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Friday, June 21, 2024

Now that Tinubu is talking…

The people are stirring and the leaders are panicky! As hunger keeps the people awake, the fear of what a hungry person can do keeps the well-fed awake! This is typical of a chick that perches on a rope: No peace for the rope and no peace for the chick.

True, then, are the words of Frederick Douglass that “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or bows or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those they oppress”

It could not have been better put! And the practical demonstration of that has begun to unfold before our very eyes in the protests against escalating cost of living, especially of essential foodstuffs, taking place spontaneously – or instigated, as some have alleged – in parts of the country. Semantics and politics apart, what is incontestable is that these are hard times. And something quickly has to be done before matters get out of hand. If food is not made available for the people to eat, they sure would not mind eating the leaders themselves!

The Government moved days ago to find solutions: The president and the governors rubbed minds and arrived at some decisions which ought to have been taken a long time ago by previous administrations, such as on state police to curb insecurity, which has driven farmers off the farm; accelerated food production all over the country, rather than continued dependence on the importation of essential commodities; and the mobilization of state governors to play their own part in solving problems, instead of abandoning all the task for the Federal Government and heaping all the blames on Mr. President.

The First Republic remains the golden age of Nigeria where all the achievements we still refer to today were chalked up but, tell me, what do we remember the Federal Government for, in that epoch? I cannot remember any! But we remember the regions for their achievements. In an era when there was no crude oil, it was agriculture that the regional governments leveraged upon to record outstanding successes.

Competition amongst the regions produced the development that we still speak about to this day. Discovery of crude oil, abandonment of agriculture and industrialization, the splintering of the economically viable regions into weak states, decades of military adventurism and amateurish governance; scandalous cost of governance; and the cankerworm of corruption that grew steadily to become the octopus that it is today – all of these have combined to bring this country on its knees.
Whether it will rise again, like the Phoenix rising from its ashes, remains to be seen.

The meeting of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the governors, however, gives a ray of hope. One of the news media reported it thus: “President Bola Tinubu and governors have agreed on 10 ways to tackle the security and food challenges in the country. Tinubu in company of Vice President Kashim Shettima on Thursday, February 14, 2024 met with the 36 States Governors and the FCT Minister at the State House. Special Adviser to the President on Information & Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, who provided insight into the deliberations between the President and the state governors, said the meeting agreed on common grounds to address some of the challenges currently facing the country, especially the rising cost of food and insecurity.

“Onanuga said after extensive deliberations, the President and governors agreed to work together to solve the problems and tackle the economic pressure being faced by the citizens. On ways of addressing insecurity, which is affecting farming and food production, President Tinubu made three key pronouncements: One, more police personnel to be recruited to strengthen the force. Two, President Tinubu informed the governors that the Federal Government will work with them and the National Assembly towards putting in place a mechanism that will engender state police, instead of the vigilantes that are being used in some states. Three, the President charged the governors to strengthen their Forest Rangers and arm them to keep all the forest safe from criminals. It was agreed that the modalities for State Police and addressing security issues (are) to be discussed further at the National Economic Council.

“On rising cost of food, the President directed that the state and federal governments should collaborate to increase local food production. The President advised against the idea of food importation and price control… Also, the President advised governors to follow the example of Kano State in dealing with hoarding of food for profiteering by commodities merchants. He directed the Inspector-General of Police, National Security Adviser, Department of State Services to monitor warehouses hoarding food items across the country and stop profiteering by merchants. The President charged governors to pay attention to livestock development in their states and increase production, most especially poultry and fishing products”

Onanuga then quoted the president as saying: “My position at this meeting is that we must move aggressively and establish a committee to look critically at the issues raised, including the possibility of establishing state police. From Kano, we have read reports about large-scale hoarding of food in some warehouses. The National Security Adviser (NSA), the Inspector-General of Police, and the Director-General of the Department of State Services should coordinate very closely and ensure that security agencies in the states inspect such warehouses with follow up action. We must ensure that speculators, hoarders, and rent seekers are not allowed to sabotage our efforts in ensuring the wide availability of food to all Nigerians.

