The Nigerian city achieves epic sweep. But it is superfluous to the country. That is why economic activities in most cities got grounded in the wake of COVID-19 as if industry and metropolis didn’t matter – ask the Curmudgeon in his attic.
The same could hardly be said of the countryside; as the pandemic persists, so does its rural economy. Yet cities parasitise the labour of the countryside; they sponge off rural sweat for ponds of sheen, and Nigerians wade through the lustre, bewitched. Cities charm residents. They turn citizens into metro pets and auspicious leaders into silhouettes.
Cities deify sponge bobs but like Virgil would say, fortunate is the man who has come to know the gods of the countryside. Such a man, I would say, must have wandered its groves before its roads became too dangerous to traverse. Before cash crops and wildflowers were decimated by herdsmen and their ruck; before bucolic treasures frothed with pesticides and fishes floated belly-up in Ewekoro and the oil creeks.
Cities don’t produce food. They depend on the countryside to provide it. Save their food distribution systems, cities can quarantine, shut-in, and shut-down, so long as the countryside doesn’t, the Curmudgeon would chirp.
True. A deeper look at our fate through the pandemic reveals how worthless the Nigerian city is, with its parade of glitz and chug-chug of industry. But for the country’s agricultural economy, Nigeria would starve.
Were he clairvoyant, President Muhammadu Buhari would commit more vigorously to improving the agricultural economy. While his administration makes a great show of doing that, its federal pronouncements and gazetted schemes may become self-impeding calcifications, in time.
The ongoing agricultural revitalisation, for instance, stifles by its magnification of tropes as truth, and slogans as change theory. Ask its touted and supposed beneficiaries. It’s all slick insentient theatre, majorly.
Perhaps the problem is not with the city; after all, what are cities but manufactured monoliths? City institutions, symbolised by government and industry, are built to serve individuals. Depending on the quality of leadership, however, their impersonal walls may deafen to the farmer’s cry and street sweeper’s sigh.
Of course, the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), the Presidential Fertiliser Initiative (PFI), shutting the land borders against import and smuggling, and other protectionist policies are admirable in their mixed blessings but the skyscraper, big business, drone technology, and glorified slums become Nigeria’s face: abstract, mechanical, lifeless.
It takes a tremendous degree of lifelessness for corporate and government-fabricated Edens to thrive amid hedges of state shanties cum low-cost housing schemes and countrified dystopia.
It will be said of this administration too, that it found Nigeria a land of promise and rendered her promiscuous, if President Buhari fails to curtail the countryside’s ravage by the city.
The city unfurls as a plague; it is diseased because its sensuality is both morbid and commercial. It’s hidden graces unclad, like the proverbial harlot, self-exiled from the village but always returning under cover of night to stalk and prey the countryside.
Cities do nothing for the countryside. Knowing this, Buhari announced his decision to resurrect the country by endowing its peasant, agricultural economy with remarkable fillips. He proceeded to do this, forgetting that his team and tools, like Thel’s worms, are corrupt pathogen miming his change mantra.
Buhari must understand that his government cannot achieve agricultural boon simply by pronouncing passion to resources. He must thoroughly examine if resources are pronounced to his passion.
Agreed, the picture was grim pre-Buhari. At his arrival, he boosted productivity via such schemes as the PFI by which he supplied farmers with discounted fertilisers. At his intervention, fertilisers became available to farmers at ¦ 5,500 per bag, a significant cut from the ¦ 9,000 per bag initial regime. And to provide peasant farmers access to credit, the ABP was established. Between 2015 and 2018, ¦ 174 billion was reportedly disbursed to about one million farmers. The total repayment as at the end of 2018 stood at ¦ 21 billion. No thanks to corruption.
Buhari’s agricultural initiatives look good on paper but there is a lack of clarity on their actual impact on the economy. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Muhammad Sabo Nanono, recently stated that the Federal Government has concluded plans to distribute over 10,000 tractors, valued at N150 million each, and inputs as soft loans to farmers in the 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Nigeria, to be repaid in an 11-year plan.
“What we need is that the beneficiaries must be genuine farmers and indigenes of the participating Local Government Councils,” he said, thus venting a major snag to the initiative. Asides debate on the cost of each tractor, ethnic bigotries, and administrative inefficiency may pose major bottlenecks to the initiative.
Recently, the government’s rice production initiative birthed Lake Rice but the scheme hasn’t attained the widespread success and cumulative impact anticipated of it. Nanono, however, enthuses that Nigeria will be a rice exporter by 2021 because of the border closure. But a border closure won’t resolve infrastructure deficits of recurrent power outage, bad roads, and inadequate storage facilities. It won’t eliminate governance shortfalls of bureaucracy, corruption, and overlapping responsibilities among the three tiers of government. It won’t resolve policy confusion, like a constantly shifting list of items that are prohibited from being imported.
To truly improve the fortunes of the agricultural sector, government must eliminate the structural impediments of unreliable power supply, dilapidated irrigation systems, overcrowded ports, and poor roads. For example, it takes an average of six to eight days to move a truckload of tomatoes along the country’s main transport corridor, from Jibiya in the far north to Lagos in the southwest. Unless the cargo is refrigerated—and invariably it is not—it will perish before reaching Lagos port.
There are hopes, however, that the ongoing rail transportation venture would eliminate the challenges associated with transportation.
At the moment, poverty has risen in Nigeria with almost 82.9 million people living on less than one United States dollar per day, according to a National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) May 2020 report. The figure represents 40.09 percent of the total population, excluding insurgency-ravaged Borno, and the bureau predicted that this rising trend is likely to continue.
According to the report, 52.10 per cent of rural dwellers are living in poverty while the poverty rate in urban centres is 18.04 per cent. But going by the UN’s definition of extreme poverty as a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education, and information, 82.9 million is a highly conservative estimate.
Yet government assails the citizenry and its global audience with fantastic stories of growth and agricultural rebirth. So doing, Nigeria rejects the strife of contraries by which its innards convulse.
At the outbreak of COVID-19, Nigeria’s fabled artifice ended in hysterical retreat, as the country leapt from her tinsel perch and dashed, shrieking, back to her native valleys.
What was hitherto regarded as an underprivileged fetish, or a peasant preserve, has become the nation’s major source of sustenance and rebirth. Nigeria weeps but does not recognise her own tears.