The Collins dictionary defines the word PALLIATIVE as an action that is intended to make the effects of a problem less severe but does not actually solve the problem. At the inauguration speech of President Bola Tinubu, he declared that the subsidy on fuel will be removed with immediate effect. This announcement/declaration had a domino effect on the prices of products across all sectors of the economy. This is because simple economics dictates that transportation is one of the key factors of production and when transportation cost increases, the cost of the product will increase. This will lead to the increase the final price the consumer will have to pay. Petrol which was selling for about for less than NGN250.00 in May 2023 now sells for between NGN550.00 and NGN600.00, this is well over 250% increase. With this massive increase, bearing in mind that generally, income has remained the same, a large percentage of the population are feeling the financial pain. On the 14th of July 2023, the federal government declared a state of emergency on the food security situation in the country.

Based on the above, the federal government decided to provide funds, rice and fertilizers to the state governments and farmers in other to alleviate the economic strain being felt by the masses. According to reports, each state will get NGN5,000,000,000.00 (Five billion Naira) and 50kg bags of rice and maize. Several online media platforms and Television stations have covered the distribution of these commodities by some of the state governments across the federation.

I would like to use this medium to thank His Excellency Gov. Seyi Makinde for the flagging off the distribution of the palliatives across the state. In the current situation we have found ourselves as a nation every little helps. The masses are drowning economically and are looking to the leaders to come up with sustainable solutions. On behalf of the citizens of Oyo State, particularly ‘the poorest of the poor’ I say thank you to our governor.

Your Excellency, I know you as a man of the people, a man that works hard to fulfil his promises. There are several issues that I feel need attention regarding the distribution of palliatives, supports for farmers in the form of distribution of agricultural inputs and the sustainable food security. During Omituntun 1.0, there were several distributions of palliatives and distribution of inputs to farmers, this is Omituntun 2.0 and we are already doing the same thing. These distribution activities cost Oyo State billions of Naira, and with the economic situation of Nigeria it is obvious this is not sustainable.

This brings me to the Oyo State Roadmap for Sustainable Development (2019-2023, 2023-2027). In Omituntun 1.0, agriculture/agribusiness was a building blocks for the development of Oyo State. And truth be told there were many ‘brilliant’ programmes/projects that were undertaken particularly form late 2020 to early 2023. I say ‘brilliant’ because no one can fault the idea behind the programmes/projects, the effort, time, and funding. However, it appears that the outcome does not march the effort especially from the point of view of the masses.

According to the Oyo State Roadmap for Sustainable Development 2023 -2027, “1,500 students in senior secondary schools have been introduced to various enterprises in the agribusiness value chain through the Start Them Early Program (STEP). STEP is facilitated in partnership with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). A further 3,300 youths were trained in technology-driven agri-food systems under the Youth Entrepreneurship in Agribusiness Project (YEAP). Also, working with the French Government, 150 women entrepreneurs were trained under the Support to Women Entrepreneurship in the Agri-food sector in Nigeria (SEFAN/ SWEAN)”. The question that we must all answer is ‘where is the output of all these programmes?’. it is important to note that the bottom-line of any agricultural programme is twofold, the increase in food production for the masses and increase in income for the farmer.

If after approximately 3 years of financial and physical effort in agriculture/agribusiness, Oyo State citizens are still dependent on palliatives mainly food items handout, then we must rethink our strategy. For any modern-day farmer, irrigation is key to food production. Your Excellency my request on behalf of the youths that have been trained is that one of the farm settlements be upgraded to a large scaled irrigated farm funded by the state and leased out to the youths trained under the YEAP project. There are a few of the farm settlements that already have dams on site, please select one, landscape it, fence it, irrigate it and provide hostels and basic amenities. This will be cheaper than whatever Fashola has cost I can guarantee and quicker to complete. A project like this will within the shortest possible time increase actual food production as crops such as maize, peppers, tomatoes and vegetables can be produced at least 3 to 4 times a year on an irrigated farm as opposed to the once during the rainy season on the farm without irrigation.

The same ‘Oyo State Roadmap for Sustainable Development 2023 -2027’ document stated that “In Agribusiness, we were able to attract over N35 billion in investments and $126 million in development partner blended finance. This is in addition to the direct and indirect benefits of training over 4,000 youths in agribusiness and the employment opportunities generated through projects such as the Fashola Agribusiness Industrial Hub, which will be completed in a few months. The result of these efforts is that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Oyo State increased from N2.75 trillion in 2019 to N4.05 trillion as of Q3 2022. Also, the net investment in Oyo State between 2019 and 2022 is N457.76 billion”.

Going by the figures above, the Oyo state economy improved by just over 50% between 2019 and Q3 0f 2022, which is impressive. The main task now is how to ensure that the ‘poorest of the poor’ have a direct benefit from the economic expansion. For example, the alleged number of people on government data in Oyo state that were supported in 2020 during the Covid 19 pandemic was 200,000, according to some reports this list will be expanded in the current palliative distribution. One can conclude that then that the investments and the increased GDP has not yet benefited the ‘poorest of the poor’. The Okun’s law concept created by a Yale economist named Arthur Okun explains the correlation between GDP and employment. The general rule is that when GDP increases, unemployment will decrease. The NGN35 billion and $126 million appears not to have expanded opportunities at the for the people at the base end of our society and also, there is yet to be improved and sustainable food production in Oyo state when we consider the interventions in Omituntun 1.0.

Therefore, I am using this opportunity to plead with His Excellency the Governor of Oyo State Engr. Seyi Makinde to take radical steps to ensure Oyo State becomes the food basket of Nigeria. Policies are great but the bottom line is that the masses are hungry, and they want affordable food products through sustainable production. People do not want palliatives, they want affordable, consistent, and sustainable food supply.

How can this be done?

Oyo State must set aside a minimum of 2500 hectares of farmland that will be irrigated and then employ the YEAP trainees to mass produce different crops, vegetables, and fruits. The government can then buy the produce and sell to the masses at subsidized rates. A system close to this is already in practice in local government areas in Lagos State.

Finally, to ensure transparency, the Oyo State government must clarify if there is a distinction between the federal government back palliative and the ‘N8,633,996,464 earmarked for palliatives by the Sustainable Action for Economic Recovery committee in the state’ (Punch 29 August 2023).

Ilosi’waju Oyo, ajose gbogbo wa ni

Idris Animasaun is a public affairs analyst and social commentator.

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