“Agriculture Not Only Gives Riches To A Nation But The Only Riches She Can Call Her Own” – Samuel Johnson
By Francis Nwaze
In his maiden speech on May 29, 2015, economic diversification took the major part of Governor Umahi’s inaugural pages. This was prophetic as the unpredictable price of crude nosedived 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 this dip in the price of crude, there was a reduction in revenue coming to States from the Federation Account causing fears in many states as to how they could meet their responsibilities especially as it concerned capital and recurrent expenditures. This later led to face-offs between states and the organized labour. Ebonyi State and her 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 actions 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 however averted. Pieces of machinery were 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 Government has again, introduced entrepreneurship activities in Agriculture in the primary, secondary and tertiary productions 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, Governor 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 the 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 an alternative to oil. In his lecture entitled, “Economy Beyond Oil”, Gov. Umahi stated that Ebonyi State was leading other states in the South East with her potentials in Solid Mineral Development in Nigeria. He noted that Nigeria’s over-dependence on an oil-driven economy was responsible for the post-independent 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 stack 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 her oil reserve 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 programs: solid Infrastructure, agriculture, solid mineral, human capital development, tourism, water production, entrepreneurship, vocational development, education, health, industrialization 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 her teeming youths in agriculture. During his visit to the State, months ago, the Executive Secretary of National Agricultural Land Development Agency (NALDA), 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”
Speaking further, Prince Ikonne said: “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, makes our job much easier because farmers will be able to convey their farm produce as a result of the 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 husbandry”.
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. The state 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 generation.
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 Nweze Umahi has put in place policies driven by the private sector in order to maximize the potentials and value chain associated with these solid minerals.
According to Gov. Umahi during his Lecture at the University of Nigeria Nsụka 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 minerals in Ebonyi State have the propensity to generate not less than 50,000 jobs.
The state government under Gov. Umahi 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 the 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 existing fertilizer plant in the state, at Onuebonyi. The essence is to meet up with 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 proof that when preparedness meets opportunities, results become inevitable.