“I am already preparing for life after office” declares Governor Henry Seriake Dickson as he conducts this correspondent round his sprawling farm at his home community, Toru Orua in Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. Dickson who came into office in 2012 and re-elected in 2015, and has six months left to round up his tenure said he can’t wait to finish his tour of duty as governor and focus attention on other things he would love to engage in. Dickson said he is preparing to concentrate more time on his farm and to teaching and research works.
Speaking on farming, the governor who noted that he loves farming and loves staying in a farm environment insists that agriculture is a goldmine that has not been tapped fully by Nigerians.
What is the motivation behind establishing this farm?
I started this farm a long time ago and I have never really had time to prepare it but I am getting started now. And as I am getting ready to end my tenure I have already started so that when I finish my tenure I would go into full-time farming. In answer to your question, I also want to underscore the importance of agriculture by the government, on the first hand, and on the second hand, everybody participating in the agricultural economy. First, to be able to provide what we eat, and secondly, to be able to create jobs and create wealth. The lesson of this farm is that each of us, no matter how highly placed, should be able to add to the investment in agriculture. And sometimes it does not take much. Use one or two hectares to plant something. Luckily our country is so well endowed that in every part of our country, we can plant at least one crop or two. Our people are essentially farmers. In our case, we are farmers and fishermen. For me, agriculture is very paramount if we are serious about creating sustainable economy; if we are serious about creating job; if we are serious about encouraging people to employ themselves and create employment. And also by so doing, create food sufficiency for ourselves. In this farm, I plant almost everything. For the past two years, we have been harvesting a lot of banana, plantain, cucumber and pineapples. I have always been into farming. I have this farm in my village. I have the one in Yenagoa since 2001. Seriake Dickson Farms Limited has been in existence since 2002/2003. And when I went to the House of Representatives in 2007, by 2008 I started to prepare a farm in Nasarawa State. I planted a lot of things and had cattle. But cattle rustling did not help matters and most of my cattle have been brought to my farm in Yenegwe, Yenagoa. This is the story of my farm so everybody should take farming seriously.
When did your love for agriculture and farming start?
It started right from this community. I farmed with my parents. As a matter of fact, my family owns part of this area. My parents brought me to the place I have my farm to start my first farm in 1984/1985. My father had a large plantain and banana plantation. I actually rejected my father’s offer to take his land. I told him I wanted to be by the river so I started acquiring the land when I was in the House of Representatives and it kept expanding until it is what it is now.
So what is the value of your personal investment in the farms?
The farm here is about 25 to 30 hectares. It is not too big but I intend to make full use of it. You can see the large fishpond under construction. There will be poultry here. There will be a piggery here and a ranch for cattle. The one in Yenegwe, Yenagoa is also about 30 hectares too. I have always had that from the early 2001. My farm in Nasarawa State is about 100 hectares.
In terms of job creation, many still see agriculture as old peoples’ business, what is your take?
That is part of the mindset we have to change. And part of what I intend to do is to apply for facility. I have already started discussing with some banks to help raise some facility based on the security of my titles to enable me expand all these investments as I get ready to leave office. I intend to stay here in my community and my farm in Yenegwe so that I can manage most of this investment to create jobs and yield profit. Farming is very profitable. We cannot now meet demands for pigs. We cannot meet demands for eggs in this state and other poultry products. Everything we import, everything is brought into Bayelsa. Farming is a good thing to go into; those who have gone into it have no regret. That is why I have told the banks to study my proposal. In no distant time I would have the facility.
How large is your fish farm?
My fish farm is very large. I am the largest fish farmer in the state. I have hundreds of thousands of fish fingerlings and matured fishes. I am now constructing a preservation system. I want to be able to preserve them for long to package and sell. My fishponds are actually lakes.
What are your favourite crops?
As an ijaw man, my first crop is plantain. We have planted a lot of plantain and we have produced many dozens of plantain needed for sale, even in my farm in Yenegwe, we sell every market day. So, we have been producing and selling, we have banana, mango, pineapples, and oranges. But my main focus is going to be aquaculture, poultry, piggery, cattle, animal husbandry. I am a herdsman; an Ijaw herdsman who does cattle rearing in a confined environment, ranching and that’s what we recommend to everybody.
So you would be retiring to your farm after your tenure as governor?
Yes, it is my intention to retire to my farms but I won’t be doing only farming, age is still on my side. I have a lot of other passions. Writing is one, teaching is another. I am likely to go back to school to teach, carry out researches and lecture about my deep experiences in governance in an underdeveloped environment. How we can talk about democratization, peace and consensus building. Most likely I would be in the classroom. But farming is a passion and business that I would encourage people to go into.
How would you encourage Bayelsa youths most of who depend on government?
That is the tragedy of an under-developed deprived environment like Bayelsa where everybody thinks that survival must come from government. They don’t know that first of all, they have to take responsibility for their lives and their future. But happily we have made a lot of investments in that area to make their involvement easier. Look at the aquaculture village in Yenagoa and several others we are doing outside Yenagoa. Right now, we have capacity for about 1500 to 2000 young fishermen under training and also making money in the process. In Edebebiri, we have a government poultry that has 30,000 to 35,000 birds capacity completed. I have directed the University of Africa to take it over and train people. There are two modern fish farms, one in Angalibiri constructed by the Israelis and another one at Famgbe. In agriculture the biggest investment we made is the cassava-processing factory, which is the largest not just in Nigeria but in Africa. The Dutch built it and they are rounding up. They would be here to run it for two years. There is already a buy-back agreement for the starch that we produce. That factory would serve as the rallying point for encouraging small-scale farmers to go into agriculture, particularly to go for starch. We need all the starch that is produced in Bayelsa and in the entire South-South to service that factory. The installation has been completed. This would make it possible for a lot of people to take loans because of the buy- back arrangement. The factory needs all the starch that is being produced so as to produce all kinds of starch, industrial, commercial for local use and export. In the end, agriculture is in the hands of everybody like I am demonstrating. I directed all government appointees to access some small loans to start farms and some of them are doing very well.
Where do you get your energy from as it is believed you don’t smoke and drink?
I have never smoked, I have never taken alcohol and I don’t recommend that. But there are other things that I do very well (Laughs). I live a very simple life dedicated to the service of our people. I am a deep man of faith who also believes that God has a hand in what we do, what we accomplish and how we live our lives. So I relax a lot to serve my people from morning till night anywhere I am. So like I said, I find time for other things beyond smoking and drinking.