*NEC to channel $1.5bn donor funds into 36 SAPZs
*Targets 17.5m jobs, 100,000 farmers nationwide
*FG to revamp 18,000 healthcare centres across the country
Deji Elumoye in Abuja
Vice President Kashim Shettima has charged governors of the 36 states of the federation to work towards revamping the country’s agricultural sector with a view to reducing dependence on food imports and attaining greater food self-sufficiency. Shettima said this was in tandem with the investment and commitment of the African Development Bank (AfDB) towards establishment of Specialised Agro Processing Zones (SAPZ) across the country.
He spoke yesterday during the monthly meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) held at State House, Abuja.
The vice president is chairman of NEC, a statutory body that has the constitutional mandate to advise the president on the country’s economic affairs. Governors of the 36 states of the federation, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Minister of Finance, and other stakeholders are members of the council.
Delivering his opening address at the meeting, Shettima said, “Our upcoming task must be rooted in recognising the agrarian nature of our economy. We must strive for deliberate value addition in the agricultural sector, moving away from commodity exports towards job creation.
“Collaboration is vital in enabling the Specialised Agro Processing Zones (SAPZ) Programme spearheaded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in partnership with the Africa Development Bank (AfDB).
“Your Excellences, we must develop our agricultural sector towards self-sufficiency and exporting processed agricultural products in line with the African Union’s Africa 2063 Agenda.
“This also aligns with AfDB’s investments and commitment to establishing the SAPZ. Collaboratively, we should harness our agricultural comparative and complementary advantages across the value chains of priority crops within the SAPZ.”
The vice president also spoke on the possibility of engaging the private sector in tackling floods and other natural disasters, saying considering the financial implications of managing natural disasters, the government cannot do it alone.
He stated, “While urging unity as the nation’s hope, I am aware of the financial implications of managing natural disasters. We cannot tackle this alone. Innovative capital pools from the private sector can help share and mitigate fiscal and economic risks posed by such disasters.
“This approach has been successful in other African countries, preparing for low-probability yet highly disruptive ‘black swan’ events. Once again, we find ourselves bearing the weight of the nation. Since our last gathering, much has transpired, with each event punctuated by the nation’s reactions.
“None of us here requires a reminder of the direction we are headed or what is required to ensure that we stand together through the storm to fulfil our promises to the people.
“It gives me great pleasure to welcome you back, back to the 137th meeting of the National Economic Council, our engine room.”
Recalling that President Bola Tinubu had recently highlighted eight presidential priorities for his administration, which serve as a conduit to his Renewed Hope Agenda, Shettima told the governors and other members of council to get “involved in seeking both short-term palliative and enduring solutions to the consequences of our reforms”.
Other highlights of the meeting were an update on Excess Crude Account (ECA), which stood at $473,754.57 as at September, 2023.
Shettima’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Stanley Nkwocha, in a statement, explained that stabilisation stood at #37,597,965,211.43, September, 2023, while Current Balance of Natural Resources was #144,683,136,928.25
Nkwocha said there was a presentation on state budget support facility and gave the breakdown of States Outstanding Liability to include FCT 49,105,873,326.75, and 36 States 49,105,873,326.75, bringing the total to 1,718,705,566,436.25
He noted that the budget support loan was stopped in July 2023. The decision was taken to set aside an amount from the Federation Account to take care of the balance, he said.
At the end of the November 2023 meeting, NEC announced plans to channel at least $1.52bn in donor funds into 36 Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones across the country, aiming to create 17.5 million jobs and support 100,000 farmers nationwide.
The first phase, which currently runs in Kano, Kaduna, Kwara, Ogun, Oyo, Imo, Cross River, and the Federal Capital Territory, would gulp over $520 million and is set to be concluded by 2028.
Twenty six states have also expressed interest in joining Phase II of the programme, where the $1bn funding from AfDB and other partners would be channelled. The states will begin documentation for the second phase in early 2024. Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, disclosed this to newsmen at the end of the 137th NEC meeting.
Kyari said the funds were earlier pledges by AfDB, Islamic Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, who voted $1bn to deliver SAPZs in 24 states at the Norman Borlaug International Dialogue, World Food Prize 202, in Des Moines, Iowa, USA, in late October. This was apart from an initial $520m voted by the development partners for the same purpose.
He said, “The vice president, who attended the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, met with the president of the African Development Bank. Dr. Adesina, who has already pledged $1bn to the second phase.”
Kyari noted that his ministry made a presentation to the council outlining the collaborative programme with AfDB, International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Islamic Development Bank, various state governments, and the private investor.
He stated, “The seven states are Kano, Kaduna, Kwara, Ogun, Oyo, Imo and Cross River, and like I said, with the FCT being the eighth partner in this programme. The quick wins here are that even in the stage of construction, you will have the opportunity for over 3,000 jobs.
“And at the end of the construction, opportunities will be for almost 500,000 jobs on each zone that is for each state and then also to support about 100,000 farmers.”
The minister described the SAPZs as a cross-cutting initiative and platform to attract private sector investment, add value to Nigeria’s agro-processing, and unlock opportunities for improved food security and job creation.
He revealed that the programme, which commenced in 2022, saw the active participation of seven states and the Federal Capital Territory, even as the zones would not only serve as production sites, “but also hubs for aggregation and processing of agricultural produce”.
The programme earmarked approximately $530m for the first phase, aiming to establish clusters of agricultural production and significantly reduce post-harvest losses, the former lawmaker noted.
He pointed out, “For instance, Kano has keyed in to do a lot of tomatoes in this zone. And we know that tomato losses run to almost 50 to 60 per cent. It is unacceptable in today’s agricultural sector.”
On Phase two of the programme, Kyari said, “We have already received expressions of interest from about 26 states so far. The second phase is supposed to kick in from next year. This first phase will last for five years. And the documentation for Phase Two will begin by next year.
“There are only three states (Abia, Adamawa and Yobe) that have not expressed interest. But as we were leaving here, one (Abia State) had already signified and are working on sending the expression of interest.”
The council also acknowledged the leading role of Ogun State in the development of these zones.
But Kyari said despite Ogun’s delay in signing the Subsidiary Loan Agreement, a commitment was recently secured from the state government to sign it promptly.
To further expedite the initiative, NEC approved “the accelerated transmission of the official documents to funders by the Federal Ministry of Finance,” and granted a waiver from the same ministry for the payment of performance allowance to project staff by the funders, as requested by the executing agency, to “avoid project implementation risks”, he said.
Kyari said the meeting also called for “a lot of enthusiasm from state governors to participate and key into” the project, which, it said, will drive significant economic growth through job creation and modernised agricultural practices.
NEC also approved plans to overhaul 17,000 and 774 primary and secondary healthcare centres, respectively, nationwide. The move was in response to identified funding gaps and deteriorating healthcare metrics, as revealed by a presentation by the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Professor Ali Pate, to the council.
Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, who shed more light on Pate’s presentation, which highlighted the critical condition of the health sector, said, “the presentation…dissected in terms of very robust sector scan on health, from the tertiary to the primary level, looking at all the gaps, the problems and challenges of funding.”
Mohammed expressed concern about statistics showing a decline in health indices, including infant mortality rates, stating that the Tinubu administration aims to establish a synergy among stakeholders for deep, lasting reforms.
The governor said, “Certainly, we have a huge problem of human capital and attrition of experts and the need to develop a strategy to retain our experts to care for our health sector.” He said this underscored the collective commitment to budgeting and prioritising healthcare.