By Femi Olufunmilade
One beautiful evening in the month of July 2017, my humble self and other members of the Governing Council of the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB) were hosted to a dinner by former President Olusegun Obasanjo at his Green Legacy Hotel in Abeokuta.
I stole the show that evening by engaging President Obasanjo in a three-hour long debate over dinner. I had known the old soldier while a school boy since 1980. That was the year he attended a customised crash course on Modern Scientific Farming at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (I.A.R & T.) at Moor Plantation, Ibadan.
One afternoon, my father came to pick me and my brother from school. As we drove through the main gate of I.A.R. & T., where he then worked, towards our residential quarters, my father pointed at a crouched figure on an experimental farm plot to our right and said: “That’s Obasanjo, our former Head of State”.
The man was undergoing a practical session in the hot sun as part of his training. That earned him my respect till date. When he became civilian president, the late Chief Bola Ige took me along on a visit to him at Aso Rock. I subsequently wrote a book he did me the honour of perusing and approving for publication through a letter to that effect. The book FROM HOT SUN TO HOT SEAT was published in 2005 while he was a sitting president.
At the dinner I went down memory lane on his training experience at I.A.R. & T. I noted he was a good learner because his farming business after the training had turned out a huge success. He thanked me and then shared a funny experience after his training. He felt he had learnt so much under Prof. Ajibola Taylor, the Director of I. A.R. & T and other agricultural experts in 1980, that he carried out the Feasibility Study for his farm all by himself. He then approached a bank with the Feasibility Report for a loan.
The bank manager was aghast. He cleared his throat and spoke thus: “Your Excellency, this would make an excellent document to access loan from the Red Cross or Caritas International”. The General retorted: “What the hell is that supposed to mean”?
The manager duly informed him that his so-called Feasibility Report didn’t incorporate any interest element in his repayment plan. It only reflected the repayment of the principal sum to be loaned to him. Whereas, banks were in business to make profits. They couldn’t lend money as though they were charities. That was why he had earlier thought the Feasibility Report might be a good proposal to the Red Cross and co! The General said he quietly got up and returned home to get his acts right. The rest his history. He’s today a highly successful farmer. Or, better still, integrated farmer because he’s adept in virtually all aspects of agribusiness. In his next incarnation, if there’s any such thing, he would return a farmer.
The lesson I learnt from the Obasanjo Feasibility Study issue is the need, more than ever before, to incorporate financial, managerial, and accounting studies in the curriculum of our agriculture faculties and training colleges. This is why I consider it a great disservice to our quest for agricultural development and food security in Nigeria that the Federal Government, acting on a wrong, self-defeating advice, directed the scrapping of the College of Management Sciences (COLMAS) of FUNAAB, which comprised the departments of Entrepreneurial Studies, Banking and Finance, Economics, Business Administration, and Accounting. Whoever thinks these five courses are irrelevant to FUNAAB’s mandate is uninformed about trends in agripreneurship. A case for the restoration of COLMAS has been made. I hope good sense prevails.
Still at the dinner, I stirred the hornet’s nest. I told OBJ I found it difficult to understand his opposition to the agitation for restructuring. I went on to give various reasons why restructuring was imperative for a progressive, peaceful, and harmonious Nigeria.
He snapped back: “Femi, what are you restructuring? State governors, in the concurrent and residual lists of the 1999 Constitution, have enough powers to transform their respective states to Eldorados, but we are still far away from that. Is it the lack of restructuring that stopped them from providing quality education, good roads, portable water, food security and so on, all of which they have the powers and resources to do?”
I had to agree with him that, indeed, there’s a huge gap vis a vis the powers and achievements of the state governors. While I remain unequivocal about restructuring based on my in-depth study of the subject matter and understanding of its inevitability, that exchange with OBJ got me thinking seriously on the prodigality of our governors.
At this juncture, I would like to focus the six governors of Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, and Lagos states. I did a calculation of the entire budget of the defunct Western Region that, in addition to these six states, had included Delta and Edo, for the eight years Chief Obafemi Awolowo ran the affairs of the region, first as Leader of Government Business (1951 – 1954) and, subsequently, as Premier (1954 – 1959). The figure I got for the eight years is less than the annual budget of Lagos state at today’s currency conversion rate. Visit the Federal Archives at the University of Ibadan for confirmation. Let’s even assume it’s a year budget of Lagos state.
Yet, with that relatively small budget, Awolowo positioned the Western Region as a model of rapid development and good governance in the entire developing world of the time. He established industrial estates, introduced the minimum wage, pursued a free education programme, developed real estate for residential and business purposes, constructed roads – both urban and rural -, set up farm settlements (including cattle ranches), awarded scholarships to hundreds of youngsters to pursue university degrees overseas, set up Africa’s first TV station etc. Certainly, it is not how much money is in the treasury that matters, but how much sense is in the head of the person managing the treasury.
