The University-based Poultry Revival Programme announced recently by the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, is the latest in a long line of ill-conceived interventions that have become the hallmark of the policy-making milieu in Nigeria. At an interactive session with vice chancellors of Nigerian universities, Mr. Emefiele, represented by the CBN’s Deputy Governor, Monetary Policy, Dr. Okwu Joseph Nnanna, disclosed that the apex bank had set aside an unspecified amount of money to be disbursed to select universities for the ultimate purpose of boosting poultry production in the country.
As is often the case with interventions of this nature in Nigeria, the CBN governor cannot be accused of lacking good intentions. For instance, his diagnosis of the existing situation in the poultry sector is unimpeachable: the sector is beleaguered by “high production costs, safety concerns due to lack of sanitary controls, technical constraints in processing and marketing, unreliable access to inputs, including chicks and feed, as well as high costs of veterinary services.” As well, Mr. Emefiele is right about the specific challenge to the poultry sector constituted by the activities of smugglers who bring into the country an estimated 1.2 million metric tonnes of poultry meat through the border with Benin Republic.
While the CBN governor’s diagnosis is accurate, some would say compelling, the proposed solution boggles the mind and provokes more questions than answers. If, according to Mr. Emefiele, the CBN’s “main intermediate objective is to ensure that poultry production is increased as well as end the smuggling of poultry products into Nigeria,” it is not clear how the allocation of money to a handful of universities helps in achieving it. In the first instance, smuggling is a law enforcement problem that is far from unique to the poultry sector. Will the participating universities be required to devote some of the money allocated to them to research on smuggling?
In the second instance, the entire initiative seems to rest on a misapprehension of the raison d’etre of universities as centres of knowledge production. In the best scenario, a university can have a poultry for the purpose of demonstration. That is all. What the university cannot be is a full-time business that produces poultry on an industrial scale for supply to the rest of the society. The primary mission of a university is research, and that some of them now produce “pure water” as a token of “financial autonomy” is a fact to be lamented.
If Mr. Emefiele misunderstands the mission of the university, albeit with the active connivance of vice chancellors who went panhandling, he misunderstands that of the CBN even more. Having disbursed money to participating universities, Mr. Emefiele hopes that “the CBN will undertake regular on- and off-site checks to ascertain the veracity of reports” submitted by them. In other words, the CBN will morph into a bureaucracy that goes about tracking the spending habits of Nigerian universities. You would think it should have its hands full attending to the health of the Nigerian economy.
If the CBN has free money that it cannot wait to relieve itself of, it should make straightforward donations tied to a research agenda to the universities. Nigerians look up to the CBN for rigour, clarity and forensic analysis. The University-based Poultry Revival Programme is none of these and is a poor advertisement for the apex bank.