By Dapo Okubanjo
His appointment as new Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development was unexpected, but when it came, it did not come as a surprise to many people.
This has little to do with the passion with which Dr Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar ran the Ministry of Environment since his initial appointment as a cabinet member, but also with the manner the Kaduna-born,US-trained environmentalist is known to enmesh himself in any official assignment he is saddled with.
And coming few weeks after the President declared that he did not want to end his term in office as a failure, who better to man the all-important ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development than the man who earned Nigeria international plaudits from a UN agency overseeing agriculture even though he was not the minster in charge of that sector of the economy.
The endorsement by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) may have gone largely unreported in the local media, but the rest of the world took notice of what the body described as great efforts by Dr Abubakar to address desertification problem in some parts of Northern Nigeria.
For the avoidance of doubt,the FAO representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS Fred Kafeero told the then Environment minister during a courtesy call in June this year, that the UN agency was impressed with what the ministry was doing and was willing to do more to support a project designed to increase climate-resilient agricultural practices in Nigeria.
Hear him: “FAO has considerable policy and field level expertise to support the Ministry in the implementation of the project. We would like to work with your Ministry to bring this wealth of expertise in the new project.”
And as a result of the engagement with the UN agency, the FAO Representative also offered to create sustainable landscapes for cocoa and palm oil in Ondo and Cross River states.
So here is a man who even before President Buhari handed him his new assignment has already been inviting international support to what is technically the agricultural sector.
But in spite of this,the task before the new Agriculture minister is an enormous one judging from what is on ground vis-a-vis the President’s ongoing economic diversification drive.
Good enough,the US-trained environmentalist has moved swiftly to set his goals and priorities within days of assuming office, and it is no surprise that the implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Programme (NLTP) is high up on his agenda.
Any keen,unbiased observer of the Buhari administration know that the NLTP is one project that the Federal government holds dear especially against the backdrop of recurring herders/farmers conflicts in many parts of the country which is now both a political and security issue.
But many Nigerians,have also had to question government’s sincerity as well as the will to jump start the programme because of what they tagged the silence of the ministry which is expected to midwife it.
So hearing Dr Abubakar’s declaration that NLTP is high up on his agenda is one news that has been widely acknowledged as a great move against the backdrop of the need to reduce incessant conflicts between farmers and pastoralists, increase food production as well as grow the economy
It is expected that the new Minister of Agriculture will in due course begin series of stakeholders engagements during which he will clearly spell out the road map to achieving his agenda of positioning agriculture as the mainstay of the economy in line with the President’s Economic Sustainability Plan and his vision of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.
In the midst of all these is what could easily be described as the signature project of the Buhari administration’s second term in office,the Green Imperative Project (GIP), which is meant to tackle the dual problem of modernisation and agro-processing.
This is almost certain to be one of the programmes that will be used to benchmark Dr Abubakar’s performance in office giving that the $1.2bn bilateral deal with Brazil is a major plank of President Buhari’s ‘next level’ plan for the agriculture sector.
So from all indications, the task ahead of the new minister of Agriculture and Rural Development is tough but certainly not insurmountable.
Dapo Okubanjo was a member of the media and publicity committee of the 2019 APC Presidential Campaign Council.