Sunday, 20 April 2014
Who Will Save Awo's Agro-Economic Legacies In Ogun State From Total Destruction By Prof Bisi Ogunfowora
The legacies of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which made the former Western Region of Nigeria first among equals, were in the areas of education, agriculture and food security, industrialization, employment generation, and massive physical and social infrastructures development. In a bid to maximize the multiplier effects of Awo’s agricultural transformation initiatives on the economy of the Region, the Economic Project Performance Unit (EPPU), the forerunner of Odua Investment Company Limited, developed commercialization plans in 1976 for all the large scale agricultural projects in the region and constituted them into limited liability companies. When the Region was dissolved into Ogun, Ondo, Oyo and Osun States, Okitipupa Oil Palm Limited, among other agricultural projects, was bequeathed to Ondo State, while Western Livestock Company, among other agricultural projects, was bequeathed to Oyo state.
Ogun State inherited Apoje and Lomiro oil palm, as well as Ilushin and Ikenne rubber plantations, among other agricultural projects. These projects, all of which are still proudly regarded as Chief Awolowo’s memorable agro-economic legacies in Ogun State, used to be some of the largest and most productive agricultural plantations in Nigeria. They served as laboratories for practical exercises in Agri-business courses in tertiary institutions; and they also provided employment and consumer goods to citizens, raw materials to agro-industries, and income to government.
Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) managed these projects in Ogun State in the first few years of their incorporation into limited liability companies. The projects recorded above average performance in terms of technical efficiency, income and employment generation as well as their contributions to agro-industrial growth. However, during successive military administrations, the management of these projects witnessed unprecedented interference, which not only starved them of investment and operating funds but also promoted the adoption of management practices, which were at variance with sound commercial practices. The result was the gradual deterioration in all indices of plantation and agri-business performance. Regrettably, the succeeding civilian regimes, all led by self-acclaimed Awoists, paid only perfunctory attention to agricultural transformation, probably because they erroneously perceived investment in agriculture, as compared to other social and physical infrastructure projects, to be politically less visible sources of dividends of democracy, and therefore very low in the Governors’ scale of investment and governance priorities. In consequence, the performance of these agricultural projects deteriorated further while they failed woefully to serve as instrument of employment generation and socio-economic development. This deterioration reached a climax during the eight-year (2003-2011) administration of Otunba Gbenga Daniel, largely because the projects, particularly Apoje and Lomiro oil palm as well as Ikenne rubber plantations, were subjected to variants of “dubious” lease and concession, which, perhaps inadvertently, turned them into unproductive instruments of political patronage, primordial relationship and rent seeking.
Fearing that the conceptual and implementation framework of the concession might “kill plantation agriculture” in the State, and in deference to due process, Governor Amosun set up Ogun State Judicial Commission of Inquiry in September 2011. The Commission’s terms of reference were to investigate, among other issues, the concession of the 3 agricultural projects between January 2004 and May 29, 2011. The white paper on the report of the Commission, which was published on 1st of March 2012, recommended and Government accepted the termination of the concession of Apoje, Lomiro and Ikenne plantations. In the learned judgment of the Commissioners, the lease and concession were technically and legally flawed; poorly conceptualized, executed and supervised; resulting in considerable loss of revenue and opportunity for employment generation, and stunted growth in agro-industrial and ancillary commercial activities in project communities.
The good people of Ogun State cannot thank Governor Amosun enough for his courage and patriotic rescue mission by expelling the phony Concessionaires from these projects. However, a critical appraisal of over nine months of projects reactivation activities revealed that two interrelated challenges had emerged, namely: (i) the problem of installing an effective “interim” project management that could firmly secure assets of the projects while ensuring that their latent productive capacities are harnessed into the internally generated revenue (IGR) of the State in a transparent and accountable manner; and (ii) the urgency of selecting the most appropriate reactivation option that could maximize reactivation dividends overtime.
An independent analysis of project reactivation activities during the past 9 month-“interim” management period revealed that Ogun State government will continue to incur colossal economic losses if the current ADC’s management template is sustained and unduly prolonged. Areas of such losses would be through:
• Continued sales of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) to local processors who are using crude processing technology, obtaining 9% extraction rate as compared to 19% from a standard mill.
