Ayo Oyoze Baje
Ordinarily,, trade and bilateral agreements between two friendly countries should be a source of joy to the stakeholders. That is, if at the end of the day, there are equitable, fair and just economic benefits that are symbiotically favourable. In signing such trade pacts therefore, everyone concerned should, as in the Nigerian parlance, ‘shine his eyes”. But when it is skewed in favour of one party at the expense of the other, there is cause for serious concern.
That is precisely, what one Maiyegun General is raising concerns about, with specific regards to the recent trade agreement between Nigeria and the United States, as represented by their respective political helmsmen, Muhammadu Buhari and Donald Trump. As highlighted by the former, “Nigeria’s trade volume with the United States stood at 6.07 billion dollars, according to 2016 statistics and comprised 4.176 billion dollar worth of Nigerian exports to the U.S. and 1.894 billion dollars U.S. exports to Nigeria. We urged greater effort to increase these figures substantially.” Furthermore, he said Nigeria very much welcomed increased US investment in the Nigerian economy, especially in the non-oil sector.
On the surface of it, Nigerians should welcome an increase of American trade with us. But there lies the bait! Trump’s America is currently not interested in our crude oil, which still remains the major source of our economic mainstay. Yet, it wants us to willy-nilly consume its farm products, in exchange for security support. The deal includes military hardware, 12 Tuscano jets and training. As many Nigerians, who, troubled by the self-inflicted woes of the Boko Haram insurgency would opine, this is a good deal! But is it? That is the million-Naira (sorry, dollar) question.
On the flip side, those rooted in America’s diplomacy would readily agree that it hardly signs an agreement that would not favour it at the expense of the others. So, why did Trump invite our President, a move which in this period of electioneering campaigns has seen his diehard admirers wanting to make a political capital out of?
The answer, bitter as it may sound is not because Trump loves Nigeria more than his own country. Waves of political intrigues are at play. For instance, “China is about to enforce new tax policies on American agricultural products in the next few weeks and President Trump needs new markets for U.S. farm products, before calling China’s bluff.” Nigeria happens to be China’s largest importer of soya beans. Trump has, therefore, approached Nigeria, Brazil and Argentina to take U.S. farm products as exchange for security deals. What a smart Alec, this Trump man could be!
But talking more seriously, what are the implications of the deal on Nigerian farmers? The first issue is that of the insurgency and rampant killings in the North-East that have spilled over to Adamawa,Taraba, Southerrn Kaduna and of course, Benue, the once acclaimed food basket of the nation. As expected, food production in those affected areas have suffered a drastic dip.
So, when the expected American grains get to our shores in the next few months, prices of grains will drop. This could be used as a campaign slogan for the supporters of Mister President, but it will in no way lure the embattled farmers back to their ravaged farms. Mind you, the killing spree, courtesy of the Boko Haram insecurity challenge which Lai Muhammed boasted has been technically defeated more than a year ago is back in full swing!
So, what is the way forward? The best is to employ the Root Cause Analytical Approach (RCAA). For lasting solutions, President Buhari and his team should find the fundamental reasons for the insurgency, herdsman killings and the wanton wasting of the priceless lives of our once, hardworking farmers. If he needs to hold a stakeholders’ meeting with traditional rulers, village heads, the military, policemen, local council chairmen, state governors and the youth, so be it. We cannot continue with the bloodletting and expect any miraculous economic growth. No!
Though the President told the world that the government was taking necessary steps to promote the peaceful co-existence of herdsmen and farmers,that still remains one distant dream. He has also promised that the government will be focusing on boosting security and enforcing legislation that will guarantee herders and farmers access to land, the tepid approach has so far not yielded the desired results.
While it is good that we go into partnerships with other countries, home-grown solutions are better adopted in this regard. We should be worried because the rate of our food production does not match that of population growth. For instance, researches have shown that between 1991 and 2015 there was a shortfall in domestically produced food in Nigeria. While the growth in the population was at the rate of 3.2% that of food production has been less than one per cent.
According to one Mr. Davies, as at 2009, Nigeria was ranked as one of the food-deficit countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, though it is arguably better in terms of production than the others. As at then, “it had not suffered any major catastrophe that could precipitate scourges of famine, mass hunger and therefore food crisis.” But now, it does, what with the series of atrocities perpetrated by Boko Haram? As severally suggested in previous related essays, there is an urgent need for a stakeholders meeting to fashion the credible way forward. Such meeting should have in attendance, representatives of local farmers, food processors, machinists, research institutions, ministries of science and technology and that of trade and development.
Such forum could take a look at the areas of FAO’s assistance in Nigeria’s agric sector and fine tune them. It focuses on five broad priority areas: Improvement in national food and nutrition security; Support for agricultural policy and regulatory framework; Support to the Agricultural Transformation Agenda for priority value chains and promote decent employment for youth and women. All said, even in the absence of Trump’s support for agriculture, we have the capacity to stem the tide of insurgency, rein in the rampaging monster of killer herdsmen, get our farmers back to land with the right moral, monetary and environmental incentives, if only our leaders could muster the political will to do so.
Baje writes from Lagos Baje