BESIDES widening the tax net and eliminating leakages in the revenue accruing to it, the Federal Government is banking on the non-oil sector to diversify the economy.
Prior to the introduction of diversification policy by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, the Federal Government was running a mono economy, earning more than 80 per cent of its revenue from crude oil exportation. But things are changing. The government is looking the way of solid minerals and agriculture.
The summit on Agriculture and Food Security organised by Vintage Press publishers of The Nation was to agriculture on the front burner and stimulate national discourse on the sector as an alternative to oil, the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy.
The consensus at the summit, which drew players from the public and private sectors of the economy, was a call on the federal and state governments to pump more cash into agriculture.
Participants at the summit displayed their products during the video exhibition session. The participants included: some state’s chief executive officers, heads of government agencies and private sector players.
They are: governors Akinwunmi Ambode (Lagos), Kashim Shettima (Borno); Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun); Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa); Sani Bello (Niger); Simon Lalong (Plateau); Godwin Obaseki (Edo); Samuel Ortom (Benue); Tanko Al-Makura (Nasarawa); Willie Obiano (Anambra); Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi) and Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto).
Others are: Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Managing Director Nsima Ekere; Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbeh; Bank of Agriculture Managing Director Kabiru Adamu; Dangote Grouo President Aliko Dangote and Olam Group Managing Director Venkataramani Srivathsan.
According to the governors, the development of the agricultural sector would not only save the country capital flight, but fast-track the diversification policy and guarantee food security.
In his opening remarks, Vintage Press Limited’s Managing Director Victor Ifijeh explained the summit’s objective. It was to ensure that government at all levels and Nigerians in general, participate in agriculture to ensure food security, Ifijeh noted.
According to him, the organisation offered the platform of the summit for a cross-fertilisation of ideas to enhance the production of food so that the country can become not only self-sufficient in food production but reverse the food importation trend.
Reminding Nigerians of experts’ consistent verdict that “a country that cannot feed itself is at great risk”, Ifijeh said: “The essence of the summit is to ensure that the country is not at risk in terms of food. Nigeria must be able to feed itself.”
In their submissions at the summit, promoters of state-sponsored agriculture, governors Abubakar Bagudu (Kebbi), Kashim Shettima (Borno) Simon Lalong (Plateau), insisted that the country has not given sufficient funds for the development of agriculture.
They argued that this was evident in the banks’ toxic loans inherited to the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON).
Bagudu said: “When the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) took over from the banking system, of the over N4 trillion debt it inherited, only less than a billion was owed by the agriculture sector.
“We have not been putting money into agriculture. Let’s start from there. When AMCON was created in 2010, it took over from the banking system about N4 trillion worth of bad loans but less than a billion naira was related to agriculture out of it,” the governor lamented.
He said that the Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) that lends money to the agricultural sector for specific crops had, as at the last count, given about N54 billion to develop the sector. The figure, he said was less than $200 million.
In comparison, Bagudu said that the Federal Government has invested about $9 billion for oil production, thus exposing the gap in the funding for agricultural development.
He went on: “There is no state, including the oil producing ones, that does not have about three crops, which with the right investments, cannot produce food for Nigeria including the states bordered by large bodies of water from which fish can be harvested in large commercial quantities.”
He insisted that inadequate funding is the number one factor that is missing from the development of the sector.
Citing the Brazilian example, Bagudu said that “a country that produces the same volume of oil as Nigeria is leading global production of maize, sugar, soya beans and other commodities.”
He believed that the efficient funding of the agriculture sector its attendant value chain would bring about maximum benefits that will surpass oil.
“We have a very dynamic, entrepreneurial and hardworking populace and they are ready to work. There are opportunities. We have to mobilize them,” he said.