The Hater of Nigeria: A Rebuttal of Sonala Olumense’s Article

Bayo Onanuga

By Bayo Onanuga

Coming in the countdown to the 2023 general elections, Sonala Olumense’s two-part article leaves no one in doubt of his mission to dissuade Nigerians from voting for the All Progressives Congress in the forthcoming elections.
Unfortunately, his spin is based on naive idealism, crass ignorance and pretentious partisanship that leaves all but one party on his self-made ballot.

Let us deal with the facts. The APC in 2015, following a progressive critique of the political economy of Nigeria, concluded that a country that does not grow what it eats would never have food security. Besides, over 50 per cent of Nigerians in agriculture – farmers, peasants and middle-class agripreneurs- are discouraged by the high imports of foreign foods which sabotage their productive efforts to live by feeding the country.
The APC took the progressive position to stand by the Nigerian farmer, protect agriculture and restore food security. It canvassed for the votes of Nigerians based on this manifesto and secured its mandate in the 2015 general elections.

As soon as it assumed power, the APC government wasted no time in walking its talk on zero tolerance for food imports. The Buhari administration excluded 41 food imports from accessing foreign exchange through the official window and slammed a 71 per cent tariff on imports.

Focussing on rice, maize, cassava and other crops with multiple uses, the Anchor Borrowers Programme, launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in the first year of his administration gave generous credit to over 4.8 million farmers and linked them with industrial off-takers to secure their investment. For the first time in history, Nigeria was able to cut rice imports of 2 million metric tonnes by 98.4 per cent.

But what did unpatriotic Nigerian rice importers do? Rather than diverting their investment to domestic production, they sabotaged the policy by engaging in the illegal smuggling of rice and other commodities. Suddenly, Benin, a country with a population of 6 million recorded over 2 million metric tonnes of rice imports in one year. A high percentage of this found its way to the Nigerian market. To further protect Nigerian farmers from these saboteurs, the APC-led government closed the borders making it possible for local production to soar.

Today, the APC can proudly claim the return of the groundnut, maize, beans and rice pyramids as a promise made and delivered. The value chains of these crops have breathed new life into the agro-industry as companies are using them as local substitutes for imports. The return of the rice pyramids has revived the hitherto moribund rice mills and promoted the establishment of new ones, the recent being the Imota Rice mill project in Lagos considered the largest in capacity in Africa.

Sonala should fact-check this: The associations of maize, cassava and rice growers with members across the federation have acknowledged the positive transformation of their means of livelihood. They said there has been no time when agriculture has been given such a robust impetus.

Encouraged by this policy, a giant player in rice production, Olam announced last year that it would double its production from 120 million to 240 million metric tonnes by cultivating over 5,000 hectares of additional land for rice. Another player, Coscharis was encouraged to develop 2,500 hectares of land to grow rice. In the last seven years, the potential of Nigeria to meet its 6.8 million domestic demand for rice has improved by reaching 5.4 million metric tonnes.

Rather than commend these giant strides in reducing the dependency of Nigerians on foreign food imports, haters of APC like Sonala prefer to dwell on the challenges the nation is facing in trying to eat what it grows. They advertise the increase in the price of rice, the evidence of market distortions in which higher production and smoother linkage of the crop to market would eventually overcome and unpredictable floods which ravaged cultivated plantations, as the basis to clamour for the return of rice imports.

But it is not only agriculture whose demographic and civic significance has been prioritised by the APC government in executing its contract with the people that deserves recognition for fidelity to electoral pledges, the achievements in infrastructure are also a source of pride to the APC.

However much the farmers grow, they have to move their crops to the market. The critical importance of transportation infrastructure in the agricultural value chain explains the attention it has received in the last seven years. Rail, which was introduced to Nigeria to move export crops to the ports, has regained its role. The completion of 156 kilometres Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail and the extension of 8.72kilometres to Apapa port to ease exports, 186-kilometre Kaduna-Abuja standard gauge, 327-kilometre Itakpe-Warri standard gauge rail and Abuja Light Rail showed that APC has lived up to its promise on rail infrastructures.

