AS Nigeria celebrates the 57th anniversary of her independence, no effort should be spared by the government and citizens in forging a new workable partnership that will address the myriads of socio-economic challenges facing the country including alleviating current hardship in the land, bribery and corruption, threats to nation’s continued unity by various groups that will usher in an era of peace, justice and prosperity for all.
Not denying the fact that the country has come of age since achieving self rule from Britain on October 1, 1960, the reality before us is that the federation which held so much promise at birth, bequeath by the founding fathers that fought the colonial masters for freedom is still work in progress after almost six decades of nationhood with her citizens in dare need of basic necessities of life such food, potable water and health services today.
Deprivations such as high infant and maternal mortality rate, malnutrition, inadequate health care and transportation system, scarcity of potable water, epileptic power supply, high crime rates, millions of young people not in education, employment or in training and mass poverty are staring the majority in the face which had culminated in Nigeria being ranked 152 out of 188 among the United Nations, UN member states in the Human Development Index, HDI. The HDI is a composite statistics of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators.Therefore, the occasion offers the leadership at the federal, state and local levels a rare opportunity for deep reflection on the nation’s numerous challenges with a view to proffering lasting solution in the interest of all citizens who we insist should henceforth demand more accountability from public office holders to enthrone good governance and lift the country’s standing and image among the comity of nations.
As a board, we further believe that the starting point for the executive and legislative arms of government to change the current negative narrative about the country is to intensify efforts to turn the economy around for the better with food security getting priority attention to further boost crop yield and reduce the high cost of food items and provide the enabling environment for more Nigerians especially the youth to return to farming and fishing.While we welcome the cheering news of the nation exiting economic recession recently, there is no denying the fact that diversification of the nation’s economy through massive investment in agriculture and exploitation of solid minerals like coal and bitumen to make her less dependent on oil and gas revenue hold the key to transformation of the economy and prosperity for the people in the long term. Government should in addition as a matter of priority provide an enabling environment through improved power supply, functional public infrastructure, adequate security to enable both local and foreign investors establish small, medium and large scale industries to generate more jobs.
However, it is regrettable that agriculture that was the mainstay of the economy at independence has been neglected and not accorded deserved attention by successive administrations with devastating consequences such that it is on record Nigeria spends an average of over $22 billion (about N7trillion) annually on importation of various food items like wheat, rice, fish, and poultry products among others, a development that must not be allowed to continue. But we commend President Muhamadu Buhari’s decision to take the bull by the horns through various agricultural initiatives to substantially reduce massive food and fish imports into the country in the short run and make her self sufficient in basic food items like rice and wheat in the medium term and strongly advocate that more farmers be encouraged to cultivate vast arable land lying fallowing nationwide.
It should further be noted that federal government’s roadmap christened: “The Green Alternative: Agriculture promotion policy-2016-2020” designed to build on the successes and lessons of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) of the previous administration coupled with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme under which loans totaling N33.34 billion had so far been disbursed to 146,557 farmers across 21 states cultivating over 180,018 hectares of land, if faithfully implemented by government has the potential of addressing shortage and reduce the current high cost of food items. Under the CBN programme, six commodities, namely, rice, wheat, maize, soya beans, cotton and fish are cultivated by the farmers with appreciable yields already achieved.
We demand strengthening the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) to make access to agriculture financing easier with loans to farmers and fishermen attracting single digit interest rate to further attract young farmers to the land as part of the overall strategy to attain food security. In our view, apart from cutting down drastically the trillions of naira hitherto spent on food imports, such step if taken, will boost our foreign reserves and create more jobs locally. Provision of adequate food storage facilities should also be part of the roadmap to considerably reduce if not totally eliminate post harvest losses associated with crops harvest. Overall, the citizenry will be better off because they would no longer contend with hunger and malnutrition as prices of basic food items become easily available and affordable and not likely to take to violent crimes since their living conditions will no doubt improve.
On the economic front, the federal government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) should also be vigorously implemented if Nigeria must stay out of recession. Campaign by the Buhari administration for citizens to “Buy Nigeria to grow the Naira” should be matched with action by the three tiers of government who should lead by example. Nigeria, we believe should diversify her economy now as oil is a dying commodity while some other nations of the world won’t be driving gasoline powered cars in a few years.On the contentious lopsided federation, we note with concern the earlier decision of the Senate and the House of Representatives to reject an attempt to further amend the 1999 Constitution to devolve more powers to states and insist now is the best time for the National and State Assemblies to as a matter of national urgency in conjunction with executive arm of government to be more patriotic and address the lingering issue of true federalism through appropriate amendment to transfer more powers and money to states from the Federation Account such that states can discharge their basic constitutional obligations to citizens better.
It is unacceptable and unsustainable the current situation whereby most states virtually go cap in hand every month to Abuja begging for funds to pay workers’ salaries and benefits to pensioners and should therefore be corrected as soon as possible. In specific terms, we further recommend that the current revenue sharing formula that gives about 56 percent of the national revenue to the federal government and 26 percent to states should be urgently reviewed in favour of the latter in the national interest.We strongly advocate an immediate return to post independence practice of fiscal federalism before the military interregnum which enabled the defunct four regions namely the East, West, North and Mid West to fully exploit natural resources domiciled in their regions and pay a certain percentage of the revenue to the centre because a marriage of 57 years which has obviously not yielded the desired fruit requires urgent attention by all concerned.
We further observe with deep concern that the nation’s health system has largely remained comatose, plagued by incessant strikes by medical personnel and not witnessed any major transformation with most public hospitals and clinics still wearing the infamous toga of mere consulting clinics such that medical tourism has become the order of the day and private citizens as well as public office holders who can afford foreign treatment have no choice than seek medical attention abroad resulting in massive capital flight yearly. This ought not be the case and therefore challenge the federal and state authorities to adequately fund their health institutions, modernize them and provide standard equipment to make them compete with the best hospitals anywhere in the world in order to conserve the millions of dollars spent on medical tourism for according to a popular axiom, a healthy nation is a wealthy nation.
The power and transport sectors in our view, also deserve government urgent special attention with the Generating Companies, GenCos further encouraged to build new power plants as well as adequate funding of ongoing modernization of existing rail network to ease transportation difficulties confronting the people. No economy in the world is run on generators that had been the case in the country. A permanent solution should be found to the lingering Federal Government –Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU and federal government face-off that resulted in frequent disruption of the academic calendar of public universities and the attendant negative consequences for the educational sector.
Government should further intensify efforts to sustain success recorded by the military in the war against Boko Haram insurgents in the North East and security agencies not rest on their oars until such other crimes as kidnapping, armed robbery and herdsmen attacks on innocent farmers are completely wiped out. We challenged the citizens to partner with these agencies by volunteering relevant information on movement of criminal elements for the provision of adequate security for lives and property cannot be achieved without cooperation of the people.
We enjoin personnel of the Nigeria Police Force, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC as well as judicial officers to be above board and always ensure speedy dispensation of justice in all cases as there can be no peace without justice and hope that this independence celebration will provide us the common front to solve the numerous challenges facing the country and chart a new way forward This is the time to work together to drive development and make all national institutions functional and better the lot of citizens most of whom are currently overburdened.
For a better society