Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
Ebonyi State’s sobriquet, “Salt of the Nation” may soon be realised if government’s latest moves are anything to go by. Governor David Umahi’s effort to turn around the story of the agrarian state with one of the poorest development indices in the country has continued to attract the attention.
Aside the massive collaboration in the area of rice production through the anchor borrowers’ scheme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the good news came recently of plans to commercially exploit the large salt deposits at Okposi and Uburu in Ohaozara local government areas.
The state is blessed with mineral resources such as lead, limestones, zinc, marble, granite and salt. It is the youngest of the five states in the South East having been created on October 1, 1996. It is also one of the largest producers of rice, cassava, maize and yam in the country.
But of all its mineral endowments, salt is easily the most unique and popular. This perhaps explained why the then military government nicknamed it the “Salt of the Nation.”
Although, salt lakes are mainly found in Uburu and Okposi communities in Ohaozara, the local government areas of Umahi and Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, it is widely believed that salt deposits could also be found in many parts of the state if serious study and exploration is carried out.
The Ohaozara salt deposits has played very critical role in the lives of the people of the region particularly, during the Nigerian Civil War, when the salt lakes were effectively utilised by the people to fight kwashiorkor, hunger and starvation.
Regrettably, many decades after the war, and more than two decades after the creation of Ebonyi State, production of salt in the state has remained at initial rudimentary level. Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah, was in Ebonyi to discuss partnership with the state government on how to develop the salt deposits.
He said the Federal Government was ready to turn the salt deposits into commercial quantity for the growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country and to generate thousands of jobs.
He described Ebonyi as one of the forerunners in terms of solid minerals
with great potential:
“We are here to seek collaboration with the governor in terms of optimization of our revenue, working closely with the state government to see how we can increase the revenue of the Federal Government through royalty. Ebonyi being one of the fore runners in terms of solid minerals, we believe that there is a great potentials that are abound in this state that we can benefit in line with the presidential objective of our President in diversifying the economy of the nation by using agriculture and mining as key industry for diversification of the sector for the growth of our GDP and equally using it to grow and create jobs for the teeming Nigerians.
“There is a Federal Government project which is called Presidential Initiative on Development of Salts in Ebonyi State which we have brought consultants to look at how they can develop the salt project which is the first in the history of this country coming to South East and being driven by the Ebonyi State governor. The project is to ensure that Nigeria is producing salt in large quantity. We want to turn salt into commercial quantity for the interest of Nigeria.
“Number two reasons of my visit to the state is to discuss with the governor on how to enhance the revenue from the mining sector for the minerals that are being mined in the state. That is why we have come and we have been able to share ideas on the way to increase and enhance revenue in the state for the mining sector, which will help to drive the GDP of the nation at large. We have seen the composition of the salts in the state, we have seen the lakes and we believe.” Umahi described Ebonyi as a state with great solid mineral potential. His Special Assistant on Solid Minerals, Edwin Onwe, expressed the hope that in no distant time, the governor’s desire of developing salts in large quantity would be achieved: “There is no place in Ebonyi State you will not see salts and other minerals but we took the minister to those in Uburu and Okposi and subsequently, will be taking the minister to some other places”.
Previous attempt by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), to develop salt production at the Okposi salt lake beyond the crude approach used by the local women had failed.