Eseme Eyibo is the Chairman of the newly inaugurated board of Cross River Basin Development Authority. A former spokesman of the House of Representatives, Eyibo in this interview spoke on his new assignment, vowing to turn the agency around.
As chairman of Cross River Basin Development Authority and one who has been involved in governance and lawmaking, what does this appointment represent?
I think that first and foremost, I want to state that Cross River Basin Development Authority has as its core mandate -the management of land and water resources. In managing those resources, there has to be critical innovations and reforms when it comes to the issue of human and material assets. Between human and material assets and the core mandate, there has to be a connecting rod because without the human and material assets being harnessed it is going to be difficult to actualise the core mandate of the authority.
So, the recruitment of leadership into this critical sector is therefore at the heart of governance. To me therefore, the president’s appointment is a conscious and demonstrated commitment to recruiting men and women of expertise and very strong pedigree to join in the reconstruction and rebuilding of our national institutions. You will agree that our national institutions have been in sharp decline; issues of ethical value and of course the issues of national economy and value reorientation have been at its lowest. So I see the appointment as a very conscious recruitment into leadership intended to jumpstart reform and rebuilding of our nation. Those are the sort of actions that will create that platform for a new economic and social order. I want to let you know too that the issue of land and water is at the heart of our common humanity.
Before today, we have had Green Revolution, Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) and we have National Agricultural Land Development Agency (NALDA), and when you see that successive governments have gone into that, it reminds one that we are all conscious of the import of developing our land and water resources and utilising them for growth. The key thing here is the understanding that before oil, agriculture had been the mainstay of our economy. Therefore, can agriculture now add to the diversification process without proper management of land and water resources? The answer is No. so, I see myself as a member of a team to jumpstart the diversification and to drive a constructive renewal process in our national development. I see it as a challenge
There is this perception that sending people to River Basin is like sending them to a Siberia and people tend to avoid it. Some would wonder why you are upbeat about the appointment. What is it?
I don’t consider that way. It is just about thinking out of the box. When the wrong people are recruited into the leadership of the right places, you begin to get the sort of issues you raised in your question. That has actually been part of the weakness you observe in several institutions. I see myself not looking at the lucrative nature of a place but rather, asking myself what I can do to improve and increase the value of the place. For me, it is about adding value, not about reward and money. I also understand that there are four key things in driving change. You must have an idea of what the institution is all about; you must have a clear idea of what you intend to do; you must be able to identify the milestones and as a leader of such institution you must be able to translate those ideas into concrete deliverables. These can only come from your thinking and ability to drive reform and reposition the agency towards achieving and delivering its core mandate. This is where your character comes to play.
The attitude and character you bring to it drives the process. For someone with clear understanding and clear vision money and reward is the least in the hierarchy of thought. So, there are a lot of windows of opportunity created by the river basin in agriculture. Today the world over, nations are driving their economy using agriculture as tool. It will amaze you to realise that Japan, with only 20 percent arable land -80 percent is mountainous- is capable of feeding itself and also exporting food. How did they do it? But in our own case, when we are faced with task of making institutions work, we often begin to think of how lucrative such places are. We often forget that our assignment is to turn the place around and make it lucrative. So the process of change is a combination of your understanding of your mandate and your ability to harness human and material resources to enable you deliver on the mandate. So my task is clear. We already have land and water resources. We also have human resources. What we have to do now is to connect the two to achieve our objectives. So, people tell you that an agency is not lucrative when those who are intended to benefit from its services don’t feel its impact. I am very conscious of that and of our national future.
How do you intend to achieve these objectives?
First, there must be observance of the rule of law. There must be observation of ethical integrity. There must be the issue of innovations. We do not intend to drive the process with the mindset of normal bureaucracy. We have to change our attitude so that we can drive the process and achieve our goals. A River Basin is a business and must be pursued from the stand point of business. Not the business of acting in breach of the law but business in terms of profitability and maximising what you already have. So, you could imagine going to plant cassava in a community and then liaising with development partners to create a processing plant for garri which cuts off the risk of travelling to farther places in search of garri. That will have an impact on cost and also on the demand and supply curve. If we plant oranges for instance in a community, don’t you see the possibility of creating small holder farmers and expanding the value chain which on its own will trigger interest and participation. That’s what governance is all about –to trigger interest and participation.
What new things are you going to bring to the River Basin Development Authority that would make many Nigerians see the reason for its existence?
We must first understand the intention of government in creating River Basin authorities and mandating them to manage land and water resources. We all know of dams, irrigation etc, but what had made river basins fail to achieve its objective is the issue of recruitment of wrong people; people who do not understand what river basins are for and people who just think of what they will take out of river basins. But if you understand the opportunities that exist there and what you can do, then, it is a goldmine. I have been in talks with some development partners about participating in development at that level. We are not only looking at food security but also from the standpoint of business and participation which brings the development partners and communities together while we act as collateral to investments using the resources at our disposal. As business, we will generate revenue for the Cross River Basin Development Authority. We will create value. We will share ideas and expand the opportunities. We will collaborate with international interventionist agencies to push agricultural development. You know that such agencies are always willing to participate but they have always been encumbered by non-availability of land. We shall begin to talk with them on that. We can guarantee land. We do not even need to be talking of mechanised agriculture in this age when technology is driving agriculture. We must know we do not start business with money. You begin with an idea. The idea brings in the money.
The present administration is committed to fighting corruption and that is one of its major policy thrusts. How are you going to translate this policy at the authority?
We are going to have a value orientation desk with a desk officer. From time to time we will invite law enforcement agencies to train our security operatives in not only the management of assets, but human and material. Safety is key to what we do. We shall also bring in law experts to educate and train our officials on issues of law and corporate governance. We shall engage ICPC and EFCC on personnel training so that no official will plead ignorance in the actions they undertake. We shall expand the management of corruption through public education and enlightenment.
Do you foresee any encumbrances in your work?
I don’t foresee any such because I have a very experienced board with highly educated and urbane members. We share the same visions and aspirations. I can tell you that no member of the board is driven by the aspiration of becoming a champion. We all want to add value and create legacies so that we can also leave the place with our heads high. We are all committed to serve. We are committed to ethical integrity and we are determined to make a difference.