It is a good thing to note that religious organisations have been contributing to the socio-economic development of Nigeria since their inception.
Missionaries started with the establishment of the first primary schools, 1843 in Badagry, and they helped reduce illiteracy at a very fast rate. Those schools provided qualitative education at affordable prices while many were even free.
Unfortunately, instead of the government to establish her schools and make them compete with the privately owned ones, the government mischievously took over private schools and ran them aground. Religious organisations in Nigeria watched helplessly how the quality of education was bastardised by government. It was not until 1990’s when religious organisations returned into education investment.
Religious organisations also invested in the provision of health care centres, though they are not as many as the schools they own, yet their impacts are felt wherever they are located. Some operate maternity centres in local areas while some offer routine medical check-up.
In 1999, Madonna University was approved as the first religious organisation owned private university in Nigeria, since then, other religious groups have been establishing universities all over Nigeria. However, so much criticism has accompanied the ‘exorbitant’ fees introduced by them as people claim the poor cannot afford them.
The fact that these universities were established by religious organisation makes it look ‘exploitative’ to critics because they believe that services of religious organisations should either be free or cheap as they were funded by followers’ contributions. Moreover, they have invested rightly and I believe the fees would be more affordable in the future.
Media (TV and radio) stations of religious organisations are being operated on various outfits. Some are into real estate, sports and building of skill acquisition centres. All these are not cheap, they cost a huge sums. Setting up a standard university is very expensive, some say it requires a minimum of 10 billion naira to acquire human and physical resources for the start up.
Taking a look at the operations of religious organisations in Nigeria, one will observe that they control huge funds in the economy. Donating/giving for religious purposes is one of the voluntary acts in Nigeria, but unfortunately, there is so much poverty in the society. Religious organisations became economic spectators because the government monopolised the responsibility of developing the economy.
Corruption and cluelessness perpetrated by successive governments have impoverished the society, therefore the government could not discharge her obligations to the society. Malnutrition and hunger has ravaged Nigeria. People with capital would rather import food than to establish farms. Government officials steal billions of naira in attempt to provide farming facilities for farmers. Now, the government has resulted to seeking help from the private organisation, religious organisations inclusive.
Present day agriculture is capital intensive. Much money is needed to achieve abundant food production as local farmers cannot afford the required amount. I have not seen any food exporting nation that keeps using primitive tools for farming. So I don’t believe that we should continue to encourage primitive farming but to continue to find financially capable organisations -like the religious organisations- to invest in agriculture.
I believe that religious organisations must invest in agriculture because poverty, malnutrition and unemployment are synonymous to all religious groups in Nigeria. The investment capability of religious organisations must be optimally harnessed in order to boost food production. They also do not need to depend on the government for land, fertilizers, chemicals, irrigation, machines and other facilities needed for production as they can afford them
The successes recorded in the provision of tertiary education, mass media and other socio-economic developmental activities of these religious organisations must be replicated in the agricultural sector. Successive governments have contributed their efforts (positively or negatively) toward the agricultural sector, yet food remains scarce. Therefore religious leaders must not continue to watch hunger ravage our nation but to convince their followers to join hands towards food production.
Religious organisations (and the government) must greatly reduce the amount spent on holy pilgrimages and invest in agriculture. The nations we visit are self sufficient in food production while we suffer malnutrition. So terrible that the hungry congratulate the pilgrims on successful pilgrimages, yet pilgrims have noting tangible to offer the hungry. Many went on holy pilgrimages in the past, but now, they do not even have food on their tables. Pilgrimages can continue when we all have so much to eat.
Efforts to acquire more private universities and media stations should be suspended while the money should be diverted into agriculture. Youths from all religious groups need jobs and food, so let’s provide for them through this means. The era of acquiring private jets, and expensive cars for religious leaders should also be suspended as these are the ways funds can easily be raised for food production.
Only few worshipers benefited from the universities operated by religious organisations. But If religious organisations can eventually invest in agriculture, both faithful and unfaithful follower will benefit directly and indirectly. Agriculture is a very profitable business, so any religious group intending to invest in agriculture should know she has nothing to lose.
When we have abundant food, the over $11bn spent annually on food production will be saved. The value of the naira which has fallen by over 100 percent since January 2015 will definitely rise as the demand for foreign currency will reduce. Presently, the government is confused as far as agricultural development is concerned, therefore let us take responsibility now (am seeking partnership on a proposal I have on how to make religious organisation invest in agriculture).
A Chinese proverb says ‘the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago, the second best time is now’. If we had started ten years ago we would have gone far, but still not too late to begin massive investment in agriculture.
Adeyemo Olajire Philip
Twitter @ oneolajire