By Usha Anenga
Never thought I would write on this. Being born a little under 30 years ago, it’s almost unthinkable but true that the monuments left by the founding fathers of Benue State remain our best shot till date. Benue State is situated in the mideast region of Nigeria with an estimated population of over 4 million and its capital in Makurdi. It is a rich agricultural region with fertile land and temperate weather condition favourable for cultivation of food and cash crops; some of crops grown are yams, potatoes, cassava, soyabean, guinea corn, rice, beniseed amongst numerous species fruits and vegetables.
After its creation in 1976 from former Benue-Plateau State, Benue State was named after the second largest river in Nigeria; River Benue. The founding fathers of the state haven seen its great agricultural potential had no doubt in their minds about where the future lay and what direction to follow. One of them was Aper Aku, a visionary leader who rose through the political ranks to become the Governor of newly created Benue State in 1978. Haven been imprisoned when he viciously criticised the leadership of the former Benue Plateau State, the state from which Benue was carved from, Aku wasted no time in putting his ideology to work when he became Governor thus laying the blue print that would go on to be the best we ever had.
The two key strategies he employed were, (1) mass agricultural production and (2) establishment of agro-industries to produce fertilizer and process agricultural products. In his mind, and rightly so, he thought a large percentage of the crops produce were perishable, and most inevitably perished or were sold out cheaply due to no available technology for preservation or processing into more durable forms. This has not changed even after close forty years. For these reasons and more, Aku launched commercial enterprises such as the Benue Brewery (Taken over by Consolidated Breweries), Benro Packaging (Dead), Benue Bottling Company (Dead, now depot for Nigerian Bottling Company), Lobi Bank (Dead), Ber-Agbum Fish Farm (Dead), Ikyogen Cattle Ranch (Dead), Taraku Vegetable Processing Industry (Dead for years but recently announced to be opened), and Benue International Hotel (still under construction). He also planned the Makurdi International Market (which Governor Suswan built and I hope will commission before May 2015 when his tenure ends) and also a flour mill (which I haven’t seen or heard about). Eventually Aper Aku was removed when General Buhari took power in a coup in 1983, and replaced the civilian Governors with military officers. All these projects and many more were accomplished under 4 years and you’ll wonder how 8 years hasn’t been enough to replicate halve of what Aku accomplished. To this day, He is regarded as the best governor to ever govern Benue State.
Several decades on, most of these projects still lie in ruins. Succeeding military Governors abandoned the vision of the founding fathers of the state and agricultural production has plunged since then. The civilian/democratically elected governors have not been able to continue perhaps tried but not with the same vigour, in carrying on the vision. The immediate past Governor, Dr George Akume began the construction of a tomato processing plant in his home town of Wanune but not a single tin of tomato produced so far and the project has not attracted any attention from the present administration either. This is not just the government because for some unknown reason, the private sector is pulling out. As I write these words, someone should be putting his/her acts together to purchase what is left of Agro Millers Nigeria Limited, a hitherto rice processing company which announced the auction its property scheduled to hold tomorrow (4th March 2014). Could the sloppiness of the government be rubbing off on the private sector?
Benue is the food basket of the nation, if these slogans are anything to go by, considering that people living in Nigeria’s home of peace and tourism sleep with one eye open, but at least on paper, we are the food basket of the nation so we should act as such. Recently in the past few years, there have been a complete shift of focus which is a discussion for another day but suffice to say that top politicians and influential businessmen in Benue State prefer investing in building of hotels and beer parlours to agriculture; the future sustenance of Benue people and Nigeria at large. What a shame!
As 2015 general elections draw nigh, posters litter the streets, promises flying and the cheap being bought over. Benue State remains an unanswered question, a people still searching for a messiah who will lead them into fulfilling their unquestionable inherent agricultural potential. Crude oil deposits are fast depleting and the future of the Nigerian economy could well depend on the agricultural sector once more, if not now, as agriculture accounts for over 40% of Nigeria’s GDP and creates the highest number of jobs in the country. It is a sector that should, but is often not taken seriously. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we get it right this time. To elect a leader who will go back to the drawing board and engineer a green revolution in Benue State, if not break new ground, at least follow in the footsteps of Aper Aku and complete some of his, and other abandoned agriculture-related projects scattered all over the state. By so doing, probably, my daughter who is 5 months old now would not need to write about this in 30 years’ time.
(this is an old article)