Leonard Ebute, a 38-year-old agriculture entrepreneur and co – founder of Crest Agro Products Limited, says states such as Benue and Kogi that have vast areas of arable land should be lending money to oil-rich states like Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom, if only the government stopped relying on federal allocations alone.
According to Ebute, the untapped land in Kogi State alone can create five Lagos cities.
In an interview with Punch, the young “Agripreneur”, who worked with several blue chip companies before deciding to set up his own agricultural business and now runs a 13-hectare farm in Kogi, Nigeria has no reason to be poor given the enormous export potentials that exists in the Agric sector.
“Today, in terms of production, Nigeria is the fourth largest producer of vegetable in the world; the Netherlands is 26th. But when it comes to export, the Netherlands generates the same revenue from fresh vegetables that Nigeria would generate from oil if we were to be producing 1.2 million barrels per day at $50,” he said.
“How much are we, the number four vegetable producer, generating from export? Zero! Oil sells at around $50 per barrel. The equivalent of a barrel is 137 kilogrammes. Now, 137kg of Irish potatoes is worth around $178, meaning that the amount generated from the sale of a barrel of oil is far lesser than what you will get selling the same quantity of Irish potatoes.
“Why then should Plateau State be poor? That’s the only state in Nigeria where you can produce Irish potatoes between three and four cycles per year.
“Why is Akwa Ibom State proudly an oil-producing state and Plateau State is not prouder as an Irish potato-producing state? The reason is simple — there is zero export, there is zero government focus in converting that value chain into real dollars.
“The way we have petrol dollars, we should also be talking of Irish potato dollars. Mambila Plateau (Taraba State) is also the only place that has the weather required for temperate vegetable crops to grow. It is the most fertile land for growing crops.
“However, 80 percent of Mambila is uncultivated. Rather, the place is owned by a lot of ex-military people. They have farms here and there, but no farming is going on. Those lands hold the key to Nigeria’s economic growth.”
Ebute further said that Benue being “the largest producer of soya bean in Nigeria and the largest producer of cassava in the world”, would continue to wallow in unnecessary poverty.
“Both Benue and Kogi states account for a chunk of all the cassavas produced globally,” he said.
“Talking about soya bean, there is no single farm of soya bean in the whole of Benue State that is up to 10 hectares, which means you cannot mechanise production when the scale is that tiny.
“Soya bean can be produced there strictly for export to make soya dollars, but the government, as it is set up now, does not think that way.
“Now talking about cassava, the local demand for its starch alone is nearly 400,000 metric tonnes per annum whereas the local supply is less than 10,000 metric tonnes. Note that we are not talking about export yet.
“The Middlebelt, which is currently the poorest part of Nigeria, is supposed to be by far the richest. States like Benue should be lending money to Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa states.
“States like Kaduna, Niger, Kogi, Kwara and others around the Guinea Savannah region where almost every crop can grow, should not be talking of poverty. The untapped land in Kogi State alone can create five Lagos cities. Niger State is even worse.”
On the issue of resource control and the agitation by the Niger Delta militants, Ebute said their agitation is justified but that they are going about it the wrong way.
“I agree with the Niger Delta boys that the resources of a place should be controlled by that place, the federal government should only collect royalties and regulate the use of that revenue,” he said.
“Think of it this way: Assuming all the oil revenue produced by Akwa Ibom State resides there, the state would have had the capacity to become another Lagos, meaning that Lagos will not be as congested as it is.
“My only problem, however, with the Niger Delta boys is their approach of agitation. What they are asking for is like a man whose father owns the whole world but is only fighting for bread.
“What they are asking for is juvenile compared to the scope of what they should be asking for, and the manner in which they are making their demands is like a child defecating in his father’s bedroom because the uncle collected the house; by the time the house is finally given to the child, he will have to clean up his mess.
“The Niger Delta boys are bombing pipelines and desecrating the environment, not realising it’s their environment they are messing up. They are saying the oil is their own, but they are destroying the facilities . If something is yours, why would you destroy it? They wouldn’t be fighting with this approach if they realised the oil is theirs.
“Right now, they are worse than politicians and that is why the rest of the world cannot take them seriously because what they are doing is not agitation, it’s a criminal activity.
“Be that as it may, their agitation is genuine because for instance, is the revenue generated by Kano State from groundnut being shared with Bayelsa State? Is the revenue Benue making from soya shared among the other states? Why then should we be sharing oil revenue produced by some among others?
“Why can’t we allow the coastal areas enjoy certain benefits like access to the sea, concentrate the resources there, build mega cities around there so that they too can build their own Lagos?
“Imagine if we have ‘Lagos’ in five places, Nigeria would have developed and then the governors from the middle belt will stop being lazy and then they will see that they are by far the richest states in Nigeria. What we have (right now in Nigeria) are oil-producing states and others are nothing-producing states. It’s ridiculous.