Abdullahi: Nigeria has capacity to produce enough food for its citizens
Senator Yahaya Abdullahi is the Majority Leader of the Ninth Senate. In this interview with AHMED IDRIS, he says Nigeria has capacity to produce enough food for its citizens, stressing that there is need for investment in agriculture and crucial infrastructure. The Senate leader, who is in his second term, lamented the loss of life and property occasioned by yearly flood disasters.
There have been a lot of socio-economic challenges in the country and the recent flood disaster that affected farmers, including those in your own constituency raises questions about food security. What is the position of the National Assembly on these issues?
Thank you for touching on that. Let me also use this opportunity to commiserate with the entire leaders and our people, who sustained losses of life, properties, houses and farms, which was a cluster loss to them, the state and to the entire nation.
This is part of the work; that is, one of the extensive FADAMA project, on which the nation relies on for growing rice and several other crops and vegetables. Therefore, the loss that we sustained is quite enormous and sacrificing. The plight of the farmers was quite extensive. You will recall that this particular part of the country, Kebbi State in particular, has one of the most extensive land river cities, where River Niger and several other rivers and Gurbin Kure or River Rima is involved in one of the major two between Niger and across several other states on their way to River Niger.
The predicament did not just affect this particular emirate; it also affects other parts of the state most of which are my constituency. So, the plights are in Suru, Bagudo, Arewa, Argungu, and Augie. Augie and Bagudo are mostly affected and these are some of the most fertile part of country. The major issue is that even tomorrow, God forbid, if same thing happens, we have to face the similar difficulties. So, it’s a challenge for us leaders across the states and international level and also a challenge for federal and state governments.
We should all put heads together so as to work out a durable solution. We can’t just sit down and say it is from God. Yes, it might be an act of God, but the same God has also given us the knowledge and intelligence to look at issues and find durable solutions to them. This is not something that cannot be resolved.
You talk as if you have special knowledge about the occurrences…?
I was once a Commissioner for Agriculture in Sokoto State, when it was one state and also Commissioner for Agriculture in Kebbi State. So, I had some knowledge of physical situations and human conditions in this particular area. What is very clear is that we have to come out with some solutions and part of the solution is to make sure we manage the river cities properly. Then, we come out with a solution, which we can build upon over the year.
This requires some services. I have some background information that we can learn from. We have both topographical maps, soil data and river flow information. Also, there are modern techniques, which have been developed like area re-connection, which can be used for area survey and GPRS (General Packet Radio Services).
We can use a combination of both ground and area mapping of the entire area, so we can come up with two solutions. One is to verge and desilt the basins where they are. And then build water catchment area drill, because when you blocked the area water passes, it will find its way. So, whenever there is rain, water will come and go into people’s farms and spill into their houses.
It is not a complicated thing. It is doable, but we need some commitment by leaders to sit down and solve this problem. And when it is resolved, it will not solve problem for just one year; it will be permanent. That will help to create one of the greatest and biggest center of Agricultural production and water notifications not just in Nigeria, but also throughout West Africa and to also attract investors, traders, farmers and industrialists to invest in this particular area. But you can’t invest where you did not create any infrastructure.
It is a challenge, which we have to sit down and come up with workable solutions. These solutions are doable and they can be cost effective. They are not expensive and it’s not a contract job to nominate a company and give out the job. It involves engaging the local population and informing them that what you are doing is in their best interest and not only to the interest of this generation, but also for future generations.
Looking at the current situation in the country, especially with no improvement in security and prices of food items escalating, the increments of fuel and electricity tariffs seem very harsh. What is the position of the Senate?
The position of the Senate might be different, but here is my position. Let me start with the issue of Agriculture and food security. Whenever you develop agriculture, you have to create some kinds of physical, social and economic conditions, which are favorable to the producer.
There should be a certain kind of establishment and investment in the production system. The way we are going now, if we didn’t make investments, leaving the farmers to their own devices or best, supply fertilisers; it’s not enough. We have to create enabling environment for agriculture to flourish.
There is food in the country; whoever said there is no food in the country is misleading you. What most Nigerians eat is grown here. When the Federal Government in 2015 banned the importation of foreign rice, Nigerians did not starve. We showed the capacity of our small-scale farmers to produce foods. What is absent is the necessary support that could boost production to bring prices down.
When the population is increasing and there is no investment in the food production capacity, then the price of food items will have to rise, because the supply is less than the available demand.
Prices rise because we have not made the necessary investments in agriculture and the human capacity to develop and invent in the agricultural sector. Some people think that agriculture is just about supplying fertilizer to farmers; it is much more than that. It means creating enabling environment for soil water condition, agronomic study. You have to do soil service, development of crop varieties that are suitable for ecological zones of different sections of the country.
Since our population is growing, we have to sit and find a lasting solution. It is the same land that was feeding just 50 million people that is now feeding 200 million people. And, the land itself is not being managed well. It is not fertile as it was before when it was feeding 50 million people. A lot of people seem to forget the general population is increasing, but that the land is not increasing. Even the quality of land is depreciating.
We are getting less out of a fixed portion of land with a larger population. These are issues of policy, issue for rational consideration on the ground that I felt that some of us, who are in positions of authority would have to put heads together and resolve.
The issue of fuel price increment is an issue of which should come first, because the problem is that the country did not have revenue for investment. So, Nigeria has to go for foreign loan or fight for other means. If we are not to take foreign loan, then we have to find other means of raising money or doing PPP (Public Private Partnership). And, which private sector? When we don’t have good infrastructure, which also is another different thing on its own.
If you want to resolve these issues, particularly the issue of fuel, does that mean the revenue we are getting from oil, which Niger-Delta provides us for foreign exchange and other things. Are you telling NNPC to forgo the revenue that is coming into the federation and states in order to maintain oil prices at a level so that it denies you the capacity to supply the kinds of infrastructure necessary for economic grow?
Some people will come with negative perception that all of us (Senators) are criminals and thieves. There may be thieves, but not all of us are thieves. I find it very exceptionable for people to call me a thief after I put in my effort for more than 35 years in civil service and another five years in the public sector as a politician.
Let us sit down collectively and look at the economy of this county and determine whether we need to maintain fuel price low and starve government and other sectors of the necessary revenue for them to grow or, do we need to provide this kind of subsidy given the kind of boarders that Nigeria has with other countries around it.
The subsidy you are giving and the revenue you deny Nigerians at the same time subsidises other countries outside, because the people of other country do not consume the volume of petroleum consumption in this country; most of it goes outside.
So, it’s a question of trade. If we want to bring oil prices down so that we can supply all our oil and wealth to be shared up to Senegal, but if we have to come up with some prices that are at par with our West African partners generally, we should not raise it to the level in which Nigerians are billing more than other countries in West Africa.
Look at the prices of oil in Niger, Ghana, Senegal and compare with the price of fuel that Nigerians should pay so that other countries do not take advantage of Nigeria. We can bring down the prices of oil, but at the end of the day, it won’t be our people that will benefit from the lower prices. Moreover, it will be our people that will suffer from the loss of revenue, because the loss of revenue that you are denying government does not help in recovering the capacity and resources that it requires to invest in our infrastructure and services. This is not emotional decision. Let us sit down and look at these things objectively and correctly so that we can resolve the matter.
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