Among those that would be on parade during the governorship election in Akwa Ibom State on March 11, 2023, Umo Eno, the flagbearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), stands tallest, to take over the mantle of leadership of the Land of Promise from Governor Udom Emmanuel. Eno is not Udom’s most suitable successor simply on account of belonging to the same party as the incumbent governor. He is in terms of character, competence, capacity and compassion – the four basic requirements for the job, has everything going for him.
The PDP candidate is in contention for the state’s top job with deep knowledge and understanding of the comparative and competitive advantage Akwa Ibom has over many states in Nigeria, especially in the production of some agricultural produce and the revolution it could ensure, in order to make the state not only self-sufficient in food production but also a major food exporter. This definitely explains his strategic decision of making agriculture a major pillar of his A.R.I.S.E. agenda – the acronym for agricultural revolution, rural development, infrastructure maintenance/advancement and educational advancement.
Akwa Ibom is generally known as Nigeria’s leading oil-bearing state, accounting for more than 30 per cent of the country’s total oil production. However, not many know that the state has more than oil to offer, especially in the area of agriculture. The state has been a major producer of cash crops such as yam, cassava, plantain and maize, though producing essentially at subsistence level. It accounted substantially for palm oil production in the then Eastern Region which made Nigeria, in the pre and post-independence eras, the world’s largest producer of the commodity. The state’s coastline, one of the longest in Nigeria, makes it among the richest in marine life, with the riverine communities engaging predominantly in fishing.
A peep into the agriculture component of A.R.I.S.E. shows a comprehensive programme that could turn the sector around if implemented to the letter. A novelty by an Eno administration is his plan to establish a college of agriculture, an institution that would offer training in all aspects of agriculture. The prospect of an Akwa Ibom that brims with agricultural experts to drive the kind of revolution envisaged by the candidate seems quite attractive.
To actualize the plan, Eno has promised to provide adequate support by way of extension services and capacity building through the Akwa Ibom Agricultural Development Programme (AKADEP). He has also promised to increase access to agricultural credit facilities through the Ibom FADAMA Microfinance Bank, as well as other agricultural credit banks.
An experiment by the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel shortly after it came into existence in 2015 showed that Akwa Ibom has the potential to grow food items such as tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, etc, in commercial quantity, in terms of soil quality and other geographical conditions. This was hitherto thought to be impossible in the state. All that is required to realize the economic potential inherent in the cultivation of these items is to give it a push on a larger and commercial scale, beyond the “discovery” by the current administration. That, basically, is what Eno has promised to do in agriculture.
The plan by the leading governorship candidate to focus on agriculture is also informed by the reality of the dwindling fortunes from oil, and the need for a timely diversified economy towards sustainable revenue levels outside of oil. Also, in proactive planning should there be a drying up of revenue from that sector through the monthly federal allocation – no thanks to the fact that the world is fast turning away from fossil fuel as an energy source. There is, therefore, a compelling need to chart a new course, by way of alternative means of existence.
An agricultural revolution driven by an Eno administration would be aimed at achieving the three-pronged objective of bringing about food sufficiency as well as food security for the people, creating a new source of income for the state and embarking on massive job creation for youths in the sector. The objective of achieving food sufficiency is premised on the fact that a well-fed population is a healthy population. The ultimate goal Eno projects is the upliftment of the standard of living of the people.
Eno has also indicated intention to encourage the participation of women and young people in agribusiness. This is a venture that would be attractive enough to turn the attention of young people – fresh graduates, the not-so-educated and the idle – away from paid employment that is becoming more scarce and almost unavailable. It is a programme that will create wealth amongst the teeming youth population and transform them from job seekers to job providers, through the entire agricultural value chain – farmers, transporters, market men and women, suppliers in the hospitality industry, etc. The governorship hopeful has promised to develop full value chains for the major crops that are cultivated in the state, using farm settlement schemes.
One dares say that Eno’s decision to make agriculture one of the programmes of his five-point agenda stems from his understanding of the fact that Nigeria today faces an existential threat posed by food insecurity, on account of the general state of insecurity that has virtually enveloped the country, keeping farmers away from their farms. Thankfully, Akwa Ibom has been spared the level of insecurity that has ravaged some parts of the country, especially the region where the bulk of food consumed in the country comes from.
The relative peace maintained and enjoyed in Akwa Ibom state in the last seven and a half years cannot be taken for granted. Rather it consciously presents a huge opportunity for a stable enough economy to attract agro-investors thus creating ample jobs along the value chain. And only a man like Umo Eno who understands the currency of a peaceful atmosphere in Akwa Ibom can sustain it knowing how it will enable an unencumbered implementation of the agricultural programme as conceived in the A.R.I.S.E. agenda.
I dare say, this would, however, come to be when the people of the state find him worthy of their mandate, on Election Day.
*Adeniran, a businessman and frequent visitor to Akwa Ibom State, lives in Lagos. He can be reached here – Eodejai@yahoo.com