“What I will not do is to set a price control board. I will not also approve the importation of food. We should be able to get ourselves out of the situation we found ourselves in because importation will allow rent seekers to perpetrate fraud and mismanagement at our collective expense. We would rather support farmers with the schemes that will make them go to the farm and grow more food for everyone in the country. We must also look at the rapid but thoughtful implementation of our livestock development and management plans, including dairy farming and others”

The President was also reported to have pleaded with governors to ensure that all salary arrears to workers, gratuities to workers and pensioners are cleared as a way to put money into the hands of the people since states are now getting more monthly FAAC revenue. “Spend the money, don’t spend the people”, the president was said to have urged the governors. “President Tinubu (also) implored governors to create more economic opportunities for the youths in their states to keep them more productively engaged”.

I like the way the governors have been dragged into the matter of insecurity and food protection by Mr. President. The local government chairpersons must have been excluded because of their sheer number – which chamber will accommodate the whole lot, 774 in number? The heat, usually, has been on the President while governors escape the censure, when the reverse ought to have been the case. Many governors do nothing with the funds they collect. It is time for them to be put on the spot. Let the groundnuts pyramids return in the North! Let the Southwest regain its lost glory as one of the world’s top cocoa producers! Let the East compete with Malaysia in palm-oil production!

On insecurity, it is time for the governors to justify money collected as security votes. What have they been securing? Yes, we need more policemen. But quantity must also go hand-in-hand with quality. Good training, modern equipment, hi-tech, and motivation must all work pari-passu if we are to have value for money. State police are long overdue. Now the governors will have a good place to spend their security votes.

Still on insecurity, the governors for long neglected to explore the Forest Rangers option, which the law sanctions and which is not as politically contentious as State Police. But now with the president’s tacit acceptance of both State policing and Forest Rangers empowerment, keeping our forests free of dangerous elements becomes a task that must be done. As I shared the Forest Rangers idea with one of the South-west governors a fortnight ago, I was happy to hear him say it was on the cards. Now, I can see it truly was.

I support that we grow our own food rather than rely on imports. I belong to a group where some members incessantly advocated for the “importation” of foodstuffs from the Middle Belt of the country into the South-west. Each time they broached the idea, I wasted no time in shooting it down. We must grow our own food in the South-west instead of relying on “food imports” from the North. We all saw how they used food as a weapon against us not long ago!

We used to grow our own foodstuffs. We can do so again. Governors and LG chairmen must lead the way back to the farm in the Southwest. We must grow whatever is growable in our backyards. Every available space must be turned into gardens. In my primary and secondary school days, we had gardens and school farms – even fish ponds. Let the governors start a Green Revolution that will spread like wildfire all over the Southwest.

I once advised a Southwest governor to convert a sprawling field within the Government House into a farm where we could grow some of the foodstuffs that we consumed in the Government House but he said no. He loved to see the green grass mowed day-after-day for nothing! Bunkum! It is that type of stupid mentality that causes the Southwest to starve today. Let every green grass that serves no purpose pave way for farms that will grow pepper, tomatoes, vegetables, yams, beans, etc.

A crate of eggs now costs N3,500! What this means is that every source of animal protein is now beyond the reach of the average Nigerian! Meat, chicken, and fish are already no-go areas! The solution is for us to return to the farm. Growing up, I had a garden where I grew all sorts of items. I also raised chicken. I plan to return to all of that as much as is practicable. If we all strive to reduce what we go to the market to purchase, we shall be contributing to solving the problem of the escalating cost of foodstuffs. Bringing down the cost of living is not the responsibility of the government alone; but for each and everyone of us, it is a task that must be done!

* Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

turnpot@gmail.com 0705 263 1058

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