By Babafemi Ojudu
Had I been a governor and have behaved the way most of our governors have in the past, this is what I will do at this uncertain moment. This moment when nothing, not even life itself is assured. When COVID-19 is wrecking inexplicable havoc on mankind.
I will wake up in the middle of the night. Do a cup of coffee. Go to the bathroom, wash my face. After this is done, I will switch off my phone and take my iPad and head to my study. I will tell my wife not to allow anyone disturb me with a phone call.
This is the time to take a humble pie and agree with oneself that over the years one has failed to govern and it is time to take up seriously the act of governing.
I will draft a speech apologizing for the irresponsibility of the past. That I and the people with whom I have governed have sinned against the society by not preparing them for a rainy day. I will educate them on the reality of the present , the dangers ahead and the possibilities. That if we all act as one and responsibly too with a common vision, we may be able to surmount our problems.
I will tell them that the task ahead of us in the next two years is to combat this virus, and stay alive ; staying alive means behaving responsibly as well as being able to feed ourselves.
I will open up to them on the finances of our country and it’s not cheering implications for our state and our people.
I will put a challenge before them, and that will be that on no account must we allow ourselves to be buffeted by the twin evil of the virulent virus and hunger.
Our lands are fertile, one of the most uncultivated in the world. With little or no fertilizer we can cultivate the food we eat, rear the animals to provide our protein.
Where possible we can sell the excess and use the income therefrom to buy the essentials such as medications for common diseases afflicting our people.
I will remind the people that nobody, and I repeat, nobody will be able, in the nearest future to afford the luxuries of the past that turned us into rapacious consumers of foreign products. It is time we compulsorily look inward.
I will tell them it is time to roll up our sleeves and that before they do theirs I would have rolled up mine on the way to the farm. The young population ,who we all wrongly assumed are lazy ,will certainly be motivated seeing that we are sincere and committed.
This is not a time for politics, certainly not a time to think of PDP and APC or to think that an opponent challenged me at the Election Petition Tribunal and therefore hold grudges. Or that a king or an Emir and an Obi is not in my good books. It is time to mobilize all for the emergency at hand.
I will let them know that that dark liquid we used to call the black gold has suddenly turned a dirty, good-for -nothing product.
In most of Nigeria, a large perch of land is uncultivated. When I visited Isreal a couple of years ago to intern on a farm, the young farmers who took me through used google map to calculate the acreage of land cultivated in my state, Ekiti . They came to the conclusion that less than five percent of the land is cultivated. This may be true for most of the states in Nigeria particularly the southern states.
This is a time to be humble. The arrogance of the past and present cannot confront the tsunami approaching. It is time to put away our ego and ask of ideas from friends and enemies alike. It is time to look into the history books and inform one self on how without oil money an Awolowo was able to accomplish so much from resources emanating from farm products .
I will announce the setting up of produce marketing board that will buy up excess products and regulate prices to keep the farmers on the land. Our current meager income will be diverted to also set up related food processing endeavors to be situated on Agro-Allied Parks close to existing agriculture producing zones. They will utilize renewable energy from our abundant sunlight and small/mini hydro-electric dams from our several water bodies flowing into dams across our land.
We will abandon the era of rain fed only farming to an all year round farming regimen, of all the food we and our neighbors require. To achieve this we need trained Human Resources, and our education has to be refocused and repurposed in the short and long term for this purpose. If we must cultivate 95% of land in our state, we need extension officers, agricultural scientists and agronomists. We need economists, engineers and financial experts to support the new economic order.
To this end, I will demand audience with the Vice Chancellor of the University to which I am visitor. I will demand to see the University curriculum, and I will put a direct call to the head of the Nigeria University Commission for a complete overhaul of the same to tackle the priorities of our state in a Post-COVID era. This will be Agriculture, Healthcare and Security with Education driving these. Some subjects that we are teaching are nice to have but not necessary for our immediate development, we will drive this home by repurposing the curriculum to produce experts in these areas of need.
Our existing group of unemployed graduates will also be re-purposed. In the long vacation of 3 months we are now entering, we will recruit the best experts from IITA and our other agriculture research institutes to re-train every single one of them in fast track programs and organize them into cooperatives to farm on medium and large scale using our empty schools and university buildings as well as online courses. This is of course after we have identified every single unemployed and willing persons in our community. We will ensure no man is idle!
