How IITA gate youth stampede for job provoked Nigeria’s $11 billion rice import debate

Almost eight years after the stampede during a job-seeking recruitment test exercise held at the National Stadium in the Federal Capital City of Abuja on Saturday, March 15, 2014, in which 16 people were said to have died and several others injured, its flakes are yet to subside. Exactly four months after, another near stampede attempted to take place at the gate of Ibadan-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

The Institute’s Director General, Dr. Nterenya Sanginga, a citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a man who has lived in Nigeria for the past 28 years, had driven to the gate of the institute one fateful Monday morning. What looked like a bedlam had ensued. An army of youths had besieged the gate in search of casual job offers. For IITA, casual jobs involve tilling the land in cassava farms, painting, weeding and monitoring agricultural equipment at work and sundry other low-level jobs. There were almost 500 youths at the gate who were engaged in a scuffle with policemen who had come to quell what looked like an uprising. The rampaging youths almost pulled down the gate. In very desperate moves, they literally tried to elbow their way into the IITA premises so that they could be considered for the causal job offers.

Alarmed, Dr. Sanginga came down from his car and engaged the rampaging youths. What exactly was the beef? In the course of engagement, he found out that many of them saw that casual job offer as a leeway for their personal survival, in a country where prospect of job dims on a daily basis. The DG also found out that virtually all of them were graduates of Nigerian universities, many of them having graduated with degrees in professional courses. Notwithstanding those certificates, they had been jobless for years.

“I spent almost three hours interviewing these young people. They studied Engineering, Mass Communication and all that. I asked them simple questions like, ‘what do you think you’re coming here to do?’ and they confirmed that they knew they were coming here for casual jobs,” he said.

That day, said the DG, he took a sample of 60 of those rampaging jobless youths, ensuring parity of 50 percent boys and girls. He then took them into the IITA premises, to the board room of the institute, where he subjected them to further engagement. He asked them if they knew that, even in their jobless state, armed with their various degrees, they could make a leeway in life with agriculture. He asked them to define what they knew by agriculture and what he got out of the engagement, according to him, was a definition of agriculture by the youths which meant, “pain, penury and poverty.” He explained to them that the value chain in agriculture in Africa was worth about a trillion dollars. After three months, half of them stayed and half could not stand the rigour of agriculture.

Out of those, three young people were given a startup capital of $5000 by the IITA, with which they started a company. Today, they own a factory where they rear fish for export to Canada and the United States of America.

The above and more were the narratives that came out of a recent Agri-business summit held in Ibadan. Organized by the Oyo State Government, in partnership with the IITA, both parties used the summit to sell the state to the world, with the ultimate aim of expanding the state’s economy.

While speaking on the queer but lamentable state of how Nigeria was shooting itself in the foot by not investing in agriculture, Dr. Sanginga stated that statistics showed that Nigeria spends $11 billion of her hard-earned money importing foods into the country, “strange enough, on foods that could be produced locally.” Chief among these foods that Nigeria imports and which can be produced locally, he said, is rice. However, Nigeria imports rice from Thailand.

“What it means is that we are creating jobs for the people of Thailand. The unemployment rate for youths in Nigeria is about 60 per cent. If you do a simple calculation, spend that $11 billion on the youth. If you pay these youths $1000 in a month, you can create 1 million jobs per year. With that, we can reduce unemployment rate from 60 to 7 per cent after a few years,” he said.

Setting the tone for the event, the Director-General of the Oyo State Agribusiness Development Agency (OYSADA), Dr Debo Akande, had given the Governor Seyi Makinde administration’s economic regeneration vision for Oyo State. According to him, this vision is anchored on harnessing natural economic comparative advantage. To do this, government, he said, was ready to provide an enabling environment of infrastructure and human capacity development.

Then, speakers after speakers adumbrated their concept of development on the African continent, especially in Oyo State, via agriculture. The African Development Bank (ADB) President, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, though could not be physically present, sent the bank’s Director of Agriculture and Agro-Allied Sector, Dr. Martin Fregene, to represent him at the summit. Recalling the first meeting he had with Makinde while on a boat ride on Lake Kivu in the DRC from Bukavu en-route Kalambo for the opening of the IITA Olusegun Obasanjo Centre a couple of years ago, Fregene recalled that Makinde shared with him the vision he had for agriculture in Oyo State and he was excited at the profile. “I was hopeful that at last, Nigeria had had a generation of leaders with a heart for the common man,” he said.

