columnBy Ujudud Shariff
Chances are that as you are reading this discourse, the new Board of Directors of the 12 Nigerian River Basins Development Authorities are being inaugurated by Agriculture and Water Resources Minister, Dr Abba Sayyadi Ruma in Abuja.
Though we gave the title of this piece as the politics of the river basins authorities, we will focus more of the challenges before the new boards being inaugurated today. We are beginning with the ridiculous Bill before the Senate sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Sen Ike Ekweremadu from Enugu State. He was before coming to the senate, Secretary to the Enugu State Government under Governor Chimaroke Nnamani.
In case you are not aware of this unfortunate Bill, the senator is seeking the approval of the Senate to approve the split of the Anambra/Imo River Basin Development Authority into two so that the South East geopolitical zone should have two river basins authorities like the rest of the zones. Can you believe this coming from a whole senator? It is like the stupid argument being made that an additional state should be created for the South East zone just because other zones have six and above but they have only five states!
As we know from elementary geography, river basins are geographical entities based on watershed catchment areas and not a political calculation. It is therefore this reality that as of today, there are only 12 river basins authorities in the country based on 160 dams across the country impounding 13 billion cubic of water. These river basins development authorities are the Lake Chad River (Maiduguri), Upper Benue (Yola), Lower Niger ( Ilorin), Upper Niger (Minna), Lower Benue (Makurdi), Ogun/Osun (Abeokuta), Benin/Owena (Benin). Anambra/Imo (Owerri), Cross River (Calabar), Niger Delta (Port Harcourt), Hadejia/Jama'are (Kano), Sokoto/Rima (Sokoto).
If politics was the moving consideration and not geography, there would have been several of them and not just 12. Somebody should please educate the Enugu State Senator to withdraw the Bill and stop making a fool of himself. Let us for now leave politics and geography and let us look at history and agriculture. The first river basin development authority was the Lake Chad Basin that covered at the beginning over 25,000 square kilometers but has now receded to about 2500 square kilometers.
The large chunk of the water has been dammed somewhere in the Congo Republic leaving the downstream of the dam in Nigeria empty causing poverty and misery to our people in Borno State. It was built by the Northern Nigerian government to provide water for irrigation having realized since that time we cannot rely on rain fed agriculture to feed the growing teeming population. This was followed by the Bagauda and Tiga dams in Kano State under late Alhaji Audu Bako of blessed memory. It was not until 1976 that the Federal Government established 11 river basin authorities with the primary aim of boosting agriculture through irrigation farming.
To date, we have less than 100,000 hectors under cultivation out of the estimated 500,000 hectors planned for the river basin areas in the whole country. It is in this context and in consideration of the very harsh economic environment the world over that we are appealing to the new boards being inaugurated today to take their jobs most seriously to boost our agriculture and secure food security. In line with the 7-Point Agenda of President Umaru Yar'adua, they must revitalize the whole concept of river basin development.
In addition to the several challenges they are likely to face, we appeal to them to take the following most seriously: Firstly, they should rehabilitate and develop the irrigation and drainage structures. This is most fundamental because a cursory look at some of the existing structures would make many of us weep. Some of the channels are blocked due to many tears of disuse and lack of maintenance. Secondly and related to the first is the issue of expansion of the irrigated areas. We will take the Kano River Project as an example. A project that was started since the late 1960s with an estimated coverage area of 100,000 hectors, it is unbelievable that 40 years later, we have not been able to cover 22,000 hectors! We are still on phase 1 of the whole scheme which was earlier estimated to feed the whole country by 2005.
The boards should implore the Agric Minister to fund them adequately from the 200 billion Naira special agriculture intervention fund. The future of Nigeria rests on agriculture and agriculture squarely rest on irrigation. The hope of our leaders that started these river basin authorities is to fight poverty, idleness and illiteracy through the irrigation schemes that would make farming possible throughout the year. Poverty, let it be stated, has been recognized as a Northern problem by the leadership of late Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto of blessed memory since the 1960s and began to fight it seriously through irrigation farming.
The 2007 statistics on Nigeria's poverty levels released by the Bureau of Statistics that Central Bank Governor Chukwuma Soludo made popular that highlighted the devastating extent of poverty in the region that identified Jigawa State with 90 per cent living below one United States Dollar per day and Oyo State with only at 20 per cent level. Thirdly, we urge that special attention be focused on research development especially on high yielding crop varieties. The Almighty God has blessed Nigeria with so much in different sections making comparative advantage very easy to identify ranging from rice, maize, wheat, sorghum, yams, cassava and many varieties of fruits like mango, orange and the like.
Fourthly, the issue of fisheries development from the 160 dams should be tackled most seriously so that in the next few years, Nigeria would be an exporter of fish. This is where the Public Private Partnership should come in. Government should spearhead these types of businesses and not abandon everything to the private sector. Government has everything to do with business as against the failed former notion. Thanks to the global economic meltdown, we are watching how the United States and other European countries are taking over some banks and other strategic industries.
Fifthly, the issue of marketing the products should not be left to chance. As the farmers are mobilized to embrace irrigation farming and go back to land, the markets for their products must be developed. Just imagine the wastage that happen during the season for tomatoes, pepper, onions and the like simply because of our unwillingness to establish agro-allied industries across the country. Sixthly, they should reexamine the strategy of using sprinklers for irrigation. Because of numerous problems, we cannot use sprinklers to irrigate our farms in those sandy areas where the sand particles bloke the system. The experience in Bakolori (Sokoto/Rima) and Wudil (Hadejia/Jama'are) should guide us as veritable lessons. And because the spare parts are imported, it makes it very expensive to be maintained. They should devise another strategy of starting the irrigation schemes from the downstream sector of the dams rather than from the upper sectors as is presently done.
Finally, we end by wishing the new boards well and praying for their success in revitalizing agriculture through irrigation in this country. They should please save the country from the embarrassment of watching irrigation being to grow maize in the Kano River Project instead of wheat. Maize as we all know should be planted during the rain fall. As we are going back to the old good days of development plans, let the production of wheat through irrigation be the priority of the basins from the North West and North East parts of the country. The time has come to do things through the old fashioned way. We made wheat production a national priority before in Kano State just twenty years ago. Please someone should tell Minister Ruma that the governor and the agric commissioner who made that possible are still alive and he can benefit from their wealth of experience.