Nigeria definitely had an enviable reputation in the 60s’ and the early 70s’ for her rich contributions to world economy through agriculture. Prior to the discovery of the black gold, otherwise referred to as crude oil, which ostensibly became an Achilles’ heel of some sort on the nation, agriculture provided the needed employment for Nigerians as well as raw materials for the burgeoning manufacturing industries in the country. From the ground-nut pyramids in Kano, to the rubber and palm oil plantation in the East and Mid-Western States, to the expansive cocoa plantations in the Western region, Nigeria seemed to be heading for the most frontline position in the comity of progressive economies of the world. This belief was buoyed on the fact that food sufficiency or agricultural advancement is the pivot for social-economic development of any nation. It is a truism that any nation that has difficulty feeding its citizens should forget about genuine leapfrog in economic development.
Regretfully, the discovery of crude oil also in the 60s’ and later part of 70s’ indirectly became a death knell for the agricultural advancement of the country as the nation’s political leaders recklessly consigned the sector to irrelevance and rather put all the nation’s eggs in the basket of oil. The resultant effect is that Nigeria naturally became a mono-economy, a position that has put her in a precarious state in a changing global economic milieu.
The country is today inextricably tied to the apron springs of other economies, because of her over reliance on oil and finished goods from foreign lands.
Ostensibly, it was the need to change this wrong mooring on agriculture that the present administration, has begun to strive to bring back the sector to the front burner of national relevance,through multi-pronged approaches. One of this is to engage relevant stakeholders in proffering solution to the backstage relegation of the sector.
The 2016 National Conference of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, held at the Premier Hotel Ibadan, Oyo State,apparently logged into this move of government by focusing onthe theme “Networking for national economy: the Synergy of agriculture and communications”
The Conference which was declared open by the Governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, who was represented by his Deputy Governor, Chief Moses Adeyemo left no one in doubt that effective communications, of which Public Relations is a significant component, must be factored into any serious move to catalyze the sector from its present comatose position. There was clearly a convergence of opinions that successive governments in the country had neglected the sector to the detriment of the nation’s prospect and urged that immediate steps must be sincerely taken by government to change the ugly trend.
While welcoming delegates, the Institute’s President, Dr. Rotimi Oladele said the choice of Ibadan for the confab was strategic,given the historical significance of the state to Nigeria’s agricultural development. He noted that Ibadan, which was the headquarters of the then Western Region still plays host to such notable agricultural institutions like the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); The Cocoa Research Institute(CREEN) and the Moore Plantation, among others. Similarly, Oladele said the towering Cocoa House building in the metropolis stands till date as a testimonial of the good value of agriculture to any progressive economy. The edifice which is one of the tallest and superbly built buildings in the country was built solely with proceeds from cocoa in the late 60s. The NIPR President opined that the present economic challenges facing the country would be surmounted only if government is committed to the revival process in the agricultural sector, pointing out that the conference was aimed at ventilating the views of the PR professionals on the national issue as part of its responsibility to growth and sustainable development of the nation.
Similarly, Governor Ajimobi underscored the role of PR and communications experts in bridging the disconnect between research and development of the agricultural sector. The governor underscored the return of emphasis on agricultural extension services as a means of synchronizing research and practical farming, as evidenced by the creation of farm settlements in many parts of the country, post-independence.
Delivering the theme paper, Dr. Iyk Oji of the Nigerian Institute of Management, lamented the policy summersaults of government in the agricultural sector over the years, stressing that the gains of past governments’ ingenious policies such as the “Operation Feed the Nation” and the “Green Revolution Programme” should have been sustained to make the nation the hub of agricultural development of the world.
He opined that agriculture had the potential of accelerating and stimulating growth in other sectors of the economy and could stand as the main revenue earner for government, if favourable policies were put in place by government in that direction. Harping on the importance of networking, Dr. Oji noted that since 1980s, low national networking for the economy has led to decline in the real social and economic progress in Nigeria. He said this has manifested in lack of sincerity of purpose of most Nigerians and the throwing overboard of the rich cultural values of honesty, justice and hard work which are hallmarks of progressive nations. The Don said that the country’s political leaders must continually network in the fast changing global environment for the betterment of the citizens, citing that countries with the largest economies in Europe, America and the “Asian Tigers”paid considerable attention to networking in order to gain comparative advantages in the areas of their economic strength and potentials.
Among other things, the communiqué issued at the end of the conference advised that identified key players in the agriculturalsector should be constantly carried along with on-going policies of government to revamp the agricultural sector, rather than concentrate on abstract postulations that do not have bearing with the day to day challenges of farmers, especially at the grassroots.
PR practitioners and Communication experts were advised to see themselves as having critical roles to play in reconnecting the diverse stakeholders in the agricultural sector to break down barriers of ignorance, for sustainable development of the sector.
The conference also highlighted the significance of networking and communications as panacea to the dysfunctionality in the nation’s socio economic and infrastructural development, while fingering poverty and quick-fix culture of Nigerians as major deterrence to the nation’s agricultural revival efforts. In the area of capacity building, the confab believed that it was time the NIPR availed its membership with opportunities for skills and competences in agricultural communications through the establishment of agricultural communication Institutes as obtainable in some nations of the world.
Existing higher educational institutions offering courses in communications were also advised to create curriculum in Agricultural Journalism, in order to create required expertise in packaging, branding and marketing information for the country’s agricultural produce. It was noted that most home-made agricproducts of the country had not received required acceptability in global markets because of these reasons. The conference also canvassed an aggressive public awareness campaign to rein in the need for all Nigerians to return to agriculture as a way of combating food insufficiency, by utilizing all available land in their neighbourhood.
Highpoint of the two day conference was the re-election of Dr. Rotimi Oladele as President of the Institute, while Alhaji MuktarSirajo was re-elected Vice President. Notably, frontline PR Professionals such as Dr. Gbenga Abimbola; Mrs. YetundeAlagbe and former Spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Retired General Chris Olukolade as well as the Spokesman of Nigerian Customs, Mr Wale Adeniyi were among those re-elected into the Governing Council, which is the highest decision making body of the Institute.
Tope Adaramola is the
Chairman of NIPR, Ogun State Chapter