Without a doubt, there exists leadership challenge in Nigeria. This fact notwithstanding, there exists also signs that few public leaders in Nigeria through their actions and inactions daily demonstrate that the best defense of democracy is to stress the values that are essential for good governance, especially transparency and accountability, and to support civil society, independent media, and the free flow of information.
Out of many instances, the latest call/argument/declaration by Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, the Executive Governor of Delta, that for the nation to effectively tackle the challenges of youth unemployment and restiveness in the country, there must be a deliberate effort by governments at all levels, individuals and other stakeholders, to give agriculture its rightful place, qualifies him as one of those outstanding leaders.
Speaking at the occasion of the 2021 International Youth Day Celebration, organised by the States Ministry of Youth Development in Asaba, the State capital, and had as theme; Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health, the governor said that, some natural resources as oil and gas are exhaustible, but agriculture was as old as man’s existence and would out-live man, adding that its importance in the provision of employment and food for man could not be overemphasized. This, he said, was why the state government was investing heavily in agriculture, through some of its agricultural empowerment programmes as Youths Agriculture Entrepreneurship Programme (YAGEP), with starter packs to beneficiaries that encouraged youths to go into farming.
Indeed, there exist reasons that place Okowa’s postulation in consonance with the global position on the role agriculture plays in helping nations achieve sustainable development.
Fundamentally, aside the reality that agriculture is capped with capacity to providing fair and far reaching solution to the nagging unemployment, malnutrition and infrastructural challenge in the country, going by the report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), published Q2:2020 labour statistics, the data among other things revealed that Nigeria’s second-quarter unemployment rate among young people (15-34 years old) was 34.9%, up from 29.7%, while the rate of underemployment for the same age group rose to 28.2% from 25.7% in Q3, 2018. These rates were the highest when compared to other age groupings. Nigeria’s youth population eligible to work is about 40 million out of which only 14.7 million are fully employed and another 11.2 million are unemployed.
For a better understanding of where this piece is headed, youth in every society says a study report, has the potential to stimulate economic growth, social progress and our all national development. The strategic role of youths in the development of different societies of the world such as Cuba, Libya, China, Russia and Israel are obvious. Youth unemployment is potentially dangerous as it sends signal to all segments of the Nigerian Society. Here in Nigeria, the rate of youth unemployment is high, even at the period of economic normalcy i.e. the oil boom of the 1970s (6.2%); 1980s (9.8%) and the 1990s (11.5%). Youth unemployment therefore is not a recent phenomenon.
But if what happened in the 1980s/90s were challenge of sort, what is happening presently, going by latest report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), is a challenge. This and many other concerns have expectedly caused divided opinion and proliferation of solutions.
To demonstrate this position, similar to Governor Okowa’s latest statement on agriculture, Nigerians with critical interest have at different times and places expressed concern that it is not right for federal governments of Nigeria to create agencies that dole money to Nigerian youths with the aim of eradicating poverty. Such huge resources do not have economic value. Instead, such amount should be used to build industries and factories of production, they added that considering the slow growing economy but scary unemployment levels in the country, the current administration will continue to find itself faced with difficulty accelerating the economic life cycle of the nation until they contemplate industrialization, or productive collaboration with private organizations that has surplus capital to create employment.
Others are of the view that less emphasis on university education should be done. Technical and Commercial colleges should be established and funded to produce graduates that are technically fit. The Federal Government, they argued should engage in owning business and manufacturing outfits like what was done in the 1970s-1990s in Nigeria. Companies and factories wholly owned by state governments under a new management system should be built to absorb graduates and skilled workers. It is still possible to operate profitable businesses by state government using the Indian/Lebanese system of business model.
To the rest, Cooperate organizations and entrepreneurs should engage in production of domestic and industrial goods. And a long term goal of exporting such goods to West/African markets should be brought into focus. Commercial farming into such specialized areas of dairy farming, essential fruits such as apple, etc. will help to reduce unemployment.
Indeed, whilst the first option (industrialization) may offer considerable solution, the second has more reward and comes with a reduced risk. However, as a country desirous of achieving sustainable development, there are in my views both specific and specialized reasons for the government to throw its weight behind agriculture by creating enabling environment that will encourage Nigerian youths to take to farming.
Security wise, large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation that does not have job creation as its main objective will not take us anywhere’’. And the agricultural sector has that capacity to absorb the teaming unemployed youth in the country.
Separate from job creation, averting malnutrition which constitutes a serious setback to socio-economic development of any nation is another reason why Federal Government must listen to Okowa.
Across the world, agriculture is considered a vehicle for ensuring food security and sustainable socio economic sector. In fact, it was noted recently that in Nigeria, governments over the year have come to realize that sustainable growth is achievable only under an environment in which the generality of the people are exposed to balance diet, not just food. This explains why agriculture production should receive heightened attention. In Nigeria, an estimated 2.5 million children under-five suffer from severe acute malnutrition (sam) annually, exposing nearly 420,000 children within that age bracket to early death from common childhood illness such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria.
For us to therefore, achieve this objective in agriculture that will guarantee food security as well as brings about development that is sustainable, the government must provide the needed support-funding, technical know-how and other specialized training.
But most importantly, must start thinking of developing a rail system that offers low fares and connection of major economic towns and landlocked cities to aid distribution of food products and other economic products from advantaged to less advantaged areas. Evidence abounds that such towns/cities referred to as disadvantaged often always hold the domestic trade and market prices of such commodities.
This objective if replicated here, will help the poor village farmers in Benue/Kano and other remote areas earn more money, contribute to lower food prices in Lagos and other cities through the impact on the operation of the market, increase the welfare of household both in Kano, Benue, Lagos and others while it improves food security in the country, reduce stress/pressure daily mounted on Nigerian roads by articulated/haulage vehicles and drastically reduce road accidents on our major highways.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;firstname.lastname@example.org/08032725374.