes, eggs, chickens and onions from Europe. Meanwhile, the vegetables that we have here in Nigeria are considered to be amazing in quantity and quality. The Israelis observed that the onions from Nigeria are among the best in the world. As agricultural experts their opinion should be respected. These things are much around Sokoto, Kano and many of the northern states. Onions can be exported in powder form after processing in order to prevent wastages. So, we should not to be thinking of Nigeria alone, we should extend to the West African sub-region. When you consider the prospects, you begin to wonder why there is no railway from Kano to Dakar, Lagos to Abidjan. Similarly there should be regular passenger and cargo shipping lines between Lagos and Dakar with stopover at other important ports in between. We are talking of free movement of people and goods in ECOWAS but we are not providing the means of movement. Because of privatisation and mismanagement, most of the national airlines have collapsed. Meanwhile, the international airlines link Africa to Europe only. So, there are gaps to be filled if we want to promote African integration. These are the areas we need to address because it is Nigerians that move most in the region. Without the few private Nigerian Airlines which connect cities in West Africa and beyond, you can see such movement won’t be possible. But the region needs the movement. Look at the impact it produced in Sierra Leone, for example, where the staple food was rice. They will even tell you that any day without rice, something is amiss. It was our soldiers, during the ECOMOG Mission, who introduced gari, beans and yams there. That being so, we should have had a shipping line to export such commodities to the sub-region and beyond.