In the Agribusiness summit, Adesina, through Fregene, recalled that Oyo had the largest arable area of land in Nigeria, closest to Lagos, the nerve centre of Nigeria’s economy. By connecting with Lagos, with its food market of 21 million people, said Adesina, Oyo State would benefit economically substantially. Now connected to Lagos via railway transport, which is the cheapest form of land transportation in the world, Oyo’s advancement in agriculture will get to the doorstep of the world, he said. Oyo, said Adesina, was the very first state to own and roll out an ICT-based agro-input programme to help farmers with modern farming inputs, so that they could increase their productivity. For him, there were many reasons for the state to become the foremost agribusiness hub in sub-Sahara Africa in a matter of years.

Adesina then gave Oyo State five nuggets to be able to achieve this foremost place. The first, he said, was for the state to run a competitive agriculture. “If Oyo State is going to capture the Lagos market, it must be competitive with the alternatives that serve as market,” Adesina said.

The second nugget from Adesina was for Oyo state to cluster all stakeholders in the agricultural ecosystem into one unit, not necessarily geographical zone. The third nugget he advised was for the state to attract other countries while the fourth is building local capacity. The last advice to the state was for it to adapt to climate change.

The reason why crop yields are low, he said, is because farmers cannot afford the high quality input of fertilizers and seeds required to raise productivity. He advocated that platforms to reach farmers with inputs must be created by the state government and farmers must be put at the centre of agric in Oyo State.

On cluster stakeholders, the ADB President said that markets must be made available for farmers, asking that Oyo must attract farmers and give them incentives that will bring them in same locations where they produce. “If you want farmers to increase their productivity, there must be markets to sell their products,” he said

The ADB President further advocated clustering markets. He announced that the bank had already launched a special agro-industrial processing zone, the flagship of its Feed Africa Initiative, with the aim of helping to cluster industrial Agro Processing Skills and agric production in the same location. The ADB had already begun this in eight countries. In Nigeria, the bank had mobilized $520 for the first phase of this programme and Oyo State was one of the states earmarked for it. This is the Ijaye Agro-processing Industrial hub which will be a cluster model for farmers, processors and service providers for industrial scale processing of cassava, rice and soybeans. The bank had also identified 50 agricultural centers which have been designed to aggregate produce in Oyo State.

Adesina also asked government to acquire lands and concession them out along Moniya area of the state. “You need to transport a large portion of products out of the state.” Maintaining that modern agriculture is science, Adesina urged the state to take cognizance of climate change. “It is a reality African farmers live with. In 2020, rains stopped early and from data of insurance companies, farmers lost 30 percent of their production. Though Africa accounts for 4 percent of global carbon emissions, temperatures in Africa are expected to rise much faster than global averages and many of the world’s most climate-vulnerable are here in Africa. Oyo must climate-proof its agriculture, adopt drought-tolerant varieties and flood-tolerant rice.”

In his speech, with the theme, “Re-engineering Agribusiness Development in Oyo State”, Makinde took the audience that comprised bank Managing Directors and CEOs, High Commissioners, ambassadors and stakeholders in the agric sector on a shuttle into opportunities in the state, telling them that for agriculture to lift people from poverty to prosperity, not only must it not only be seen as a tool for rural development, it must be seen as business. He also spoke on the agribusiness investment opportunities in the state and that his government had gone into partnership with the government of France and IITA, among others, with the aim of boosting agribusiness in the state.

On infrastructure, Governor Makinde said that one of the reasons why his government constructed the 65-kilometre Moniya-Iseyin arterial road, as well as its engagement with the construction of Oyo-Iseyin Road, Apete-Awotan-Akufo Road, Saki-Ogbooro-Igboho Road, Sabo-Oroki-Asipa Road, Ajia-Airport Road with a spur to Amuloko, were for farmers to have easy road access for the transportation of their produce.  The trip he made recently to France, according to him, was the consummation of the efforts to get the French government to turn the Akufo Agribusiness Hub into a farmers’ market, upon completion.

The IITA DG had lauded Makinde for being an unusual governor who promised the people of Fashola that the old Ibadan-Oyo road that leads to Fashola Farm, one of the agricultural legacies of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, would be reconstructed by his government. “Your Excellency, the people of Fashola have asked me to come and thank you,” Sanginga began. “Fashola is my (adopted) village though I am from Congo. Last year, you went to Fashola while we were lunching our project of bringing agriculture back to Fashola. Your Excellency then promised the people (that you would reconstruct the road.) The road was terrible. It took about one hour to get there. Last Sunday, I was in Fashola and the journey took me 20 minutes. I was proud of you because politicians make a lot of fake promises.”

Goodwill messages at the summit also came from the Australian High Commissioner to Nigeria, John Donnelly, who came with his wife, the Ambassador of France to Nigeria, Emmanuelle Blackman and Managing Directors of banks, as well as Mr. Tony Elumelu of Heirs Holdings.


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