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THE ORONSAYE REPORT : FIIRO,NCAM MERGER WILL BE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE
By: Victor Olomo  
 Published  June 20th, 2012

It is now a universally acknowledged fact that the cost of governance in Nigeria as a percentage of the total national budget is exorbitant. It is unrealistic and unsustainable to put it mildly, and is probably amongst the highest in the world.

The size of the recurrent expenditure far outweighs the outlays for capital projects and related investments for public good, with payroll for different categories of government employees including elected Chief Executives and their appointees, and elected members of the various legislative assemblies representing the largest chunk of the recurrent obligations. Evidently, the situation requires an urgent intervention to mitigate the current scenarios in which some 35% of the national budget is reportedly being used to service compatriots who constitute less than 1 % of the entire citizenry.

Responding to the challenges above, the federal government constituted a committee saddled with the responsibility of restructuring and rationalizing various federal agencies, parastatals, etc, with a view to producing a ‘leaner’ and hopefully more effective bureaucracy. A major objective of the committee, headed by a former Head of Service, Mr. Steve Oronsaye, was to dispassionately examine the mandates of federal agencies, parastatals and commissions, with a view to establishing areas of overlap or duplication of functions, and make appropriate recommendations to either restructure, merge or scrap them, to eliminate such overlaps, duplications or redundancies. 

Government’s initiative in constituting the committee is commendable and has drawn a lot of positive comments from wide sections of society. These efforts represent part of the time-honored, periodic procedures for national self inspection and assessment; particularly, when there are clearly self evident symptoms of fiscal waste and inefficiency in public institutions. A recommendation of the committee was the merger of two important national institutions, namely the Federal Institute for Industrial, Research Oshodi (FIIRO) and the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanization (NCAM), located in Ilorin. These two institutions are responsible for the development of two critical sectors of national life, namely: home-grown industrial development and generating engineering technologies for modern agriculture. 

FIIRO is a research and development agency of government whose documented mandates cover such activities as pulp and paper processing, food and agro- allied processing, packaging and product design, and the design and fabrication of associated equipment and prototypes. A common strand running through FIIRO’S mandate and objectives, is that it should serve as an important plank for a national import substitution strategy in the focal industries and activities highlighted above.

FIIRO should be playing a critical role in Nigeria’s efforts at practical capacity building for industrial development. Nigeria has a large array of research institutes with mandates focusing on the primary production of various food and cash crops using the modern tools of science and technology. Some of these crops include groundnuts, cocoa, cotton, cassava, oil palm, rubber, coffee, sesame, etc. These research organizations require an institutional partner with which to synergize for the development of systems and technologies for value addition. This will facilitate the local production of competitive, factory-level industrial technologies at optimal scales for the processing of the indicated crops and commodities. A spin off of this arrangement is the systematic development of value chains for Nigeria’s agricultural commodities, which at the moment is inadequate and largely responsible for our huge import bills, high youth employment, insufficient primary and intermediate feedstocks for food industries and unabating rural and urban poverty amongst large sections of the Nigerian populace.

The yawning gap between Nigeria’s agricultural potentials and the current national realities remains a major contradiction in terms. Agriculture contributes some 40% of national GDP, engages about 30% of the total population in primary production activities, which are characterized by low-input/low-outputs scenarios. Mechanization inputs being amongst the lowest in the world. Farm holdings are generally small (0.5-3ha), and even then, between 25 and 40% of the low productivity yields are lost, due to poor handling and processing. The inadequacies and inefficiencies of Nigerian agriculture cannot be better highlighted than our food import bills, which stood at over $612 billion (over N 98 trillion!) between 2007 and 2010. Most of these disturbing data relate largely to food and cash crops production difficulties and our incapacity to increase internal local production to mitigate continuing overdependence on food imports and perennial lack luster performance in agricultural commodities export.

Responding to the challenges above, the federal government has articulated an arguably comprehensive and ambitious agricultural transformation agenda. This strategy acknowledges the potential of agriculture to dramatically grow the economy, and has identified increased crop yields, increased acreages and shift to higher value crops as the principal drivers. To make any significant headway in increasing yields per hectare and the hectarages under activation, Nigeria will require a vibrant, strong and capable agricultural mechanization support.

In general terms, agricultural mechanization would encompass the development and promotion of the application of various tools, implements, devices and machines for agricultural land development, crop production, harvesting, preparation for storage, storage and on farm (non-industrial) processing of agricultural crops. The main sources of power for agricultural activities are also captured under the mechanizations activity. Developing local capacities for the manufacture, distribution, repair, maintenance, management and utilization of agricultural tools, implements, irrigation systems and machines also falls within this discipline, including how to make available the foregoing mechanization inputs to the farmer in an efficient and effective manner.

To achieve the above, an agricultural mechanization strategy is put in place. In essence the objective is to create the policy, institutional and market environment in which farmers and other end-users have options of farm power, irrigation systems and equipment suited to their needs within a sustainable delivery and support system. This strategy may cover the importation and domestic manufacture of tools, equipment and machinery, their repair and maintenance, relevant training, extension programs and promotion of financing systems for the procurement of mechanization facilities by interested groups and individuals nationwide. These foregoing institutional obligations and responsibilities assigned to NCAM are greatly required for effective delivery nationwide, at this juncture of our national history and must not be diluted with the equally important areas of urgent national focus like the development of our food industries. Rather than put food processing industries under the ministry of agriculture or the ministry of industries, India, realizing the strategic important of local capacity development for value addition created an independent Ministry of Food Processing Industries in 1988. I visited India on a industrial tour in 1997 ( its year of jubilee), and in my assessment, Nigeria is yet to attain the level of national food sufficiency achieved by India. Some fifteen years ago in 2004, Malaysia created a Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities from the erstwhile Ministry of Primary Industries.

