Since the last election in 2019, the number of people suffering severe food insecurity has increased, as depicted in the 2022 multidimensional poverty index data. The hunger has made people show more anger towards the government because people are tired, weak and demoralised. One can attribute the problem to climate change, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, insecurity and bandit terrorism, drought and flood, among many other factors.
Little attention is paid to the existing and proposed government policies. These policies describe the government’s goals, choices, and actions for political, social, and economic direction to ensure food security in the country. The long campaign season of the 2023 elections has made people more aware and have the time to identify a bogus campaign proposal.
For example, one presidential candidate has been singled out for proposing a spurious solution in the agricultural sector. That is the same candidate who never misses the opportunity to mock the northern states for reliance on oil revenue. He repeated the same rhetoric at Chatham House this week. When asked about his plans for the North during the Arewa Joint Committee conference in October, he said he planned to make commercial banks invest in the Bank of Agriculture. The proposal is infeasible. It also looks bad for his campaign because he is demonstrating a lack of knowledge of the private and agricultural sectors. A quick search would have enlightened him to know the corporate responsibilities of commercial banks.
The conventional wisdom attributed to Friedman says the social responsibility of a business is to increase its profit. As a former bank chairman, the candidate knows the risk of spending shareholders’ money on a social, agricultural project will be like flogging a dead horse. Most of those listening to him at Arewa House are lifelong farmers, some are academics in agriculture, and some have even served in key positions in the agriculture ministry. They know the sectoral challenges and can detect bogus proposals from miles away. Even the multilateral agencies that advocate for neo-liberal policies in the country did not make such a proposition.
It is common knowledge that agriculture is the sector to rely upon to revive the economy because it is the largest employer in the country. Agriculture has been abandoned since the country found oil in the late 1960s, with the help of the oil boom in the 70s. As the country looks to diversify from oil dependency, it seems natural to consider agriculture. The benefit of agricultural revival will not be limited to Nigeria alone. The continent relies on Nigeria to return to its glory as one of the top 10 African countries producing 75 per cent of Africa’s farm produce.
Farmers, the majority of northern voters, will be more enticed with campaign proposals that will revive the agricultural sector to secure food immediately, not some insha Allah oil extraction projects that require a decade to bear fruit.
Revisiting the Maputo Declaration is one proposition that can raise food security prospects and bring the northern electorate together. The Declaration is a comprehensive development policy adopted by African countries to close the gap between Africa and the rest of the world. It was agreed in 2002 under Obasanjo/Atiku administration under the pan-African action framework for agricultural development policy and strategy, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The aim was to attain average annual agricultural productivity growth of at least s per cent and set a target for public investment in agriculture equal to at least 10 per cent of national budgets.
The share of 10 per cent is high, and it was not achieved even under the Obasanjo/Atiku regime. The average budget share of the Ministry of Agriculture was four per cent with a maximum of 6.4 per cent. Since then, huge efforts have been made under Yar’adua and Jonathan with evidence of growth in the sector. However, since 2015 the investments have waned away. Between 2015-2023, the percentage share of the ministry of agriculture is as follows: 0.9%, 1.3%,1.7%, 2%, 1.56%, 1.34%, 1.37%, 1.8%, and 1.1%. That is an average of 1.45% during the Buhari regime, a self-acclaimed farmer.
Currently, one cannot deny that Nigeria is not food secure. We can blame it on many factors, but if investments were made as agreed under The Maputo Declaration, the situation would not be as bad as this. International private firms like PwC are advocating for more government intervention by adopting the Maputo Declaration. Objectively speaking, the African Union has aligned with multilateral agencies and corporations on a policy that will benefit Nigeria’s common households. Funding the agricultural budget will be supported by the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007, which supports borrowing for production.
We are in an election season, and choices must be made.
One presidential candidate has vowed to continue what this government is doing and using oil exploration tactics to entice voters – a similar tactic used by Buhari in 2019 – instead of addressing food security issues. We also highlighted another candidate whose proposal seemed to be dead on arrival. One can deduce that Obasanjo did not advise him to adopt the Maputo Declaration because it was not his original idea. As it stands, only one candidate is willing to revisit The Declaration, but it is not for me to say.
One thing for sure is for the candidates to know that voters may look stupid, but they are really not as stupid as they look. They have been fooled before, and it is less likely that it will happen in 2023.