‘River basins help­ing Pres­i­dent Buhari drive agri­cul­tural agenda’

Sunday Trust - - AGRIC BUSINESS - From Us­man A. Bello, Benin

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

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