‘FG pay­ing lip ser­vice to agri­cul­ture’

Se­na­tor Em­manuel Bwacha (PDP, Taraba) is the Chair­man of the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Agri­cul­ture. In this in­ter­view, he speaks about govern­ment’s at­ti­tude to agri­cul­ture and why in­sur­gency may cause food short­age. Ex­cerpts:

Daily Trust - - INTERVIEW - By Tu­raki A. Has­san

Nigeria’s fund­ing of agri­cul­ture is be­low the 10 per­cent stip­u­lated by the Ma­puto dec­la­ra­tion, why is it so?

Yes, I agree that agri­cul­ture has not been re­ceiv­ing suf­fi­cient fund­ing and I want to say that we are con­tin­u­ally pay­ing lip ser­vice to the sec­tor. We talk so much about it and then there’s noth­ing much in terms of ac­tion. We are play­ing pol­i­tics with agri­cul­ture and I think it will not be good for us in the long run. From all in­di­ca­tions, the fu­ture of this coun­try lies with the agri­cul­ture and this en­tirely de­pends on what we do now to sus­tain a bet­ter fu­ture for our chil­dren. We have tried to sing this to the ears of those who care to lis­ten. The Nige­rian govern­ment has not set a good prece­dent as a fore­run­ner in the African project be­cause Africa is the cen­tre-piece of our for­eign pol­icy. If we signed an agree­ment, which is bind­ing on all sig­na­to­ries, we are sup­posed to obey and yet we don’t obey.

I want to call on the govern­ment, which has demon­strated the de­sire to pro­mote agri­cul­ture, to rise up to the chal­lenge and com­ply with the con­ven­tion that was signed in Ma­puto in 2003 un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo who is a farmer him­self but un­for­tu­nately re­fused to im­ple­ment same. So, if Nigeria could com­mit 10 per cent of its na­tional budget to agri­cul­ture, I want to be­lieve the story would change be­cause we have the req­ui­site man­power in the sec­tor. Many of us are keen on pro­mot­ing agri­cul­ture but we are frus­trated due to in­suf­fi­cient fund­ing.

But the Na­tional As­sem­bly has ap­pro­pri­a­tion pow­ers, why is it that you have not done

any­thing about it?

Yes, we have pow­ers but we have our lim­i­ta­tions, too. You know that the main­stay of our econ­omy is oil and the budget is pred­i­cated on the bench­mark and we can­not go be­yond the bench­mark. We can­not in­crease the fig­ure ar­bi­trar­ily. We have tried to do that and dis­cov­ered that we will have the chal­lenge of im­ple­men­ta­tion. Some­times when you try to repri­ori­tise it cre­ates fric­tion and these ar­eas can­not be over­looked in the process of bud­get­ing. It is now a phe­nom­e­non that the ex­ec­u­tives don’t want you to tam­per with the budget and it is very funny and em­bar­rass­ing to the in­tegrity of the leg­is­la­ture. I don’t see how the ex­ec­u­tive will bring a budget to you and then ex­pect that you rub­ber-stamp it as if you were there just to ful­fill all right­eous­ness. So when you go to ex­ceed the ceil­ing, the ex­cuse is al­ways that there was no suf­fi­cient rev­enue from the oil sales to fund the budget. But I think there is a way we can han­dle this if there is an ef­fec­tive syn­ergy be­tween us and the ex­ec­u­tive. You bring an es­ti­mate that will be re­flec­tive of com­mit­ment to the agric sec­tor. You re­de­fine your pri­or­i­ties. You can do it with­out do­ing what they call “pad­ding”.

There is this fear that the in­se­cu­rity in the North may lead to food cri­sis be­cause many farm­ers have been dis­placed. Are you not con­cerned about that?

That

is say­ing the ob­vi­ous be­cause when you take a look at the states that are re­ferred to as the food bas­ket of the na­tion, from Benue, Taraba, Plateau and stretches through Adamawa, they are all the places rav­aged with crises oc­ca­sioned by what I will call ‘po­lit­i­cal herds­men’ who are dis­si­pat­ing the pop­u­la­tion. The killings are so alarm­ing and the news­pa­pers are not even reporting the ex­act ca­su­alty fig­ures. Since his­tory, cri­sis be­tween herds­men and farm­ers has not taken this di­men­sion. Un­for­tu­nately, this is coin­cid­ing with the in­sur­gency in the North-east.

What is the govern­ment do­ing to avert the pos­si­ble food cri­sis?

That nat­u­rally is the duty of the govern­ment but, again, look at it from two per­spec­tives that this cri­sis is com­ing from. What do we do to see that we avoid this con­se­quence? Now, what to do to avoid it has al­ready been missed. That op­por­tu­nity has been missed but the sec­ond al­ter­na­tive is how to pro­vide suc­cour or pal­lia­tive mea­sure. Here, it is the agri­cul­tural sec­tor which has been ne­glected that will play a prom­i­nent role. Funds must be made avail­able to re­fill the si­los that we have across the coun­try. We must stock food to take care of the people.

But is that be­ing done by the govern­ment?

The govern­ment is in­volved in stock­pil­ing food in our re­serves to en­sure that people don’t face un­nec­es­sary hard­ships in terms of lack of food. The agric min­istry is do­ing that. I also know that the grain re­serves project or scheme is work­ing. The govern­ment is not un­mind­ful of this. But cer­tainly food short­age will be there be­cause the ar­eas hit most are the ar­eas that are re­spon­si­ble for the bulk of the sup­ply of food to Nigeria.

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