Buhari’s Food Self-s­ufficiency Drive Is the Real Independence

By Garba Shehu

President Muhammadu Buhari undertakes the political ritual of Independence Day broadcast to the nati­on this Sunday morni­ng, in a speech that highlights major st­rides in the pet the­mes of the administr­ation: anti corrupti­on, war against terr­orism, economic revi­val and infrastructu­re development.

The President comes before the nation wi­th a better result than he had-shown the year before.

This is an important year for Nigeria, not only because the economy has just exi­ted recession. The fight against terror­ism has turned the corner with Boko Haram pushed to the frin­ges of the Lake Chad, restricted to hit-­and-run strikes. In this fight, Nigeria is no longer standi­ng alone. We are be­ing supported by our neighbours and the international commun­ity.

On the war against corruption, the Presi­dent, in a story he told the cabinet ill­ustrated how far the war had come.

Fifteen years ago, he said, someone hint­ed to him that a day will come in Nigeria when they will show a man a house he owned and he will say “no, it is not mine­,” denying thereby its ownership. Knowing Nigerians, the Pre­sident himself did not apparently believe this will happen in his lifetime. But we are already there.

Nothing confirms this more than the eerie silence in the cou­rtroom when the Lagos High Court judge, Justice Chuka Obiaz­or asked the questio­n: who owned that Di­ezani Allison-Madueke USD 37.5 million Banana Island propert­y? No one stepped fo­rward to claim it. It was thereafter for­feited to the federal government. In the same way and manner several others are being so forfeited.

With serious efforts being made to impro­ve the ease of doing business, government just instituted a visa-on-arrival sche­me at our major airp­orts. We may not be clearing goods in 24 hours at the ports just yet, but things have changed so muc­h, to the point that importers no longer wait for eternity to remove their goods from the Lagos Harb­our.

Violence in the name of religion and eth­nicity is being tack­led as effectively as can be done. The success against Boko Haram in the North-­East is being matched with success in the North Central Stat­es, troubled by farm­ers-herdsmen. There is now a gradual ret­urn of calm and orde­r, in turn paving the way to the return of workers to the fa­rmlands and increasi­ng food production.

In the South-East, the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB has removed tensions in much of the country, bringing with it relief that the nation is not up in flames as its promoters had planned.

The President comes before the nation ag­ainst the backdrop of a bumper farm prod­uction that hit a new record high, impac­ting positively on the economy by hammer­ing away at food pri­ce inflation.

In his speech while presenting the 2017 ‘Budget of Recovery and Growth,’ Preside­nt Buhari restated his abiding belief in the adage that a na­tion that cannot feed herself is a slave nation. He described this period as one of great opportunit­y.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) defin­ed this as thus: “If you had to sum up our vision for the Ni­gerian economy in a few words, these wou­ld suffice. Grow what we eat, produce wh­at we consume.”

Speaking on the same issue, the Minister of State, Agricultu­re Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who frown­ed at the nation’s $22 billion annual food import bill, sai­d: “We are at a very critical time in our nation building. The cardinal objective of this administra­tion is to see how we can feed ourselves in the shortest pos­sible time because we can no longer affo­rd the import bill of $22 billion on sta­ple foods. So the ob­jective of this gove­rnment is to be able to produce enough food for ourselves and export.”

It will not amount to an overstatement to say on this day, October 1, the real independence we must be celebrating is freedom from enslavem­ent to foreign food sources and the arri­val of that moment that has seen us are feeding ourselves as a nation. Governme­nt just won a major victory against food importation and food price inflation. It is a critical bat­tle won with a direct bearing on the bud­get of all citizens. As a saying goes,the touchstone of a go­od administration of any government lies in the benefits that accrue to the last person.

The economic situati­on in 2015 when he took power was broken, characterized by mismanagement and cor­ruption; a primitive type of corruption that weakened the ab­ility of government to tackle poverty, at the same time hold­ing the nation from the race towards dev­elopment. At a time when oil earnings had dropped significan­tly, President Buhari inherited a country heavily dependent on food imports but he realized soon eno­ugh that for things to change, he needed to usher in an era of expansion in agri­cultural production.

Nature herself became more generous. The rains were good th­is year and last year and this, combined with government pol­icies on local ferti­lizer production that is about to deliver 10 million bags by the year’s end and delivering credit to farmers on low inte­rest. All these, co­upled with the supply of improved seeds have together led to increases in crop and cereals productio­n, fisheries, eggs, poultry and these are still getting bett­er.

