Agriculture was the main source of the Nigerian economy before the discovery of crude oil at Oloibiri in 1956 by Shell BP. Agriculture thrives in favourable climatic conditions. The climatic factor is significant, not only in relation to its effect on the character of the vegetation, but it also plays a dominant role in the ways of life, including the pattern of economic activities of the various people. As in other parts of the tropics, rainfall is the most important element of climate in so far as agriculture, the main occupation of Nigeria’s people.
Economic activities in various parts of the country are controlled by the distribution of rainfall as well as the rainy season, which differs from south to north. Mangrove region of southern Nigeria with high rainfall per annum supports the growth of palm trees, rubber, coffee and cocoa etc. The savannah grassland to the north supports the planting of cereal and leguminous crops such as sorghum, millet, groundnuts as well as animal rearing mostly for hide and skin.
To better understand the positive impact agriculture had on the Nigerian economy, it will be appropriate to first look at how agriculture was introduced to Nigeria before the discovery of crude oil in 1956. To integrate Nigeria into a global economy, cash crops were introduced to Nigeria by the Europeans from South America and India (Oluwasanmi 1960: 34-36). Palm oil became an export commodity in Nigeria as far back as 1558; and by 1830, the Niger Delta, which now produces crude oil, had become the major source of palm oil which dominated Nigeria’s export list for more than 50 years (Olukoju 2009:105-125). Cotton joined the export list in 1856, while cocoa was introduced and became an export crop in 1895 (Olukoju 2009:117). Together with rubber, groundnut, palm kernel and Bennie-seed in later years formed the major valuable crops.
Agriculture was the main source of revenue, export and foreign exchange for the government. It is very important to note that the economy generally recorded tremendous self-sustaining growth and expansion before crude oil became the mainstay. Nigeria had abundant of groundnut in the north, Cocoa in the west and palm oil in commercial quantity in the east. Revenue from agriculture back then was used to build social and economic infrastructure, providing basic services like education, health, water and electricity supply. The need to meet increasing demand both outside the shores of Nigeria and to provide raw materials for domestic agro-industries in Nigeria provided vast employment opportunities for some many Nigerians.
In respect of food, the nation was self-sufficient before crude oil was discovered and agriculture provided sufficient food needed to feed Nigerians, employed the majority of the Nigerian population and contributed about 64.1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Oluwasanmi1960: 23-29). Hardly was there unemployment in Nigeria during this period, as both the young and old people was engaged in one farming activity or another and even those that fancy white-collar jobs, often make out time to visit their farms on weekends or when they are on leave. This generated multiple streams of income, thereby increasing their standard of living.
As part of Government efforts back then to provide social responsibility, agriculture was well inculcated into the lives of the young ones. For examples, schools at all levels acted as government agents to facilitate this social practice. Every school had its farm in which all pupils/students were thought how to farm free of charge. The result of such practise back then was the building of individuals who will go on to become self-sufficient in society.
However, Nigeria’s agricultural honeymoon took a different turn when crude oil was discovered in commercial quantity at Oloibiri, now in Bayelsa State in January 1956, by Shell BP. Whenever crude oil is mentioned as one of our natural resources, the reactions from Nigerians are always a perplexed one because Nigerian do not know whether crude oil was a curse or a blessing to them. Of course, every mineral underneath the crust of a country is always a blessing because the minerals ought to be used to better the lives of it citizens as it’s the case with oil-producing countries like Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Kuwait, USA, etc. except for Nigeria that has abundant crude oil deposit like the aforementioned nations above but nothing to show for since its first discovery in commercial quantity.
The Dubai that most of our clueless, visionless, greedy and selfish leaders are running to now and then, was nowhere compared to Nigeria some 40 years back. It will interest you to know that Dubai which is the second richest country in the UAE behind Abu Dhabi, does not have up to half of the natural resources in Nigeria, but yet, Dubai is where it is today because her leaders who have same one head as Nigeria’s leaders, but I cannot say for certain the same IQ and vision, were able to manage their resources properly to better the lives of their citizens. Canada too is another country that has a high standard of living, because her leaders are visionary thinkers, unlike ours who don’t think beyond their First School Leaving Certificates. That’s if at all they have such certificates anyways.
Nigerians problem is not just only a case of mismanagement of crude oil resources, but that of total neglect and abandonment of the agriculture sector that was the backbone and building blocks of the Nigeria economy, that made the world recognised it as ‘Giant of Africa’. Tell me, which normal and visionary person sees another opportunity to multiply his/her streams of income, decides to choose one and abandon the other? Nigerian past leaders did so and the current ones are still doing the same.
God Himself knew Nigeria was going to be the most populated black nation on earth and that was why he gave her abundant of natural resources because He said: “before you were born I knew you in your others womb”. He knew mother Nigeria was going to have so many children to feed, so He blessed her with abundant natural resources to harness all and not to be picky, but here we find ourselves wallowing in abject poverty because her children have been cursed with vicious leaders who derive joy in seeing others suffer. If not tell me how Nigeria’s budget will be based on the benchmark of crude oil price, meanwhile there’s palm oil which is more valuable than the so-called black gold.
The quicker our leaders stop paying lips services and playing politics about diversifying our economy to actually taking purposeful actions to ensure that agriculture which was the mainstay of our economy pre crude oil era, is reintegrated back into our economy, the more we will keep borrowing more money to make up for the deficits in our national budgets yearly. Because green energy is gradually taking over the world and the time will come when this crude oil that is the lifeline for our national budget will no longer sustain Nigerians and I pray when that time comes Nigerians won’t say “Had we known”.