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ICT local content devt our major focus in 2018’

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Dr. Isa Pantami is the Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). In this interview with KUNLE AZEEZ, he speaks on the key areas the agency is focusing on in 2018 and beyond within the purview of its mandates in order to engender a more robust ICT ecosystem where regulations and laws of the land are respected by all and sundry. Excerpts:

 

What level of investment do you think we need in the ICT industry this year and over the next few years?
As you all know today, ICT is second to oil and gas in the area of contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In Nigeria, for the two or three years, the contribution of ICT is second to oil and gas and there are implications. We think that in next few years, ICT could replace oil and gas.

So, as you ask me about the level of investment we are looking for, which is very important, what I can say to you briefly on that is that we don’t have any single level of investment we are looking for in the ICT but we are more interested in the area of wooing the investors first. We are not only asking for investors that will come to Nigeria just because they want to get our money, but rather, we are looking for investors that will come and domesticate their products in Nigeria.

That is what we are after. If they domesticate their products in Nigeria, such products will be made-in-Nigeria, not made-in-the US, not made-in-the UK; it must be made in Nigeria. By having Made-in-Nigeria products, the implication is that all transactions will be Naira-denominated, and by implication also, we are strengthening the Naira and by inference, we are strengthening our local currency. But if you invite an investor to come with made-in-US products in your country, the transactions could be in dollar and by implication; it is putting more pressure on our local currency.

So, that is why our first focus, as NITDA, is to ensure that the foreign investment would strengthen our local content ecosystem. It will also strengthen our local currency. If it is made in Nigeria, then, it has become local content. If all the transactions are in Naira, then, by implication, we are strengthening our local currency. That is what we are after.

Between software and hardware spaces, which one do you think we should give greater attention as a country at present?
Well, we are looking at areas where we have, at least, more challenges in the country. We are more advanced today in software. If you look at our software developers, we are more advanced in that space in Nigeria. However, there are challenges still. But if you look at hardware, it is the actual place where you can hardly see products that are being developed here in Nigeria. We have companies that are doing well such as Zinox, Omatek and many more.

They are doing well but what we are looking for is how to support them. If we get world-class IT companies, they can collaborate with them through NITDA to see how they can give them all the necessary support and the collaboration to ensure that our local companies are producing world-class IT products.

That’s what we are after – to see that any collaboration, any investment is to ensure that our local content is well developed. That is what why NITDA continues to hold series of meetings, especially with potential foreign investors home and broad with a focus on the direction of soliciting investors not only to come and take our money and go but to domesticate the products and secondly, to ensure there is no pressure on our local currency, meaning that whatever you do should be in naira.

What level of collaboration do you have with agencies such as the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) to encourage ICT local content development and curb capital flight?
Since 2017, we have had a standing committee with NOTAP.

There is a standing committee between NITDA on the one hand and NOTAP on the other. But whatever is related to ICT, NOTAP contacts NITDA and whenever we see there is any capital flight, we contact NOTAP to work together. The director general of NOTAP was in NITDA in 2017; we had a very long meeting.

We discussed the areas where it is necessary for us to collaborate particularly, when it comes to IT. We agreed on that and we established a standing committee in which NITDA is well represented on the one hand and NOTAP is represented on the other. It is a standing committee because we realise that our work is interwoven, our responsibility is interwoven.

So, because we are serving the same government, we don’t need to fight each other. What we need to do, therefore, is to come together and work to serve the same country. So, we have a standing committee on that and surely, NOTAP has NITDA’s 100 per cent support and we have their backing as well.

NITDA came heavily on other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in 2017 in the area of making sure they obtain NITDA’s clearance before embarking on an ICT project going forward. Since it is part of your mandate to do that, why did NITDA just realise this clearing-house role in 2017?
Thank you so much for this very important question. Granting approval for all ICT-related projects has been a statutory responsibility of NITDA. Let me illustrate what we are trying to do here using telecoms sector. For example, the Nigerian Communications Commission is regulating communications. MTN, 9Mobile, Globacom and others are all under the NCC.

