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Governors don’t eat plastic rice

By Dare Babarinsa
24 November 2022   |   4:09 am
I have listened and read from our leading presidential candidates and it is easy from their pronouncements that each of them has an understanding of the problems of Nigeria. ..

Plastic rice

I have listened and read from our leading presidential candidates and it is easy from their pronouncements that each of them has an understanding of the problems of Nigeria. Most of them have been political allies in the past and it is not surprising that they share similar visions about the future.

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was once, a leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); Peter Obi, who was never in the APC, was the running mate of Atiku on the ticket of PDP in the last presidential election. Obi is now the presidential flag-bearer of a resurgent Labour Party (LP).

Nigerians are focusing on the presidential election because they believe that the President not only has enormous powers but the magic wand to change the country for better. There is, no doubt, that the President of Nigeria has enormous power. His power of appointment may be one of the greatest in world, superintending over the fate of hundreds of chief executives of federal agencies and parastatals.

Under the Constitution, the President is the Federal Government and every agency, every minister, every director-general, every commander of the army, is exercising powers on behalf of the President. But the President does not have a magic wand.

There are so many initiatives that the President can take that can bring changes to Nigeria, but the real drivers of change are the governors. They control all the lands and all the rivers and coastlines. The only land and rivers under the direct control of the President are the rivers and land in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). While the President has the power to drive developments across the country, he cannot overwhelm an unwilling or incompetent state chief executive. Therefore, the most important elections that would have bearing on the development of the people are the elections of the governors.

We have, seen since 1999, how our people have paid little attention to the qualifications and capacity of those seeking the office of governor. We have had occasions where the educational qualifications of those seeking to govern a state have become subject of litigations. Therefore, we have had occasions where some persons who ordinarily should not be entrusted to run a supermarket have been entrusted with the governance of a state.

Now another opportunity is coming next year for Nigerians to elect a new set of governors. Among those who are on the ballots are persons who have pending cases before anti-graft agencies including, the once roaring Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). One continues to wonder whether these anti-graft agencies have lost their powers to vet aspirants and candidates for elective offices. It is only in Nigeria that some special camels have perfected the act of passing through the eye of a needle.

One debate that would continue to confront the next President is the issue of restructuring the polity. Each candidate running for President would need to define his own idea of restructuring. Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and Governor Peter Obi have all expressed support for the restructuring of the Federation. What this would mean in reality is not clear.

There are simply too many stakeholders who are benefitting from the present status quo. Therefore, whatever initiative the next President might take on restructuring, he would certainly face stiff opposition. What we need really are regional initiatives to build and redistribute wealth and change the lives of our people. While this can be encouraged by the Presidency, the initiatives and action has to come from the states.

There are three main challenges, which would confront the new set of leadership next year. These are unemployment, infrastructural decay and insecurity. These three challenges are interrelated and they are better tackled on regional bases. This means that states in each geo-political zone have to cooperate to tackle these problems so that Nigeria can make progress. It would not be good enough to leave the solution to the tenant of Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja.

During the Second Republic, Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), made full employment one of the four cardinal programmes of his party. Awolowo never became President, and therefore we don’t have the benefit of what it would have been to have the programme of full employment driven by the President. Instead, we have had the programme of unemployment accentuated by the initiatives and activities of the Federal and state governments.

In 1981, President Shehu Shagari, himself a prosperous farmer, had initiated the misguided policy of importing rice from Asia. This was at a time when Nigeria was one of the largest producers of rice in the world. The President set up the Presidential Task Force on the Importation of Rice under the chairmanship of Alhaji Umaru Dikko, the powerful Minister of Transport. Dikko was of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN), governorship candidate, who lost to the radical Alhaji Balarabe Musa of Kaduna State during the 1979 elections.

Today, Nigeria has not fully regained the initiatives in food production and many items are still imported. Thanks to the efforts of the President Olusegun Obasanjo regime and that of every President since then, Nigeria has tried to roll back the trend and regain the initiatives on food production.

Few weeks ago, the Nigeria Customs seized hundreds of bags of fake rice made of plastic materials imported from Asia by some unscrupulous businessmen. I don’t know whether those criminals were caught, but it shows that the Nigerian appetite for imported food has not been satiated. It is the states and regional groupings that can take the initiative for Nigeria to regain its pride of place in food production. This should not only be for the consumption of Nigerians, but also for export.

Growing and eating our own food and rearing our own cattle and other animals would save our country a lot of foreign exchange. It would also create more jobs. Another clear sign of our decline is our inability to clothe ourselves anymore. We have a market of 200 million people for our textile industry and then, through policy indiscretions and leadership blindness, we donated the market to the Chinese and importers of second-hand clothes. Therefore, our old textile factories have been turned into worship centres, event centres and hotels. Our leaders need to take the initiative and reverse the trend. Imagine how busy our tailors and fashion designers would be if indeed they have a market of 200 million people to cope with!

Regional groupings of governors and governments need to come up with initiatives to drive the Nigerian economy. For more than 40 years, the Federal Government had toyed with the idea of creating a road from Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State to Ile-Ife in Osun State. These are neighbouring territories and this road ought to be done with cooperation between Ogun and Osun State. Now if you want to travel from Ijebu Ode to Ile-Ife, you have to go through Ore, Ondo and then Ile-Ife. It is the regional groupings that should create new railway networks, build new energy initiatives and create new economic networks for the country. All these should not be left to the Federal Government alone.

Full employment is the true answer to insecurity. This can only be pursued properly by the states and regional groupings. Kidnapping, Boko Haram, robbery and other heinous crimes are mostly fueled by unemployment. We need to take the action and defeat these monsters that are laying ambush for us. The governors should take the initiative. They should not wait until plastic rice finds its way to the gubernatorial dining table.