A former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, on Monday, said despite the agitations in the country and other developments threatening the unity of Nigeria, the nation’s youths would keep the nation together.
Gowon spoke at the 50th anniversary programme of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, a forum moderated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
A N152.5m project, executed to encourage youth involvement in agriculture, was also declared open as part of the anniversary.
At the event were the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who represented acting President Yemi Osinbajo; the Oyo State Deputy Governor, Moses Alake, who represented Governor Abiola Ajimobi; and the Olubadan of Ibadan land, Oba Saliu Adetunji.
Others at the ceremony were the President, African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina; Chief Joe Makoju, who is the Special Adviser to President, Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote; and other dignitaries from across Africa.
Asked if he was scared about the unity of Nigeria, Gowon said, “I am not scared for the unity of the nation. I have confidence in Nigeria and the youths of this country that they will make sure that they take over and do better than we left for them.
“I have no fear that all these rantings and so on, no; I have confidence that the youths of this nation will keep Nigeria going and make it greater. Diversity is our source of unity and strength.”
According to Gowon, Nigeria is at a great disadvantage in agriculture and food production because the average age of its farmers is 60 years.
He stated that there must be concerted efforts to trigger the interest of the nation’s youths in agriculture.
Gowon said, “The average age of farmers in Nigeria is 60 years; soon, they will pass on and that includes me. We have to encourage the younger ones to be interested in agriculture so that they can take over from the older generation that have been feeding the nation. This is what happens in Europe, America and China today and we must encourage it in Nigeria.
“During our time, agriculture was the main thing and plans were made for agro-allied development. We started to clear big areas for agriculture and inviting the federal and state governments, private sectors and even individuals to get involved in agriculture.”
In his speech, Obasanjo urged African countries to increase their interest in all aspects of agriculture and research while effort must be made to engage more women in agriculture.
The former President agreed with Gowon that Nigerian farmers were ageing, saying it was important to make agriculture attractive to the nation’s youths.
He stated, “Looking back, lITA has been a major blessing to the continent of Africa. In the past 50 years, the institute’s research has helped to avert major disasters that plagued African staples, including cassava and maize.”
Obasanjo added that Nigeria must commit itself to growing and eating its own indigenous foods, while also calling on the Federal Government to develop policies that would enable agriculture to grow and thrive.
Osinbajo, who was represented by Ogbeh, said Nigeria was heading for 450 million in population, arguing that feeding such a large population would be tough but possible.
“At over three per cent growth per annum, we are reportedly heading for 450 million persons by the year 2050; but feeding 450 million is tough though not impossible.
“If China and India did it, we too can. So, as we move on, we must reflect on the challenge of quantity of output and quality of consumption. And to achieve this, we urge you (IITA) to engage in more research,” Osinbajo said.
The AfDB President, Adesina, commended IITA for contributing to agriculture in Africa.
“At the African Development Bank, we have decided to work with amazing institutions to help drive Africa’s agricultural sector transformation. The bank will be investing $24bn in agriculture over the next 10 years to help turn agriculture into a business all across Africa.
“Our goal is to ensure that Africa feeds itself within 10 years and unblocks the full potential of its agriculture,” he said.