NIGER STATE'S RURAL DEVELOPMENT VISION

By NBF News
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From Beijing in China to Minna in Nigeria's own Niger State is a distance of which myths may be made. From Chairman Mao Tse-tung, founder of modern China to Dr Muazu Babaginda Aliyu, the governor of Niger State, is a historical span of generations removed from one another.

Yet, despite these geographical and historical distances are certain parallels we as a people and a nation may quickly learn and profit from. Mao was world famous as the creator of modern and resurgent China. But beneath this summary description of him is his seminal contribution to human and world development.

Before Mao, all developmental theses were hung on one critical plank. The plank is that towns and cities constitute the epicenters of national development. It is from these urban centres that development was supposed or designed to radiate back to the provinces and rural areas.

But in a dramatic turn of events Mao stood this historically valid thesis of Europe, on it head. Rather than start his revolution from cities and urban centres, Mao hit the road and returned to the Chinese rural regions as the principal theatre of Chinese development.

The historical and developmental import of this was and still is astonishing. In Mao's own generation and before his very eyes, China, a nation, broken and tattered in the mud by a combination of Euro-American and Japanese imperialists, rose to take its place amongst the half a dozen or so Security Council nations of the world.

And a few years after Mao died, his beloved China has become before our own very eyes the economic juggernaut of the world. As we write this article, China is the world's third biggest economy, and is relentlessly surging ahead. This we must all be humble to recall is from the ashes and humiliation of just about 50 years ago, and will amount to a miracle of human accomplishment.

This Chinese and Mao's thesis of the rural region as the empowerment and epicenter of a people, or a state and their development is going on quietly in Niger State today. True to form as the philosopher reminded us, all great revolutions arrive on the quiet footsteps of doves. As it goes on, deepens its grasp and import on peoples and state, observers often pass on and neglect it. Of course, their fancy is hooked on the dramatics of change rather than in the reality of change. Reality, however, is often not drama and may disappoint those who are looking for titillation rather then growth.

We do not know if Aliyu is a disciple or reader of Mao's works, but one thing is clear; it is their shared sense of urgency to transform a rural people and state to a position of global and as in Niger State regional importance. For Aliyu, while the town and urban fixtures may seize out imagination, in truth they harbour just about 15-20% of our population.

Simply put the demographical dividend is on the side of the 80% housed and scattered in rural Niger State. And like the late Nnamdi Azikiwe would say, our first duty is to restore the dignity of man. As a throwaway, we could all remind ourselves that Azikiwe was himself a Nigerite, having been born in Zungeru, a part of the state.

It is perhaps suggested that Aliyu and Azikiwe, scions of the same land, share in this vision of man restored, re-invented and given to pursue his glory. And the man, 80% of his count is in the rural area.

This key appreciation brings and begins the Mao-type revolution and turn-around in Niger State. With a first tranche of more than half a billion Naira, Aliyu has just kick-started the tractorization of rural farming in Niger State. This is only a part of a full plan for the mechanization, modernization and transformation of rural subsistence agriculture in the state. At full service, each local government area will have a matching list of a 100 tractors.

And to complement this modernization is a huge and all pervasive fertilizer outreach and sales. Before Aliyu, fertilizer sales were pitched at 25% subsidization. Now it has shot up to 40% from the state government.

When the Federal counter-part subsidy is added, it rises up to 65% and farmers contribute 25%. The import is not only that farmers will be producing efficiently and at full capacity, but mass employment is subsequently generated. Agriculture and cognate services have the capacity to generate jobs in massive numbers and collateral social benefits like: reduced crime rate and youth restiveness, a healthier and well fed population. All these will in a virtuous circle reinforce one another, making for an economically more empowered Niger State.

Even more for Niger State farmers, the state government is coming to them at a period of pre-farming season. This is to allow the farmers prepare themselves, both psychologically and with their own contributory materials and equipment. This is in sharp contrast to pre-Aliyu regimes, when governments politicized agricultural outreaches and made it to serve bureaucratic and not farming timetables. For Aliyu and the new Niger State, the agric-policy is farmer-driven and not process or bureaucratically driven

To give the farmers a sense of the efficiency and drive of the market and competition, state wide mini-fairs will be done and state agric districts will compete against one another, for prizes of further agric concessions and bonuses.

All this is to fire up the agric potentiality of Niger State from mere subsistence, to being a pillar of the state economy. It is programmed that with time, agricultural revenue receipts from Niger State will out-match whatever allocations are due to the state from oil.

This will occasion the chasing away of the very idea of an allocation dependent economy. And when we remember what Israel, Australia, Thailand even Kenya have done with their agriculture earning more than their entire national crude oil receipts, or how China is able to feed its two billion citizens, one can't help but salute the vision of our own Mua'zu Babangida Mao Aliyu.

However, Niger State is completely aware of the concentration of trained and prize manpower in the urban centres and is not neglecting them. Both Minna and the other city centres of the state have been described as centres of cranes, caterpillars etc, all in a concerted effort to achieve modern amenities for the urban citizens.

And the fact of Aliyu's accomplishments in the towns and urban centres of Niger State constitute a bellwether achievement. The strategy to this has been in his mobilization and awakening of dormant human resources.

Thus where others deploy excess cash or capital, Aliyu deploys human ingenuity and vision. But in all, he comes to the full and fixed conviction that it is the human numbers that matter, and not the centres of temporal residence. It is just that for Aliyu, the Chief Servant of Niger State, the epicenter of development is in the people. And 80% of the people are in the rural areas.

And perhaps like China, in due season Niger State thanks to Aliyu will surprise us and emerge as our third if not second largest state economy. Things happen. It has happened in Malaysia, Indonesia and China. It is happening in Niger State right now, thanks to Aliyu and team.

Nze writes from Lagos.