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 maxi