Over the years, development experience in the rural areas of Nigeria- where majority of the populace live- has been significantly dismal, pale and pitiable. Concomitantly, people in the rural areas are often drawn to the cities by the apparent better life and opportunities they tendto offer in terms of income/ earning differentials, greater education and employment opportunities, as well as the availability of essential social amenities and public utilities. The increasing, unabated pace of rural-urban migration has been an albatross and a nemesis which is symptomatic of the under-development of the rural areas in particular and the discordant, dysfunctional and lopsided development of the Nigerian economy in general.A robust development of the rural areas, therefore, will not only engender an egalitarian society anchored on equal opportunities for all and sundry, but also serve as a veritable springboard and catalyst for the systematic,inclusive economic growth of the Nigerian economy.
As part of transformational efforts to enhance anaccelerated and integrated development of the rural areas with a view to stemming the tide ofruralurban driftand mitigating the burgeoning complex socio-economic urban problems, there is the pressing needfor a rural development master plan incorporating new,holistic approaches and alternative, development strategies by governments at all levels. Towards this end, pragmaticintervention policies must be fashioned out and adopted to create incentives for rural dwellers to stay and work in the rural areas, especially throughvigorous promotion and development of rural industries. In many instances, this may just be a matter of observing what type of non-farm rural production activities already exist in a particular community or part of the country and then helping to develop or adapt them to modern standards. For instance, a research study conducted by the International Labour Organization(I.L.O) revealed that “blacksmithing, weavingand dying, embroidery work, jewelling in goldsmithery and silversmithery and wood carving are among thetrades and crafts which have an old standing in Yoruba land” and that “some of these more or less traditional crafts and trades show signs of adaptation to modern requirements and changing demand” (An I.L.O fact-finding report for the pilot project for rural employment promotion in the Western State, 1970). In order to catalyze economic growth, enhance standard of living, reduce poverty and boost prosperity in the rural areas, small scale rural industries, particularly the viable traditional crafts and trades peculiar to each community or locality should be adequately incentivized, strengthened and supported by the government. In this regard, artisan and cottage industries in the rural areas that have demonstratedtheir economic viability should be empoweredto form cooperatives in orderenjoy some of the same benefits normally accorded small and medium sized enterprises in the urban industrial sector. These include, inter alia, access to credit facilities[through the setting up of small rural community banks, loans/credit companies, finance houses or micro-finance banks], as well as subsidies, training, management and technical support and advice, research and development programmes, tax and tariff incentives etc. Furthermore, in order to promote and strengthen rural industrialization, there is the need for efficient and optimal utilization of available local resources. In furtherance of the local content policy, modern agro-allied and food processing industries which would basically utilize locally produced agricultural commodities, raw materials and other available resources in each locality should be set up in the rural areas. Such agro-allied industries will not only drive and encourage increased local production of agricultural commodities, raw materials and other resources available in the rural communities but also go a long way in preserving and enhancing the value of agricultural produce in such areas thereby increasing the revenue accruing to farmers. In addition, the setting up of such industries will facilitate the creation of more jobs and employment opportunities for the rural dwellers.In order to ameliorate supply and marketing bottlenecks of these industries, a proportion of government’s (andits agencies) requirements for certain items, particularly those producedor capable of being produced by the rural industriesshould be obtained from them, either through direct purchase or sub-contracting arrangements.
In conclusion, in order to stimulate arapid and sustained socio-economic development of the country, it is crucially important and strategically imperative to open up the rural areas by ensuring the provision of critical infrastructural facilities, including water, electricity[rural electrification],agriculturalstorage facilities, functional communication facilities as well as integrated, efficient transportation system, incorporating network of roads, railways and water transport [particularly in the riverine areas] to facilitate easy movement and transportationof farm produce as well as industrial goods and personnel. In this respect,much of the necessary infrastructural projects could be carried outthrough labour intensive [direct labour], community self-help rural work programmes and timed to coincide, as much as possible, with the slack, low –peak seasons in agriculture / farming activities, such that the rural populace can actively and fully participate, so as to provide additional work and incomes for them. The participation of the local people in such rural work projects will not only empower them, but also foster a sense of involvement and ownership in the development process of the rural areas.