Back to Our Communities (I)

Back to Our Communities (I)

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By ANIEBO NWAMU

The wall separating urban and rural communities is collapsing fast. What makes a community urban except for availability of power, piped clean water and paved roads?  These amenities are present in a majority of our rural communities today, but they are lacking in some cities. As I write this in a part of Abuja where I live, there has been total power failure for the past seven days. Conversely, my native community has seen power three or four hours each day for the past six days.

One may wonder, therefore, the reason rural-urban migration has not been arrested in communities that already have basic infrastructure. The answer, I guess, is that young people are attracted to the city because they want better-paying jobs. They want to flee an environment reeking of endemic poverty and associate with people of like minds.

Besides, the anonymity provided   by the city makes many freer to do things they wouldn’t do in places they are well known. This quest for anonymity is also behind travels to countries in Europe, America and now Asia. I have visited some of these countries and seen our brothers and sisters languishing there.   Several of them are taxi drivers, watchmen, waitresses, salesmen, domestic servants and, of course, fraudsters. They dare not do lowly jobs in their home country – not with their diploma, B. Sc, M. A. and PhD degrees!

Our people can live better and longer if they could return to the communal life that existed in this part about 60 years ago. The community in which my grandfather lived all his life is much better than the community we live in today. Many a young man’s eye is fixed on money acquired by fair or foul means. Morality has declined. But the youth – and our communities – will not get the genuine money that lasts long and brings happiness until they learn to work as a team in productive activities. To succeed in any venture, they need to cooperate and not compete.

Through cooperatives, our communities would be able to achieve success in agriculture, cottage industries and other small businesses. I am aware that thousands of cooperatives have been formed across Nigeria. However, they have not succeeded because their operators are not honest, especially when politics and public funds are involved. When Vice President Yemi Osinbajo claimed last week that the APC federal government has been paying N5, 000 to each of 500, 000 “extremely poor” people in the country, I was amazed. Why giving them fish rather than teaching them how to fish? This government is simply incompetent! In the hands of honest leaders, the money Osinbajo said they spend monthly could change the fortunes of millions. It could make farmers in Abakiliki, Gboko, Kafanchan, Osogbo and Adani produce all the rice, beans and yams consumed in Nigeria.

Were it not for the informal sector, this nation’s economy would have since crumbled. Rural farmers alone contribute more than 40 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP, and, together with other small businesses, employ more than 100 million Nigerians. NERFUND, Bank of Agriculture, Bank of Industry, SMEDAN, People’s Bank, DFRRI, microfinance banks and mortgage institutions have all failed to deliver on their mandates. Most of the genuine small businesses are run by people who cannot even walk into a bank to request credit. The few that can do not have a chance of succeeding until they bring their grandparents back from the dead for them to sign certain documents. Nigerian banks give loans only to those who are already rich – that’s the idea of asking for collaterals and guarantors who own fat bank accounts.

Cooperatives are a necessary platform for community development. We have experts in how to form and run cooperatives. Where young people can work together, they can be given the necessary training in crop farming and livestock production. I say “young people” because they are the ones that should now be engaged in farming. Members of the older generation are either getting too old or dying out.

So let those with university degrees think better. It’s of no use waiting for non-existent jobs. White-collar jobs will not return. At the moment, there are no government jobs – except for the children of the rich and the powerful who are not invited for interviews. Only a loony person would keep hoping for a miracle when we see tertiary institutions churning out unemployable graduates and the industries that ought to absorb them folding up.  We have not even considered the non-graduates – the 15million out-of-school kids in the country; those who dropped out from or completed secondary schools; and those struggling with lowly jobs that can barely sustain them.

When we get cooperatives right, good ideas would work. For crop farming, acquisition of fertile land should be considered. Would the farmers move to Uzo-Uwani or Gboko? Those who are determined to work can make it, so long as seed money won’t be a problem.

A cooperative could comprise farmers interested in planting economic trees that survive easily in our areas on fallow lands. Farming in our communities is no longer about planting yams and millet alone. Currently our people in the southeast have discovered that yellow pepper yields more income, just as chicken, rabbit and pig farmers are getting richer than the traditional cow and goat farmers.  Fish farming is known to be a money spinner, as is bee-keeping for honey.

Cottage industries would be waiting to benefit from increased awareness of modern farming. More people could then be trained in food processing. Palm-kernel oil and palm oil are still demanded in large quantities by producers of creams and drugs. Plantain is used to make the expensive wines imported from Europe. Palm-wine producers are now in short supply; some people can now specialise in preserving it or processing it for sale in the cities. Cassava will always be in high demand. Garri processing will not be abandoned. Rather than allow yams to waste, we can convert them into flour. Processing of fruit like mango, cashew, orange, grape, pineapple and water lemon is a job worth doing.

These businesses could be funded through cooperatives. Are there rich individuals in our communities that can come together to set up a development bank – a true community bank, not the ones set up by criminals to swindle depositors or to benefit from government patronage? The time to do so is now. They may not start by giving grants but they can let beneficiaries have revolving loans at not more than 2% interest rate.

Such a community bank can loan money to these young farmers so they can hire labourers and buy seeds for cultivation on fertile land, or machinery for cottage industry. The best collateral that the banks may demand is each loan seeker’s ancestral land. The loan seekers or their cooperatives would be well known; it won’t be a matter of somebody bolting away with a bank’s money.

To be concluded next week.

 Nwamu is the CEO of Eyeway.ng

+234-8054100220 (SMS/WhatsApp only)

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