We are making agriculture a money–spinner —Gov. Amosun
’How we deal with cross border robberies’
Unfolds plans for Ogun at 40
Ogun State is warming up to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its creation, according to Governor Ibikunle Amosun. In this televised Media Chat last Sunday, Amosun unfolds the plan for the celebrations, just as he explains how his government is turning agriculture into a money-spinner. He also speaks on the security situation in Ogun. Excerpts:
By Daud Olatunji
How can agriculture be used as a means of employment especially for young people out there?
If you look at our five cardinal programmes, we do not say we just want to implement an agricultural programme. What we are implementing is agriculture that will lead us to industrialization because gone are those days when you engaged in subsistence farming. Now we are not just talking mechanized farming, but also farming that will take full advantage of the value chain that agriculture offers. And what do we mean by that? It means that whatever we grow, we must process; whatever we process, we must market once the products are ready.
So it involves a lot of things like the presentation, the packaging, marketing, etc. Once that is done, we attract investors, entrepreneurs, etc to come and assist us in developing Ogun State. But what is the primary motive? If you look at it, the first item in our five cardinal programmes is education, the second is health, the third agriculture that will lead to industrialization, and more of social service. Education won’t give you money, but it is the bedrock because if you are informed and educated, you will use knowledge to apply it in other areas like health, agriculture, infrastructural development or urban-rural development, etc.
In fact, in all facets of life, if you are not educated, you cannot succeed. To fund education, to fund health and other social amenities, we need a fulcrum. And agriculture presents that opportunity. In Ogun, maybe half a million of our people are not working. They are educated, young graduates, but they don’t have anything doing. What we are trying to do is to make agriculture attractive to them and that’s why we are on the offensive with farm settlement. Agriculture takes time to materialize. It is not something you invest in today and tomorrow you are reaping, There is no state in Nigeria that does it the way we do.
It is not just cassava for maybe garri, flour, etc. No! We have so many things you can use cassava for and that is why many people want to partner with us because they need all the cassava that we can plant. So we are growing cassava into what I call massive commercial quantity. Rice is very key. So also is oil palm plantation. Before now, cocoa will live up to nine or 10 years before you harvest, but with technology, within three years now, you can begin to harvest. So we have taken cassava, rice, oil palm plantation, cocoa and the last one which we know is a money spinner and that is to now go into vegetable cultivation. And this will include tomato, pepper, etc.
Again, we have delved into the production of fruit: Orange, pineapple, banana, etc. Don’t forget that so many companies are now in Ogun and we are preaching to our people backward integration so that not everybody will wake up in the morning to say he wants to go to government office and look for job. What we want to do is to let them know that there is dignity in labour; they can be employers of labour themselves, rather than wasting time looking for jobs. Now, what have we done? We have partnered with the Bank of Industry (BOI), we put down N500 million for our young graduates so that they can go into small businesses. We are encouraging them to come and be employers of labour themselves. We have built farm houses and have about three of them in each of our senatorial districts.
How have the people been responding?
As we speak, we have about two or three success stories. Ogun will be 40 years shortly and that is one of the projects Mr. President will come and commission on that occasion. We have one in Owo, that is the pilot scheme, we are doing cocoa in Alagbeka; we have one in Odeda here; we have in Olumore. The totality of what we are doing is that, once that is done, it will work positively on our economy, because it will create wealth for our young ones.
I’m happy now that whatever egg or tomato we produce is sold out. Those young ones are happy because they are making money and have people working for them. And we are going back to what I call cottage industries and that is one area where vocational training is key. Our young ones will be taught in all ramifications, even in your farm settlement. You don’t need to run around to start calling people from Ghana, Benin Republic, Togo, etc. This is not the way we were brought up and that is why we are going back to our roots. So, agriculture will be the fulcrum on which all of these things will rest, together with our initiative in infrastructural development.
Is there any anything in the pipeline for the government of Ogun to take advantage of the proximity of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta and partner with it to make food more available?
There is no way we are going to get it right if we do not partner with an institution like that. I mean, they are the repository of knowledge in that area. They are the people researching into new ways of doing things and coming up with different ideas. We are collaborating with so many, not just the university alone. There is a university in California, we went there and we saw what they did. Five and a half hours-drive down the road, you will not see any other thing other than plantation. And I asked myself, what is happening here? Before now, all we know about California is showbiz, but we realized that over 60% of their earnings come from agriculture. I was shocked. Their economy is more than the totality of what we have in Nigeria as a nation and it was through agriculture. That is why we were encouraged to partner with them and they are helping out. When they came, we made them interface with our university here in Abeokuta. It will be a win-win situation.
You made so much emphasis on attracting foreign investors in the agriculture sector. I am just concerned about Ogun at 40 come February and with particular reflection on the agriculture sector which got a budget of N10. 6 billion, representing 5% of the total budget for 2016. How do you drive this plan? And apart from attracting foreign investors, how do you encourage local farmers? It is also reported that Ogun has the best arable land. How do you maximize this potential?
As we speak, we have seven industrial halls. I was in Ota and somehow I was not happy with the environment. We were talking and somebody said that if care is not taken, Ota will gradually lose the status of being the industrial capital. We have other areas springing up. Agbara is there and you have the Sagamu-Ogijo axis close to Ikorodu. Just look at Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and you will see different companies springing up. Look at the old Abeokuta Road. Even now we are trying to see the possibility of developing the area between Ijebu-Ode and Epe to turn it into an industrial hub. The belt from Itoshin to Ewekoro, we are trying to turn it also into an industrial hub. And we are looking in the area of agriculture in the Odeda belt because that is where the University of Agriculture is located.
