FEATURE ARTICLE

Temple Chima UbochiSunday, April 27, 2014
ubochit@yahoo.com
Bonn, Germany

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UNEMPLOYMENT IN NIGERIA: “GOING THIRSTY IN THE ABUNDANCE OF WATER” (24)


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Continued from Part 23

Extreme poverty is the best breeding ground on earth for disease, political instability, and terrorism (Jeffrey Sachs)

If a blacksmith does not know how to make a metal gong, he should look at the tail of the hawk for a clue (Igbo Proverb)

Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Unemployment is a weapon of mass destruction (Dennis Kucinich)

The key to ending extreme poverty is to enable the poorest of the poor to get their foot on the ladder of development. The ladder of development hovers overhead, and the poorest of the poor are stuck beneath it. They lack the minimum amount of capital necessary to get a foothold, and therefore need a boost up to the first rung (Jeffrey Sachs)

good number of Nigerians still remember the time Muritala Mohammed International Airport Lagos was Nigeria’s only exit and entry point by air, but, with the internationalization of the Port Harcourt, Abuja and Enugu airports, life becomes easier for the travelling Nigerians. Has anybody thought of the gains of internationalizing about 4 or 5 seaports in Nigeria? First of all, a lot of pressure would be removed from the Lagos-Ore-Benin Road, that is always in bad shape, because of the heavy duty vehicles taking goods off-loaded in Lagos ports to the eastern, northern and southern hinterlands. A lot of pressure would be taken away from the Niger Bridge, because, there will be less vehicles with heavy loads plying through it, as Igbo businessmen, who are the major importers, would divert their containers and cargoes to Port Harcourt or Calabar ports. The highways from Calabar or Port Harcourt to Aba or Onitsha or Nnewi or Awka etc would open up the more, as more businesses would spring up along the highways, and more people would then engage themselves in meaningful activities: more Hotels, restaurants, petrol stations, mechanic workshops would all open along the routes, employing more people. The transport business would bloom; more drivers and assistants (conductors) would be needed. More clearing agencies and ancillary services would start up; many would relocate from Lagos to Port Harcourt or Calabar, thereby relieving the pressure on Lagos, and rents in Lagos might go down. More employment opportunities would be created, as the Nigeria Custom Services and other port agencies would recruit more personnel, and more revenue would accrue to Nigeria.

Also, many Nigerians from the south-east or south-south abroad, who wanted to engage in import business, but had to put that off because of the stress obtainable by importing goods through Lagos ports, may re-think and then start bringing in goods to Nigeria through the other ports in Nigeria, and that will surely benefit a lot of people and Nigeria.

Inland waterways

At a time, we were told that the federal government has started the dredging of the River Niger, and that the Onitsha port would soon go into operation, but, till today, the port has not gone into full scale operation, many years after the government hyped its commissioning. Then, Omoigui was elated because of the news of the dredging of the River Niger (he rejoiced too early), and then he wrote this: “The next step is to build the long abandoned port at GeleGele in Edo State - the oldest known port in Nigeria which the Portuguese visited approximately 400 - 500 years ago. Just as the lower river Niger has been dredged, the Benin River (also historic) should also be dredged from Ughoton/Gele Gele to the Bight of Benin (Atlantic Ocean). It was through GeleGele that the British extricated Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi as well as thousands of ancient Benin art works after the invasion of 1897. Yet, neither the British in their time nor any Nigerian government since independence, has seen fit to develop the port (or dredge the river). But others are being developed left, right and center. Instead of being a commercial axis bubbling with economic activity, the GeleGele Benin river-Atlantic axis has since become a favorite route for kidnappers. Furthermore, the Benin International Airport project has been abandoned since 1973 when it was first conceptualized (under Gowon) long before others that have since been built. Hopefully, someday, the GeleGele Seaport and the Benin International Airport will see the light again. Congratulations to Onitsha. GeleGele dey wait”.

