Dealing with the problem of unemployment in the country was one of President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s cardinal commitments to the people. In the first quarter of 2020, Nigeria’s unemployment rate stood at 23.1 percent. The figure has gone higher. This, obviously is high and has serious negative implications for the welfare of the citizens. Any efforts of the government to moderate and eventually reverse it should be justifiable, deserving and indeed, a welcome development. Such efforts necessarily should elicit the support and cooperation of all stakeholders to ensure success.
Which is why a recent report that the federal government targets the provision of about five (5) million jobs from a €995 million Agricultural Mechanisation Programme deserves acknowledgement. According to reports, the programme will, apart from job creation, also boost food production and food security as well as diversification of the economy from oil.
The €995 million is described as an in-kind facility from Brazil that will put into the hands of farmers in Nigeria needed agricultural machineries and equipment instead of money being handed over to the farmers. Indeed, the machineries and equipment will be leased to the farmers for utilisation in their farm operations. It also means that the lessee farmers will be entitled to use the appliances as long as they keep to the terms and conditions of the lease. Any violation will entitle the lessor, in this case, the government or its agent, to recover the machineries and equipment.
No doubt, the country needs every project or programme that will contribute positively towards overcoming an impending recession that has been heightened and complicated by the advent of the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that is ravaging the entire world without serious signs of abatement.
Properly handled and implemented, especially by ensuring that farmers who have been adequately trained will be the ones to be involved in the €995 million lease programme, the arrangement promises to yield bountiful positive fruits for the country. With mechanisation, more farming scope will be covered in Nigeria, more hands will be needed to meet the expansion, the level of effectiveness and efficiency will trend upwards, there will be boost in agricultural production and better yields from farms, product quality will receive improvement and standardisation may ensue. With these, farm products, greatly needed in the country and even across several countries, will also become more affordable by Nigerians.
As should also be expected, this arrangement, if effectively and professionally carried out, will result in stemming or stoppage of importation of agricultural products. It may eventually lead to substantial export of goods and therefore inflow of foreign exchange earnings. The foreign exchange earnings will have salutary effects on the dwindling of earnings from petroleum oil exports, courtesy of excess crude oil production being witnessed across the globe.
Beyond these, human capital development in the agricultural sector of the economy will be phenomenal and well for the country. Given the fact that agricultural products are widely used as industrial raw materials, there will be an upward movement in industrialisation, which will warrant increase in job creation and employment opportunities.
The Federal Government, in choosing this project as one, among others, for the realisation of some of its promises to the people, is certainly on the right track. However, it is necessary to caution that the project must not be seen as or used for political patronage purposes. It must be treated for what it is meant for, which is, diversification of the economy from oil, provision of massive employment to the teeming unemployed Nigerians, provision of sufficient food, stemming or eradication of food importation, enhancement of food exportation and foreign exchange earnings, among others.
To ensure that the objectives of the programme are attained, the Lease Agreement must be well crafted and full proof. This is to prevent failure of lessees from meeting their periodic rental payments. Any foreseen risk of failure should be plugged in the Agreement. Since a broad spectrum of farmers, including the Small Holder Farmers, are envisaged to be involved in the programme, sufficient training and re-training will be an imperative to ensuring success. It is no-gain-saying that security of life and property should also be enhanced as a necessary for the survival, growth and development of the anticipated farm businesses and other businesses generally.
Finally, this programme, no doubt will touch on the cardinal programmes of President Buhari’s government, which include diversification of the economy, dealing substantially with unemployment, insecurity and corruption. What the government makes out of it will therefore, speak louder than words to the people. And it may be a single but most important factor in evaluating the success or otherwise of government.