The phenomenal strides that have been made globally by Malaysia in agricultural commodities (production, processing, utilization and exports) are an open secret. The country’s sterling agricultural achievements have been adulated since the 70’s; yet recognizing its strategic goals for the sector, it further strengthened institutions for supporting plantationing and commodities development.      

Based on some of the premises for developing the current national agricultural transformation agenda by the government, the following food commodities namely: wheat, rice, sugar and fish, cost the country over 1 trillion naira in forex annually; our food import bill is growing at 11 % per annum, fuelling domestic inflation. As is well known by many in the agricultural and industrial sectors and equally acknowledged by government, we are importing food commodities which can be produced locally, and importation is hurting local farming communities by displacing local production and creating rising unemployment, then critical institutions like NCAM and FIIRO should not be merged as they have very limited congruencies in mandates. A merged NCAM will limit its ability to facilitate substantial reductions in manual labour and subsistence farming. Changes in Nigeria’s demographics imply that a decreasing rural population is responsible for feeding an ever growing urban population and market. Emerging developments indicate that population growth and migration will be compounded by other problems such as the climate crisis and energy supply difficulties, making the food supply situation even more unsustainable. As China has its Chinese Academy of Agricultural Mechanisation Sciences (CAAMS) since 1956 contributing to her becoming the second largest economy in the world, and the first globally in many sectors of agriculture. India has a Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering. These are definitely not the times to merge critical institutions like FIIRO and NCAM responsible for strategic national development of industry and agriculture.

If Nigeria were a more serious polity, these are two institutions with which a large percentage of the citizenry should have been acquainted with their activities. If home-grown agricultural and rural development are indeed central to our national development philosophy, then NCAM, with its mandate to carry out adaptive research and development to facilitate agricultural mechanization, conserve soil and water through land development and efficient irrigation and drainage technologies, post harvest technologies development and accelerate access of millions of farmers to mechanization technologies, should not now be slated for merger with FIIRO. FIIRO should be a replica of sort, of India’s Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) which was established in 1950. CFTRI employs over 300 scientists, technologists and engineers, and over 400 technicians, skilled workers and support staff. It has sixteen research and development departments, including laboratories focusing on food biotechnology, microbiology, sensory science and food safety. In its 62 years of existence, it has developed over 270 products, processes and equipment designs, and close to 1600 licences have commercially exploited 160 of these technologies. The outputs of CFTRI are felt by India’s population of over 1 billion persons, and have been of significant industrial value, social relevance and national reckoning. Some of the technological and entrepreneurships skills leveraged by Indian businessmen in Nigeria and in other parts of the developing world are traceable to the know-how made available by CFTRI. This is aside from the strategic advantages conferred on India in the areas of national food security, import substitution and phenomenal increases in value added exports. For the vast majority of Indians, the return on investment on CFTRI has been more than worthwhile.

Like other Nigerian institutions, FIIRO and NCAM are servants and agents of the common weal, and can still attain the fullness of their institutional potentials. The perceived duplication of functions and other prognosis of the Oronsaye Committee to justify their merger cannot be further from the truth. Merging FIIRO and NCAM will be a national misjudgement which will inflict serious developmental injuries of monumental proportions. As for today, the outputs of these institutions might be a shadow of their immense possibilities. However, as a nation with globally acknowledged agricultural and agro-industrial potentials, this has been our metaphor since independence. Ultimately, the quality of performance of national institutions cannot be divorced from the quality and goodwill of the national leadership, and the moral tenor in which these institutions operate.

Against the background of overwhelming and often avoidable fiscal burdens, the rationalization effort of the government is understandable and commendable; however this exercise should be seen as just the beginning of a national iterative effort aimed at restructuring public institutions. Nevertheless, while undertaking this necessary corrective exercise of reducing wasteful public expenditure, we should not commit the error of throwing out the baby with the bathwater

It is the output, work rate, efficiency of service delivery by many government institutions which have either been eroded over time or been consistently below par, thereby short changing the nation vis- a –vis the quality and quantity of beneficial returns from the investment made by the common weal.These scenarios  however do not necessarily justify wholesale scrapping  and mergers. Otherwise the entire national assembly for example should have been abrogated. This will of course have been a faux pax of monumental proportions. Most of the times, there are rational and enduring justifications and compelling reasons for the establishment of national institutions. And while there may be socio-economic political and other considerations over time, which may  necessitate  the review of these institutional constructs, such  exercises  must be undertaken with the greatest care and meticulous consideration of the implications of drastic reviews, as this many incapacitate their functional capacities and effectiveness. In such circumstances, society will be the greatest looser.          

In seeking to bridge the gap between the reality of our national bureaucracy and the promise of a fiscally prudent polity, we should not be guilty of using the bulldozer to nurture a garden.  While the Oronsaye committee’s aim is to effect progressive change and institutional reform, it is also important to realize that change and progress will not come by inadvertently undermining the vision and ideals for which existing institutions were established. Merging FIIRO and NCAM will be a national misjudgement which will inflict serious developmental injury of monumental proportions. As of today, it may be true that the outputs of these institutions are but a shadow of their immense possibilities; however their operational and administrative merger will only worsen and compound their limitations.

Before the present become the past, government shall do well to clarify what we need to revive, restructure, albeit strengthen within the status quo, from that which we should merge, scrap or bury without regrets.

Government should not stampede itself into issuing a White Paper on the recommendations of the Oronsaye Committee; rather it should allow specialist iteration of the proposals with a view to getting a more balanced and sustainable action plan which will not shortchange the country.  Let FIIRO be, let NCAM be.

 

Olomo is the MD/CEO, Process Concepts and Technologies Ltd, Ibadan; and can be reached at procontec05@yahoo.com.


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