The current level of agricultural output from the North is less than our 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 – if technological advances will not make crude oil irrelevant long before the wells dry up.
What will it take to make the North realise its 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 which, 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 fore going 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.
At present, only Kwara State is making marginal headway 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 the north remains victim of the curse of oil and the dismantling of regional governments in Nigeria? The curse of oil has made us seem lazy and contented with the monthly handouts from the Federal Government.
In 1967, Yakubu Gowon, in order to weaken Biafra, created twelve states and destroyed regional systems of government during which groundnut 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 Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and 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 springboard 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 their progress?
Is the North patently lazy as our sole dependence on federal allocations seems to suggest? The vanished groundnut pyramids, which made the North the world’s largest exporter up to the early 1970s, and the various foodstuffs 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 subsistence level. This is where the governments, leaders and wealthy moguls of our dear North should step in to fashion out investor-friendly packages that will bring in commercial farmers from all over the world. How I wish Ahmadu Bello was 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. 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?
The North, which once produced 80 percent of Nigeria’s total grains output, must make good use our agricultural endowments. We 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 our potential multiplier effect, then we can begin to understand how big the economic miracle of Northern Nigeria can be.
Imagine for a moment the additional vast agro-based industries in other parts of Nigeria based on cocoa in the South-West; oil palm, rice, cocoyams, yams and cashew in the South-East and parts of the South-South; cassava, corn, mango, citrus, 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!