Mr Eseme Eyibo is the chairman of the Cross River Basin Authority and the dean, Committee of Chairmen, River Basin Authorities. In this interview, the former spokesman of the House of Representatives spoke on his plan for the Cross River Basin Authority and how he hopes to work with other chairmen to deliver on the organisation’s mandate.
What roles are River Basin Authorities playing in Federal Government’s efforts to boost agriculture?
River Basin Authorities have huge roles to play in boosting agriculture in Nigeria. Before now, agriculture was the main stay of the nation’s economy.It was in an attempt to step up agricultural development in Nigeria that the Federal Government created the River Basin Development Authority. But due to poor leadership in the past, the potentials of the Basins were not maximised. Now, things are changing. The River Basins are a special purpose vehicle to develop a comprehensive surface and underground water resources management that will enhance the utilisation of our nation’s land resources and the corresponding development of ancillary infrastructure for the benefit of the people.
The current government has the political will to boost agriculture, and that is why President Muhammadu Buhari chose very qualified persons to chair the Boards of the Basin Authorities.
Also, the Minister of Water Resources, Engineer Suleiman Adamu and the permanent secretary in the ministry, Musa Ibrahim, are doing their best to ensure that we succeed and that the Basins perform.
Take a look at the National Water Bill. It has been there at the National Assembly for a very long time, but the current minister decided to activate and give it accelerated pursuit. Now, it has been passed at the House of Reps and the Senate is also working on it.
What is the import of the bill?
In the Cross River Basin Development Authority, for instance, we have a dam in Obudu. The Cross Rivers State Government pumps water from that dam into its water treatment plant and distributes to the people and they pay for it. But with the National Water Bill, the dam will be partially commercialised and the Cross River State Government will now be an off-taker. We will sell and make money. The bill will also take care of many other issues. There are so many dams in this country which developed but later shrunk due to lack of attention. And that is because wrong people were put in right places.
But now, there is a determination in River Basin Authorities to change things for the better. We have a performance bond. All the River Basin Authorities are under a performance bond, and that means it is no longer business as usual.
Immediately we were inaugurated, the minister urged us to think outside the box. He even put together a retreat to discuss on practical things that would add value to the River Basins, and by extension, the lives of Nigerians. The chairmen of the boards resolved to allow the system to work. There is constructive synergy going on to enable us give back to the people.
Today, agriculture is no longer mechanised. It is technology- driven. We have renewable energy, smart climate change, where you would have perennial water from the dam and the downstream is irrigation. So you could have horticulture, aqua-culture, green fields so that at the end of the day, we will be able to ensure that we don’t only have food enough for the people, we will also go into the issue of processing. We have the largest land titles. What are we using all the River Basins for? We must review that situation.
How is the Cross River Basin Authority going to harness resources to boost food production?
First of all, we need to get the people to buy into the project because you cannot do anything without the people. Once you bring the people in, you create a safety net, and in it you have to create a portfolio for clusters of cooperatives. Take aqua-culture for example – the man who is farming his fish sells it off at a cheap rate because of lack of storage facility, to a man who owns a point-and-kill joint. The point-and-kill spot owner makes more money, about N4,500 per kilo. And when you look at what he has put in, his profit is heavily maximised. But the fish farmer who feeds the fingerlings, changes water etc, makes minimal profit. There is problem with the value chain. So, value chain management is part of our strategic approach. We want to ensure that the farmer does not produce at a loss.
How do you intend to achieve that?
We want to get the farmers to see us as partners. We want them to enjoy the confidence of government; that at all times they can have technical assistance. They can use our land as well.
How do you intend to go about the cooperatives you talked about?
In the next two months, the Cross River Basin Development Authority (CRBDA) will go into a public policy dialogue. We are going to have a road show on strategic development framework and resources. This road show will be done in the localities – Calabar and Uyo. We will bring in traditional rulers, opinion leaders, farmers and everybody we understand to be stakeholders.
As we speak now, we have already formed what we call an advisory committee. The advisory committee of the CRBDA is made up of three former managing directors, one person from the private sector department of ECOWAS and a former National Planning Director. These people are expected to give us technical advice, opinion and participate in the issue of building peace in our catchment communities. The theme of the dialogue will be on irrigation and agricultural models.
What is the place of the average farmer in this?
Prior to the public policy dialogue we are building conversations. We are meeting traditional rulers, going to those communities we took land from to explain that we are back, and to make our intentions known to them. We are building advocacy, which is done in multi-media approach. For example, we will talk to village heads and local farmers’ cooperatives. About 80 per cent of actual farmers are women and youths. Once we get them together they will form the fulcrum of what we intend to do. They are the people who will give us agricultural ecology. They will tell us what to plant and what not to.
We want to create a model where the farmers can have access to us. After that, we will bring in expert in various fields to go into the practical conversations. Then, we will talk of resource mobilisation.
Currently, ECOWAS has a lot of windows and we hope to explore them. We need to return to the core mandate of the Basin Authorities. For instance, why should people leave Akwa Ibom State for Jos to buy tomatoes? Whereas with the advent of Green House you could farm tomatoes that would be enough for processing.
We will talk to the Institute of Oceanography, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and other companies to come and do exhibition, showcase what they have and train the farmers. We expect those who are involved in haulage, farming etc to come in. We will be the connecting rod between farmers and the required technology.
We want to develop the Cross River Basin Development Authority to a point where it becomes a peer review centre, where people can come and see what is happening. Big companies that have to do with agriculture will come in. We want to make our place attractive for farmers and those involved in research and development.
One of the duties of River Basin Authorities is to provide irrigation facilities, how well is the Cross River Basin Authority doing in that area?
In the upper part of Cross River, Ogoja, Obubra etc, the challenge they have is water. So dam is very important. We want to make sure the dams are working at optimum capacity. When you have a dam, the downstream is supposed to be for irrigation and the farmer is supposed to benefit, but most of these options are not explored. People still want to go through the stereotype. People need to come in and teach our farmers how to minimise waste etc. Farmers need to have confidence in their products. A situation where a cup of garri in Akwa Ibom is N100 is unacceptable because agric ecology is supposed to produce enough cassava. Today, we cannot produce enough cassava, yet we want to earn foreign revenue.
Things have to change and fast too. We want to also introduce the Songhai model so that our youths can be engaged. That way, they will begin to have confidence in the government.
Recently, you were made the Dean of Committee of Chairmen of River Basin Authorities. What does that mean to you?
To me, it is a further definition of leadership. Leadership is not a gift but a responsibility, and you are under obligation to account for it. So, I thank my colleagues for the honour and promise not to fail them. We are working together as a team and the level of collaboration is massive. On a daily basis, we think of innovations to bring on board so that we leave the River Basin Authorities better than we met them.