Do you think any telecommunication company would just come into Nigeria and start selling SIM cards without contacting NCC? Also, is it possible for you to just start your own bank without getting registered with the Central Bank of Nigeria as the regulator? Is it possible for you to establish a university and start issuing certificate without going to the National University Commission? It is not possible.

If that is not the case, why are people into IT without contacting the regulatory body and that is NITDA? It is a very simple question. Secondly, issue of seeking for clearance from NITDA is not new; it is part of our act that we are to regulate IT in the country and seeking for clearance is part of regulation.

Secondly, to emphasise that NITDA, in 21st April, 2006 and 19th July, 2012, issued circulars mandating all MDAs that they are not allowed, in any way, to spend one kobo on IT without going through NITDA to seek clearance.

To emphasise what they have said, the circular were there before I was appointed as NITDA DG, even the last circular was sent to all the MDAs four years before my appointment. So, saying that the previous chief executives were not able to implement the circulars doesn’t mean we cannot implement it today. We aren’t doing anything wrong.

We are only trying to ensure that laws and policies are respected. That is all we are after and if you think it is not right, go and establish your hospital without being registered with the regulatory body; and establish your own university without notifying the NUC and see what will happen. If that is the case, why should NITDA not be respected in IT? That is just the reality. You cannot establish a university and get the accreditation without NUC involvement; and even breaking the NITDA Act can take one to prison of one or three years.

Basically, you are saying the IT approval and clearance policy is not a new idea?
Yes, our insistence that all IT projects must first be approved by NITDA is not a new idea. Sometimes, people fail to understand the importance of regulations. Without regulation, with the speed at which IT is progressing today, let’s assume the sector is not being regulated, what will happen in the next five to 10 years.

The easiest way to commit crime today is through IT. If there are no regulations, how do you manage the security of your country, which is very important? How can you do that? We are not after whether people understand or they do not understand, we are after what is right. What is right must be followed. As long as we have legal power to do it as NITDA, we must do it because it is within our mandate.

Some MDAs have said the new policy on IT projects approval is to frustrate and jeopardise their individual efforts. What is your reaction to this?
Well, let me state clearly that our regulation is not to jeopardise any MDA’s effort. It is not in any way to frustrate any MDA; we regulate in order to develop. You cannot develop IT without regulating it. Secondly, there is no developing nation in the world where there is no IT regulation. No! Regulation brings about synergy.

Today, if you go to MDAs, you will see them doing their projects independently. You cannot operate ICT in silos. You cannot save the government money in IT without regulation. For example now, each MDA is going to Microsoft for any other company seeking licence. Sometimes, you can use shared platform but MDAs are going there to spending billions of Naira. Sometimes, shared platform is okay. I bought something, you are a colleague; you are my neighbour in the same hotel, it’s okay we can share it. What I have bought is more than my demand.

Instead of me to go and waste your money and buy it one thousand dollars in Dubai, come and use my own. What is the problem in that? That is what regulation is all about. There are things that if I buy, you don’t need to buy it. We can share it together. There must be an agency that must bring about this synergy; and that agency is NITDA.

I know of many MDAs that spend billions of naira on IT projects, you can get 10 to 20. But in reality, if one MDA purchases that licence, it is sufficient for all of them to share. But since there is no regulation, anyone would go and buy. I just spoke about local content development. If there are no regulations, how do we enforce local content?

How can you enforce it if there are no regulations? So, our regulation is to develop the ICT ecosystem and curb unnecessary capital flight. We develop IT through regulation and we regulate in order to support development. They are interwoven; you cannot do one without the other.

Is NITDA’s resolve to ensure MDAs comply with the approval policy born out a finding you have done to quantify how much is being spent unjustly by MDAs on IT projects?
Well, I did not do that but one thing I know is that the amount of money that has been spent for many years in IT are running in billions of dollars in Nigeria.