Water transportation, as another mode of transporting bulk products, creates a lot of businesses and job, if, the challenges are surmounted. An efficient coastal and waterway transport system would relieve the pressure on the rail and road transport infrastructure, as bulk goods can be transported over long distances at very low freight charges. The energy demand for the waterways is low and the negative effect on the environment is also low. The Guardian noted that of the 36 states in the country, no fewer than 14 can conveniently operate a feasible inland water transportation industry. The states include Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Lagos, Kebbi, Kogi, Taraba, Ondo, Ogun, Imo and Ekiti states. A report published in 1992 indicated that about 60.5 million passengers were available for inland water transportation nationwide, but only 5.2 million or eight percent of them had access to infrastructure for water transportation, while the rest were forced to travel by road at a greater cost to the economy. Before and shortly after independence in 1960, Benue and Niger rivers were only navigable seasonally. Produce and other export commodities were transported from the hinterland in small watercrafts to the main port for international shipping.

According to the Guardian; today, the situation is different, and road transportation has taken over at greater financial cost and risk. The cost ratio of water transportation to rail and road is 1:3:6, and it is better imagined, the cost to the national economy of the near total neglect of the inland water transport industry. There is greater need to revive the water transport industry when viewed from the fact that several tonnes of goods and several people move between Lagos and Onitsha on a daily basis by road. The development of Ajaokuta Steel Plant and Itakpe Iron Ore processing plant, few kilometers away from Onitsha, necessitates the haulage of bulk cargo from the seaports to the plants. Hitherto, road transport has been used at huge expense. It was estimated that two million tonnes of finished products would be evacuated from the plant yearly; hence the use of water transportation will greatly reduce the cost of production.

Only few years ago, the federal government, through the national inland waterways authority (NIWA), dredged the River Niger from Baro in Niger State to Warri in Delta State, although it is not clear by now if they achieved the least navigable depth. With the dredging, the government planned to accelerate trade and boost water tourism by creating a reliable and safer access. But why is the plan not getting off the ground till now?

Railways

This writer wonders why the railway system in Nigeria is dead, unlike in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was a major means of transportation. This writer, as an adolescent, was always happy to take the train from Aba to Mgboko Halt, whenever he visited his mother’s village. This writer also took the train from Aba to Enugu back and forth, so many times, in the early 1980s. Even as an undergraduate, he rode the train to visit his cousin, a youth corper then, serving in Maiduguri in 1986. The journey took about two days from Enugu, but, was a relished experience, because, it afforded this writer the one and only opportunity so far of seeing a large part of Nigeria’s rural hinterland along the train routes. Many businesses were booming then along the routes. With the “death” of the railways came also the death of those businesses and the concomitant job losses. Two good things about travelling by train those days were the bliss and serenity of the countryside, one imbibes, along the rail routes. So, despite the odds then (beggars and filthiness of the coaches), a growing number of Nigerians are feeling nostalgic for the days when the train was one of the major and safest means of transportation.

The rehabilitation of the railway system would open up more businesses and would create more jobs. And more, as Dr. Isa Umar Faruk right noted that the major problem that makes our highways to be dilapidated is the fact that railway is not working. That is why you see heavy duty trucks on the road. Heavy freights are supposed to be transported through the railway. The absence of railway makes the lifespan of our roads to be short. If railway is brought back to life, the rural economy will be brought back to life. When that happens, inter regional trade will be boosted. The rate of unemployment will be reduced. If the railway is fully rehabilitated, it will boost the land transport sector and the economy of the country as well.