• Preponderance of rotten FFB, particularly in Apoje, due to inadequate coverage of harvesting operations, a consequence of inaccessibility due to lack of weeding, lack of appropriate harvesting equipment and transportation facilities, inadequate working capital and processing capacity by local processors.
• Inadequacy or absence of any productivity-enhancing maintenance operation such as pruning, weeding, fertilization and replanting, a situation that is sure to result in further deterioration in the productive capacity of the ageing plantations.
• Emerging evidence that the interim management operations may inadvertently degenerate into another detrimental instrument of political patronage and a goldmine for unintended beneficiaries.
It is in the above context that Governor Amosun needs to:
• Urgently restructure and strengthen the current ADC’s management outfit in order to maximize technical and monitoring efficiency, transparency and accountability during the interim period.
• Undertake urgent repairs of existing processing mill in Apoje or install a new one in order to maximize harvesting and processing efficiency.
• Most importantly, shorten the interim management period and save Awo’s agro-economic legacies from total destruction by fast-tracking the selection of reputable investors with proven financial, technical and managerial capability to turn around and expand the plantations so they can be as productive and financially rewarding as Okomu, Presco and Okitipupa oil palm PLCs.
To be sure, it will be a regrettable economic disaster of monumental proportion if, due to ineffective and compromised security and supervising officials, government inadvertently permits the physical assets and products of the plantations to be freely and indiscriminately poached as was reported to be the case in Apoje and Lomiro plantations at the onset of take-over. It will even be more unfortunate if government allows the latent assts of the plantations to remain untapped as a result of due-process and politically-induced bureaucracy and inaction; or if ADC continues to adopt the former Concessionaires’ style of exploitation by concentrating only on partial harvesting and sales of FFB to local processors while substantially neglecting other productivity-enhancing maintenance operations; or if the “interim” management is deliberately or inadvertently prolonged and allowed to degenerate into another instrument of political patronage, or an illegal money making venture for unintended beneficiaries.
The good people of Ogun State and the projects’ host communities in particular, have been anxiously waiting for Governor Amosun to save Awo’s agro-economic legacies from total destruction by fast tracking the process of choosing and installing the most appropriate reactivation option/s for the projects. In this regard, any delay or inaction will be very costly and counterproductive in terms of the irreversible damage to these plantations, as well as loss of revenue and opportunities for employment generation and rural industrialization. The performances of sister companies like Okomu and Presco Oil Palm PLC clearly illustrate the yet untapped economic potentials of the oil palm plantations in Ogun State.
It is important to emphasize that the patriotic struggle of concerned citizens in the reactivation of these projects is basically socio-economically inspired. It is designed to contribute not only to the rejuvenation of agro-industrial development initiatives of Ogun State government, but also to the emancipation of disenchanted youths and vulnerable class in the host communities from agonizing joblessness, poverty, hunger and socio-economic deprivation. Most importantly, it is designed to ensure that the agro- economic legacies of Chief Awolowo are not consigned into the dustbin of history.
As the citizens of Ogun State patiently wait for the dividends of democracy from all the elements of Governor Amosun’s transformation agenda, we are reminded that Ogun State has, for a long time, been a vibrant political stage in which all political actors had their entrances and exits. While some political actors, like Chief Awolowo, had glorious exit, leaving behind memorable agricultural and socio-economic legacies, other political actors had inglorious exit, leaving behind a burden of monumental debts, deteriorating agriculture and decaying social and physical infrastructure.
Regrettably, none of the professed Awoists that governed the State during the last two decades took any concrete steps to save Apoje, Lomiro, Ilushin and Ikenne plantations from destructive exploitation and progressive deterioration. It is the hope and fervent prayers of the good people of Ogun State that Governor Amosun would take proactive and measurable steps to resuscitate all Awo’s agro-economic legacies by putting his leadership authority not only to the service of vibrant and productive agricultural transformation agenda in the State, but more importantly to the service of justice and equity to the host communities in which these plantations are located.
The challenge Governor Amosun now faces is to show convincingly that the citizens of Ogun State are neither waiting in vain nor being hopelessly hopeful for the dividends of democracy from his transformation agenda, agriculture inclusive. Only time will tell.