But if you go there, there is nothing to write home about. You cannot justify that amount of money, which some MDAs claimed to have spent on some IT projects. We are not talking about millions of dollars; we are talking about billions of dollars.

Even as of 2016, over $143 billion was spent across MDAs on IT projects. How can you justify that? Without regulation, how can you manage that? We are not worried about the amount of the money, but the justification and where is value for the money? That is the justification. With perfect regulation, we must ensure that whatever we deploy, we have the capacity to manage it.

But in Nigeria, we fail to do that particularly in the previous years. Let me give you a simple example: why did the CCTV project in Abuja fail? It was because there was no regulation. Look at the billions that were spent on that project.

Where are the CCTV cameras today? How can you justify that project? The money has been released and spent. Where is the justification? What is the significance of the CCTV cameras in Abuja? Which crime has been handled effectively in Nigeria through the CCTV camera even in Abuja itself? People are more interested in an environment that is not regulated because of personal and selfish interests.

I will be glad to hear that there is agitation against regulation; I’ll be even very much happy because any decision that brings change is very unpopular at the beginning but in the end, people will realise how important it is. How can you import something into Nigeria without going through the Customs?

When they enforced eating our own rice in Nigeria that we should eat what we are producing, many people were complaining. But what of today? Look at how we revived many agricultural sector’s segments in the country. Also, look at how the Treasury Single Account (TSA) initiative has been doing amazing thing today; whereas when the issue was announced, it was very unpopular. That is why I am always happy whenever I announce any policy that is unpopular to people, I say ‘Thank God’.

We are on the right track because people like to live without law and order and that is a clear indication of anarchy.
To see people not wanting to respect one law or one policy means it is a good policy.

If you see that one, be happy. Try to enforce it. At the tail end, they will realise how important it is and that is what NITDA is doing. We are sure that our decision is right. We are not after whether it is popular to people or it is unpopular. What we are after, one: to ensure what the law says and secondly, we are anticipating a positive result at the end as long as this is to ensure compliance with the laws of the land.

Has there been any project that you have worked on and found out that the money budgeted for it was overblown to have warranted your current push for the IT project clearance process by the MDAs?
I will give an example through this clearance we are talking about. In the beginning of 2017, we reviewed one single IT project. We intervened. We improved the quality of the project significantly. We trained staff on it and we saved the government over N500 million. This is what we did on only one project for one agency. We saved over N500 million from what they agreed on.

We invited the company handling the project, we discussed with the officials, we reviewed the project significantly and when we discussed the money, N500 million was saved on only one project. We saved this money and NITDA did not get one kobo. But what we are after is to serve our country. On my table at some point in the last quarter of 2017, was a project for one MDA. It was around N3 billion.

They were seeking clearance. That is just only one IT project and there are hundreds of them. Money has been spent but if you go today you will not see the project. How do you expect us to leave this sector without regulation?

Unfortunately, regulatory bodies are being misunderstood. They are regulating not to jeopardise or frustrate you; but to ensure there is value for you money; that there is sustainability and at the same time, to ensure that there is collaboration between relevant organisations because you cannot do IT projects in silos. There must be a minimum standard that must be respected. That is the responsibility of NITDA.

We are not after pleasing you; we are after doing what is right and this will continue in 2018 and beyond. We are after doing something that the county would recall what we have done while in the office that we did not betray them in any way. That is what we are after. Even if you fail to understand the wisdom behind doing it, I believe that the history will judge us.

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JOHESU: Unresolved strike with many issues

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JOHESU

Year-in-year-out, labour and trade unions have tried to ensure their members’ rights are protected, especially on improved welfare. However, that of health workers, currently on-going, appears not to be on the popular side. REGINA OTOKPA reports

 

For decades, Nigerian workers have continued to press for better welfare packages and prompt payment of their entitlements from the government. This has led to series of strike actions by various unions fighting for workers’ rights.

The most recent is the agitation by health workers under the umbrella of Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU). JOHESU comprises of Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Senior Staff Association of Universities, Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions (SSAUTHRIAI), Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals (NUAHP) and Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria.

