By Keme Ebitebe
That the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) for repentant militants in the Niger Delta was designed by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s government to return peace to the then restive region is no more news. But, how each coordinator of the programme attends to this very important national assignment has been what stakeholders are interested in.
Before now, the Amnesty Office had various reintegration programmes for the 30,000 former agitators on its roll, which include education, vocational training, professional training in aviation and maritime, automobile engineering, entrepreneurial training, tourism and hospitality. It still has all these programmes, but the ante has been upped with the agricultural revolution of Brig. Gen. Paul Boroh (rtd.), the incumbent Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the programme.
In August 2016, Boroh disclosed that 500 former militant youths from the Niger Delta would be trained in various agriculture-related skills as a means of engaging the youths in the sector. Speaking during the passing out ceremony of the trainees’ pilot scheme at the Bio Resources Development Centre, Odi, in Bayelsa State, he described the scheme as a success, noting that enormous potentials abound in the agric sector. Some of the former agitators, he said, would be sent to Songhai Farms in Delta State and others to the various agriculture departments of universities in the Niger Delta as well as the Peremabiri Rice Farms in Bayelsa State.
At the time, many thought it was a mere political statement oblivious that as an army officer, the General had taken to farming, with the firm belief that it is the future of the country and that on a personal level he could better sustain his family.
Boroh had never been comfortable with Nigeria’s dependence on oil. In one forum, he had described it as the bane of the country’s economy, stressing the eagerness of the Federal Government to diversify the economy, making agriculture the best alternative to oil.
Despite the various integration programmes for the former agitators, Boroh had told those who cared to listen that the best way to integrate such a huge number of beneficiaries quickly is through aquaculture and agriculture. Realising that the project requires a lot of planning and painstaking implementation, he approached a number of agencies and embassies, especially the Israeli Embassy. He also dragged the Amnesty Office into partnership with various agriculture bodies.
But, since you cannot force the horse to drink from the river, even if you succeed in taking it there, the idea had to be sold to the beneficiaries first, the way they would understand and appreciate. The beneficiaries were made to understand that agriculture creates mass sustainable empowerment; advanced technology and high yield varieties ensure good harvest; and that costs could be drastically reduced by locally fabricating integrated feed mills, which rely entirely on local products. Also, Nigeria, a country of over 180 million people, is a huge market in itself just as the West African states provide a market that is more or less limitless.
Having been convinced that the training will be worth the while, over 2,000 former agitators commenced training in farming technology at the College of Agriculture in Iguoriakhi, Edo State, in June 2017. They are being trained in different farming techniques to make them self-reliant in a space of three months. In an opinion piece published recently, Boroh wrote that “on the national level, we know that in taking to agriculture, the country is moving towards food self-sufficiency and security” even as he expressed satisfaction at the level of enthusiasm for agriculture among the amnesty beneficiaries.
“To harvest this, we had turned to the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) with an agreement to train an initial 1,000 beneficiaries and youths at its Bio-Resource Centre in Odi, Bayelsa State. Unfortunately, budget delays have not allowed us to take full advantage of this agency, which uses technology and the principles of science to produce high yields in farming,” he added.
Boroh disclosed that 1,000 beneficiaries across the nine oil-producing states are being trained in agriculture and would be empowered to establish their own crop, poultry and fish farms. These include 105 training in agro-business with the Songhai Rivers Initiative at the Songhai Farms, Rivers State, and 100 training in fish farming under Kabocastle Services at its Perecastle Fish Farm, Patani, Delta State.
An average of 25 each are training in fish farming in six centres including the Delta State University by Gedisco Energy Solutions, Infinite Farms in Ozoro, Delta State, and Orus Resources Farm, Aluu, Rivers State. At the Institute of Oceanography, University of Calabar, Cross River State, 96 are training in fish farming. The Ma-Atari Farms, Port Harcourt, is training another set in poultry farming. The Ogbebor Leadership Institute, Ologbo, Edo State, is training beneficiaries in rubber processing. TSC Services is training 24 in general agri-business at the Edo State College of Education, Iguoriakhi, while Eunirusk Investment is training 18 in cassava, corn and oil palm processing at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State.
Forty-eight beneficiaries are being trained in crop farming at the Faculty of Agriculture, Imo State University (IMSU). Yet another 25 will undergo training in cassava cultivation, processing to baking flour and fabrication of processing machines at the Rivers State centre of the renowned International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Oyo State. This specialised training is being facilitated by Primevails Nigeria Limited.
The training in agriculture is designed as a full value chain – from farming, production, processing, packaging, marketing to agri-business management. Each farm, according to Boroh’s plans, will require the services of at least four farmers, creating 4,000 farm workers in the region under this phase. What excites about this soldier-turned-farmer’s agricultural revolution is how he has almost effortlessly translated the President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s vision for agriculture into reality. Without mincing words, Boroh has, indeed, become the archetypal change agent.
Since oil is a wasting resource, which some believe will disappear with time, Boroh’s agric revolution has the potential to sustain Nigeria’s economy in the absence of oil. And, thereafter catapult Nigeria into the community of countries that are less-dependent on others to feed.
Ebitebe is a public affairs analyst