Buhari strategises for employment opportunities through agriculture













THE critical role of agriculture in generating jobs for numerous Nigerians re-echoed at the weekend in Abuja during the inauguration of President Mohammed Buhari.

Agriculture according to experts has the potential of generating “millions of jobs” in Nigeria, if adequately harnessed.
The immediate past minister of Agriculture, Dr. Adewunmi Adeshina, who, incidentally is now President of Africa Development Bank (AfDB) campaigned vigorously for the revival of agriculture as part of measures to generate numerous jobs on a sustainable basis during the last administration.

Also, experts and labour leaders have called for agricultural legislation to pave way for policy and strategy that creates synergy between industrial agriculture and smallholder farmers with a focus on internal food security and food export.
Presenting his inaugural speech at the colourful ceremony, Buhari explained that unemployment, especially among youths feature prominently in the All Progressive Congress (APC) manifesto.

The APC had during the campaign pledged to create three million jobs on an annually basis.
According to Buhari, the new administration intends to attack “frontally” the challenges associated with unemployment through revival of agriculture, solid minerals mining as well as credits to small and medium size businesses to kick–start these enterprises.

He said: “We shall quickly examine the best way to revive major industries and accelerate the revival and development of our railways, roads and general infrastructure”.

Buhari’s resolve to ginger agricultural activities is coming on the heels of calls by the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on the government to tackle unemployment challenges ravaging the country.
Specifically, NLC President Ayuba Wabba is of the opinion that adequate attention must be paid to agriculture “which has a capacity of employing millions of our people”.

He explained that Government must lead the way by making farming attractive to young people through the provision of modern agricultural inputs, equipment and other relevant infrastructure.

“There is also need to establish strong linkages between different sectors of our economy especially with regards to promoting industrialization and manufacturing that is focused on turning our agricultural products and other natural resources into quality semi processed and fully processed goods”.

He said: “An economy that is subserviently reliant on importation is only exporting jobs. There is need for government to begin to look at development from the prism of tapping into the abundant economic potentials offered by the entrepreneurial drive of the Nigerian people and the resources locked up in our soil.

“Government must build a bridge between the two. The bridge should be transparent and effective investment in other critical national infrastructure such as efficient education system, health system, railway system, national inter-state super highway grids, inland waterways, and dams”, Wabba said.

NLC explained that with 1.8 million youths being turned out of tertiary institutions annually, and with unemployment standing at a conservative estimate of 53 per cent, “there is virtually no household in Nigeria today where there is not at least one unemployed graduate who has spent the last three to nine years looking for the elusive job.

“In a country in dear need of scientists, it is unimaginable that hundreds of thousands of core science graduates are among the army of the unemployed. To say that this is a time bomb ticking gradually towards inevitable explosion is a gross understatement”.

Setting agenda for the new administration, NLC emphasized the need to diversify the economy and by extension create more jobs.

He said: “The diversification of the economy from oil is long overdue and is made urgent by recent developments in the crude oil production and market scenes, especially the shale oil and new findings across the world.

The enunciation of an agricultural legislation, policy and strategy that create synergy between industrial agriculture and small-holder farmers with a focus on internal food security and food export is a necessity”.

Despite the country’s wealth, Nigeria according to labour leaders remains “ironically a country with a high level of economic growth co-existing with a high level of poverty and inequality.

“While this growth is skewed towards enabling the rich to get richer no attempt is made to ensure that the wealth trickles down to the extreme poor. The most affected, have been workers and working families under the yoke of poor remuneration, uncertainty in the workplace, absence of reasonable social benefits, vulnerable work conditions and retrenchments.

“While the country in recent times is confronted with apparent fiscal and structural challenges exacerbated by low returns on oil price, the agony of workers should not be compounded by making them sacrificial lambs of economic mismanagement.
“Rather, the focus should be on job security and improving on the compensation structure as well as standardizing the social dialogue system to stem inequality and the brewing social discontent.

“The starting point should be to clear the outstanding wages of workers who have been denied payment of salaries ranging from two to eight months by all tiers of government. To argue that these wages will be kept in abeyance because they were owed by past governments will be unfair and unjust as we believe that government is a continuum”, said Wabba.
Besides generating more jobs, NLC leaders are emphasising need for job security, pointing out that casualisation “continues to be an issue in our relations with employers, many of whom are not prepared to pay for the labour they use”.

NLC said: ”We at the Nigeria Labour Congress recognise the transformations that have taken place around the world of work, where rigidity has given way to flexibility. However, we do not think Casualisation can be an option. This is a grievous anti-worker practice, which makes nonsense of our quest for decent jobs.

“In line with our promises to the Nigerian workers, the Nigeria Labour Congress under my leadership will offer strident resistance against casualization and outsourcing of jobs.

“While we encourage our affiliate unions to re-double their efforts in tackling this hydra-headed monster, we enjoin the government to partner with us to stamp out this ugly menace in our workplaces.

“The first direct symptom of the prevailing economic crunch; the continuous devaluation of the naira, has dealt devastating blows on the purchasing power of the Nigerian worker.

