By Brigadier General Paul Boroh (Rtd)
When T.Y. Bello (Toyin Sofekun-Bello) sang: “The land is green, is green, oh oh oh; the land is green, is green, can’t you see” she might have had the Niger Delta in mind. No part of our country is more lush fully green than the Niger Delta with its all-year round rainfall. Even in times of tragic oil pollution, some plants stubbornly sprout with their green coated in oil, as if to say, ‘this land is ours’
The irony however is that the rich natural vegetation of the Region has not translated into food self-sufficiency or security. Like most parts of the country, the Niger Delta has become like Abdul, the man in the fairy tale who wants to get rich without working. Yes, oil is a rich resource, but as we know, it is a wasting one; not only will it not last, but also, its importance is diminishing daily with humanity finding alternative ways of powering energy and automobiles. In fact, future cars will be run on recycled water. This is why the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari harps not just on the need for alternative sources of income for the country, but with its Green Initiative, backed by various programmes like the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme and those of the Bank of Industry, point at agriculture as what would save the country.v
When in July, 2015, I was appointed the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme with the sustainable reintegration of 30,000 ex-Militants as a main target, I worked out in the back of my mind, the fastest and best way to achieve this. My conclusion is to let the Amnesty Beneficiaries blend with the greenery of the Region by attracting them to return to culture the land and fish ponds.
This I also found as the answer to the Federal Government’s primary objectives in the Niger Delta which are to ensure peace and sustainable development. So apart from continuing the existing projects such as developing the human capital resource of the Region through tertiary education, professional and vocation training and empowerment, my team and I took the sure turn to agriculture. We entered into partnership with various organisations like the Bio Technology Resource Centre, university Agriculture faculties and established farms to train the ex-Agitators.
These seedlings we are planting are beginning to sprout. You can imagine my joy when on Friday October 13, 2017, before the chiefs, elders and people of George Town, Okrika, Rivers State, twenty young men in green overall stood before us, the mass media and the world, as I handed over to them a modern, zero-waste, integrated cluster farm. These were part of the 105 youths the Presidential Amnesty programme had trained under the Songhai Rivers Initiative Farm. While their colleagues are being empowered with single stand- alone farms and ponds, this was our first experiment to group ex-Agitators into cluster farms, register them as cooperatives and watch them become not just self-employed, but also employing other unemployed youth.
The model farm, fully funded by the Presidential Amnesty Programme which we handed over to the Beneficiaries, has 30 Ponds, one Run-off Earthen Pond, 5000 Bird Poultry including Broiler and Layers, Free Range, Cropping and Processing Sections,1 Administration and Sales Office, 2 Feed Stores, 2 Implement Stores and one Control Room.
I told the Beneficiaries that they have a once in a life time opportunity not just to make a decent living for themselves and their families but also to employ a number of the unemployed. I also informed them that the Amnesty Office was further empowering them by handing over to them as a start-off package, 1000 fingerlings to 2000 post fingerlings, 100 Point of Lay Birds and an additional 200 broilers, 10 Piglets and a Crop Section with Cucumber, Pepper, Pumpkin and Okra.
Perhaps the most critical aspect of this farm is that it is designed to be one with an all-year round production by running a staggered stocking and harvesting plan. With this, commercial sales have been programmed with the sale of eggs by November 1, 2017 and, smoked fish, broilers and vegetables in December, 2017. We opted that smoked fish, rather than fresh fish be sold, first to add value and secondly to make more profit.
I was also very happy with George Town which provided the land for the farm. I was elated when the traditional leader of the town, Chief Akuro Richard George said with this project, we had brought Federal presence to them and that the project has established a bond between the George Town people and the Federal Government. His request that the Presidential Amnesty Programme establishes a skills acquisition centre in George Town to cater for lots of unemployed youths, is one that sits well with the Presidential Amnesty Office.
My happiness knew no bounds when the Chairman of the ex-Agitators Cooperative, Mr. Emmanuel.T. Promise, thanked the Federal Government for giving them the opportunity of their lives to run a viable and sustainable business of their own. These are men who had picked up arms to fight the country, but who are now a role model for their peers and are resolved to run their lives in peace and security.
The occasion further convinced me that this is the way to go; that this cluster farm which we registered with the Rivers State Government as “Okrika Agro Farmers 105 Cooperative and Investment and Credit Society Limited” must be replicated in other parts of the Niger Delta. Already, we have 1,000 Beneficiaries who have either been trained, being trained or are on the waiting list to be trained in agriculture.
As we continue with this, our attention is also directed at rice farming for which we have already trained 305 Beneficiaries with two of them establishing their rice farms in Ughelli. My vision is to produce tens of thousands of youths in the Niger Delta cladded in their green overall and shirts, turning the Region into a Green Belt and blending with the green vegetation. This is the beginning of what I call the “Green Shirt Movement” The Land is green and is becoming greener, can’t you see?
Brigadier General Paul Boroh (Rtd) is the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme.