Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Case for a Ministry of Rural Development

Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development have several parastatals, agencies and departments, but only one department, the Federal Department of Rural Development, is solely dedicated to rural development.

To a large extent, Nigeria’s rural development strategies have been mainly targeted at the country’s agricultural productivity. Though, majority of Nigeria’s rural dwellers are peasant farmers; rural development should go beyond agricultural productivity. It should also be directed at the development of human and natural resources; rural road, energy, education, culture, social order, and political awareness. This re-direction will make rural development in Nigeria conform with the global concept of rural development- “quantitative change or uplift in the standard of people in the rural areas, brought about through integrated approach, by both governmental and non-governmental agencies and the people themselves”.

The federal government of Nigeria has recently launched the second phase of the Rural Access and Mobility Project tagged “RAMP-2”. The RAMP-2 is aimed at opening up rural communities across the country within six years, through the construction or rehabilitation of 800km of rural roads and 65 numbers of river crossings in the four states of Adamawa, Niger, Enugu and Osun. The World Bank and the French Development Agency are financing the project with about $242.71 million.

The Mobility Project is a good initiative. However, for the project and other rural development programmes to be more effective, Nigeria’s rural development approach should be systematic as well as systemic. Systematic in the sense of using both reductionism and holism, while systemic in the sense of remodeling the three known rural development strategies (the technocratic, reformist and the radical).

Many countries have tried the three rural development strategies; some countries have recorded some success while others, colossal failures. The objective of the technocratic strategy is to increase agricultural output within the framework of capitalist ideology. The reformist strategy aims at redistributing income and increasing agricultural output. While the radical approach with socialist outlook; its objective is a complete social change, redistribution of political power and factors of production.

As earlier suggested, Nigeria’s rural development approach should be systematic -employing reductionism and holism. Using reductionism, this implies the RAMP-2 and other rural development programmes and projects would target one, two or a few rural communities in each of the 774 local government council of Nigeria at a given time. And using holism, selected rural communities will be equipped with basic rural infrastructure -school, water supply, electricity, health facility and sanitation, agricultural implement and extension service.

Good facilities and infrastructure can be built in rural areas; but maintenance of such could be a problem. Taking cognizance of the insufficient funds and near absence of government administrative machineries in rural Nigeria, the best solution is community involvement. Government facilitates education, culture, social order, and political awareness and provides the basic infrastructure. And it hands over the responsibility of maintenance and care to the community. Considering the peculiarity of most Nigerians when it comes to managing public resources and trust, extra measures will have to be put in place to avoid mismanagement and abuse. These measures could include legislative protection and guidance, governmental checks and balances, occasional inspection and evaluation. Facilities should be provided for manageable units of the community so as to avoid giving excessive control to community heads, who could take advantage by imposing some illegal levies or taxes on such facilities.

The current system of rural development in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development focuses too much on the country’s agricultural productivity to the detriment of the development of human, social and natural resources. And this is traceable to rural development being under the Ministry of Agriculture. For Nigeria to efficiently develop and execute a viable rural development strategy, the responsibility of coordinating rural development should be withdrawn from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. And a new ministry should be created solely for rural development. The proposed ministry should be made to function differently from what obtains in the present system. However, whether Nigeria’s well-known bureaucracy and politicians will allow for a different approach to the running of a ministry is a big question. Nonetheless, new and more productive ways of doing things must be recommended.

Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State,, 08036070980.

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