‘River basins helping President Buhari drive agricultural agenda’
Engr. Saliu Ahmed is the Managing Director, Benin Owena River Basin Development Authority. In this interview, he spoke on the impact of the authority in driving the Federal Government’s agricultural agenda, provision of water and other sundry issues. Excerpt:
our appointment is still relatively new, how long do you think it will take you before the impact of your policies begin to manifest?
I am almost half way into my tenure and our policies are already manifesting in some of the things we are doing. The mandate of the Benin Owena River Basin Development Authority is to manage and conserve water for use as source of portable water supply to communities; secondly, for use in irrigation as well as flood control.
The authority under my leadership has, through its annual budgets, given a number of rural communities water through borehole sources. In our catchment areas, which is Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Delta North senatorial district, we have sunk over 300 boreholes in the different communities. Some of them fitted with hand pumps, solar powered pumps and others with generator power pumps. But in all, I will say that we had over 80 percent success rate.
Also, our support for agriculture has been phenomenal. We have initiated an integrated farm model within Benin and a 60 hectare of land through which in the last six months, we have been harvesting various crops grown through biological processes without the application of manure or chemical fertilizers.
We are constructing a dam that will give water to Otuo and its environs. In another 18 months, the dam will be completed. It is the major project we are driving. Though the project is slow but we are certain that we will complete it.
Do you think the river basin is still relevant in the scheme of things and what are you doing to resuscitate them for agricultural production?
The Benin Owena River Basin was conceived 40 years ago and is very relevant now, especially with the emphasis of the present government of President Muhammadu Buhari to make agriculture the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. For agriculture to prosper, you need water and land and these are the assets that the Benin Owena River Basin has. We own dams, irrigation and infrastructure; we also own lands in various communities and with these combinations, our focus is more on agriculture.
The River Basin is now the fulcrum around which the agriculture agenda of the Federal Government is predicated.
Aside that, We are also creating employment under our graduate youths empowerment scheme through which we are attracting young men and women back to the land with the support from the Central Bank of Nigeria.
You came from the private sector, how have you been coping with the civil service bureaucratic bottleneck challenges since you assumed the office?
In every human endeavor, there are always challenges. The beauty of challenges is that they create an opportunity. The hallmark of a leader is to be able to navigate the challenges and bring out the best. For instance, I have never worked in the public service until now. So, getting used to the ways of the civil service is a major challenge and also attempting to work within the culture of the civil service rules which tend to be a bit slower to what I am used to in the private sector but by and large, I have been able to navigate all of that by adapting to the rules and also making the civil servants understand my vision, sharing the vision with them and having them buy into it.
The river basins are under the Ministry of Water Resources, but most of your activities have direct bearing on the farmers. Does this in any way hamper the synergy which ought to exist between your ministry on one hand, the Ministry of Agriculture on the other hand and the farmers?
No, it does not, in the sense that the river basins are better situated in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources because the structure of the boundary between the river basin is around the rivers and each of the 12 river basins in the country has been created around the areas they cover. The ministries work in synergy conscious of the fact that they are working for the same government in promoting agriculture.
There is the perception that northern part of the country is more receptive to the idea of a river basin than their southern counterparts. What is your take on this?
I think the southern parts of the country have higher rainfall and longer span of raining season. Also, we have rivers that flow all year round unlike in the northern part where they have a short span of rainfall. Their rainfall intensity is less and they also have flash floods. So, the point I am making is that in the South, because of our higher rainfall, we never saw the need to harness the water resources through the construction of dams for the purpose of managing the water for agriculture.
The northern parts, realizing that they lived in the semi-arid region of the country, where water bodies are fewer, decided to construct large size dams so as to get water especially for agriculture.
These dams hold water which enables the people to have access to water all year round. Now, I think the consciousness is catching up with the South that they need to be able to harness water resources more through dams. So construction of dams and the practice of irrigation is also very important in the South as well as the North to help control the flood and erosion ravaging southern Nigeria.
You have followed PMB for long, do you see him changing the agriculture narrative in the country?
I have been a follower and respecter of the principles of President Muhammadu Buhari and all through his years of trying and failing, my faith in him never waver. I am sure that if he persists on those principles, the results in no distant time will begin to manifest in Nigeria. For instance, the government desires to stop the importation of rice to encourage local production to meet our domestic consumption, this will make the country self-sufficient in rice production.
Also, the government is encouraging production of tomatoes, among other crops, to meet domestic consumption and change over dependence on oil. I am sure if he drives these policies to the end and never mind the pains now, he will change the agricultural narrative of the country.
Engr. Saliu Ahmed