So we have seven industrial belts now. Consequently, everywhere in Ogun, we are developing it, we cannot do this without putting the infrastructures in place. If we talk about what we have budgeted, we gave agriculture about 5%. This is seed money because agriculture will not just happen, agriculture will happen with a lot of things because the capitalist will drive it which means that a lot of money will be given to it. We have people from all over the world calling us to say this is what they want to do. And I said no problem, ‘we are going to support you, we are going to create the enabling environment.’ N10 billion will create the enabling environment for investors to come and assist us in developing the state. When you look at it, all these multi-nationals, what do they do now? They do backward integration.
They want to have everything, of course they will partner with some people. And we will have our farms instead of running around, looking for somebody that will disappoint them. So they will invest it, they might have a subsidiary, but they will not come when you do not have a conducive environment. Security must be in place for anybody to come and invest. And it is not the olden days that you will cultivate something and it will take up to 11 years before you harvest. You need to regenerate the system. Our rubber plantation is there, we have one in Waterside and I think another in Ikenne. But what has happened? Everything is moribund. You know why?
In the days of Awolowo and others who conceptualized the idea, there was water, road, etc; everything was in place. But now, everything has collapsed. We are recreating all of those things and creating an enabling environment for investors. First, they will ask you whether security is in place. Second, there is no access to the place. All things that were done 40 to 50 years ago, how do you expect them to be what they will still be using? We need to rebuild. The population around 60 years ago is not the population we have now. Maybe we are about one million or even 800,000. Now that we are more, we have more responsibility and we need to think it through.
You talk about the security, but, recently, Ogun is reported to have security challenge especially in the area of cross border, around Idiroko. What are you doing to fight this menace?
Yes, we have challenges but I think for three years now, security people come together annually and say this is the safest in terms of security. I hate to say this again because I want to project Ogun in positive light. Things that are bad i want to dispense with them. When we came, no industry could work more than one shift. In fact, by 4pm, everyone was gone; but, today, people do shift. People do know in the entire nation that there is no state that has the kind of border that Ogun has, especially those illegal borders, we have over 100. But security is not just for Federal Government alone. That is why, to me, if we are not secure, nobody will come.
Investments will not come without security and that is why we invested heavily, and we thank God that in the last two and a half years, we didn’t experience any bank robbery except the one that recently happened in Agbara. Ofcourse we are benefiting from the investment we made in security. I want to thank all our traditional ruler, community development associations and security agencies; they are working round the clock to give us security. But everybody must be involved. We have done our bit; people need to support us. The last time, we bought 14 APCs. When we came, the vans we had were only 20 and only 17 were functioning. Today, we have over 300 vans, not just for the police but also for the army and other agencies that will make sure we are secure. Security needs big money, but once we spend that big money, everybody will be relaxed and willing to come and stay in Ogun.
It’s obvious that there is scarcity of fund. But while campaigning for second term, you made promises that the housing deficit will be looked into. How far have you gone on that promise? In the area of roads, there are issues with compensation. How have you been able to settle some of these challenges ? On a lighter note when I was driving around this afternoon, I saw some police men on the road flagging down vehicles. Initially I was scared and I saw you emerging from the bush with some Chinese. You had tape rule and you were measuring and I was amazed: How does this man get the energy to do all this jumping from one of the one end to another? Let me ask, when do you normally start your day?
What are we trying to do, people will say its cash free, it’s not. It must be well thought out, well planned. I ask myself, if about 62 percent of people that work in Lagos live in Ogun, particularly the middle and lower cadres, why can’t we attract properties here as well? Even those people that work here, we want to make them comfortable. Now, the one area I think God has answered us is the area of provision of houses and i think the enabler we need to do now is the rail, it will be a boom. The housing scheme in Agbara is sold out. If you travel on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the one you can physically see is the Orange Valley. Then we have the plane field opened in the memory of mama Awolowo. We want to change the standard of the environment of our people. When Mr President comes in about a month’s time, he is going to commission the Laderin housing scheme that we built for civil servants. So in the area of housing I think we are getting it right. I want to challenge people why they want to live in Lagos with what we are doing. They only need to pay their tax in Ogun.
We have a report concerning the Home Charter Ownership Scheme. We understand that people who started the process had to restart and someone also complained he was asked to pay N50,000. Can you explain what is happening?
The scheme is a stop-gap arrangement; it is not something that will be there everyday. It is a special programme. It came out of the failure of governance, but I am not trying to blame anybody. This is everybody’s problem including me. We discovered that people were building houses anyhow. So we wanted to rectify the problem. We wanted to take inventory of those people. Go to Sango Ijoko, Agbado, Abule Eko, Akute and Ojodu Berger. When they were building those houses, nobody informed government, and they complained they had no light, no water. How can government care for you? Then we came up with this idea that let us even know what is on ground, and we were shocked.
We had thought that maybe 30,000 people will come but over 200,000 people came. And the scheme became an opportunity to regularize this irregularity. But look at the CUMBERSOME PROCESS of even removing those ones that are not qualified to benefit under the scheme. So it is not our creation but, as we speak, we have done more than 100,000 out of the over 200,000. If anybody is asking you for money, he is a fraudster and this is a programme that we should sustain; once it is made a law, if you break the law, you will be dealt with and your house will be demolished.
On compensation, what we’ve paid since we started our road projects is more than N10 billion, but we are still demolishing, because if you are calling Mr President to come, there is work that you must finish. Meanwhile, I cannot say we have paid everybody. This is what we do: We pay in batches. And we give attention to old people whose houses were demolished to pave the way for those road projects. In some cases, we built new houses for them. Affected churches, schools and hospitals are also well compensated.