One of the key indicators for measuring overall development in the world is the Human Development Index (HDI). This is a composite index based on three indicators: longevity, as measured by life expectancy; education attainment, as measured by a combination of adult literacy and the combined gross primary, secondary and tertiary enrolment ratio; and standard of living, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. The HDI is used to rate and rank all the countries of the world, from 1 to 187 countries that are assessed every year.

The 2014 Human Development Report (HDR) of Organization Institute for Statistics and the World Bank presents Nigeria’s HDI value for 2013 as 0.504 which is in the low human development category positioning the country at 152 out of 187 countries and territories. This is shocking giving the fact that Nigeria generates huge revenues from the oil sector.

Following the first discovery of crude oil at Olobiri in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, drums were rolled out as an elated people rejoiced over the opportunities it would bring to their community and the nation as a whole. These expectations were justified as Nigeria’s crude oil production capacity increased to as much as 2.5 million barrels per day, making the nation Africa’s largest producer of oil and the sixth largest oil producing country in the world. Unfortunately, since the discovery of crude oil in Nigeria, the economy became heavily dependent on the oil sector for foreign exchange earnings and revenue.

“Why would a country richly blessed with oil and other natural resources remain in poverty” one would ask? The simple answer among other reasons would be that Nigeria lacked the capacity to add value to its crude oil.  The extraction and exploitation of the oil involved capital-intensive techniques (in terms of machineries, hi-tech and skills) which Nigeria did not have at the time when oil was first discovered and exploited in the late 1950s and beyond. As a result of this, foreign investors dominated the oil sector and the huge earnings generated from the oil sector were repatriated by the foreigners to their countries. Thus, leaving Nigeria with meagre resources for development purposes.  .

Nigeria’s current status can be likened to the Dutch Disease Syndrome. The Dutch Disease Syndrome is a situation whereby the sector that was initially a major source of economic growth (Agriculture in the case of Nigeria) starts declining in performance due to the discovery of a natural resource.This disease resulted in a big problem because the booming oil sector had low employment rates as many Nigerians lacked the skills and competences required for the various processes involved in oil production and refinery. Moreover, the proceeds of the booming oil sector presented a false picture of abundance (“national cake”) resulting in a near total neglect of other sectors, particularly  the agricultural sector which had the potential for  tacking unemployment and poverty being experienced in the country.

In the 1960s and up to the early 1970s, Nigeria’s agriculture flourished. The country was one of the world’s highest producers of palm oil, cocoa, and groundnut. However, overtime agriculture which contributed immensely to the Nigerian economy and in particular the GDP remained neglected for crude oil. The sector before its neglect provided food for the increasing population and supplied adequate raw materials (and labour input) to a growing industrial sector; a major source of employment for about 70% of its population; generation of foreign exchange earnings; and provision of market for the products of the industrial sector.

In recent times, more attention is being drawn to the agricultural sector through the Value Chain Approach. This approach involves addressing the major constraints faced by farmers and producers, processors, traders and other businesses at multiple levels and points along a given value chain. This will inevitably include a wide range of activities such as ensuring access to good quality inputs, facilitating access to cheaper and quality inputs, strengthening the delivery of business and financial services, enabling the flow of information, facilitating improved market access through value added products, and so on. Evidence of this is the reduction of food import bills, price stability of food in the country, despite fall in oil price and devaluation of Naira. This puts the agricultural sector in the front burner as a key area to consider in the economy for diversification as the sector has proven to be able to engage 70% of the population in employment which the oil and gas sector was unable to achieve.

The quality of education is another issue for diversification.  Education for Rural People is definitely an effective means of strengthening human and social capital for entrepreneurship, agro-food business management and for addressing the basic needs of small farmers, the rural workers and marginalized groups. However, it is imperative that education at all levels be relevant to the livelihood options of the people, otherwise it will not enable people to manage and improve their production options and secure social development and peace building in our communities.  Otherwise, education will simply be a passport for emigration from rural areas, which quite often is the case.

Let me conclude this article with a famous Chinese proverb, “If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain.  If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees.  If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.” Human capital development is specifically the major approach China is following on its steady rise to becoming a global economic powerhouse.  This approach has to be replicated in Nigeria, particularly, with a special focus on the rural communities who up till now have the nation’s biggest, neglected and silent majority. This can be achieved through interdisciplinary alliances and partnerships among those working in agriculture and rural development as well as education sectors.

  • Peter Popoola,is a Senior Management Development Officer, Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI), Ilorin; member, Forum for Inclusive Nigerian Development (FIND)

Culled from Vanguard