Within a week I will open a register of young men and women who are ready to cultivate the land and begin to assist them to clear the land and issued with seedlings.
The Vet Doctor has a role in such cooperative units as much as the accountant, the electrical or mechanical engineer and the Human Resources expert. These Agro-Coops repurposed for production, aggregation, processing and trading and re-imagined will be the nucleus of our Green Economy that will rest on the tripod of Productivity, Knowledge and Market.
As a Governor, one will have exclusive rights on land based on our constitution and the Land Use Act. I will leverage this to relax laws on land allocation. I will appoint a “can-do” agricultural Czar and put a task force in place in every local government to identify unused farm land. They will decide which crop each LG have a competitive advantage. We will also issue title documents quickly to individuals, companies, cooperatives and communities that have sought them or those mapped under our program so they can access credit. More on this later.
We will leverage technology and working with existing agencies like the Space Research Institute on the federal level and NIRSAL to map every single land in my state. I will codify a new era of communal registered lands that will be leased for common good with the community benefitting directly. Our Royal fathers will be called to work with us to ensure no land is left fallow in our state, as we seek to revolutionize the sector.
I will return back to the state all of the security funds I have fleeced the state of, and stashed away in my account or the account of my fronts. With this and the money I will safe from hiring private jets I will buy farming equipments and other inputs for the use of the people. I will let them know that the salary we pay monthly , which was never enough for a meaningful life when paid, may no longer come .
I will tell them as we have learnt from the sayings of our forefathers that “ti ebi ba kuro ninu ise , ise buse” i.e when hunger is removed from poverty, the pangs of poverty will be reduced. And since I don’t intend to starve them, we all must get back to the land. I will resume on the state Agro-Processing and Producing zones daily, and conduct the State Executive Council on open farmlands televised by the Press.
I will not just stand shouting orders at people. I will be on the farm with them, dirtying my hand, driving the tractor, visiting cottages where plantain and yam is processed to elubo, the pits where palm oil is made with the cameras following me not because I am thinking of the next election, but because I want to show a personal example.
Because of this upfront commitment, I will demand that the Federal Government and indeed the international community do their own part. I will ask Mr. President to visit our state when we are training our new crop of farmers and mapping lands in the first three months, and ask him to help us pressure the Central Bank to work with us. We can unleash a sizable portion of our state’s GDP in Anchor Borrower Loans, RSSF facilities and AGSMEIS facility that already exist but our team have been ignoring.
I will also appeal to the Bankers committee to enable titled land from our state be eligible to be used as collateral, even as I will offer a strict state guarantee on individual loans for individuals/teams that undergo our training and are subject to its monitoring and evaluation.
As a state, I will directly seek a minimum of 100 billion naira credit line from the World Bank , African Development Bank and the Africa Export-Import Bank to underwrite the ability of our new state Produce Marketing Company to acquire targeted produce from our farmers for export. This line of credit will be critical to boosting system confidence and driving all year round farming and processing program that will transform our state. We will build new silos and acquire existing ones, and expand our storage, sorting and processing capacity in tandem.
Indeed, as we do all of this I will set up an agency with the best brains of our citizens home and abroad, who possess the widest contacts in China, India, America, Europe and South America. The world is about to get hungry and we must tap our network to feed the world at the best price. This new International Committee for our State Commodity Marketing & Sales will be Meeting virtually every week to discuss opportunities to connect our state products to international markets.
As this agency expands and fulfill its mandate to sell our products globally, we will incorporate it and list it on global stock exchanges as a source of Africa’s produce to the world? Why? This will be our opportunity to leverage on the irresponsibility of my fellow Governors who after all have refused to live ”the examined life”. We will leverage our lessons learned to move into other states to acquire their produce and offer their farmers better life when we exhaust our own lands. This is the scale up model which can be achievable in two to three years after our own conversion or “light bulb” moment.
Among our citizens we will also incentivize formation of companies to handle equipment maintenance, logistics, transport and even shopping! We will capture the entire value chain and leave nothing on the table. If we can find an international shipping company to partner with our state on joint venture basis to ship and export our products globally, we will enter such alliance.
Our contacts will also be deployed to secure certifications and agreements to buy, for our widely required products from Cashew to Kolanut, to Grains and Cocoa for the state I call home. You name the product, Nigeria can compete and so can your state!
