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Time To Integrate South-West States Into a Regional Economy, By Rauf Aregbesola


The inescapable fact is that no Yoruba state, with the exemption of Lagos can survive alone. Therefore, by the force of history and geographical proximity, we have to come together, tap our abundant human and material resources and use them to uplift our people.

The Imperative of Unity

It gives me great pleasure to be with our kith and kin in Ekiti. I must therefore thank my brother governor for the kind invitation to the 20th anniversary of the creation of Ekiti State. This interestingly is coming at the heels of the 25th anniversary of the creation of our own state, Osun, on August 27.

I congratulate all Ekiti people at home and abroad, especially the founding fathers who fought for the creation of the state and those who made sacrifices for the take-off of the then new state.

Given that Nigeria herself is just 56, 20 years for any of its states is a pretty significant time. Very few people will doubt that one of the purposes of state creation, which is the development of a state capital – looking at Ado-Ekiti – has been largely fulfilled. Ado has been transformed into a large urban centre with a huge population – albeit attracted from all the cities and villages of Ekiti – including Ekiti indigenes at home and the Diaspora.

Although our two states, Osun and Ekiti, were created differently and at different times, the primal bond between us began with the progenitor of our race, Oduduwa. We are Yoruba from Ile-Ife. Our people in Osun, especially the Ijesa, Ife and Igbomina have special affinity with Ekiti people in the special delicacies of pounded yam and palm-wine, the adamo music, farming the same food crops and cocoa. They also share the same world view of being sticklers to integrity and uncompromising stands on righteousness and pursuit of justice – the Omoluabi credo.

We also share the same passion in the pursuit of education. Our forebear, Ogedengbe Agbogungboro afikankan loju ogun, leader of the Ijesa army, and Fabunmi of Okemesi combined forces to prosecute the Ekiti Parapo war of 1877-1893. This was the highest level of historical collaboration by two kingdoms to fight against injustice and oppression and the enthronement of liberty and federalism in Yorubaland.

More still, artificial partitioning with state creation left parts of the ancient Ijesa kingdom in Ekiti State, in what will be an eternal inseparability between our two states.

We have also historically been progressive leaning. From the First Republic to present day, our two states have supported progressive political parties. This might sound uncomfortable but that Ekiti State is under PDP rule is just an interregnum. The people are progressives at heart and sooner than later, there will be a realignment of forces and the people will come to where they really belong.

We are all aware of the huge financial challenges our nation is facing, which has affected not only the Federal Government but at least 27 states of the federation. That President Buhari announced to the whole world at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month that 27 states are in dire financial straight should clear doubt from the mind of anyone still thinking we are playing games.

You will recall that when oil sold for up to $140 per barrel, the Federation Account was receiving in excess of N1.2 trillion, which made the Federal Government’s 52 percent share to top N600 billion monthly. When oil fell to about $28 per barrel, the entire Federation Account basket was receiving just a little over N200 billion, less than one third of what the Federal Government alone collected in good times.

Oil price goes up and down, and its at an average of $45 dollars now; but our problem is not just about the falling price. We have a double whammy in that not only has the price dropped, but our daily oil production has also fallen as well. From all accounts, we are losing the production of not less than one million barrels of crude oil per day, out of our 2.1 million barrels OPEC allocation, due to sabotage by militants in the Niger Delta.

We are therefore in recession because we no longer have enough FOREIGN EXCHANGE to finance our imports. We are dependent on imports for everything. We import food, automobiles, petroleum products, drugs, clothing, building materials, machineries, electronics, cosmetics and household products.

In the absence of other serious foreign exchange earners, we are bound to have problems financing our imports, which are huge and humongous. Just take a sample:

At official level, according to NNPC, we spend $20 million daily or $1.8 billion quarterly, which translates to $7.2 billion annually, to import fuel. We also spend $20 billion every year to import food. This will include $700 million on fish. There are conflicting figures but the highest, from a former Minister of Commerce and Industry, Engr. Charles Ugwuh, claims that we spend $2.6 billion annually to import rice, while the CBN claims that our rice import bill for three years cost $2.4 billion. It will also include wheat, biscuits, noodles, dairy products, pastas, wines and other food items.

By importing, we are simply developing the economies of the nations we buy from through job creation, value chain maintenance and other spin-off effects of production.

You can imagine that there are seven million vehicles on our roads and we do not produce a single tyre for them. If the average lifespan of a tyre is three years, then every three years, we need 28 million tyres, working on the assumption that an average car has four wheels. We must then find a way to import 28 million new or used tyres. We can imagine what effect it would have on our economy if we produce just half of these tyres at home. I remember there used to be a tyre rethreading company in Ado. That could have been upgraded to a full tyre manufacturing company.

Then of course, we import textiles and clothing items, including handkerchiefs, underwear and footwear to the tune of $4 billion in a year. Apart from traditional wears, virtually all formal wears are now imported. For a very long time now, I have stopped wearing non-traditional dresses. If half of the country had been like me, it means that at least 80 million people will engage our local tailors and retain that whole transaction within our economy.

