The troubled king of Nigeria- By Dare Babarinsa

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*Photo: Chief Dare Babarinsa *

The farmer waits for rain in the early months of the year. If it rains properly, not the scattered rain that deceives you to plant early, then the farmer would know it is time to plant the yam seedlings. He prays for rain, and when it comes, he prays for more rain.

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Without the rain, the labour of the farmer would be in nullity. After the rain, he would plant the yam seedlings. By the time the yam seedlings are planted, he would have cleared the farm, cut and burn the bush and ensure that the farm is ready like a bride. But then, the farmer can be deceived or unlucky.

The result is the same.

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After the first rain, the shoots of the yam seedlings would come out, sometimes, shyly, often with greedy enthusiasm. The seedlings can survive and become the harvest of the 2024 season if the first rain is followed by more rain in reasonable intervals.

If the rain fails to come after the shoots are out, then there would be poor or no harvest. The new shoots would be green for sometimes, but there would be no growth if the heaven persists in withholding the rain. The angry sun of January and February would consume them. The soil would burn and the delicate shoots stand no chance.

The farmer would weep and pray and weep again. Sometimes, he would weep inside like strong men are wont to do. If he lives in Ekiti State, he would be used to the circle that only God can handle. Even now, bearded spiritualists invite the farmer to vigils to help him pray for rain. It is a tough life.

In November, December and January, before the rain comes, hunters and Fulani herdsmen love to set fire to the bushes and forests of Ekiti for different purposes. The hunters are looking for games as the frightened animals run helter skelter, for safety, often abandoning their young ones to the inferno.

The hunters get the games and run to sell them at the roadsides for precious naira to rich motorists who love the taste of bush meats. After the burning, the new land would produce succulent new plants and grass that is so delicious to the cattle. The new grass is just like the shoots of the new yam.

Sometimes, the cattle prefer the shoots of the new yam. It is a perfect chemistry for conflict which would be repeated year after year until in the distant future when the herders learn to build ranches for their cattle and other herds. For now, the lean Fulani boys follow the hard life of their forefathers.

Meanwhile, in New York and other fora of the United Nations, big men and women are speaking big grammar on behalf of the farmer; they are worried about global warming, carbon emission, climate change and food security. They love the farmer only that the farmer is hardly aware of this love.

In Nigeria too, those who are speaking for the farmers live in Abuja, the glittering Federal capital of the Republic. In 2023, the Federal Government budgeted N228.4 billion for agriculture. This year, it has budgeted more than N350 billion for agriculture.

In every state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, agriculture is a priority of the budget. Everyone of those big men and women speaks so passionately of the billions thrown into the direction of the farmer. It is only that the farmer is not smart enough to catch the billions. Yet there was a time when everyone knew the existence of the farmer, not just as convenient statistics, but as crucial aspect of national aspiration.

When the farmer was king, he was important in every region of Nigeria. He was the important person who provided the North with cotton, hides and skin, groundnuts and grains. He was the man who reared the cattle, the sheep and the goats. In the West, the farmer was the producer of wealth through the cocoa plantation, who tender the coffee farms and produce the timber.

In the East, he was in charge of the oil palm, the timber and the plantain. The farmer was also the Fulani herdsman and the Ijaw fisherman. In truth, the farmer runs the economy before the black gold came to power and inflicted on us the terrible dream of forgetfulness.

Yet there is no future for our country unless we discover the road to the past. We need to bring the farmer back to the centre of our national effort at greatness. We need to grow our own food, wear our own cloths made from our cotton and transform the produce of this blessed land as fit enough for international market.

In the past, one of the strongest sectors of the Nigerian economy was the furniture manufacturing industries. We use Nigerian wood and export our furniture to Europe and other parts of the world.

The late Chief Bisi Rodipe, from his Ijebu-Ode or Ibadan base, had tentacles in different parts of Nigeria. He built first-class furniture for universities, churches and hotels. He was so successful that he had outlets in other countries, including Malaysia. Fawehinmi Furniture Factory, from its base in Lagos and Ondo, had a showroom in the heart of London. Where are we now?

Almost every Government House in Nigeria today boasts of how it is furnished with the best of Chinese and Italian furniture. Even our generals are kitted with foreign boots, foreign epaulets and uniforms made by foreign tailors.

Some years ago, the then Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, introduced to the Nigerian public the Cassava Bread. Loaves were brought to the sanctum of the Federal Executive Council chamber where the president and his ministers had a taste of the future.

Since then, that future has become a mirage. It has since been revealed that cassava can produce at least 200 items that could transform our land. It is the most important crop use for the production of industrial starch. Yet Nigeria spends valuable foreign exchange to import industrial starch!

This is time to change our story. First each state should set up its own Farmers Council, which would be made up of real representatives of farmers who could help the government to implement its agricultural programmes.

If the government is serious about saving foreign exchange and creating employment, there is no better instrument than cassava. Every village in Nigeria, no matter how remote, has been penetrated by the bread market, which is made essentially from wheat imported from the United States.

Just imagine if it is our farmers growing the cassava used to produce the flour for our bread. Think of the thousands, if not millions, of jobs that would be created and the billions of dollars that would be saved for our country. To get this done, the government has to demonstrate seriousness.

The farmers may still be king if we think less of the next election and more of the future. If we watch out for the constituency projects of our lawmakers, you will be amazed that only few of them remember the farmers. Instead, they buy motorcycles for okada riders, grinding machines for women and Keke Marwa for the not so poor.

What is clear is that the politicians don’t think the farmers’ vote is that important. Instead, they concentrate on the armies under the control of those tough boys of the National Union of Road Transport Workers and similar organisations? And they don’t need to pray for rain or disappear into the bush at the sound of the first rain.

It is tempting to think of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu when you are considering the predicaments of the farmer. Actually, the governors control all the land in Nigeria, except the Federal Capital Territory which is under the President through his minister, Nyesom Wike.

It is the governors who need to remember the farmers. They need to know that the farmers hold the secret to our country’s future. No country can be truly independent when it cannot feed itself. Let us unite and restore the farmer to his throne. We can start with cassava. Let us make 2024 Year of the Cassava Bread.

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