“This is unacceptable! The last national minimum wage of N18, 000 which was negotiated in 2010, is clearly no longer of any meaningful economic value to workers as the inflationary trends engendered by the continuing devaluation of the naira has made the minimum wage now grossly inadequate”, said NLC.

It explained that the nation’s economy continues to grow without jobs bringing benefits to only a few. “We demand an economy that provides jobs and other benefits. Similarly, we demand a halt to the de-industrialization process and the free fall of the Naira. We believe the restoration of the textile industry will be a good starting point.

“The development of an industrial policy that revives and harnesses the potentials of iron and steel and petrochemical complexes as well as the founding of national Information and Communication Technology (ICT) centres are both desirable and necessary.

“A coherent response to the national debt burden (put at N1.3 trillion) that ensures government’s obligation to the citizenry is not encumbered and the erection of stronger fiscal buffers are similarly necessary for stabilizing and growing the economy”, Wabba said.

The new administration is also expected to consolidate on the immediate past government’s plan to revive textile sector and generate not less than 100,000 jobs.

Indeed, the newly launched national cotton, textile and garment policy according to the former Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr. Olusegun Aganga is expected to outlay the roadmap for the revival of the comatose textile industry.

This comes as government has also sealed a pact for the revival of industry with an international garment manufacturer, Vlisco group.

Speaking on the initiative in Abuja, the Minister said the pact is expected to generate 100,000 direct jobs between now and 2017 with another 1.3million indirect jobs expected.

He explained that about $59 investment flow is expected to be committed into the Nigerian industrial master plan with another $14 billion going into petroleum products, chemicals and fertilizer sub-sectors.

Aganga argued that the steps are already being taken to diversify Nigeria’s economy as shown in the identification of 13 items government is targeting to diversify the national economy base.

He added: “If we must realize our industrial dreams, we cannot continue to be a country that will be importing petroleum products but a net exporter of refined petroleum products. As at today, Nigeria already has a solution to the plummeting oil prices in the international market. All that is required is accelerating implementation process. By doing this, we will be able to diversify the economy of this nation. All military and para-military agencies and government schools are now to purchase Nigerian-made textiles and garments. In addition, we will work with the private sector, schools in particular are to be encouraged to source their materials locally.”

With an estimated, 170 million people, the Minister submitted that Nigeria is in line to becoming the third largest nation in the world by 2070 after India and China, which is a massive asset for textile industry and other related goods to thrive.

He also lamented the inability of Nigeria and other African countries to make maximum use of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows unfettered access to the United States economy.

His words: “Most countries in Africa have the opportunity to export goods to the United States of America under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Sadly, most African countries have not been able to take advantage of this opportunity available to the exportation of non-oil sector. Only Mauritius, Lesotho, Kenya and South Africa have taken the advantage of this opportunity. Nigeria has not taken the opportunity to do this quota and duty free to export goods to the United States.”

He listed the advantages of the policy to include a rise from the current level of 24, 000 jobs in the sector to 200,000 direct employment by 2017.

“Also, indirect employment is expected to increase from 650,000, which we have today to 1.3milion jobs by 2017. It is also expected that cotton farmers, factory workers, tailors, fashion designers, garment manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, logistic providers will all benefit from this policy. I am aware that some investors are presently exploring setting up of a tailoring academy in Nigeria. This will be another game changer that will have effect on job creation.”

On his part, the Chief Executive Officer of Vlisco group, Hans Ouwendijk, said the strategic partnership is a win-win situation for all concerned.

He said: “We want to assist Nigeria revitalize this important sector. Vlisco group has been operating since 1846. It designs, prints and distributes different garment brands. All the brands of garments we will be manufacturing in Nigeria will be a copy of what we do in other parts of the world with the same quality. We have started the process of getting cotton here in Nigeria for our operations. Discussions are on going with a Nigerian company to make this happen. From 1st of April 2015, our products will include cottons that are sourced from Nigeria. We have indeed began manufacturing in Nigeria and some of the products that were manufactured here have been exported to neighbouring countries like Ivory Coasts and Benin Republic.”

The NLC boss who addressed sundry issues during the May Day rally in Abuja recently, said: “We wish to emphasise that that Nigerian workers and indeed the whole global community expect a lot from him (Buhari) and his party (APC). The achievements of Buhari’s government will depend on the manner in which his administration immediately hits the ground, post inauguration; to deliver the change it promised Nigerians.

“Social challenges facing the Nigerian workers are many but it appears that most compelling are uncertainties in the work place. Many Nigerian workers are no longer sure of the commitment of employers to the fundamental work place principle of timely and adequate pay for work done.

“The gale of unpaid salary arrears in different public and private establishments has only compounded the perennial injustice of poor compensation for the sweat and blood of Nigerian workers.

“To crown frustrations faced by the average worker in Nigeria is the overt and covert threat of retrenchment devoid of reasonable social benefit or retirement plans. Delay and outright refusal by some states and federal agencies to pay the gratuities and pension of our retirees have forced our older colleagues into an undignified post work life. This is most unfortunate, reprehensible, abominable and condemnable”.

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