As our state sell these produce, we will earn foreign exchange and will bring the money back home to pay our debt on behalf of our citizens, and share the balance in income to our new farmers, their landlord, their suppliers and service providers and indeed as taxes to our state.
Our Shareholding in the commodity processing and exchange behemoth we formed which is now listed on the stock exchange will be worth a fortune in five years, and we can defray our credit lines with our partners, or even acquire new ones to expand from food to pharmaceuticals – after all, if the world is sick – who will heal them? Food and medicine of course!
Our civil service will be re-oriented for service to step up to this new era, of work and eat. Office hands will be deployed as field supervisors, if the Governor is on the field what will the Permanent Secretary be doing in the office?
The era of waiting on allocation will be declared over, and our state will lit up with renewable power and leave the era of perpetual darkness courtesy of laziness. The new era of productivity, and brain powered industrialization will bring prosperity to our people in shiny new roads and cities, and hospitals as well as schools.
We will deploy broadband to our farms, which will be controlled by sensors and modern ICT infrastructure. The drudgery of farming we have known we gradually recede to the past even as our scientists and researchers will be challenged and given grants to solve our agriculture and food production as well as processing problems.
After teachers, farmers will be the best paid in our state. And of course, since we fixed the curriculum all our teachers will be focused on teaching the principles of agriculture or supporting that singular venture that can reduce us from penury and hunger!
Our farmers will buy new houses, buy cars and train children to universities that are relevant to their future. Many new institutions will be built at global standard, and our state will be a showcase of what can be done in Africa because we believe in ourselves. Tourists will then flock in because we have job and food security, and thus achieved physical security without deploying armored tanks.
This focus indeed will ultimately enable us re-imagine our urban planning and as great people re-imagine if we like to live in drab looking towns or modern shiny cities built with agriculture dollars.
Our architects and engineers will lead the way, and we will re-imagine our state. New companies, globally commodity aggregators from Cargill to Vittol to Archer Daniels will move to our state, even as manufacturers will realize the place to be is near the raw materials and brains, which after all we would have invested in.
We would have done what we always talked about, simply because I as the Governor have decided to live an “examined life”.
A Word of Advice for Mr Governor(s)
If you, Mr Governor had planned to depend on aid money to run the affairs of your state, it is time you know the do-gooders themselves will have no time to do Father Christmas but be battling to survive a depression threatening to come. Even China, the world’s factory and home to highest number of billionaires is crying out that her economy is shrinking.
This is not new. We saw a bit of this and read it in the history books when the young revolutionaries took over power in Cuba in 1959 and the resources of the state was lean. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara joined the people on sugar cane plantations slashing canes and loading them to the factories for the manufacturing of sugar for consumption by the rest of the world.
They worked sixteen hours of the day with the people, constructing roads using local technology, materials and labour. They educated the populace in the farming settlements after they return from the farms. They built health centers and trained para medics in thousands. We all know the outcome of that noble effort today.
Let us eschew all those lavish state banquets for now. Suspend the ostentatious birthdays and destination weddings of your children, as well as the obscene funeral of your parents. Those stupendously expensive automobiles in government house garages are not used by officials in the country where they are manufactured. They are a plaything for those who inhabit Hollywood.
Do away or at least reduce to the minimum the luxury around you. The poor will not be impressed with these in the days ahead. “Ti ebi ba wonu oro min ki wo” (translation: the hungry pays attention to no other thing) . Remember your excellency saying of our elders that one rich governor in the midst of a poverty stricken multitude is a poor man himself.
Mr. Governor, let go the leased private jet. Allow the crews to return home. Stay with your people, identify with them, live with them. Reduce the trips to Abuja, after all there will be less to share here now. Take off the Agbada or babanriga. The Awo cap doesn’t fit on the farm. It is his ideas and praxis that matters now. If Awo can do it with Cocoa money, you sure can take some paltry injection of crude oil crumbs coupled with ingenuity and long suffering of your people to build a better state even Akintola will be proud of.
Roll up your sleeves Mr Governor, dirty your hands if you must survive the tsunami coming. I pray you do. You can only survive and plant yourself in the minds of the people if you will change your ways .This time calls for a different attitude. It can no longer be business as usual.
This is not a drill. The real deal is here!
Senator Babafemi Ojudu is Special Adviser on Political Matters to the President