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[The Concourse] SOS MESSAGE TO SOUTH EAST GOVERNORS FORUM: Just before the North ‘starve’ us to death

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Your Excellencies,

The deluded move by the North to impose embargo on food supply to the south was aimed at inflating their ego on their false claim to self-sufficiency and deflate that of the south, in a sextuplet federation called Nigeria. And worse still, is the fact that the term “south” is a misnomer or an envelope word used to specifically represent the Igbos each time such balefully vindictive ultimatum is given.
It implicates the intolerance traits embedded in their DNA which is a pointer that if the North are monopolistically endowed with crude oil like the south, there would have been no Nigeria.

By that ban, they made the south, especially the Igbos, look like clochard mendicants, pauperized panhandlers and obligate parasites in a nation that sprouted on synergistic symbiosis. These qualifications are better suited for the North. They feigned ignorant of their position in Brookings Book of Poverty as a region with the highest number of extremely poor people in Nigeria, owing to dearth of both human and economic resources.

Without prejudice to a press statement by the Middle Belt Forum — an association of all ethnic nationalities within Nasarawa, Kogi, Benue, Plateau, Kwara etc dissociating themselves from the pronouncement, the customary silence of the presidency in this regard is not golden.

Their land is not exclusively more arable than ours, in anyway. Though the diffusion of gunpowders of the civil war acidified our soils making it less fertile back in the day, but it can be rectified by liming where necessary.

However, the importunate order may have done more good than harm to the south, if we can make good use of the insult to turn our agricultural potentials and nature’s fortunes around. Their ill-advised sanction was self-limiting and unsustainable to say the least. But still we should not let is pass by, unattended to.

Igbo proverb had it that the orphans learn wisdom by eavesdropping the advice other parents give their children. This should serve as a challenge for you, the South East Governors Forum (SEGF) to look inwards and revolutionize our Agric sector in the East.

Let us learn from the advisory of John Boozman: “Now listen, the one thing about agriculture is: we may have lost our manufacturing, we’ve lost a great deal of jobs, lots of our industry. But the last thing in the world we need to do is, lose the ability to produce our food”

We know, our people for instance left commercial farming for mercantile commerce after the civil war. They needed quick recovery from the devastating poverty that the war and Gen. Gowon’s post-war austerity policy threw them into. But fifty years down the line, the North is indirectly reminding us that it is time to diversify our economy as a region. Let’s overlook their current date with World Poverty Clock and take a lesson.

Can we launch a viable southeast agro-economic renaissance, which erstwhile Ohaneze Ndigbo President general, Chief Nnia Nwodo advocated for while in office? Can our chambers of commerce, industry mines and Agriculture revitalize our regional farming potentials?
Can you the governors, grant subsidy and loan leverages to farmers, and initiate our own regional equivalent of FADAMA projects?

Between 1989 and 1991, there was a fecund agricultural policy formulated and implemented by Military Governor, Col. Nnaemeka Akonobi, called Mobilization Of Schools for Agriculture and Industry (MOSAI) in Old Anambra state. It incorporated agricultural and industrial trainings into the curriculum of all primary schools in the state, in the spirit of “catch them young” for diversification of the state’s economy. He handed over to civilians and the program was scuttled. Can you all in the SEGF resurrect and replicate it?

Can you launch an inter-ministerial committee of all South east Commissioners for Agriculture with this laudable end in view?

You don’t even need researches to see that poor policy-making decisions and indifference on the part of some governors, are the principal reasons why agriculture sector in the east is in bad shape.

Is it not ironical that a desert-ridden North is threatening the rain forest savanna of the south with starvation? The plan can only prosper if the southern sociopolitical leaders will it to. Ordinarily, with optimal annual rainfall, and sufficient sunlight, we are supposed to be producers and suppliers of food stuffs up north. That region has been in the midst of perenial war with itself against banditry, boko haram and kidnapping. This affects farming negatively. How did we allow ourselves be ‘dependent’ on them for food?

Dear Igbo Governors, be forewarned that policies fail due to inability of various regimes in power from independence to have a meritocratic system of recruiting the best hands for government jobs thereby furthering the malfunction of profound programmes such as agriculture schemes.
The art of agro-economic policy-making became the pre-occupation of unskilled and less educated politicians who had little or no knowledge about policy formulations, implementation and evaluation.

Due to the fact that most policy-making process in Nigeria lacked technocrats and skilled bureaucrats, technical tools of analysis such as Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) were lacking in the art of policy-making. Government officials were not interested in evaluating the success or otherwise of their policies. Thus, it is no surprise that most of them failed. This should not be permitted again, if SEGF can make any headway in revitalizing agribusiness in Igbo land.

The impacts of domestic socio-political factors also played prominent role in the in the failure of agriculture programmes as conflicts and political violence that transverse the polity trickled down to irregularities in the policies made. The exit of USAID in the ‘80s put a hold on research activities in agriculture sector up to two decades later.
Failure of some of our state Governments to make honest move towards curbing intra-state wars like the then Aguleri-Umuleri conflict, and Ezza-Ezillo wars was another cog in the wheel.

Your Excellencies, for agriculture sector to thrive there must be in place the appropriate technology needed to kick-start and consolidate crop production and animal husbandry. While, over the past twenty years, various states made policy statements to achieve good goals, such as providing food for their people and for export markets, the technology needed to achieve them was never available.

For example: although we have had a University of Agriculture in Umudike for many decades now, the institution suffered from inadequate funding occasioned by corrupt practices and lack of mechanized apparatuses that would have developed the local content initiatives and make the southeast (and by extension Nigeria) buoyant in food production.

Another major blow is the geometrical increase in corruption indices due to lax in the rules of the game, as material cum financial resources meant for agriculture found their way into private pockets of politicians and privileged hands. In short, due process and innovative ideas were ignored in the policy transfer protocols with government officials paying more attention to receiving gratifications.

The inability of various regimes in southeastern states to have appropriate feedback mechanism which would have transformed early agriculture policy failure into a learning point also facilitated avoidable implementation failures in the sector.

What value have we derived from Imo river Basin Developmemt Authority? Imo Palm produce industry was never looked into. Adani rice in Nsukka, the Mmiata Anam as well as Abakaliki rice farms projects have suffered serial negligence from successive governments. Sunrise Flour Mill in Onitsha has not served us appreciable good so far. The list is endless.

It is also imperative to consider domestic socio-political conditions while integrating lessons drawn from successful policy systems with home-grown solutions.

Dear South East Governors, Agriculturists, researchers and more importantly the farmers/rural dwellers that are normally ignored during planning and implementation of agricultural/rural development programmes should all be taken on board since they are in better position to identify the policies and programme that will be tailored to the need of the farmers/masses.

The Enugu State Agricultural Development Program (ENADEP) did well in this regard between 2001-2006. It is time to wake it up again to new reality in the wake of inter-regional apathy by the North. Other states should copy it.

There should be continuity and perpetual implementation of agriculture development policies by successive governments for the impact of the policies to be felt on our regional economy.

We survived genocidal war with N20 (twenty naira), optimistically, with similar devoted fraternal cohesion, we will boost our agro-economy and feed ourselves by ourselves. The only thing needed is political will, which only you (the current SEGF) can provide.

God bless Igbo nation, the land of the rising Sun!

✍Eze Jude O.

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