ONE-ON-ONE WITH RT HON CHARLES OKON EKPE, CHAIRMAN, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE & NATURAL RESOURCES
Rt. Hon. Let us share in your experience as Chairman, House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources:
Thank you very much. The office is not new to me because in my first tenure (as a Member of the House), I was Chairman on Solid Minerals. After two years, I was given Chairman, House Committee on Agriculture… So it’s a familiar terrain. What is your impression of the state government’s industrialization policy? Ok, first of all, you see, part of the industries, the Governor himself has a lot of programmes under Agriculture – the banana plantation in Odukpani, we have the rice at Ogoja, we have cotton (and) so many of these raw materials to make sure that the factories (operate with strong supply bases) and that he has to make it a policy… I will say that we need to privatize all these things so that we have private partners getting involved in them. We won’t wait for government policy.
Once the (governor) leaves office, someone else will continue the programme. But it involves public sector as against state government… What kind of legislation is the House coming up with to ensure the efficient management and sustainability of the industries?
First of all, it was a motion by the Member for Etung (Hon. Chris Njah Mbu- Ogar) which called on him (Governor) to know the thinking of the House of Assembly which of course he (the Governor) agrees with us. So you know some
of us will only advise. We propose… we have to give him the legal (insight). How far has your House Committee gone with its oversight functions? Yes, we have not really gone to those estates. We were to call on them based on complaints from landlords (communities) because we invited all of them to this place, then we (discussed). Workers gave most of the complaints in the communities like in Ibiae (managed by) Wilmar. Some of the communities said they don’t have anybody (working as employees of the managing company). They said they had not sighted any MoU (Memorandum of Understanding signed with the state government). We were supposed to go to the estates next week, but we just decided that (we’d go there) this coming Monday (9th December, 2019). We will… check on the entire community and ask the companies (to) put it into the seal and all other things they have complained like in
the case of Wilmar. Some have complained of the source of their drinking water and all of that. So we intend to see Wilmar, then we will commence training for all those trainers.
The problem we have is that farmers themselves are not sincere. Some have collected facilities some time ago but find it difficult to return it. When you borrow, after two or three years, you return (so that) another person (can also benefit).
Would you say government’s handing over of the estates to Wilmar has paid off? Yes. Certainly, (the take-over by) Wilmar has really paid off because (with what has been achieved so far) they are almost there. (It is left for us) to look at the kind of temporary structures (and) you know permanent structures (put in place so far). The place is almost (completely) open, the population of those communities has increased… The activities (of Wilmar have) really paid off. Sir, what would say are the problems arising from the allocation of plots in the plantation and what are the
company’s efforts to resolve them? Yes, they have the whole process in this one… This one is purely administrative
and… when we complain, we go to find out why they are having such problems… Now for the problem, there is one
allowance to you to apply. If you have a company, you have to go… checking the number of hectares you have and then give you money based on the number of hectares, then give you (the length of) time to develop it. Go to the market to get the product. They normally get the money through a commercial bank and the state government… which we are in the process. They have not actually gotten the money yet…Chairman, with the Federal government’s
interventions in the Agricultural sector using the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as facilitator (to disburse facilities to the beneficiaries, are you satisfied with the state government’s efforts at ensuring that farmers in the state benefit from these interventions? The problem we have is that farmers themselves are not sincere. Some have collected these (facilities) some time ago but find it difficult to (utilize) them… because when you borrow, after two or three years you return (so that) another person (van also benefit). But this one, when you collect to return is a problem. So farmers are not helping issues. When you borrow, return it so we can give to your brother too. But when you refuse to return, it becomes a challenge. So in view of all these things… Government policies, all the dimensions are involved especially one of our… almost all the Federal Government… In 2018, 600 men, women and youth were empowered and about three million naira (N3,000,000.00) grant (disbursed to them and they were) given directly based on what they chose to do…
Certainly, (the handing over of Ibae Estates’ management to) Wilmar has really paid off because they are almost there. Look at the kind of temporary structures (and) permanent structures (developed so far)
oil palm production or marketing. They were put in a camp to see where people are doing what is current like in the NYSC camp which teaches them marketing, home economics, teaching them all these things and after that (allowed) to do their own (as) the money was disbursed to them… (This was meant to assist them) to be self-employed (but)
somebody who was into poultry farming (rather diverted) money meant to buy feed for (personal purposes and then runs into problems when it was time for inspection and supervision). For somebody to train you for two weeks on what you need to help yourself and then gives you the money, but you prefer to collect the money and do something else… will you go and meet (such a person) because he has collected money from the World Bank? How would you say you have fared in catering to the needs of your constituents in Akamkpa II State Constituency since you were elected as a member of the House of Assembly?
People are more than the money. The pressure is always there; challenges of school fees, medical bills, challenges of house rent and so many (others). You have to go (the extra mile to meet those needs by scheduling and rescheduling when you could handle them based on the resources available or expected). Those are the challenges because you can’t run away from them. You must try your best because there is no way you can satisfy everybody. Once you are convinced that you have done your best… you know (from) 100 you have 50 and you have 50… For the Agriculture
Committee, it appears lighter now but once the Commissioner comes (in), things would not be the same again. That is the reason why he is chosen because there (is) certain information you might not (access easily especially) if the appointee (doesn’t) give you the real information. Your advice to Cross Riverians? My advice to Cross Riverians generally is first, we need to open our minds and be sincere to ourselves. There are so many programs that we can benefit from. When you hear a thing, you (ask) your fellow (brother or sister) have you heard (about) this and move
towards it. Don’t assume that (because) a man is in office as a king, he knows so many things. We are just human beings. We move but we cannot just be everywhere because as I am sitting here, a lot of things happen outside there and I will not know…