This problem did not begin last year. It has been the orientation of our economy since the oil boom of the 1970s. It must therefore be sensitive to the shocks of oil price crash.

What we can do in the short term is to find alternative sources of funding for the deficit through borrowing and disposing off idle asset. We should also wrap up the conflict in the Niger Delta to be able to ramp up oil production. Adding one million barrels to our production will take us out of the woods. Plugging leakages and recovering loot, as the government is doing, is a right step to maximise the current situation.

Another short term solution is to, in the Keynesian mode, engage in the direct employment of our youth. In spite of neoliberal opposition, this policy has never failed in addressing depression in the past. This is one of the innovations we brought to governance. Our administration has carried out the engagement of two tranches of 20,000 youths, totalling 40,000, in public works. They were not given permanent employment but engaged as volunteers and given monthly stipends. They were eventually given soft landing in the various empowerment schemes of the government in agriculture, teaching and information communication technology.

In less than two years of taking the youth off the streets, crime rate in Osun dropped to rock bottom. It also reflated the local economy since the N200 million monthly allowances given to them percolated to the grassroots. It is government money well spent. The programme has since been adopted by the World Bank and introduced nationally in a modified form. But the long term solution is for us to get off import addiction. We should revive agriculture. I never hid my intention, from day one, on my commitment to agriculture, especially food production. Agriculture will provide food, give us food security and cut our dependence on imported food; it will provide raw materials for industries and provide the foundation for the development of agro allied industries.

But for agriculture to be meaningful, there must be productivity. In the developed world, between two and five percent of the population engage in agriculture. Here, more than 40 percent of our people are farmers, yet we cannot feed ourselves. This is because our productivity is very low.

For instance, while Nigeria and much of Africa are leading producers of cassava, the traditional yield per hectare has been around 10 tonnes, while global average in 2010 was put at 12.5 tonnes. However, India’s average yield in 2010 was 34.8 tonnes per hectares and Thailand’s yield is reported to be a whopping 120 tonnes per hectare.

If we can double our food output from cultivating the same land size as we currently do, it is possible to eliminate hunger from our country. But this will require innovation in crop science, agriculture mechanisation, improved inputs and agriculture entrepreneurship. The knowledge base has to be widened and scientific findings have to be brought to (and applied by) the farmers. Regrettably, much of our agricultural practices are still primitive, using hoes and cutlass and farming methods that are at least two centuries old.

The time has come now that we can no longer ignore the call for the integration of the economies of Yorubaland. We fought a 16 year civil war whose primary purpose was to maintain the autonomy of the various kingdoms and preserve federalism in Yorubaland. One of the lessons we took away from that war was the need for the unity of purpose. There is strength in unity. This is the second imperative of federalism. While federalism primarily asserts autonomy, it also demands unity. Federalism requires that we surrender part of our right to self-determination in order to be able to share our strengths and weaknesses.

While it is impracticable for now to politically unify the Yoruba nation into one political platform, it will be hard to dismiss the notion that the region was better governed as one entity in the colonial and immediate post-colonial era. Everything functioned well and there was prosperity. People still look with nostalgia at what was considered the golden era in Yorubaland.

The political division we have in Yorubaland should serve the purpose of stimulating development between competing ideologies and political parties, not for low intensity but destructive civil war in which a few individuals seek power for self-aggrandisement at the expense of our people. We should all look at the big picture of how our region fares within Nigerian federalism and the interest of all our people in the world at large.

We must have a broad platform in which we are on the same page on broad issues of economic development, education, agriculture, tourism, electricity, transportation, arts and culture. Even a unified position will strengthen our demands from the Federal Government.

Our states were created as atomistic bodies dependent on federal allocation every month. When things were good, we were doing fine, but when things are bad, as they currently are, then we are in trouble. This is not good at all. We should be economically buoyant as a region at all times. Many of the prosperous countries of Western Europe are not up to the Western Region in population and land size. There is no reason therefore why we cannot unite to bring out our best for the development of our region and prosperity of our people.

Some of us have been making the case for economic integration of the Yoruba nation. Our position has been that we can get the best deal by leveraging our population and the Lagos market for economic development of our region, especially in agriculture. Between our states that produce the same crops, especially cash crop of cocoa and timber, there is the need to establish a uniform template in quality control, product development and taxes and rates. This will bring development and eliminate cheating.

The inescapable fact is that no Yoruba state, with the exemption of Lagos can survive alone. Therefore, by the force of history and geographical proximity, we have to come together, tap our abundant human and material resources and use them to uplift our people.

Once again, I congratulate the government and the good people of Ekiti State on the 20th anniversary of the creation of their state and wish you all a very happy celebration and 56th anniversary of the independence of our country.

Rauf Aregbesola is governor of the State of Osun.

This speech was made at the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Creation of Ekiti State held at the Archbishop Abiodun Adetiloye Hall, Trade fair Arena, Ado Ekiti on October 1, 2016.


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