Moses Ebosele, writing for the Guardian, posted a report that has it that "Nigeria is a country blessed with a lot of solid mineral resources spanning throughout the country. Natural resources in Nigeria are grossly under-utilised as a result of the lack of adequate inland transport to enhance their proper functioning. Also, there is a need to effectively transport agricultural products within Nigeria from the hinterland to the major cities. This will promote development in the agricultural sector. It is glaring that the existing traffic capacity (land transport facilities) will not balance with the growing traffic demands. The existing highway trunks are extremely congested. Subsequently, devising alternative means of land transport should be of paramount importance to the Nigerian economic development. As a result of the aforementioned facts, an urgent need arises to develop an effective means of railway transportation. In summary, it is evident that the construction of Nigerian Railway Modernisation Projects shall essentially resolve the inland transportation problem in Nigeria. In today's Nigeria, transportation and power are the major bottlenecks to development. The contribution of modern railway to the Nigerian economic development cannot therefore, be over-emphasized. Railway is a necessary backbone for making Nigeria one of the 20 most developed economies in the world by year 2020”.

This writer implores the federal government to rehabilitate and modernize the railway tracks, as the existing and abandoned ones are outdated and out of tune with modern realities. A well integrated railway system in Nigeria can haul about 40 million tonnes of goods and 6.2 million passengers yearly besides creating numerous jobs while adding value to the national economy, especially in the agricultural sector. In the report above, Moses Ebosele quoted a former employee of the Nigeria Railway Corporation as having challenged the federal government to develop the political will to turn the railway sector around. Pa Michael R. Ogbebor, while lamenting the negative pull the non-fixing of the railways is having on the nation’s economy, advised that the only way to tackle unemployment and chaotic transport situation is to fix the railway. His words: “I’m worried that all tiers of government are wasting scarce resources to construct and fix roads on a regular basis. The solution is to reduce the stress on our roads by fixing the rail system… it is cheaper to transport goods through rail than roads. Railways during our time facilitated trade between the South and North, East and West. Today, numerous farmers are discouraged from farming because of high cost of transporting produce.”

Return to Agriculture

The irony about Nigeria is that it has Green-White-Green as its national colours. Green represents self reliance through agriculture and white depicts peace. But the reality is that Nigeria cannot feed its citizens again, as hunger, poverty and ignorance are now the nation’s trademarks. Peace is also elusive in the country, as armed robbers, kidnappers, rapists, ritualists etc have taken over the western, eastern and southern parts of the country, while the northern part is a no-go area, due to the onslaught the Boko Haram terrorists has unleashed over there. Where are the food-security and self- sufficiency and peace the national flag depicts? That shows that every thing about Nigeria is fraught with lies and deceit, right from the onset.

Prior to the discovery, exploration, drilling and exportation of oil in Nigeria, the country was self-sufficient in food production. Nigeria abandoned everything because of oil money that has turned into a curse instead of being a blessing (Nigeria leaders turned God’s blessing into a curse). There was no hunger and extreme poverty in the land when Nigeria depended wholly on agriculture ( food and cash crops) for revenue. Also, unemployment was virtually unheard of then, because, the land employed so many people. Many landmarks, which are still standing till today, were constructed with the proceeds from exported agricultural produce. University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Cocoa House; Liberty Stadium Ibadan, etc, were constructed with the money made through agric exports. The then regional governments established farm settlements where communities were created for people to live and work the land. Then, Nigeria had abundant food, but since it started chasing fantasies, hunger has been staring its citizens in the face. Lack of continuity, which has been the bane of development in Nigeria, wiped away the farm settlement scheme, as successive governments jettisoned the ideas, policies and projects they inherited from their predecessors and started things anew, which their own successors discarded upon replacing them in government. Farm settlements were good projects which should have stood the test of time just like the Israeli Kibbutz, which has survived till this day. Jon Fidler, a journalist and a member of Kibbutz Beit Ha'emek, wrote that it is almost a century since a small group of young Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, inspired by Zionist and socialist ideals, set up the first kvutza ("group" in Hebrew, renamed kibbutz, "community" when membership grew) on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. They viewed the kvutza as a closely-knit, egalitarian community, based on common ownership of the means of production and consumption, where all, conferring together, made decisions by majority vote and bore responsibility for all. Despite economic setbacks and a waning ideology, the kibbutz movement has since become the world's largest communitarian movement. By definition... a kibbutz (or kvutza) is:

"... a voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families." (Encyclopedia Judaica, 1969)

"...an organization for settlement which maintains a collective society of members organized on the basis of general ownership of possessions. Its aims are self-labor, equality and cooperation in all areas of production, consumption and education."

