By Greg Odogwu
ABUJA, Nigeria (PAMACC News) - The government of Nigeria recently midwifed a contract agreement between the River Basin Development Authorities (RBDAs) and the Songhai Nigeria Partnership Ltd. to generate 1,200 jobs nationwide in three years.
At the signing ceremony, the country’s Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu said the objective is to strengthen the RBDAs to become major economic nerve centres in line with the economic diversification policy of the change agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
“These centres would be along the Songhai Farm settlement style, exploring the Public-private Partnership model in ownership and financing while the RBDAs will be the primary delivery vehicles. The main objective of this scheme is massive job creation for youth with a year round agricultural production and other value chain activities such as processing, storage, markets, e-commerce etc. Each of these centres will have a minimum of 50 graduate employees nationwide,” the minister said.
Regional Director of Songhai Farms, Fr Godfrey Nzamujo, at the event, said the programme is aimed at enhancing the capacity of the RBDAs and making Nigeria a sustainable developed country.
Considering that Songhai Farms is an institution started for integrated agriculture, one wonders what a ministry of water resources is doing with Songhai. It is either things have really “changed” in Nigeria’s governance, or there is an aspect of water management many laymen do not know about. Or both.
By the way, I for one, remember that the founder of the Songhai Farms was refused land for his agricultural dreams many years ago in his native country of Nigeria, before he relocated to Benin to try making his vision a reality.
Or, perhaps, it is time to look at some new home truth: The Ministry of Water Resources may be the most important ministry in Nigeria today. People may easily miss this point, understandably because of the politics that shrouds issues in developing economies; and because its budget is relatively small.
But the truth is that without water resources ministry, there could be no agricultural and environmental sustainability. And in a government that has economic diversification as its mantra, this is like sculpting an iron statue with mud feet.
In any case, it is telling that all through the years after this Nigerian ministry was created in 1976, subsequent governments kept merging and demerging it from “major” ministries. The government’s double-mindedness on this key institution may therefore be the singular reason it is yet to get it right in food security and economic diversification.
Now, consider this. The Food and Agriculture Organisation projected that Nigeria’s population has exceeded the carrying capacity of its land resources when cultivated at the low level of technology, that is, at the current level of rain-fed farming and almost-zero irrigation practice.
In other words, Nigeria cannot feed its teeming population without modern Water Resources management structure and infrastructure.
Secondly, with the onslaught of climate change on every region of the world, what would happen if the country were hit by drought? How would its citizens get back on their feet without robust water management initiatives?
Let it also be noted that it was the 1972 – 74 droughts in Nigeria that prompted the creation of the country’s River Basin Development Authorities and the Ministry of Water Resources to manage them. The drought was described by many as the worst ever, and the shock rattled the then Supreme Military Council to promulgate decree 25 of 1976 in a swift move to develop and manage Nigeria’s water resources. It gave birth to 11 RBDAs to harness them and optimize its agricultural potentials for food sufficiency.
To me, the primary job of the ministry of water resources is to – in my own words – “ensure that the foundation is laid for economic diversification; and also that the fabrics of the polity are strongly held together come hell or high water!”
This is because without water resources management, diversification of the economy towards sustainable agriculture shall turn to a mirage. What is more, without water resources management, diversification towards solid minerals and mining might just turn out to be a disaster waiting to happen.
The National Water Resources Master Plan estimates that Nigeria has about 3.14 million hectares of irrigable land, out of which only 130,000ha has been developed under formal irrigation and only 70,000ha is actually being irrigated. There have been several reports with the same conclusion that Nigeria’s RBDAs are a failure, with all of them performing abysmally below expectation while wasting tax payers’ money.
It is against this background that one could appreciate the efforts of Nigeria’s Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, in the past seven months since he was appointed.
He has initiated a number of strategic projects to ensure a robust water sector; but the one that easily catches the attention is his initiative in the sustainable management of the nation’s river basins.
Immediately he was sworn in late last year, he organized a retreat for all stakeholders and practitioners in the sector which culminated in the setting up of a Committee to produce a Blueprint and Action Plan for the repositioning of the RBDAs.
This is why, as the outcome of months of studies and consultations, the Federal Government signed the contract agreement between the RBDAs and Songhai Nigeria Partnership Limited on the establishment of Songhai model integrated agricultural scheme to boost food production in the nation’s RBDAs.
However, the most ambitious of Engr. Adamu’s strategies is the partial commercialization of the RBDAs, as he also inaugurated a Steering Committee of the National Council on Privatization for this purpose.
It is also particularly heartwarming to learn of the minister’s vision of transforming Nigeria’s RCBAs into a venture like that of USA’s Tennessee Valley Authority.
TVA is an American miracle, which saves millions of dollars of tax payers’ money because it runs by itself. It was designed to modernize Tennessee Valley which was economically and ecologically in tatters during the Great Depression.
With this initiative, the region was revitalized. TVA developed fertilizers, taught farmers ways to improve crop yields and helped replant forests, control forest fires, and improve habitat for fish and wildlife. The most dramatic change in Tennessee Valley life came from TVA –generated electricity. Electricity made life easier for farmers and also drew industries into the region, providing desperately needed jobs.
Therefore, bearing in mind that the Water Resources Minister also recently submitted the ministry’s Masterplan to the President; and its Water Resources Bill to the National Assembly; and is working on a roadmap that will span to 2030, one expects that Nigeria’s River Basins are on their way to recovery, and the nation on its way to real economic diversification.
On a final note, it would be suggested that other ministries of water resources in other countries of Africa embrace the Songhai model, especially as we create a process for proper adaptation to climate change.As Shongai Farms puts it in its website: “The future of Africa lies in its lands, its climate, and its agricultural work, which is so poorly appreciated in the continent today. At Songhai, we want to restore nobility to farm work that helps young people choose not to suffer and to provide service in creating wealth for their families, their countries, and their continent, through a functional training based on knowledge, skills, and a value system.”