Buhari Vows to Revamp Agriculture in N’Delta

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  • Begs militants to stop bombing, embrace farming Brothers at war as Tompolo accuses cousin of bombings

By Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa and Sylvester Idowu in Warri

President Muhammadu Buhari at the weekend in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, vowed to revamp the economy of the Niger Delta to ensure that in the next few years, agriculture would coexist and compete favourably with proceeds from the export of oil and gas resources.

The president who blamed successive governments for missing several opportunities to steer the Nigerian economy away from its sole dependence on oil and place it on a solid footing, pledged that his administration would pursue the diversification of the Nigerian economy with vigour.

Buhari who spoke during the Green River Project (GRP) Farmers’ day, jointly organised by the Nigerian Agip Oil Company  (NAOC) and supported by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Oando Plc, stated that if the current momentum is sustained, Nigeria would be self-sufficient in a couple of years from now.

The GRP is dedicated to the celebration of achievements of farmers in Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers and Imo States and according to the organisers, has enabled Agip and its joint venture partners to assist the states in agricultural production towards achieving food sufficiency and economic empowerment.

While calling for the support of everyone, the Nigerian leader reiterated that he had already begun plugging the loopholes which led to the degeneration of the economy, noting that with the feedback at his disposal, Nigeria was on the path of recovery.

“As well as plug gaps and shortcomings, I am pleased to let you know that the results have started to take shape

“There is no doubt that these are difficult times for us as a nation. Having squandered most of the opportunities we had to lay a solid foundation in the past, we have seen our oil-dependent economy slide into recession largely on account of falling oil prices as well as militancy and vandalism of oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta.

“But even as these economic difficulties have unfolded over the last two years, we have gone ahead to lay our vision for restoring  the economy and placing it on a diversified footing largely on agriculture and solid minerals.

“The result has been heart-warming. The most  recent GDP figures for the second quarter of 2016, rose in two major areas; agriculture and solid minerals,” he said.

In the audio-visual message he specifically sent for the occasion and a separate message read on his behalf by the Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who represented him, Buhari also begged Niger Delta militants to halt the harm being inflicted on the economy and the Niger Delta ecosystem by the bombing of oil and gas facilities in the region.

“I appeal to the people of the Niger Delta to embrace peace and focus on agriculture for sustainable economic development and wealth creation. I urge you to take advantage of the huge potential in agriculture and stop the destruction of oil and gas pipelines which only serves to destroy our ecosystem and economy,” the president added.

He said that with the agricultural policies and programmes currently being put in place and the kind of partnership shown by Agip in revamping agriculture in the Niger Delta, the people of Nigeria would soon have a cause to smile.

In the message, the president said the Niger Delta possesses one of the best wetlands in the world and advised its people to embrace peace so that genuine development could take place.

Buhari stated: “Let me use this opportunity to reiterate our uttermost commitment to our farmers across the country. This government is championing several schemes aimed at supporting farmers and agriculture.

“Let me list a few of them. The anchor borrowers programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria which has already impacted positively in rice production levels in several states.”

He said twith the good harvest coming in from parts of the country, there was no doubt that such partnerships initiated by NAOC and its owners would go a long way in adding value to farmers.

Describing the GRP in the Niger Delta as “ one of its kind and worthy of commendation and emulation by all oil companies, Buhari stated that apart from the huge oil and gas deposits, the Niger Delta region is blessed with one of the world’s largest wetlands with arable land for agriculture and has the capacity to become a domestic and international provider of agricultural produce.

The president disclosed that $9 billion dollars was currently being lost to lack of facilities for prompt processing of agricultural produce annually and $22 billion used in the importation of a few agricultural products.

He said the federal government was repositioning the bank of industry, BOA and has created the  Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending NIRSAL, to enable farmers access to credit facilities.

The President stated that the provision made by Agip in supporting beneficiaries with processing facilities would go a long way in ameliorating the huge losses.

While commending the ‘unrelenting’ efforts of the company”, he urged them to sustain the initiative as oil production and agriculture can coexist and pave the way for sustainable prosperity.

He urged the governors to collaborate with the federal government to make agriculture a key business in Nigeria as it will help curb restiveness and increase revenues in the states.

Chairman of the company, Uberto Cararra, in his speech said the programme has been helping the youths as well as women and expressed joy that the GRP was receiving attention from the right quarters.

The MD, Oando, Pade Durotoye, who was represented by Anthony Sawyer, General Manager Operations, noted that the programme currently has 35,000 farmers within 120 communities in its fold, but called for a “ more aggressive and varied implementation strategy”.

Also, the General Manager District, Marco Rotondi, said the GRP was changing the perception that the Niger Delta was “all about insecurity and militancy”.

Prof Humphrey Ogoni, Vice Chancellor of the Niger Delta University, in his address said attention should be paid to mechanised farming, integrated farming system and more collaboration with research institutions like the NDU.

Meanwhile, ex-militant leader, Chief Government Ekpemupolo alias “Tompolo” yesterday broke his silence on recent spate of bombings in the Niger Delta, alleging that his cousin, Michael Johnny, was behind series of recent attacks on national assets.

He said confidently that the security agencies were aware of the involvement of the said Chieftain of All Progressive Congress (APC) in Delta State, Chief Johhny, in the recent attacks on oil facilities in the region.

Tompolo maintained that information at the disposal of security agencies indicated that a suspect in their custody had allegedly confessed that Michael Johnny sent him (the suspect) to bomb oil facilities.

Tompolo in a statement signed by his Media Consultant, Paul Bebenimibo, was reacting to an online publication that militants are plotting to attack more facilities unless the federal government stalls Tompolo’s trial by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

He expressed surprise that the publication was coming up two days after his cousin, Chief Michael Johnny appeared on a national television accusing him of being the mastermind of attacks on oil facilities.

Reacting to the publication, Ekpemupolo again dissociated himself from the threat by the group noting that he did not and will not send anyone to attack oil facilities in the Niger Delta Region.

“The attention of my client, Tompolo has been drawn to an online publication by a faceless person or persons, that militants have vowed to attack more oil facilities over Tompolo, if Federal Government of Nigeria refused to drop the criminal charges against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

“Ekpemupolo (Tompolo) unequivocally dissociates himself from this threat as he did not send anyone to attack oil facilities in the Niger Delta region because of his case with the EFCC. Tompolo has consistently denied involvement in the resurgence and bombing of oil facilities in the Niger Delta region.

“This online publication is coming two days after one Michael Johnny has accused Tompolo on Channels Television programme,” State of the Nation” of been behind the bombing of oil facilities in the Niger Delta region.”

“Tompolo watched the programme with great disbelief as Michael Johnny accused him of being  the brain behind the bombings of oil facilities, whereas information at the disposal of security agencies indicates that a suspect in their custody had confessed that Michael Johnny sent him (the suspect) to bomb oil facilities.

“That means that Michael Johnny is the one behind the bombings of oil facilities in the Niger Delta. Tompolo has instructed his lawyers to sue Michael Johnny for malicious damage.

“Tompolo has said in many occasions that he will not resort to violence and bombing of oil facilities because of his case with the EFCC. Tompolo sued the EFCC for illegally placing non-debit order on his company account in Warri before he was hurriedly dragged to court by the EFCC in Lagos. And after a year, the court has refused to hear his case for frivolous excuses. And he has vowed to patiently pursue his case rather than resorting to violence and bombing of oil facilities which is greatly affecting our economy”, the statement signed by Bebenimibo read.

Finally, Chief Ekpemupolo we wish to warn that no one should u warned against the use of his name to seek relevance in the present administration noting that such moves would be resisted by any legitimate means.