The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh
Audu Ogbeh

Crusoe Osagie writes that the Ministers of Agriculture and Trade & Industry seem to be in a slumber as their sectors – the most critical to the survival of the Nigerian economy – pine away

President Muhammadu Buhari, when he presented the 2016 budget, which turned out to have been padded with dodgy figures, made it very clear that the nation’s economy was going to be funded with inflows from the non-oil sector.

With the president’s declaration showing that crude oil and other hydrocarbon, which used to constitute up to 90 per cent of the nation’s revenue earnings now taking the back seat two sectors of the economy were supposed to take the centre stage.

Unfortunately, the people at the helm of these two sectors; manufacturing and the agriculture, seem a little oblivious of how critical their roles are to the success of the present administration and the wellbeing of 170 million Nigerians.

Apart from announcing that the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) and the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES), which were introduce by the Jonathan administration would be sustained, which by the way was a good decision, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, has hardly done anything else to drive the green economy.

Having agreed to continue with the ATA and the GES, the operators of the sector mostly made up of small holder farmers need to begin to see some action from the minister.

Former agriculture minister, Akinwumi Adesina, even though he seemed to have talked a bit too much, displayed serious passion about transforming the nation from a net food importer to a food exporting country.

Within the first few weeks of Adesina’s appointment, he successfully defined the problem, which faced the country’s agriculture. He dished out statistics through a very effective connection with the media.

For the first time in the history of the nation, agriculture real figures were released. The reporters and editors of reputable media outfits, who were experts in agriculture reporting were frequently engaged and told of the dire state of the nation’s agriculture and the strategy being deployed to stop the slide.

It was at that time that Nigerians were made to know, straight from the horses’ mouth, that they spent N1 billion every 24 hours on rice consumption. Other statistics freely released were the over N300 billion spent annually for wheat importation; another N300 billion spent yearly on fish importation.

The huge loss to the economy of the old fertiliser regime, where the country had frittered away nearly N1 trillion on subsidy that never got to the farmers was also highlighted by Adesina at the time.

These statistics which were backed with documents, apart from just informing Nigerian’s of the situation, also helped to provide direction for the Jonathan government on what it had to strive to achieve while in power.

However, months after Ogbeh took over as the minister, we are yet to hear any reasonable definition of the challenge at hand or what he intends to do to move the nation’s agricultural sector to the position where it is able to provide the needed support for the economy as it is expected to do in a country which has lost the crude oil revenue advantage.

What is Ogbeh’s plan to boost local production of rice, cassava, cowpea, millet, maize, fish, poultry, piggery? The rains do not seem to be in a hurry to come this year, so, a thinking minister should immediately begin to talk about irrigation and other methods of moving away from rain-fed farming, but not a whimper has been heard from Ogbeh.

Being a farmer and a politician are good attributes that Ogbeh possesses, but he is going to be needing more than just those two credentials to be a successful minister of agriculture, especially in a period when the fate of the nation’s economy is hanging precariously on the productive sectors like agriculture and industry, in the face of low crude oil prices that may not recover for a decade.

The case of Ogbeh is pretty much similar to that of his counterpart in the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enyinna Enelamah.

As for Enelamah, his qualification and experience are quite remarkable. He is a qualified medical doctor; Co-Founder at African Capital Alliance and was one of the original principals of Zephyr Capital and South Africa Capital Growth Fund limited.

The minister was previously employed at Arthur Andersen and Goldman Sachs. He was an investment professional of Zephyr Management, L.P. He served as a Director of Dorman Long Engineering Limited. He also served on the Board of various companies including eTranzact, Cornerstone Insurance Plc, Technoserve, Inc., Africa Leadership Initiative West Africa (ALIWA), and BusinessDay.

He is a Chartered Financial Analyst, a qualified Chartered Accountant in Nigeria, winning two national prizes in the qualifying examinations and holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree with high distinction from the Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar.

Unfortunately these intimidating credentials have not begun to show in the administration of the manufacturing sector since he became minister.

Like Ogbeh, he correctly endorsed the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP), which was introduced by the Jonathan administration and implemented expertly by the former minister, Mr. Oludegun Aganga, but beyond that it remains to be seen what further steps Enelamah has taken.

Under the NIRP there were efforts to revamp the industrial sector through the backward integration policy (BIP) in various segments such as cement, sugar, rice, among others and there was also an auto policy that was beginning to take shape. The question is what other improvement has the new minister made.

It was recently reported that of the over 2,000 manufacturing firms in the country, more than 200 will be closing shop in the next two months due to the lack of raw materials to continue production.

The President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Dr. Frank Jacobs, said 100 operators in the general goods sector had indicated that they would shut down in April when they run out of raw materials.

Also, in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector, 120 operators are said to be down to two months’ supply of raw materials after which they may be unable to restock. While in the food and beverage sector, only few of the 80 operators may be in business next month if prevailing conditions don’t change.

The President, Association of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employers, Mr. Paul Gbededo, said with the exception of two or three companies able to attain 40 per cent to 50 per cent local sourcing of raw materials, the others depended on importation and would find it difficult to keep operating beyond April.

How ironical is it therefore that Buhari believes that his 2016 budget would be financed largely with funds from the real sector led by manufacturing, while on the other hand manufacturing companies are folding up.

What is however most disturbing is the fact that the nation’s manufacturing sector is actually in a state of emergency, yet the helms man, Enelamah, only seems to be sitting with his arms folded.

If there has been a state-of-the-nation address, which this issue actually deserves, on this issue that does not only affect the industrial sector but the entire economy and Buhari’s aspirations as president, then it must have been done in the dark. Enelamah needs to know that the sector he leads is groping in the dark with no sense on direction which is supposed to be coming from him

Recently, the Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, lamented what it described as the “total collapse” of the country’s economy.

According to the Director-General of the Chambers, Mr. Muda Yusuf, “If there is no confidence in your economy and your currency, then there will be capital flight.

“If there is no liquidity of the forex market, the volume of forex inflow will be low. If portfolio investors and foreign direct investors do not have confidence that they can seamlessly repatriate the forex they brought in without losing value, then they will hold back their investments.”

Commenting further on the current economic crisis facing the country especially the forex crunch, Yusuf said the crisis would certainly take its toll on all products in the market whether made locally or imported.

Also yesterday, investigations revealed that the Nigerian economic crisis was spiralling out of control, with the ordinary man on the street now feeling the pinch more than ever before.

The prices of basic food items and other consumables are now shooting beyond their reach.