JOHESU’s Demands The first major bone of contention among the 15-point demands is the payment of over N20 billion adjusted Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS), which the government had already agreed to pay in 2017.

Others are immediate release of the harmonised scheme of service and circular on internship for nurses and midwives, upward adjustment of the CONHESS salary structure, immediate and full payment of arrears of salaries of CONHESS 10 skipping outstanding, payment of promotion arrears, same scale promotion/ redesignation, prioritisation of employment in the critical professional areas and enhanced entry point to accommodate all other graduates of other health care professionals.

Others are advertisement of CMD/MD’s appointment without prejudice to any particular profession, nonseparation of teaching hospitals from their teaching hospitals and the eligibility for specialist allowance to accommodate two members of JOHESU.

The demand also include board appointment to institutions, promotion of health workers at Federal Medical Centre Owerri, who were being punished for embarking on strike to same level with their counterparts, adjustment of retirement age from 60 to 65, and immediate set up of a collective bargaining agreement committee to look at headship allowance, administrative allowance, professional allowance, excess work load allowance, health and safety site allowance for JOHESU members.

Broken agreement

The aggrieved workers claimed that previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan agreed to implement these demands in 2015, but the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, recently insisted that such was not the case, as there was no agreement between the Federal Government and JOHESU prior to the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

He maintained that what JOHESU brandished as 2014 agreement were minutes of meetings held with organs of Federal Government to reach a compromise, adding that JOHESU’s demands to be at par with doctors in terms of salary was neither practicable nor acceptable.

He said: “As a responsible government, we will do everything within our power to bring the ongoing strike action to an end as quickly as possible, but what JOHESU is asking for is parity with medical doctors which is neither practicable nor acceptable to the federal government.”

Adewole had said out of the 15 demands presented by JOHESU in September 2017, the government had implemented 14 while the last demand was being attended to, noting that the implication of when the agreement was reached is that JOHESU wants the government to pay arrears from 2014, and not September 2017, which the Buhari administration agreed to.

However, this is not the case, some of the 15-point demand by JOHESU has not been implemented contrary to claims by the Minister of Health. For example, the government has not increased the retirement age of JOHESU members from 60 to 65 years, skipping of Consolidated Health Salary Scale (CONHESS 10) arrears has not been paid as well as the implementation of the scale to scale promotion, especially on CONHESS 14 to 15. Other demands yet to be implemented includes employment of health workers to address the shortage of manpower in critical professional areas.

Service withdrawal

Poised to drive home their demands, especially the non-implementation of the new salary structure for other workers just as was done for doctors since 2014, the national wing of JOHESU withdrew their services at all federal health institutions on April 18, 2018.

The Government’s failure to arrive at a compromise after several meetings with the aggrieved health workers, two weeks after, led to an expansion of the strike from federal health institutions to states and local government hospitals on May 9. Meeting to receive and analyse the report of a six-member technical committee set up about two weeks ago to unravel the modalities to implement the adjusted CONHESS, the government and leadership of JOHESU, however, rejected the report and dissolved the committee, on the grounds that the report did not meet both parties’ expectations.

The national incomes, salaries and wages commission was immediately mandated to meet with JOHESU to produce a more acceptable template for implementation and to be presented at a rescheduled meeting.

NMA’s position

Despite government’s effort to reach an agreement with the striking health workers, the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, has been a bone in the throat. Only recently, the new leadership of the union led by the President, Dr Francis Faduyile, had threatened to down tools should the Federal Government accede to any of JOHESU’s demands that violates its collective bargaining agreement with government in January 2014.

While claiming that allowing JOHESU assess to leadership positions in health facilities would only put the life of more Nigerians at risk of preventable deaths, NMA insists that JOHESU’s demands were not only an aberration considering international best practice that will add no value to clinical/patients’ care, but certainly worsens morbidity and mortality indices in Nigeria. “It is also pertinent to once again remind the government about the concluding part of our letter no.

