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Determination to salvage Edo and Agric sector

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By Festus Osareme

RECENT scenarios may have brought to light the intentions of investors and deceptions at play in the agricultural- rich Edo State.

In resonance to some resounding revelations, a close study of the Edo-born billionaire businessman and supporter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, in the September 19, 2020 governorship election, Captain Hosa Well Okunbo, and his statement which expresses his overwhelming concern for the future of his home state (Edo), may have come in handy.

Studying Okunbo’s lamentations

The business mogul, who spoke with media executives in Abuja, revealed his conviction that the state if properly govern can boost of a sustainable future for her populations. To this end, he is determined to invest his hard-earned resources to support anyone with the right vision to create that enviable future.

Apparently, Captain Okunbo further showed his commitment to the salvation of the state when he clearly stated that his support for the APC candidate was more of a charity work instead of investment as is usually the case in Nigeria politics.

When asked how he intends to recoup the money he is using to support the APC candidate. His answer was quite revealing. Hear him: “People have asked me this question and what have I told them is ‘Red Cross’, what do I mean, ‘Charity’.

“If today, I am supporting Osagie Ize-Iyamu to liberate my state, tomorrow how can I expect something from a state that they have riddled with debt? Our children have been mortgaged and you said I should not talk. Let me tell you, I have worked all my life, I am 63 years old and if I do not have money kept away that I can use in the day of danger, then I have failed. Osagie is a beneficiary.

“If I dare go to him after he wins to say Old boy, how about the money that I spent, that will be the beginning of our fight. So I am very conscious.”

Speaking from an insightful perspective, the billionaire businessman anchored the state’s prosperity on its abundant agricultural business potential. Asked why the APC candidate, Ize-Iyamu will deliver in this aspect, he said, “I have met with Ize-Iyamu, he has also shown me the vision he has for the state. He calls it the Simple Agenda. He also has the vision of farming and he is a farmer, he is very passionate about the agenda.”

Expressing confidence in the agriculture revival agenda, he said, “I believe the only thing that has not been exploited to the benefit of Nigeria and our children is farming. We have arable land everywhere, farming will take a lot of our children  off the streets. And it is one of the agenda he is passionate about.

“Godwin also spoke to me about Farming in 2016 but where is the farm?I’ve sat down with Pastor and he believes in farming because through farming, the people will be empowered and our youth will be engaged. He has the same vision as I have about farming.”

The issue

However, it’s important to state that the incumbent, Governor Godwin Obaseki, who is currently contesting under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), had equally paraded a similar vision during his campaign in 2016. But the question that readily comes to mind at this point is how much of this promise was kept.

An independent investigation carried out indicated that despite the vast arable lands for the production of various agricultural products in commercial quantity in Edo State, the state, especially in the last three years has remained in the doldrums with little or no achievement recorded in terms of agricultural economic viability.

This against the background of the fact that agricultural accounts for about 40 per cent of economic activities in the state. Thus indicative of a huge revenue potentials. By implication agriculture remains the hallmark for the growth and development of the state economy. Hence, one cannot but agree with Capt Okunbo that the sector holds the key to the economic liberation and prosperity of citizens of the state.

That is why people believe that there is need to prioritize agriculture to create wealth and grow revenue for economic expansion in Edo State. For a state that prides itself as the heartbeat of the nation, having the best hands to manage the economy is not negotiable, says an economic expert, Johnson Lawal.

Findings have shown that incumbent government’s failure to revamp the agricultural sector and put the state economy on a high pedestal with the huge resources acquired from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the federation account allocations in comparison with its counterparts,  has indeed, impaired the state economy and affected both subsistence and commercial Edo farmers. Within the last two years, over N7 billion has been procured from the CBN to fund agriculture in Edo state by the current administration. But those who are directly affected say there is nothing on ground to suggest the application of such a humongous amount.

For instance, the failure of simply applying the borrowed funds under the CBN Anchor Borrowers’ Programme and agripreneour has pushed the state palm oil industry into a cash crunch, resulting in many job losses, with a huge revenue loss to both the operators and the state. Producers of the tropical product are now turning to commercial banks and other lenders to borrow at high interest rates to fund their operations and stay afloat. Palm oil industry in Edo State was one of the major employers of labour in the past.

