Posted on September 8, 2017
The international cocoa summit held in Abuja last week was remarkable in several respects. Such a summit ought to have been held several years ago when Nigeria announced that it had become serious about economic diversification. Yet, it is still better late than never.
President Muhammadu Buhari rose to the occasion by declaring in his keynote address to the summit that the time had come for Nigeria to, once again, take its rightful place in cocoa production. He regretted that the sector had suffered neglect as a result of the country’s over-reliance on crude oil, which led to “the decline in our annual production of cocoa from 420,000 metric tonnes in the 60s to 192,000 metric tonnes in 2015, a situation that is no more acceptable to government.”
The president cited the Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) launched by the previous administration in 2014 as its guide and said it was now time to implement that “comprehensive document” in view of current realities.
We commend the Buhari administration for trying to build on the blueprint left by its predecessor, thus affirming that government is a continuum and the task of nation-building is best done incrementally by building on what previous governments left behind. It is axiomatic that though governments come and go, the country remains for all time.
We wholly agree with the president, and we know all Nigerians would support every effort the government makes to reignite national interest in cocoa production. Nigeria’s rightful place in cocoa production is not as the fourth, but as the world’s largest producer.
We have the soil, the manpower, the experience and, indeed, the motivation. Cocoa was once the nation’s biggest foreign exchange earner and it spawned an industry which nearly transformed the Nigerian economy from a peasant one to middle-income, as small traders grew into cocoa merchants. Cocoa, in those days, changed the lives of millions of Nigerians.
It was such a vital product that the Western Nigerian Government named its most magnificent edifice at the time, “Cocoa House”, as a tribute to the contributions of the product to its economy and the welfare of the people. It says so much for the nation’s dereliction in economic management that it allowed the production of cocoa to slide to the point where Nigeria is now producing just about a third of what it produced in the 1960s.
Regrettably, what happened to cocoa also happened to other vital cash crops as soon as the revenue from crude oil sales lured the country’s leaders into a false sense of national affluence and away from the ethics of hard work and economic prudence. Even worse was the manifest lack of enterprise and foresight: the country never rose beyond producing raw cocoa to turning the cocoa into intermediate or finished products after more than 70 years.
We hope that the transition from a primary, commodity exporter to an industrial producer would move the nation’s economy to a higher level.
We believe that the summit, which held under the theme: Cocoa: A Strategic Commodity for National Economic Development, created pathways, insights and innovative perspectives on the way forward. We no longer have the luxury of huge revenues from crude oil exports.
Worse, global automobile manufacturers anxious to wean their products from petroleum products have set various deadlines by which they would no longer produce gasoline-powered motor vehicles. Some of the deadlines are just a few years away.
Thus, as we contemplate the end of the gasoline age, we urge the Federal Government to create incentives to return cocoa farmers to their farms. Cocoa is an industry that could easily employ millions of Nigerians profitably and it is not often subject to political turmoil and volatility like crude oil. It is, indeed, the way to go in our much-touted effort to diversify and boost the Nigerian economy.