Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
The plan by the Ebonyi State Government to renovate and modernise the structures and premises of the Abakaliki rice mill has been greeted with suspicion and opposition by the rice millers, property owners and indeed other stakeholders in the mill.
The rice mill cluster located along Ogoja Road axis of Abakaliki metropolis houses more than 100 shanties, with arguably the worst road network anywhere in the state. Nobody who visits the mill will believe that it is still part of the new Abakaliki city under Governor David Umahi.
And given the massive infrastructural development sweeping across the length and breadth of the state capital; coupled with the ever-increasing demand for the Abaklaiki rice, especially with federal government’s high tariff on importation of foreign rice and closure of the nation’s borders; it would be surprising if the state Government failed to renovate the place.
This perhaps accounted for why the government recently announced its intention to renovate and reequip the mill to meet up with the standard and demand of the time.
However, the proposed renovation has been a source of worry to the millers and property owners at the mill, some of whom doubt government’s sincerity.
A popular rice miller in the area who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that government was planning to chase them out of the place under the guise of renovation.
He said every administration since the creation of the state had always wanted to dislodge them from the place.
Another miller who simply gave his name as Opoke told Daily Sun that he would rather die than allow government destroy his investments in the mill because of renovation which he said would never end.
Apparently to allay their fears and ensure that the renovations go on as planned, the state Government recently met with the millers and property owners at the mill.
At the meeting, Government debunked the speculation, adding that its interest was how to renovate the mill and make it conducive for businesses, and not to acquire it either for the governor or for the Government as being speculated.
Deputy Chief of Staff, Government House, Dr. Okechukwu Nwakpu, who represented Government at the meeting which held at the conference hall of the mill in Abakaliki, restated the determination of the government to give the mill a facelift and import modern rice equipment to provide more jobs for the people.
He also dismissed another speculation that the government was planning to relocate the mill.
Nwakpu solicited their cooperation and understanding while urging them to form themselves into cooperatives and get registered.
He regretted that none of them had registered even after the government sent Special Assistant on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to educate them on the importance and steps in registering cooperatives.
Nwakpu disclosed that out of over 130 mill owners, only about 14 had registered.
“People have been so much worried over the state government’s involvement in the rice mill. I want to state categorically, that the state government is not interested to acquire and own this mill. Governor David Umahi has nothing to do with Abakaliki Rice mill as an individual or as a state government.
“His interest is to make sure that this mill receives a facelift such that anybody coming from outside the state to the mill will know that actually, this is Abakaliki Rice mill that produces the rice that feeds the country, not with this analogue machines, but modern machines.
“We came to inform you that from today, we are giving you one week ultimatum, if you don’t have your registered cooperatives; we shut down your mill, you are not qualified to do your business here, whether as a mill owner or as a rice dealer or as a landlord.
“Our reason is this; government will soon bring in some expertise that will go round the mill to ascertain the type of building that will fit into the modern mill. If we need to destroy the old buildings, we will do so and rebuild it, if it needs to be renovated, we will do so, but we cannot do these things when you don’t have your cooperative societies.
“Government is ready to go to anywhere and borrow money for you people and will still sign as your guarantor and your surety, you don’t have to do anything concerning that, your own is to answer the owner and agree on the mode of repayment of the loan.
“The essence of this is that, assuming the government finally takes decision to destroy these buildings and put up new structures, it’s those who registered with us that we will submit their names as those who have buildings here,” the deputy chief of staff stated.
On his part, chairman of Abakaliki rice mill, Samuel Ogodo, urged his colleagues to do the needful so as to benefit from the state Government’s packages.
He pledged that his office would set up measures to get the millers to register cooperatives.