Governor Ben Ayade has launched Cross River State into the current rice revolution, Bassey Inyang writes

About 18 months ago, precisely May 29, 2015, Professor Ben Ayade, assumed office as the governor of Cross River State, amidst great expectations from the people he was set to lead.

The high expectations were understandably so taking into cognisance the laudable performances recorded by his predecessors, respectively, Mr. Donald Duke and Mr. Liyel Imoke, between May 1999 and May 2015.

The previous administrations anchored their programmes for the economic revival of the state on tourism, and rural development through creation of feeder roads to rural communities; a development which saw to the construction of the multi-billion naira Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort in Calabar, the upgrading of the Obudu Ranch resort, massive urban renewal programmes across the state, and encouraging the private sector investments towards industrialisation and boost in commercial activities.

Despite the promising projections for the state’s economy that heralded the establishment of these projects, especially the Tinapa and the Obudu Cattle Ranch Resort it is doubtful if any dividend has accrued to its coffers since they became operational.

The unforeseen problems associated in running the economic facilities to ensuring profitability aside the dilapidation of infrastructure, especially federal road networks in the state has remained one of the most outstanding socio-economic challenges confronting the state.

From inception, the governor appeared to have good understanding of the monumental task ahead of him, but in his characteristic display of courage he saw the challenges as mere stepping stones towards greater achievements for the state.

“Let me use this opportunity, to announce our signature projects; we shall undertake the construction of a dual carriage super highway from Calabar through Ikom and Ogoja to the Ranch Resort in Obudu. We shall also build a state sea port. We shall do all these and more. In God we trust,” Ayade announced after he was sworn-in at the Calabar International Convention Centre (CICC).

Ayade projects that the road on completion would provide the much evacuation corridor for cargoes from the deep sea port to states in northern Nigeria, and other West and North African countries; apart from opening the hinterland communities from north to south for easier access and economic boom while the deep sea port would create at least 30,000 jobs in the state.

Though not one of the signature projects, the completion of the garment factory, by Ayade’s administration provides hope for the employment of at least 2,000 aimed at adding to wealth creation for the people in an economy caught up by national economic recession.

However, experts have concluded that the future of the nation’s economy resides in diversification from oil to other sources of revenue generation; especially agriculture and solid minerals.

Ayade seems to have bought into this call for diversification hence the decision to launch the state into an unprecedented era of agricultural revolution that would result in food sufficiency for the populace; and enough for use as raw materials for industrial purposes.
For a start, the governor has flagged off a rice revolution in the state which is a major agricultural hub of the country.

On November 4, 2016, Ayade demonstrated what can be described as leadership by example when he inaugurated his rice farm in Obudu and inspected 20,000 hectares of rice farm in Ugboro in Bekwarra Local Government Area in demonstration of a practical approach of launching the state into the league of major rice producers in Nigeria and beyond.

Inaugurating the Ogoja Rice Mill, respectively, in the presence of officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) led by the Governor of CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, the governor disclosed that his administration has adopted a policy on rice as propagated by the Federal Government.

“Today, we stand to publicly declare that the people of Cross River support your Rice Anchor Borrowers Programme, and has keyed in fully as a responsive government.

“We support the dream of Mr. President who believes that this country should be self-sufficient in rice production, and he has not only shown reasonable commitment but has followed up with action plans to achieve this vision.”

Ayade who disclosed that his administration has acquired over 18,000 square kilometres of land which it intends to donate to anyone desirous of cultivating rice in the state added: “Taking a cue from Governor of Kebbi State, I have keyed into this presidential initiative by owning my own rice farm today.
“I am sure that by next year, given the number of things we have put on ground, Cross River will have more than enough to feed and export.

“As an extension, I have directed that my 29 commissioners must own at least 20 hectares of rice farm each, while over 1,700 political appointees are expected to own and cultivate at least 10 hectares each to further boost rice production in this state and the country at large.”

Promising that his administration would not fail in its determination to become a major rice producer, the governor said: “We want to assure Mr. President that, with the support of CBN, Cross River State and indeed Nigeria will be self-sufficient in rice sooner than we expected.”

