At a recent conference for government spokespersons in Abuja, one of the speakers made a point suggesting that infrastructural expenditure has been implemented at a pace disproportionate to investment in intangible resources such as agriculture, education and healthcare. The reason for this, he said, is not far-fetched. Building roads or fixing collapsed ones, for example, yield outcomes that are instant whereas the results arising from agricultural investments are not immediately discernible.
While there may seem to be an excessive focus on roads rehabilitation the reason is not essentially narcissistic or driven by the desire for public acclamation. The truth is there is a yawning infrastructure deficit across the federation that even sustained rounds of extensive roads rehabilitation are often barely sufficient interventions. This is particularly so with governors increasingly taking on the task of fixing federal roads albeit without due refund from the federal government, as has occurred in Enugu State where the government has yet to be reimbursed for the over N25b spent on FG roads.
But it has to be conceded though that the sheer physicality of road infrastructure and the attendant fizz they create tend to obscure developments in equally critical areas of need. And when the state’s helmsman has a self-effacing inclination as is the case in Enugu, there is an even greater likelihood that achievements in those areas will be under the public radar. We can actually situate in the foregoing the reason why the revolution Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has wrought in the agricultural sector has remained a silent one.
Besides coal, Enugu was noted for rice cultivation with communities such as Ugbawka and Adani, in Nkanu East and Uzo Uwani local government areas respectively, attaining fame that drew thousands from distant locations to their weekly markets. It was this prevalence that gave rise to the establishing of Adarice which enriched families and state coffers in its heyday. But rice cultivation would eventually experience the fate suffered by virtually every vital crop as oil began its ascendant climb in our lives. In a blip, the halcyon days of rice cultivation were over. Vast tracts of farmlands that once bore rice paddies lay abandoned as farming increasingly seemed like a halfhearted pastime. Worse still, the fortune of the once flourishing Adarice experienced a swift plunge down the cliff, thus becoming another victim of Nigeria’s oil boom years.
The end of the boom however brought a rude awakening as it soon emerged that the earnings from the commodity’s sale were barely sufficient to run the affairs of state across the federation. It was a dawning reality aptly captured by the Enugu State governor, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, at his budget presentation to the state’s legislators on December 23, 2016: “Since 2015, the revenue accruing to the state from the Federation Account has been on decline and the need to increase our internally-generated revenue cannot be overemphasized. The state is working hard to grow our internally-generated revenue up to 50 percent of our total revenue.”
The governor had earlier echoed such pragmatism in his inaugural speech. “I believe that this is another great opportunity for Enugu State and Nigeria to look inwards and harness those potential, which free oil money, has blinded us from exploiting,” he said in reference to the declining monthly disbursement. “It is an opportunity to live to our full potential and leave the feeding bottles of the federalism syndrome.”
Looking inwards meant reviving those economic activities which petrodollars had pushed to the background. The declaration to look inwards wasn’t mere platitudes; Ugwuanyi expressly matched rhetoric with action. He has since his inauguration done a lot to create an investor-friendly climate in the state which have consistently yielded positive results as evident in Enugu State’s impressive performance on several socio-economic index. The Enugu State Investment Summit held in April 2016 is a project consistent with the desire to earn the private sector’s confidence and showcase the state’s potential as a blossoming investors’ haven.
The planned privatization of Adarice and 16 other state-owned corporations is also a consequence of the determination to grow Enugu’s economy substantially and make it less reliant on the depleting federal lifeline. A major beneficiary of this renewed commitment to vigorously exploit the state’s economic strengths has been agribusiness. The result, not surprisingly, has been most telling in rice production.
As one of the leading rice producers in Nigeria, Enugu State has recorded a steady output increase. From a yield of 1.5t/ha rice output has grown to an impressive 4t/ha – 5.6t/ha. Last year, over 600,000 hectares were cultivated resulting in the estimated total production of 1,800,000mt.
These promising indices in rice cultivation have earned Enugu State a Staple Crops Processing Zone status, a project conceived by the African Development Bank in collaboration with the federal government to support states with huge potential in staple crops’ production and which has paid the Programme’s requisite counterpart fund. This is in addition to the construction of six Centre Pivot Irrigation systems in some communities to enable rice farmers to cultivate the crop twice or thrice in a year, and procurement of 20 tractors leased out to grassroots farmers at knockdown rate.
The government has also launched the Agricultural Feeder Roads projects totaling 46.89 kilometres in 12 communities across the three senatorial zones where rice is grown, a point that further highlights the inextricable link between the state of roads and the economic condition of farmers.
The benefits that investments in agribusiness yield may to a large degree be gleaned mostly via the minute details of economic indicators especially at the early stage. But the results soon become apparent as in the incremental rise in the production of rice, pineapple and cashew nuts resulting from the revival and expansion of Adani Irrigation Scheme.
Although minute, in contrast to the concrete tangibility of roads, the value of such growth is hugely significant in economic terms. For instance, while the additional jobs created by the Enugu State government’s investments in agriculture may seem like mere statistical details, yet their true economic worth would be appreciated once the multiplier effects are considered.
Nonetheless, a cynical retort such as this might still arise: why is the media not awash then with tales of Enugu’s exploits in agriculture? The answer is simple: Governor Ugwuanyi’s commitment towards making agriculture a mainstay in the state’s pursuit to diversify its economy is not driven by the search for validation. It is a matter of conviction. Besides, the most impactful policies are not necessarily those that created the biggest buzz, but those birthed by deep thinking conceived away from the intrusive distractions of the limelight. A policy’s strength is usually in the results it generates. Anyone still in doubt only has to look at the irony in Enugu’s consistency – along with just a few other states – in meeting its statutory obligations (workers’ salaries, pensions, etc) even though it ranks among the least recipients of federation account’s allocation.
Happily, soon the benefits of the silent agricultural revolution will be apparent both statistically and in a concrete sense. And the applause then – like the many confounding economic feats recorded against the odds – will stir an applause more resounding than there would otherwise be had there been an undue publicity.
- Ani, was formerly Editor of ThisDay, The Saturday Newspaper, and later Saturday Telegraph.
- This piece was first published in ThisDay on Sunday, March 19, 2017.