It has much more to brag about with roads. According to the Minister of Works & Housing, Babatunde Fashola, the APC has constructed 8,352 kilometres of roads by engaging 339,955 workers. It has broken the jinx of the Second Niger Bridge by completing and opening it for travel. It is currently building a long bridge that will bring better transportation to the people of Bonny.

Investments in air and sea ports may have trailed these mass-oriented transportation sectors, but it has not delayed work on air and sea ports. The new Lagos terminal is a great sight to behold. It has reduced traffic congestion, boosted the image of the country and improve passenger management.

In a cheeky drivel, Sonala condescendingly writes that he has not said that the administration has not built a road there or a footbridge there. If the Second Niger bridge is his idea of a footbridge, then one should be concerned that age may be eroding his capacity for value judgments.

At the last count, there is no sector that the Buhari administration has not touched. Housing has constructed 13,000 homes and is building 20,000 more. Many initiatives in power generation and distribution such as the incremental 4,000MW project, Solar Power Naija, Nigeria Electrification project and the take-off of the Rural Electrification Project constitute the multi-dimensional approach of the administration to delivering electricity to the people.

In a cheeky drivel, Sonala condescendingly writes that he has not said that the administration has not built a road there or a footbridge there. If the Second Niger bridge is his idea of a footbridge, then one should be concerned that age may be eroding his capacity for value judgments.

Nigeria’s digital economy has received a lot of boost through projects such as the launch of the new national 5G policy, the Nigerian Highway right of way for fibre cabling, the national ICT infrastructure backbone and the construction of a Tier 4 data centre.

In oil and gas, the discovery of oil in Bauchi, new oil mining lease agreements for deep water exploration, the ongoing Nigeria-Morocco pipeline project and the successful completion of Nigeria’s first marginal field bid round give hope that our country is on the path of progress.

To demonstrate commitment to domestic refining of oil to produce petroleum products, the Buhari administration rehabilitated the Port Harcourt refinery, supported the take-off of six modular refineries in the Niger Delta and launched the Nigerian Upstream Cost Optimisation Programme to reduce operating expenses.

Under the APC administration, efforts to expand opportunities in non-oil sectors have led to remarkable initiatives in the solid minerals sector. For the first time since independence, Nigerian gold became part of our reserves in 2021. Private investors, such as Segilola were encouraged to build gold mines and three others were licenced to build gold refineries. To support Nigerians in the sector, the Buhari administration launched the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative and established institutes of mining technology to build their human capacity.

The most outstanding achievement of this administration is the resources committed to taking care of the underprivileged, the poor and the vulnerable.

First, it established the National Social Investment Programme and registered 46 million persons from 11 million households. Second, it created a conditional cash transfer programme which gives out N10,000 to 2 million beneficiaries monthly.

Third, the administration launched the Survival Fund, the National Youth Investment fund and the National Special Public works Programme. The survival Fund has provided support for over 12 million registered beneficiaries.
On jobs, the strategy has been to empower existing small, medium and large-scale firms with credit to enable them to expand their operations and create more jobs. In this regard, institutions such as the Development Bank of Nigeria have given out N482 billion to over 200,000 MSMEs and the Bank of Industry has disbursed N1 trillion to over 3 million MSMEs.

Contrary to the doomsday imagination of Sonala, these beneficiaries will be engaging in self-love by wishing the APC to continue to run the affairs of the country because of its impact on their lives.

The more persuasive argument to vote APC is that it has presented Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos State whose legendary vision and deep intellect enabled Lagos to respond to the financial, infrastructural and environmental challenges of the early ’20s and survived. This is the verdict of history that Sonala does not see or agree with.

The candidate of the APC raised the revenue of Lagos State from N600 million to N5 billion. Nigeria needs a president who can use his intellect and network to increase the country’s IGR. Nigeria needs electricity. It was Tinubu that launched the first Independent Power project with the Enron barges in Nigeria. Nigeria needs a president who can solve its energy problems. Nigerians need a self-reliant economy free from dependency on imports. Tinubu built a self-reliant economy that is still working today as more and more Nigerians troop to Lagos to achieve their dreams.
On February 25, 2023, the good people of this country who share the vision of the APC will vote for the party. Maybe, Sonala will then realise that this campaign of calumny and hatred is destined to fail.

*Bayo Onanuga, Director, Media and Publicity, APC Presidential Campaign Council