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TRANSITION IN GOVERNMENT: WHAT HOPE FOR AGRICULTURE?

It was indeed a historic day. A day that has been anticipated for four
long years. A day that has generated much quarrels and dispute. A day,
the only day, when sovereignty truly belongs to the people. On this
day, we saw men, women, young and old marching to the same location to
choose between 'change' and 'continuity', the umbrella or the broom.
It was the 28th day of March, a Saturday, the Election Day. And
coincidentally, my birthday.
An election means different things to different people. To a
politician, it's a battle that must not be lost. A thug sees a festive
season while an INEC official perceives the opportunity to make their
retirement gratuity in one day. However, to a man who earns his daily
bread tilling the ground, an election and its succeeding transition
holds no meaning if it does not makes his wilting crops greener. Of
what use is a barren new wife? Of what use is the transition in
government if it does not translate to more birds in his pen, more
heaps of yam or enables access to hybrid seeds, tractors and plough?
Hence, as President Muhammadu Buhari - the first Nigerian to unseat a
sitting democratically elected president - celebrates a year in
office, it has become imperative to ask these salient questions: Would
his 'change government' bring about a turnaround in our agricultural
fortune? Would it resuscitate the cocoa that have long disappeared
from our fields, revamp our crumbled groundnut pyramids and return us
to our rightful place in the league of the agricultural superpowers?
What hope for agriculture?
If the contents of the President's interview with Kanayo Nwanze, the
president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development
(IFAD) were anything to go by, then, there is great hope for
agriculture. While responding to questions, the president expressed an
absolute commitment to economic diversification with agriculture
playing the lead role. In his own words: 'It's time to go back to the
land. We must face reality. We campaigned heavily on agriculture and
we are ready to assist as many who want to go into agricultural
ventures. We will articulate our programmes and seek for advice, he
concluded.
As Nigerians are used to politicians and their alluring words, it will
be impossible to take the president's words hook, line and sinker.
After all, his predecessor bamboozled us with stories of the
transformation agenda when there was hardly any cassava bread on sale.
However, for the first time in Nigeria's democratic history, we have a
president who rode to electoral victory on the altar of his discipline
and integrity. Hence, it is not illogical to give him the benefit of
the doubt.
That he flagged off the plantation of 2000 cashew seedlings in Ife,
Osun State 60 days after granting that interview and commenced the
recruitment of over 100,000 Agricultural Officers through the N-power
programme to train and keep rural farmers abreast of ground breaking
research in agriculture are obvious indicators that he strictly mean
business. This is in addition to his directive that all agricultural
loans should not attract more than a 5% interest at any commercial
bank. Gone are the days of paying lip service to agriculture. Indeed,
there is hope!
The increase in the transiting government's allocation to agriculture
is another marker that shows great hope for agriculture. In the
recently-signed 2016 budget, a total of 76,753,672,273 was allocated
to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. This is 36
billion naira higher than the 39,151,988,128 budgeted for the same
purpose in 2015. There is no better pointer to the direction a
government is heading than what he intends to do with his money. This
huge financial commitment underlines the readingness of the transiting
government to return our agriculture back to the days of glory.
At a time when oil prices plummeted from 110 dollars to 38 dollars per
barrel, at a time when Professor Ricardo Hausmann of the Harvard
University and Emmanuel Ogezi of University of Benin predicted that
the Nigerian Oil will dry up in 40 years; at a time when states
require bail-out funds to pay workers' salaries, it has become
imperative for any serious government to look beyond the dwindling oil
revenue. As there aren't many alternatives more feasible and reliable
than agriculture, then, there is great hope. More than ever, this
transiting government needs agriculture to resurge the nation's
dwindling revenue and combat the economic hardship occasioned by the
drop in oil prices.
In the end, 'life', as Oliver Wendell Holmes puts it;' is not so much
about where we are now, but the direction in which we are heading.'
With this transition, we are heading, undoubtedly, towards an era of
exceedingly abundant agricultural blessings. The question is: How wide
are your open arms?
ALIU SHERIFF OPEYEMI
sheriphaliu@gmail.com

This is one of the essays submitted for The PAID ESSAY COMPETITION.
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