By Francis Nwaze
“Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own.” – Samuel Johnson
In his maiden speech on May 29, 2015, economic diversification took the major part of Governor Dave Umahi’s inaugural pages. It was prophetic as the unpredictable price of crude nosedived a few weeks into the administration, thus worsening the plight of both federal and state governments that depended on the mono economy driven by oil.
With the dip in the price of crude, there was reduction in revenue coming to states from the Federation Account, causing fears in many states as to how they would meet their responsibilities, especially capital and recurrent expenditures. This later led to face-offs between states and organised labour. Ebonyi State and its government were not spared from this pressure.
Governance is not a game of chance but for the intelligent and versatile. Thus, rather than lament about the economic woes, the Governor of Ebonyi State, Engr. (Chief) David Nweze Umahi, FNSE, FNATE, swung into action immediately to diversify the economy of the state.
The efforts and ingenuity of Gov. Umahi ensured that the resultant effect, which could have been worse for Ebonyi, a state with the smallest federal allocation, was averted. Machinery was put in place for redirection of efforts in the area of internally generated revenue (IGR), especially through blocking of leakages, modification of the agricultural sector and the harnessing of the state’s solid mineral deposits.
To prove his seriousness in the area of diversification, Gov. Umahi launched the “One-man, One-hectare” agricultural programme, civil servants’ agricultural loan scheme, youth agro-empowerment schemes and farmers’ agro input subsidies, which saw many people in that category owning farms and contributing immensely to the state’s gross domestic product. Thus, rather than total dependence on salary for survival, the government of Gov. Umahi made farming compulsory for all public and civil servants.
The state government has, again, introduced entrepreneurship activities in agriculture in primary, secondary and tertiary production value chains, with the aim to encourage agri-business.
Gov. Umahi further revamped the abandoned NYSC Farm, an over 2,000 hectares of farmland in Ezzillo, Ishielu Local Government Area of the state. He also made it compulsory for commissioners and other political appointees in his administration to own rice farms across the state.
Indubitably, Gov. Umahi has resuscitated other sources of revenue for the state. These sources were hitherto comatose over the years. This has led to unprecedented health and human capital development, harmonious capital and recurrent expenditures producing industrial harmony, sustained infrastructural projects even in the face of COVID-19 pandemic.
Featuring as the guest speaker during the 59th Anniversary and Founders Lecture of the University of Nigeria in 2019, Gov. Umahi called on Nigerian leaders to embrace the path of agriculture as alternative to oil. In his lecture, titled, “Economy Beyond Oil,” Gov. Umahi stated that Ebonyi State was leading others in the South East with its potential in solid mineral development in Nigeria. He noted that Nigeria’s over-dependence on oil-driven economy was responsible for the post-Independence economic and political woes of the country.
In the course of the lecture, Gov. Umahi had explained: “Our administration, from day one, is working on the premise that one day oil will go or lose its value in the market. We are working on the stark reality that, one day, Federal Allocation will diminish or, worse still, extinguish and the world would have moved forward without oil. Ebonyi State does not have oil reserves yet developed and does not enjoy 13% derivation.
“In planning for tomorrow based on our conviction that one day oil will become history, we focused on the following programmes: solid infrastructure, agriculture, solid mineral, human capital development, tourism, water production, entrepreneurship, vocational development, education, health, industrialisation and security as critical sectors that will drive our initiative on zero-oil economy.”
In furtherance of the policy of the Ebonyi State government to diversify the economy, the Federal Government, through the National Agricultural Land Development Agency (NALDA), saw the need by the government of Ebonyi State, under Gov. Umahi, and decided to partner with the state to achieve food security and engage its teeming youths in agriculture. During his visit to the state, months ago, the executive secretary of National Agricultural Land Development Agency, Prince Paul Ikonne, expressed the readiness of the agency to establish integrated farms.
“We are establishing an Integrated Farm Estate in Ebonyi State and the governor has keyed into that because that is the mandate of Mr. President, that we should reactivate every abandoned farm estate and develop new ones in order to achieve food security,” Prince Ikonne said., adding “We are in Ebonyi State to partner with the Governor of Ebonyi State, seeing that the governor has keyed into Mr. President’s agenda of achieving food security in Nigeria and with what the governor has put in place infrastructure-wise, it makes our job much easier because farmers will be able to convey their farm produce as a result of good road network.
“Ebonyi has been selected to be the state to produce fingerlings and day-old chicks that will feed the entire South East and South South.
“The Governor has donated, through the community, 100 hectares of land and then we have a private investor who has also made his 17 hectares available for us to partner with the production of animal husbandary.”
The farm estates, when completed, according to the NALDA boss, will engage an estimated 3,000 young Nigerians. This is in line with the efforts of the Buhari-led administration to make farming more attractive to the youths, as contained in the National Young Farmers’ Scheme, which was flagged off in November 2020.
On the other hand, the quarry section hitherto left in the hands of private entrepreneurs has become a gold mine for the state government’s diversification efforts. Government has partnered with investors towards developing some sites, while adequate tax measures have been put in place to ensure that the state is not shortchanged in revenue.
Ebonyi State is blessed with many solid minerals such as kaoline, black marble, lead ore (galina), iron ore, granite, coal, salt, limestone, zinc ore and many others. The government of His Excellency, Engr. David Umahi, has put in place policies driven by the private sector in order to maximise the potential and value chain associated with these solid minerals.
According to Gov. Umahi, during his lecture at UNN in 2019: “What we did was to aggregate all the solid mineral classifications and generate a common template for investment in the solid mineral in Ebonyi State. Solid mineral in Ebonyi State has the propensity to generate not less than 50,000 jobs.”
The state government has also taken advantage of the border closure by the Federal Government to leverage its production of rice and dominate the market across the country. The Abakaliki rice, which many had dismissed as local rice, has become much sought after not just within the South East region but beyond.
To show that his government’s diversification effort is not a fluke, Gov. Umahi has launched mechanisation of agriculture by procuring modern farm equipment such as tractors, threshers, tillers for the farmers. It is also on record that Ebonyi State, under Gov. Umahi, has created a history of being a state with the biggest rice milling clusters in the country. The state government has also rehabilitated 3 to 5 metric tons per hour capacity modern rice mills.
Furthermore, Gov. Umahi’s administration has rehabilitated the fertilizer plant in the state at Onuebonyi. The essence is to meet the increasing fertilizer needs of the state in all farming activities. The plant, which produces NPK of all types, now has the capacity to produce 40mt per hour.
The conscious efforts of Gov. Umahi for economic diversification, especially in agriculture and solid minerals, are proofs that when preparedness meets opportunities, results become inevitable.
•Nwaze is special assistant to the governor (media and publicity) of Ebonyi State