Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba has advised that the people and state governments of Niger Delta region should shift focus from oil to agriculture.
Agba gave the advice in a keynote address he delivered at a multi-stakeholders’ meeting in Abuja on the proposed “Emergency Agricultural Projects in Diversification of Niger Delta and Nation’s Non-Oil Economy”.
The proposed diversification is aimed at improving the livelihood of the people of Niger Delta and Nigeria in general through agriculture.
He described the meeting as “timely as the diverse and severe impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt across the world,” pointing out that “these impacts cannot be over-emphasized.”
According to him, “They range from significant reduction in the demand and prices of oil in the global market to the ravages in most sectors of the economy.”
He said that the current realities underscored the compelling need “for us to pay attention to agriculture as a low hanging fruit and an alternative to oil.
“It therefore behooves us as decision makers and technocrats to fashion out policies and instruments that will best wean the country from oil dependence and diversify the economy.”
The minister said that “Nigeria is a great country with enormous potential and agriculture had, before the discovery of oil, been the main stay of the economy and major employer of labour, accounting for about two-thirds of the country’s labour force.
“It is no longer news that the global narratives and trends are fast changing, as oil is gradually losing its relevance. Countries are moving towards electronic machines and automobiles as well as solar energy.
“It is imperative that government must change its policy direction and do something different this time round.”
Speaking on the possibilities in the Niger Delta region, Agba explained that “the region spans over 20,000 square kilometers and it has been described as the largest wetland in Africa.
“The region is endowed with loamy soil, which is suitable for the production of both food and cash crops. It falls within the tropical rain forest zone. The ecosystem of the area is highly diverse and supportive of numerous species of terrestrial and aquatic, flora and fauna and human life.”
He assured Niger Delta people and Nigerians that “these agricultural projects that target the Niger Delta region and the nation’s non-oil economy will have a range of benefits.”
These, according to him, “include but not limited to the production of food in appreciable abundance and the attendant creation of additional industries; reduction in the unparalleled economic shock due to the ongoing pandemic; reduction in security issues in the area thereby improving security for all; enlargement of agricultural output for food security and export.”
According to him, “In all of these the expected positive impact is along the provision of jobs for our huge population and lifting of 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, in line with the desire of President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, which he hopes will be accomplished in the next 10 years.”
Admitting that the Federal Government could not achieve this alone, he said the administration would need the support and cooperation of the States and Local Governments, private sector, domestic and foreign investors, development partner, traditional institutions, farmers association, host communities and all well-meaning Nigerians to succeed in repositioning our economy to the path of sustainable growth.
He commended, among others, the SSA to the President on Niger Delta, Sen. (Dr) Ita Enang for the laudable initiative of conceptualizing the idea of diversification of the region as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for buying into the idea.