NMA/PRE/SG/03/0751 of 21st March 2014, which states, “In view of the above, the NMA painfully wishes to inform the Federal Government of Nigeria that any award to the non-medically qualified health professionals that violates the January and July agreements of 2014 shall result in the resumption of the suspended withdrawal of service of 2014.

Please take this as a notice sir,” NMA said. “The above reminder is predicated on the extension of the ongoing strike action embarked upon by the amorphous body called JOHESU, to States and Local government areas, the basis of which is to strengthen its callous and ill motivated agitation for pay parity between her members and doctors with the resultant erosion of relativity and further hierarchical distortion in the health sector vis-àvis her clandestine romance with some top government officials.

“We oppose vehemently, any adjustment in CONHESS salary scale with resultant pay parity between doctors and healthcare professionals allied to medicine, and hereby reaffirm that relativity is sacrosanct. “The demand for Headship of Departments/units in the hospital by members of JOHESU/AHPA will lead to unprecedented chaos in the health sector with ripple effect on the health of Nigerians.

We reaffirm our rejection of this demand.” Uncomfortable with NMA’s interference, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, advised the association to be cautious in interrupting and meddling with the ongoing discussions between the health workers and the government to allow for a more peaceful and generally acceptable resolutions.

JOHESU had earlier accused Ngige and Adewole, who are both medical doctors, of bias and meting out unfair treatment to members of the union, with claims JOHESU was soliciting for equal rights with medical doctors.

JOHESU’s resolve

The national Chairman of JOHESU, Comrade Josiah Biobelemoye, had noted that the lingering strike was as a result of the unfavourable moves by the Federal Ministry of Health to frustrate all efforts of the union and the government from reaching an amicable settlement.

“The Federal Ministry of Health treat us like slaves; one of the lies they are telling Nigerians is that we are asking for equal salary with the doctors . Can you imagine that a doctor entering Civil Service enters with grade level 12 while we enter with level 8 and it takes nine years for our members to get to grade level 12,” he said.

“Since government has not shown enough commitment to tow the part of honour and meet our demands, especially, the core demanding for the upward adjustment of CONHESS salary structure as agreed in the Memorandum of Terms of Settlement signed on 30th September, 2017 with JOHESU.

“After three rounds of meetings held on Thursday, 26th April, 2nd and 7th May respectively, at the instance of the Minister of Labour and Employment to find a way forward, the Federal Ministry of Health is thwarting all efforts at reaching an amicable settlement of the issues of our demands, especially the upward adjustment of COHNESS salary structure.

“CONHESS review is the upward adjustment of the CONHESS Salary table on-line with the same principles used in adjusting the CONMESS table for medical doctors who work with use n the health team.

“Our own demand for the adjustment of CONHESS that affects over 85 per cent of the workforce nationwide has been frustrated, and part of the reason for this is that the minister of health as well as the minister of state for health are all medical doctors, while the minster of labour labour and employment, who should be neutral umpire in trade disputes is equally a medical doctor.”

Last line

If these issues are not properly attended to and addressed urgently, prospects of the ongoing strike being called off would continue to be a mirage. This has a huge consequence on the health of a vast majority, as the poor masses who are unable to attain health care services from private health facilities will continue to suffer unjustly.

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Reinsurers’ stake in short-term investment rises by N3.48bn

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Nigeria’s indigenous reinsurance firms, Continental Reinsurance Plc and Nigeria Reinsurance Corporation, have increased their stakes in short-term investment by N3.4 billion. Data released by the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) revealed that both reinsurers had earlier committed a total of N8.17 billion into the portfolio before increasing it to N11.65 billion as part of their assets.

A searchlight on their assets revealed that out of the total investment, Continental Reinsurance put in N9.23 billion while Nigeria Reinsurance came far behind with a total of N2.43 billion. Further analysis of the data also revealed that their investment in real estate also grew from N17.94 billion to N18.54 billion.