Other sectors expectation ruin

The situation is not different in the rubber plantation industry. The lack of government intervention has plagued Edo state rubber operators over the years as the situation even gotten worse under the current administration of Obaseki.

Up and until now, the state still lacks major crops processing machines that can ensure value addition to goods – like tomatoes, millet, groundnut, Maize, cocoa, rubber, cassava, rice, and palm carnal – that are produced locally – in the state. Recall that during his campaigns in 2016, Governor Obaseki deed promised to empower farmers with seedlings and link them with off-takers of all locally produced goods in the state. Over three years to his government, farmers in the state say they have been abandoned.

The Edo government had announced that it secured N5 billion from the Central Bank for farmers through its agripreneur programme as part of efforts by the Governor Godwin Obaseki administration to ensure food security in the state.

The Special Adviser to the Governor on Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Programme, Prince Joe Okojie made the claim during a tour of fish farms at Uteh Koko community in Ikpoba-Okha Local Council and the returnees’ integrated farm facility at the state’s Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) in Oredo council area.

The reality on ground is sharply different from the normal expectations of the impact of that intervention funds from the apex bank through the state government. Those who spoke with us said the funds were diverted to family members and cronies of the governor.

The agripreneur initiative had the potential of driving the economic development of the state and lifting thousands of smallholder farmers from subsistent to commercial farming.  The programme was designed to ensure food security and wealth creation in Edo.

The CBN fund and its failure

In 2017, the CBN gave N2 billion loan to Edo State government, for the production of maize, under the agripreneur programme. The fund that was meant to aid the cultivation of 5,000 hectares of rice farm in Agenegbode, Warrake, Iguomon, Illushi and Iguoriakhi, all in Edo State were also misued according to a senior civil servant in the ministry of agriculture.

A director in Edo state ministry of agriculture who asked not to be named for fear of intimidation from government quarters said inadequate monitoring and evaluation of programmes is one major contributors to the failure of the current administration in the area of agricultural development at all levels. Noting that evaluation is usually purposely done to determine achievements of rural/agriculture development programmes vis-à-vis the set policy objectives.

The source said: “From day one, this government did not hide its disinterest in agriculture. What we have had since the last three years is interventionism in agriculture by mere policy pronouncements. After the ceremonies, it is either the funds are never released or no proper evaluations of the little implemented programmes to ascertain whether they are standing or making the right impacts.

There is also the absence of involvement of all stakeholders. “There should be a proper interaction between all stakeholders both at the time of planning and implementing national agricultural programmes in the country,” Mr. K. Okafor, an agricultural expert said on why the state is currently backward in agric sector.   Agriculturists, researchers and more importantly the farmers/rural dwellers that are commonly ignored during planning and implementation of agricultural/rural development policies and programmes should all be taken on board since they are in a better position to identify the policies and programmes that will be tailored to the need of the farmers/masses.

Some commercial farmers in the state said failure of the incumbent administration to ensure a full non-participation of the various groups of stakeholders led to the failure of the few existing programmes, increased poverty, and inaccessibility of essential social features with dwindling economic success and failure of agriculture policies.

It is obvious to note that Obaseki’s agricultural policy framework was devoid of a workable  strategy, targets, goals, specific objectives and most importantly programmes or projects geared toward their accomplishment, giving credence to the school that posited that the foundation for the revamping of the agric sector was not set ab initio.

From any side it is viewed, Obaseki appears to have raised politics and unnecessary sentiments or ineptitude far above the need for growth in the agricultural sector. Not a few people argue  that Obaseki’s refusal to implement the blueprint of his predecessor or continue from where Oshiomhole stopped was the step that took the Edo state agric-economy to nowhere.

“There should be continuity and perpetual implementation of agriculture development policies by the current and future administration for the impact of the policies to be felt in Edo economy,” an agricultural economist, Dokun Ayodele, said.

  • Osareme, an economic and political analyst, writes from Abuja

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