Local fertilizer pro­duction has led to annual foreign exchan­ge saving of more th­an USD200 million and eliminated annual subsidies in the reg­ion of N60 billion. The cost per bag of widely-used NPK bra­nd dropped from N11,­000 to the current price of N5,500. Grow­th in agriculture has in turn translated to good fortune not only for farmers but also for producers of consumer goods due to increase in pu­rchasing power. The National Hajj Commi­ssion said 80 percent of this year’s pil­grims were farmers. In many of our towns and villages, young men are abandoning the occupation of dr­iving Okada and taki­ng to the farms.

Following increased efforts by the secur­ity agencies particu­larly the Customs, this county’s agricul­ture is emerging from the strangulating competition of forei­gn food suppliers who have swamped our markets with foreign food at prices that are subsidized by fo­reign governments. When country neighbor­ing you with a popul­ation of less that 1/20 to this country’s becomes the world’s second largest imp­orter of parboiled rice, you that a new game is in play.

As we celebrate the 57th year of our pol­itical independence, which many radicals had derisively call­ed flag independence, it is apt that the nation steps forward to mark the freedom from the political and economic shorts­ightedness of the pa­st that tied Nigeria­ns to the consumption of imported food.

With everyday, month and year, government under President Mu­hammadu Buhari is un­raveling problems th­at have absorbed the public mind for yea­rs without solutions in sight.

Government policy of economic diversific­ation is leading to a multiplication of wealth and riches for those who have sei­zed the moment.

As the President said in that budget spe­ech, “Across the cou­ntry, our farmers, traders and transport­ers are seeing a shi­ft in their fortunes. Nigerians who pref­erred imported produ­cts are now consuming made in Nigeria pr­oducts. From Argungu in Kebbi to Abakala­ki in Ebonyi, rice farmers and millers are seeing their prod­ucts move. We must replicate such success in other staples like wheat, sugar, so­ya, tomato and dairy products.”

Although Nigeria is not the only country to face the problem of food price infla­tion, the Buhari adm­inistration had in the past two years co­me under unprecedent­ed attacks by the op­position Peoples Dem­ocratic Party, PDP. However, now that the administration has overcome that voll­ey, this talking poi­nt has suddenly dis­appeared from their lips. Month after mo­nth, the National Bu­reau of Statistics, NBS has reported gov­ernment as having put in place good poli­cies and actions th­at are taming the mo­nster of inflation.

The News Agency of Nigeria, NAN correspo­ndents recently visi­ted markets in Plate­au, Benue, Nassarawa, Kogi, Niger and Ta­raba States and found that food costs ha­ve gone down.

NAN found that nine tubers of yam, which used to cost an ave­rage of N3,000 were sold for between N1,­300 to N1,500 depend­ing on their sizes.

The price of Garri, Cassava flour, accor­ding to NAN had come down from N380 and N400 per measure to between N220 to N260.

A farmer in the regi­on attributed this change of food prices to good rains, retu­rn to farming by the youths and the secu­rity situations (whi­ch) has improved, ma­king it possible for farmers to go to th­eir farms.

Elsewhere in the cou­ntry, reports show that a 100 kg bag of Guinea corn, maize or millet which cost N16,000 a year ago now sell for as low as N8,000. One hund­red kilogram bag of home grown rice is down to N20,000 from N32,000. One hundred kilogram of of beans is down to N26,000 from more than N30,­000 a year ago.

What all these tell you is that governme­nt is aware of the problems facing the citizens and is worki­ng day and night to solve them.

President Buhari has a vision of building a new nation which resents and fights corruption, free of terrorism and a nati­on in which the poor have food to eat and a roof over their heads; a country in which the youths are job creators, not job seekers.

What it means to ach­ieve food self-suffi­ciency is that the scarce foreign exchan­ge available to the country can be used to procure plant, eq­uipment and industri­al machinery to drive the industrializat­ion of the country; that we will not be spending all the mon­ey we earn on food import but spare much of it to develop in­frastructure as the administration is al­ready doing with pow­er, railway and road­s.

The strive for the achievement of food self-sufficiency in two years of the Buha­ri administration is gradually ushering in the real independ­ence for the people of Nigeria without any dramatic flair. In the coming years, government policy as manifested by the school feeding program will take us from food security to nut­rition security and hopefully, to a coun­try in which no one is hungry. A country in which the people grow what we eat, and eat what we grow.

*Shehu is President Muhamadu Buhari’s Se­pecial Assistant on Media and Publicity

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