Despite the competition for premiums with highly sophisticated and capital backed offshore reinsurers, the duo has been able to steadily grow their assets over time to remain in business. A recent report detailing global reinsurance rankings left Nigerian firms out despite having the potential to carry out and dominate business transactions in Africa and possibly beyond. They were conspicuously missing in the list as the N896.24 billion gross premium written within a period of five years was far below the ranking parameter, leaving only Africa Reinsurance Corporation among the top 50.

The ranking, which revealed that Swiss Re supplanted Munich Re as the world’s largest reinsurer, was based on the gross premium written within a period of time. In this case, Munich Re’s significant primary operations accounted for just over 30 per cent of its total GPW.

On the other hand, Swiss Re’s reinsurance/primary insurance split is more modest, with just over 15 per cent of GPW coming from insurance operations, putting it under the threshold to split out its insurance and reinsurance premiums.

Apart from Africa Reinsurance having its headquarters in Nigeria, jobs are also ceded to offshore firms due to fragile capacity among local industry players. According the Nigerian Insurers Association’s (NIA) digest, which gave a breakdown of performance within a period of five years, the total amount realised as premium by the reinsurers was N896.24 billion.

The transactions, according to the report, were specifically for general business, wherein the gross premium comprises mainly of businesses accepted from Nigeria by direct offices while local cession covers business ceded to reinsurance companies within Nigeria as well as direct companies for co-insurance jobs. According to the details, the areas covered include Motor, Fire, General Accident, Marine and Aviation, Workmen Compensation/ Employers’ Liabil-ity, Oil and gas, and Miscellaneous.

In 2011 precisely, the reinsurers accepted jobs worth N6.23 billion while it also ceded transactions valued at N44.80 billion. Following the same step in 2012, the operators accepted transactions worth N3.15 billion and ceded others amounting to N55.47 billion. Similarly, in 2013, while transactions worth N4.89 billion were accepted, the operators ceded N63.65 billion worth of deals. For the 2014 transactions, N1.98 billion worth of business was accepted as against N75.33 billion that was ceded out.

In the final year (2015) within the period, transactions worth N1.96 billion were accepted as against N75.44 billion that were ceded. Further details also revealed an increase in reinsurance ratio in 2015 (0.43) as against that of 2014 (0.42).

The reinsurance ratios for other years within the review period are 0.31 in 2011, 0.32 in 2012 and 0.37 in 2013. According to market statistics, European and other overseas reinsurers currently control about 65 per cent of the Nigerian business while African Re controls about 20 per cent.

The remaining 15 per cent is shared between Continental Re and Nigerian Re. Last year, the management of Africa Re pointed out that the dominance of foreign reinsurance firms in the country was due to total low underwriting capacity as reflected in shareholders’ funds compared to the size of total risk exposure.

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Nigeria’s agric and the challenges

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Recently, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, linked private sector investments to the growing transformation in Nigeria’s agric sector. But these investors still have to contend with myriad of challenges. TAIWO HASSAN reports

 

On attaining the mantle of leadership as Nigeria’s president on May 29th, Muhammadu Buhari, without compromising his administration’s role, explained that he would give top priority to the agric sector. Particularly, President Buhari wooed the private sector to invest in agriculture, saying that this is the next ‘big thing’ in the country and it is being positioned to increase the country’s revenue generation.

Since President Buhari’s clarion call, the private sector have keyed in into the Federal Government’s diversification agenda, through their investments in Nigeria’s agric sector. Ogbeh has consistently reiterated that his ministry is fully committed towards the development of the agricultural sector, stressing that key developments in the sector would continually be private sector driven.

He said that the Federal Government would provide the necessary incentives to grow the sector by facilitating financing and support for Small to Medium Scale Enterprises (SME) through investment vehicles such as FAFIN.

Fixing Nigeria’s agric sector

The minister said that the burden of fixing Nigeria’s economy has fallen squarely on his ministry as the oil industry has floundered and the revenue originating from it had taken a plunge, adding that no serious government will fold its arms and watch without doing something. According to him, to fix agriculture and the Nigerian economy, what the administration need to do is to harness the good policies it met on the table and blend with those that they are currently fashioning out, in a coherent and consistent manner such that it will instill confidence in the citizens, investors, market operators, farmers, traders and everyone along the various agricultural value chains.