(Legal definition in the Cooperative Societies Register)

Social life in the kibbutz revolved around the dining room, where people would meet, eat and talk. Decisions were made by direct democracy. In discussions, which often continued late into the night, members would decide how to allocate the following day's work, guard duties, kitchen chores and other tasks, as well as debate problems and make decisions.

Kibbutz economy was based entirely on agriculture at first; later, on agriculture plus industry.

In Nigeria’s case, the farm settlements of the then Western, Eastern and North regions, modelled after the Israeli kibbutz, created communities from no where and many jobs also, as within those agricultural communities; schools, which needed teachers; churches, which needed pastors; markets, which needed traders; shops, houses which needed maintenance workers such as carpenters, brick layers, painters etc; health centres which needed health workers; bakeries which needed bakers etc were built . One of the farm settlements established by the then Eastern Regional government was in Lokpanta, between Okigwe and Awgu, along the Enugu – Port Harcourt Expressway, and the town still exist till today. Another was in Igbariam, that has now a campus of the Anambra State University (faculty of Agriculture and more).

Dupe Olatunbosun in “Western Nigerian Farm Settlement: An Appraisal”, published in The Journal of Developing Areas Vol. 5, No. 3 (Apr., 1971), pp. 417-428, emphasized the importance of farm settlement thus: “although much has been written on western Nigerian farm settlements, perhaps enough to make them appear to be a threadbare topic, when it is realized that for many years to come, employment opportunities in the farm settlements and the extent to which agricultural progress can be accelerated are inextricably related to Nigeria’s development, the topic assumes greater importance than some people seem to think. Nigeria’s estimated population increase will give the problem of unemployment. Findings show that Nigeria’s industrial sector can produce employment for no more than 3 percent of the new comers to the labor force. Thus for the next 10-15 years, agriculture should be regarded as the “self-employment sector”. Since the agricultural population will almost inevitably experience an absolute increase, farm settlements provide a reasonable solution if properly organized and managed”.

This advice from John N.P. Okonkwo, a former commissioner, to the Anambra State government should be adopted by all the states government of Nigeria: “There is another revolution I will advise you to launch in our State, and that is the Agricultural Revolution, otherwise known as Agrarian Revolution, the type which Dr. Mike Okpara, the Premier of Former Eastern Nigeria, launched in 1962 in the then Eastern Nigeria. Premier Mike Okpara launched what he described as his "Quinquennial Agrarian Revolution" (1962-1967).

In this Agricultural Revolution, the Government of Eastern Nigeria, during the regime of Dr. Mike Okpara, fully and successfully utilized farmers, Multipurpose Cooperative Societies, Cooperative Community Farms and Cooperative Farm Settlements to increase the production of food crops and also cash crops. The Agrarian Revolution of Premier Dr. Mike Okpara was very successful. He achieved massive, accelerated, tremendous and unprecedented production of food crops, as well as cash crops, flooding Eastern Nigeria and its environs, with abundance of foodstuffs, livestock and eggs, thus turning Eastern Nigeria into a land flowing with milk and honey. I participated in drafting the memo, with which the then Eastern Nigeria Government lunched the Cooperative Farm Settlement Scheme in 1963. I was the First Cooperative Officer to supervise Igbariam Cooperative Farm Settlement in1963”.

To be continued!

TIT BITS

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2mZrmCS0d0 (What a dance? lol)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPeWiL_DvuA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eVxUBz-_KI&list=RD3eVxUBz-_KI

THE THANX IS ALL YOURS!!!

Continued from Part 23

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