What some state governors spend annually and unaudited as so-called security votes amidst growing insecurity is as much as the annual budget of the defunct Western Region. But, unlike the Region, today, none of the six Southwest states has a development plan the implementation of which could guide budget-making. Budgets are mere jumble of uneducated campaign promises, graft-driven projects, and a bloated bureaucracy, the cumulative outcome of which is the stagnation that is the lot of the six Yoruba states.
To reverse this ugly and crisis-prone trend, there is an urgent need for the six Southwest states to return to the path of the time-tested development planning in order to transform the region. This is where FUNAAB would be found an invaluable partner.
On Tuesday, 8th September 2020, myself and other members of FUNAAB’s Governing Council were led on an inspection tour of ongoing projects at the Alabata campus of the university in Abeokuta by the vice chancellor, Prof. Felix Kolawole Salako, and his management team. This wasn’t our first tour of the campus. We had gone round in the past to inspect diverse infrastructure and research projects. But it struck me forcefully this last outing why a country like Nigeria hasn’t yet attained optimal food security, as well as exporting food, with the quality and quantum of human resources and physical infrastructure at FUNAAB!
I grew up at I.A.R.& T, the first agricultural research and training institution in Nigeria. So I knew what modern agriculture is all about before I was appointed external member of the FUNAAB’s Council in May 2017. But being actively involved in the governance of FUNAAB has exposed me to global best practices and innovation in agriculture.
This is a university that is reputed for research adapted to the needs of the Nigerian ecology. A good example is the hybrid chicken called FUNAAB Alpha developed by recently retired Prof. (Mrs) Olufunmilayo Adebambo of the Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, who I told the vice chancellor deserves appointment as a professor emeritus. The FUNAAB Alpha is an improved version of the local chicken Yoruba call adiye ibile. They keep the juicy taste of the original but are much bigger in size with finer looks. I say this from experience, of course!
The Southwest is the catchment area of FUNAAB. Let the states therein partner with FUNAAB to design a Five-Year Agricultural Development Plan. It is sheer waste of resources not to harness the huge opportunities of FUNAAB. The Plan should have the following objectives:
1. To train and establish 10,000 agripreneurs per annum in each of the six states.
2. To create 50,000 jobs annually through agricultural value chain.
3. To raise Internally Generated Revenue to be at par with Federal Allocation in three years and double it at the end of five years.
In doing the foregoing, the Southwest governors will be sending the message out that the region is indeed ready for greater heights in demanding for devolution of more powers and control of resources to the states as encapsulated in the agitation for restructuring.
However, Yoruba people say, Ayangbe aja dun, sugbon ki aja o to gbe, nkankan ni eeyan o je. The translation goes thus: “Roasted dog meat is delicious indeed; but while the dog is roasting, a famishing person’s hunger must be assuaged.”
Truly, the Yoruba landscape is awashed with restructuring campaigners and, lately, those who consider restructuring as too little and would rather have a sovereign Yoruba state. My argument is that none of the two proposals has materialised for now, but the governors of the Yoruba states can give succour to their people in the prevailing order by giving optimum value to the funds and resources at their disposal.
It is saddening that the Yoruba who were pacesetters in Nigeria and Africa in the 50s and 60s are now laggards in terms of development and modernization. Even within Nigeria, they can no longer lay claim to being pacesetters. Governors in states like Ebonyi and Cross River are the new pacesetters.
I travel around Yorubaland and, for all our famed education and global exposure, our homeland is an eyesore. Three weeks ago, I had the misfortune of driving into the heart of Ijebu Ode in error on my way from the Benin axis, going to Ibadan. It was a rude awakening for my poor self. Ijebu Ode, the country home of Otunba Mike Adenuga (founder of Globacom), Dr. Sonny Kuku (co-founder EKO Hospital), Chief Subomi Balogun (founder of First City Monument Bank), Chief Timothy Odutola (pioneer president, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria), and the seat of my paramount ruler, the great Awujale Sikiru Adetona, among other illustrious personalities, has no motorable road! The calliper of my otherwise rugged Xterra Jeep broke on the crater-ridden roads.
It’s high time we held a development summit with our governors as a region. We must become pacesetters once again in industry, commerce, agriculture, qualitative and functional education, living wages, human welfare index, security etc. Enough of the mismanagement of our common patrimony by our governors and their hordes of professional politicians who conceive governance as a get-rich quick scheme. We cannot afford to condone their perfidy and profligacy anymore. The Yoruba, among other crises of development, have the highest number of unemployed graduates per capita in the world.
Harnessing our agricultural potentials by tapping the expertise of FUNAAB will be a first step towards progress. The time to act is now!
Prof. Olufunmilade is Member, Governing Council/ Board Chairman, Institute of Human Resources Development, FUNAAB.
& Director, Buratai Center for Contemporary Security Affairs, Igbinedion University Okada. Edo State, Nigeria.