Thursday, July 16, 2009


By Biko Agozino

Analysts are slow to give credit to whom honor is due for a key decision of G8 leaders in Italy. I propose that we give the credit to our self-proclaimed ‘Servant Leader’, President Umaru Yar’Adua, who must have used quiet diplomacy to sway the G8 leaders in the desired direction. Some analysts were quick to point out that the $20 billion grants for agriculture agreed by the leaders was a little step in the right direction but complained that it was still too small to solve the huge problem especially in Africa. No one wondered where the idea came from in the first place.

Some wrongly suggest that brother Barak had to bully his G8 colleagues to get them to agree on the initial $15 billion and then he had to bully them some more to raise it to $20 billion shortly afterwards. This is unlikely because the likeable President Obama does not have it in his character to bully even an ant. Moreover, the way the initial sum was agreed only for the amount to be increased shortly was indicative of the fact that the leaders did not plan to make such a decision or they would have agreed on the target amount in advance.

So who done it? I wish to suggest that President Yar’Adua of Nigeria, was the only leader from the developing countries at the G8 meeting with an antecedent of having provided a similar policy in the form of a 200 billion naira credit facility for agriculture in Nigeria this year. As he reluctantly boasted to The Guardian Newspaper in an exclusive interview in April 2009, such a policy had never been implemented in Nigeria before.

It is true that Yar’Adua’s predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, had proposed a similar policy but on a smaller scale and no one is certain what became of it. I recall that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the then finance minister, had announced out of the blue that 50 billion naira would be made available as credit to cassava farmers for commercial export-focused production. Sister Ngozi also promised the innovation that 20% of the fund would be set aside for female farmers and I advised her immediately to make it 50-50 considering that women did the lioness’ share of the work on farms in Nigeria. I hope that both Yar’Adua and the G8 would observe gender equity in the disbursement of the huge investments that they have promised to the agricultural sector.

As I observed in newspaper opinions and interview responses at the time, the policy sounded very similar to proposals that I had announced barely weeks before the Federal Government adopted parts of it. In my preliminary campaign for office of Governor of Enugu state in the 2007 elections, I had proposed that one sure way to turbo-charge the economy of the state was to disburse billions of naira annually as grants, not credits, to the people of the state to invest productively as they saw fit. I pointed out that this was the trend in the industrialized countries and that we need to emulate such a policy if we hope to eradicate poverty from our lands. Of course, I was pleased to hear that the Federal Government was ready to adopt my policy option merely weeks after I made it public but I pointed out the errors in the interpretation of the policy – I called for grants and not credits, I called for such grants to be given to all sectors of the economy and not just to agriculture and surely not for one crop like cassava and definitely not just for export production, not a one-off but a systematic part of the annual budget with at least 10% of the budget to be set aside as grants to the people year after year!

In the past, as I have been arguing without fear of contradiction, the leaders of the developing countries routinely attempted to dictate agricultural policy to the leaders of the developed countries. They usually argued like this – ‘Boss, you know that we do not give a dime as subsidies to our farmers while you give hundreds of billions to yours as subsidies annually. Following the gospel of free market, we insist that you should eliminate farm subsidies to level the playing field.’ Nonsense, thought the leaders of the developed countries. Just because you neglect your farmers is no reason for you to wish to dictate that we neglect ours too.

I have always been convinced that the wiser policy was to support our own farmers and other investors in our economy to the best of our ability and watch our dynamic people take it and run with massive wealth creation despite the inevitable losses in some investments as is always the case. The fear of inflation is raised by critics of such a fiscal policy but my proposal is not for consumption but for production and the government would be able to recover the grants through taxation of the profits of the investors, income taxes on their employees and VAT on purchases.

I have argued repeatedly that this is part of my answer to the Niger Delta question and the question of predatory crimes of kidnapping and armed robbery across the country. If we guarantee that at least 10% of the budgets at the Federal, State, and Local Government levels would be reserved for disbursement to the people as individuals or cooperatives annually, a lot of the youth who are seduced into violent crimes for monetary gains or as protest against underdevelopment could have been empowered to create wealth, jobs and increased happiness in our country. Instead, what we have is brazen kleptocracy in which a few people raid the economy and horde the loot abroad, leaving many people with little option but to work in the devil’s workshop.

My humble hypothesis is that our servant leader, who bravely adopted this policy suggestion as part of his Seven Point Agenda, went to the G8 leaders and looked them straight in the eyes and pontificated: ‘There is an old African saying that if you give a man fura de nunu (fresh yogurt), you feed him for a while but if you give him a cow and teach him how to milk the cow, you feed him for life. For too long, you have acted as humanitarians who provided food aid to the many needy people especially in Africa. We commend you for this generosity without which millions could have died of starvation. But have you considered the option of providing grants to agriculture along the lines of your farm subsidies so that our farmers may be better able to feed our people and even have some to spare for export? Such grants might save you money on food aid and the saving could then be awarded to the poor unemployed youth in your cities to enable them to set up their own enterprises. It is a win-win option for all!’

The G8 leaders must have looked at each other and wondered why they never thought of that before. I hope that brother Barak Obama would take this insight further by announcing an Obama Plan for Africa and inviting a coalition of the willing to contribute to the fund annually to help Africa overcome centuries-old disadvantages. When Africa is empowered to release the immense economic potentials in the continent, the whole world would benefit because Africa would be able to buy more from and sell more to the rest of the world as China and India are beginning to do. I hope that African states will recognize the wisdom of this policy and continue it annually even if the G8 leaders fail to continue such grants. I hope that the Peoples Republic of Africa will soon emerge to continue this policy and end the humiliation that Africans continue to endure in the midst of plenty. Obviously, this extends to all the poor in the world if their governments adopt similar policies of investing 10% of the budgets in the people-initiated research and development or commercial ventures.


Anonymous said...

Well said! Well researched,Well taught out. It is amazing, after research has been done to assist government in their policy making, much of it is not considered.

Odozi Obodo said...

We the people can make it work, come together and make it work; it is not just for the government people.