Governors Rauf Aregbesola and Abiola Ajimobi of Osun and Oyo States respectively, on Friday said that there is no better alternative to oil in resuscitating Nigeria’s economy than agriculture.
They therefore, urged Nigerians to renew their commitment towards revamping their agricultural practice to ensure food security.
The governors made the remarks in separate speeches during the seventh Annual Lecture organised by the Nigeria Association of Muslim Law Students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun.
They noted that agriculture remains the largest employer of labour and hence the need for individuals and government at all levels to encourage the occupation in a bid to revamp the economic fortune of the country.
Aregbesola who noted that oil now sells for less than 40 Dollars per barrel for the past months, compared the present situation when an average money distributed to states from the federation accounts was in excess of N800 billion.
“While our monthly wage bill is N3.6billion, the highest amount we have received this year alone was N2.1 billion. It went as low as N466 million in April while the figure for September was N55 million.
“Don’t think this is a problem for the states alone. The Federal Government under the last PDP administration had to borrow N476 billion from commercial banks to pay salaries of some of its workers (not all) for the last four months of that better forgotten tenure.
“We did not make this up. This statement came from the administration’s Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.
The implication is that governments will be under a lot of strain to pay salaries, sustain themselves and embark on meaningful projects for the citizens.
“This also means that employment in the public sector will be frozen. If this trend continues, it is a recipe for social upheaval and a mortal threat to the survival of the Nigerian state.
“Given that oil is volatile, some unforeseen conflict in the Middle East might trigger price surge and change this scenario altogether.
“However, what we are sure of is that Iran will soon add to the oil glut once the sanctions on it are lifted and increasing research and innovations in alternative energy sources will continue to reduce demand for oil and push further down the price,” Aregbesola said.
He noted that the current economic challenges is an opportunity for government to diversify the economy and break the monopoly of oil.
He added that it would also be an opportunity to explore other areas like agriculture, solid minerals, communication technology and services.
“If we respond to this challenge appropriately, the creative energy of our people, especially the youth, will be activated and unleashed.
“This will lead to increased productivity and wealth creation on a scale we have never witnessed before.
“While it may appear difficult, it is not `undo-able’ because no matter how far one has gone on a wrong path, the right thing to do is to turn back, if one is to get to the destination.
“No one can get out of a pit by continuing to dig deeper, one must stop digging,” Aregbesola emphasised.
In his remarks, Gov. Ajimobi, who was the Guest Speaker, spoke on “State Financing and Over-dependence on Oil: Issues and Challenges”.
He identified some factors responsible for the current financial crisis in the country and called for true federalism as practiced in advanced countries.
According to him, it is abnormal in a true federalism for any tier of government to be financially incapacitated as being experienced in Nigeria.
“Out of the 36 states in the federal structure, not more than eight could survive without federal allocation.
“Apart from Rivers, Lagos, Enugu, Delta, Katsina, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi and Bayelsa States, which have tried to balance their budgets since creation, all the other states have had to depend more on federal government for survival.
“Ordinarily, states are supposed to make use of their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) for recurrent expenditure while statutory allocations are to take care of capital expenditure.
“But the reverse is pathetically the case currently.
“The current scenario whereby IGR and statutory allocation combined are not sufficiently for states to meet their financial obligations is indeed unfortunate.
“This has resorted to a situation whereby many states cannot boast of enough funds to pay workers’ salaries.
“Government at the centre is currently assigned 52.68 per cent of federation account revenues, including 7.5 per cent of the account originally earmarked for “Special” projects like the development of the Federal Capital Territory and the amelioration of national ecological emergencies.
“The state and the local governments, on the other hand, get 26.72 and 20.60 per cent of Federation Account revenues respectively.
“Nonetheless, over-dependence on oil has made nonsense of this allocation formula and what is allocated to each tier except the federal government.
“The heavy dependence on the oil sector started from 1992 when global crude oil prices started fluctuating from $18.4 to $61 per barrel and reached $115.05 per barrel by June, 2014.
“Beyond these latent facts, bureaucratic and political corruption combined have crippled a number of states financially,” Ajimobi lamented.
He described agriculture as “black gold”, noting that the sector had been neglected for long.
The governor, therefore, stressed the need to revamp the agricultural sector to enhance food security, reduce importation of food items and engage able-bodied citizens, who are either out-rightly unemployed or under-employed.
The guest speaker concluded by imploring students to imbibe sterling leadership qualities, join the train of development and explore technology for growth and development.