The Chairman, Presidential Committee on Rice and Wheat, who is also the Governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, who spoke at the event commended Ayade for his pragmatic roles demonstrated towards making the state and country self-sufficient in rice production.

Bagudu said it was heartening to know that over 73 cooperative groups and 2,183 farmers have already been mobilised in the northern part of the state for dry season farming.

“I am indeed very delighted to see the tremendous work already done by Governor Ben Ayade in Cross River and his strong believe in the programmes of the federal government to reduce poverty and create employment.
“Today, Ayade is leading by example by personally cultivating his own rice farm that will contribute immensely to our effort of becoming self-sufficient.

“The aim of the programme is therefore to create wealth and employment among the citizenry, be major exporter of rice and wheat and ultimately be self-sufficient in rice production before the end of the year,” Bagudu said.

Bagudu recalled the roles played by Ayade while serving in the Senate, stating that he has always been at the forefront of the struggle for better and more prosperous Nigeria.
Promising more incentives for the state, Bagudu said: “Once we see the success achieved, we are ready and willing to bring in more money to the State.

“The essence of the nationwide tour is to determine the level of successes recorded so far since the borrowers programme was launched in Kebbi State last year.”

In keeping with the administration’s policy to create value chain for the state’s rice production, Ayade has flagged off the construction work on a multi-million naira rice mill in Ogoja.

Ayade also performed the groundbreaking for the construction of a rice mill in Ogoja, which he said would be “the first of its kind in Africa, capable of producing wholly vitaminised rice that will incorporate growth hormones for children between the ages of seven and 15, and also enhance their intellectual capacity.

“With the vitamins enhanced plant, specific vitamins and nutrients are going to be incorporated; the vitaminisation process of this mill is going to be bigger business than actually selling the rice.”
Ayade said, “The people of Ogoja are traditionally the number one rice growing people in the South-south of Nigeria, but all the rice cultivated in Ogoja ends up in other states.

“Indeed, it is our rice and we have come to put an end from taking our rice from Cross River to somewhere else and adding to the rice cultivation statistics of other states.”

Ayade said that the product which will be called “Ogoja Rice” will be packaged to reflect the identity and unity of the people.

At the commissioning of the rice mill, Ayade made a clear distinction between the proposed Ogoja Rice Mill and the Calabar Rice City, saying the latter was designed as a research centre for the production of a new hybrid of rice that will have high yield, high disease resistance and targeted at the production of seeds and seedlings.

“The only way we can control the economy completely in a rice value chain is not just to grow rice but to sell seeds, so we need to have a research centre close to the airport because we are hoping to sell seeds to the whole of Africa. But when you produce your seeds, you need to send them to where the heartbeat of rice construction is, which is Ogoja,” Ayade said.

Continuing, he said: “Buhari has demonstrated that if Nigeria can be focused on rice production, we shall indeed, get out of the woods and our continued dependence on foreign rice will be a thing of the past.”
The state Commissioner for Agriculture, Professor Anthony Eneji, who also spoke at the event, stated that the proposed mill would be producing at least five tons of rice per hour, especially for rice farmers and merchants in the northern and central senatorial districts of the state.

Speaking at the event, the Governor of Central Bank, Emefiele, disclosed that CBN has spent over N3 billion, so far, in the programme in the state, stressing that: “Once we see the success achieved, we are ready and willing to bring in more money to the state.”

Emefiele stated that “The essence of the nationwide tour is to determine the level of successes recorded so far since the borrowers programme was launched in Kebbi State last year.”

Commenting on the efforts put in by Ayade towards the realisation of the programme , the CBN governor said ,“Ayade’s effort will serve as a motivational factor to Cross Riverians who are yet to key into this programme to think of owning their personal farms and start growing rice and other essentials produce too.”

Speaking further, the CBN governor said: “This programme is therefore a demonstration of the fact that we can grow our rice, not just the rice, cassava, yam, wheat and even poultry products can also be produced in large quantities because we have the capacity and so, there is no need to spend foreign currencies in importing these items into the country.

“We know, it is not going to be easy but going by the level of successes recorded so far, I can assure you that we shall overcome food crisis in the country.”