He said that President Muhammadu Buhari has given his support for the interventions that could move agriculture forward and contribute to repositioning the economy and diversifying it away from overreliance on oil.Ogbeh said : “We have taken up the challenge of boosting local production of food as we reduce our dependency on food imports, boost domestic food production, revive rural economy and expand export earnings.

“With the huge agricultural potential of over 84 million hectares of land, abundant water bodies, particularly the various rivers, all-year-round favourable weather conditions and a variety of agro-ecologies suitable for agriculture, Nigeria is well positioned to feed its population as well as produce for export.

“The policies of my ministry will be proactive and responsive to the stakeholders’ peculiar needs. We will be nationalistic and patriotic in our approach. “We will support genuine investors and we will ensure that food is produced in abundance while we also boost the prospects of investors in the agricultural sector.”

Private sector investments

The increasing attention of the private investors in agriculture is a testimony to the fact that there is a lot of prospect in the sector. Particularly, the private sector investment in various agricultural value chains in Nigeria has re-positioned agriculture in the country in all ramifications. Indeed, the private sector investment has also provided an opportunity for the national agriculture community to familiarize themselves with the Federal Government’s priorities and plans for the sector.

No doubt, statistics revealed that private sector investments in the country’s agric sector has surpassed N1 trillion. Hence, agric experts have advised that the government needs to give more support to the private sector in order not to lose the goodwill the country had been enjoying in agriculture.

“There is risk of reduced investment spending that can lead to loses of opportunity for job creation by 16 priority investors due to lack of satisfaction with government support,” the UNDP Deputy Country Director of Programmes, Mandisa Mashologu said. He added that nascent system of coordination and inconsistency of policies, regulations, laws and administrative practices, which were key challenges, must become a thing of the past, if Nigeria must maintain its enviable leadership position in Africa’s agricultural transformation. Some of the multi-billion naira private sector investments in Nigeria’s agric sector are geared towards guaranteeing abundant food sufficiency and security.

Cosmas Maduka, Chairman of Coscharis Group, a foremost automobile dealer in Nigeria, has invested a fortune on rice production in Anambra State to the tune of 3,000 hectares and promised to increase it to 6,000 hectares soon.

Alhaji Sani Dangote, the vice chairman of Dangote Group, has indicated the commitment of his conglomerate in agricultural mechanisation. Dangote Group was among the investors who witnessed the flag-off of the second phase of the Mechanisation intervention of the Federal Government.

The company is among others taking up Agricultural Equipment Hiring Enterprise centres in Nigeria. Sani Dangote, who is also the chairman of the Nigeria Agriculture Business Group (NABG), said: “There is an urgent need for private sector stakeholders in agriculture to work together towards growing Nigeria’s agriculture, diversifying from oil and gas dependency, encouraging agricultural industrialization, and creating an enabling environment for agribusiness to thrive.”

On rice production, Africa’s richest man, Dangote, announced earlier this year that he was making a $1 billion investment in Nigeria’s rice production, which seemed to vindicate the government’s approach.

The Dangote Group plans to produce one million tonnes of parboiled milled rice over the next five years, equivalent to 16 per cent of domestic demand. Other big players have also jumped in, including the Lagos- based conglomerate TGI, which opened a rice mill in August with a capacity of 120,000 tonnes, and Olam Nigeria, part of Singapore-based Olam International, which plans to boost its existing rice output.

Constraints

However, despite the efforts of the private sector investors to boost Nigeria’s agriculture, they are still facing challenges in their farming businesses, including access to credit, access to land, land analysis, land management and security on farms. Also included are market access, standardization and post-harvest losses. All these challenges are currently affecting their huge investments in the sector.

Last line

With the huge private sector investment in Nigeria’s agriculture, experts have called for creation of enabling environment from government in order to safeguard their investments in the sector.

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