By John Okeke
Nigerian members of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS (MPs) and others have taken the gauntlet to challenge their respective home governments to increase budgetary allocation for agriculture in order to enhance production to improve food security amid a looming threat of a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in West Africa.
This move was sequel to the call by the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Sidie Mohammed Tunis, at the ongoing Delocalised Meeting of ECOWAS on agricultural production and food Security to fight Covid-19, which commenced in Bissau, Guinea Bissau on Tuesday.
The Speaker had urged members of the legislature to pressure their home governments to increase the budgetary allocation for agriculture.
The Delocalised meeting is being organized by the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Water Resources and Sustainable Development, Industry and Private Sector, Health, Energy and Mines, Social Affairs, Gender and Women Employment with the theme” Agricultural Production and Food Security in the ECOWAS Region under Covid-19 Pandemic”
Speaking to correspondents on the sidelines of the meeting, member representing Ibeju-Lekki Federal Constituency of Lagos State in the Nigerian House of Representatives, Adebayo Olusegun Balogun, said food security is the area that the legislature will prevail on the governments and other stakeholders to improve the capacity in production and storage across the region even as he emphasized the use of technology.
He said “in ensuring that we boost agricultural production, there are many areas we need to focus on such as improving the technology in agriculture, which is very essential. May be Covid-19 is an opportunity to open the eyes of the people to some of these problems we have. Storage facilities and the production chain in the agriculture sector must be increased, many times people produce but because there are no processing firms, they lose most of the products.”
He decried inadequate storage facilities in Nigeria, which he said led to the distressing experiencing of Nigeria going to borrow grains from ECOWAS, stressing that the Nigerian Government and the people must be prepared for a tougher period ahead of any eventuality. He however, cautioned the government against any further national lockdown in the event of a second wave of Covid-19.
“We should not let Covid-19 affect our economy, Covid-19 will not go any time soon we must learn to live with it and cope with the situation that is how we can address the second wave without affecting our economy,” he said, adding that Nigerians should be better educated to observe social distancing, wearing of face masks and good hygiene.
Also speaking, a member representing Amuwo Odofin Federal Constituency of Lagos State, Oghene Emmanuel Egoh, feared that a second wave of Covid-19 will be disastrous on the Nigerian and West African economies even as he called for a concerted efforts while making his contribution on Thursday.
“We will report all these issues back to our parliament because boosting agricultural budget is a good step but training the farmers to be more productive is another good thing. Covid-19 is an eye opener, so countries must move beyond that otherwise some countries will face serious hunger,” he said.
He lamented that the farmers were the worst hit by the Covid -19 because during the last lockdown, they could not move their goods to the main towns where they were needed and the goods got spoiled.
He also warned that a second wave might take Nigerians unawares as already in the last few days, the number of confirmed cases has increased and the fear is that it will increase further.
He said “We pray it does not rise beyond what we are seeing, if it does, it would be disastrous because people are already tired of lockdown. So, both the lawmakers and the government will need to get ready for a second round and we need to educate people more to observe the distancing, wear masks because Covid 19 is not over yet.
Another member of the House of Representatives from Oyo state, Adewale Taiwo, said “the government needs to be proactive and do the needful. We need to set our priorities right.” He added that the government should focus on how to get the young people gainfully employed and cushion the effect of unemployment, which was manifest in the nationwide ENDSARS protests that engulfed Nigeria.
A member of the Parliament, and the Head of the delegation of Guinea Bissau Members of ECOWAS Parliament, Califa Seidi, said West Africa needs to have a defined industrialization policy to create a proper condition that will expand the economy of West Africa and provide the much needed employment for the teeming youth. He advocated for a robust intervention in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the region.