Nigeria is going through its most trying moment since the civil war, with an insurgency that has cost it more than 12,000 people, and a national government that appears too befuddled to give hope to the over 160 million weary citizens. However, amidst the seeming hopelessness, the man worst-hit by the Boko Haram heat, Governor Kashim Shettiima of Borno state, still struggles to give some meaning out of life to the nearly five million people in his state. Ahmed I. Shekarau reports on one of the series of steps taken by the Borno government to tackle the dreaded rebellion.
The current governor of Edo state, Adams Oshiomhole, had sometime in 2004 warned that, “if we don’t find jobs for our teeming youth to do during the day, they’ll create jobs to do at night for themselves”. Oshiomhole, then president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), was decrying the speed with which industries were closing across the country due to numerous factors, central of which was the Nigerian government’s failure to provide the enabling environment for those factories to sustain their operations. While it was too clear for Oshiomhole that the nation was heading towards doom at the rate citizens were losing their jobs then, he probably hardly envisaged it will get to its current state.
Not so surprising for most citizens, however, the North of the country is worse off in terms socio-economic stability, primarily due to the failure of leadership. And in the thick of this rudderless situation sprang up Boko Haram, a very nasty and multi-faceted phenomenon that has dealt the most unkind blow at the region and its citizens.
Notwithstanding, Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, the person most challenged by the insurgency is still striving to enthrall citizens of his state to see hope in the nearest future. Among a series of projects/programmes geared towards creating massive employment for the state’s teeming citizens, and ending youth restiveness that boosts Boko Haram activities, is an extensive irrigation agriculture scheme. Through the scheme, the government is investing billions to empower citizens to turn a new leaf in their lives, despite the distraction of the grueling insurgency. Last Saturday, the government dispatched 50 of its citizens to India for a course on Irrigation Agriculture, a move Governor Shettima said, was part of his administration’s three approaches to fighting the Boko Haram attacks in the state. The 50 citizens left Nigeria on board an Ethiopian airline craft from Abuja, shortly after Shettima addressed them at a farewell held at Ogbeh farms, belonging to former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Audu Ogbeh, located in Kuje area of the FCT. Ogbeh is also honourary adviser on agriculture to Governor Shettima.
The 50 citizens, selected from across the 27 local government areas of the state are to undergoing three weeks train-the-trainers course on irrigation equipment installation, effective utilization and maintenance, after which they will train farmers across the state. A world leader, Jain Irrigation of India, which is currently installing drip and centre pivot irrigation equipment in the state, is to conduct the training as part of a contract between the state and the company.
In his brief remarks at the event, Chief Ogbeh urged the trainees to heed to the lessons they will learn in India, just as he eulogized the Borno governor for his steadfastness in developing knowledge based agriculture in his state. Ogbeh, who said he was extremely proud of Shettima’s courage in sticking with his people despite the atrocious attacks by Boko Haram. According to him, a charlatan would have abandoned Borno and lived most periods of his tenure as governor in Abuja or elsewhere. “But anytime you come here (into Abuja) you rush back to meet your people”.
The former PDP chieftain noted that Borno is the second largest state in Nigeria, and “it’s three times the size of the entire South-east zone”, stressing that with a visionary leadership that has strong commitment to agriculture, the state should help Nigeria cut down heavily on its over $20 billion annual food imports, besides creating huge employment opportunities for its people.
On his part, Shettima in his farewell address revealed that his government has since discovered that in addition to misguided beliefs, Boko Haram insurgents have over the years been recruiting foot soldiers they pay salaries. Those foot soldiers, according to him, accept the offers due to “joblessness, hopelessness and extreme poverty”, conditions, he said, can be addressed with massive investment in agriculture. The governor said he believes that Boko Haram can best be contained through a combination of military socio-political, and economic solutions, maintaining that none can be effective without the others.
Shettima had noted that in addition to Indian irrigation equipment, an American company from Nebraska state which the world headquarters of irrigation equipment, is installing 50 units of centre pivot and sprinkler irrigation equipment along Maiduguri -Konduga farm areas as a pilot program, revealing that 400 units of such equipment from US, India and China are expected for installation across private farms in the State with a view increasing cropping in the State to revolutionize agriculture and create millions of jobs so that Boko Haram wouldn’t find easy recruits as they have been enjoying.
The governor explained that 50 unemployed graduates of Agriculture had undergone a different train-the-trainers course for three months in Thailand, some citizens had been trained in Sebore farms in Adamawa and others in Benin Republic. He said the State is currently taking delivery of 400 containers of agricultural machinery and has taken delivery of 500 mobile rice mills and groundnut processing units while the State has established a micro finance bank it will capitalize to provide loans to farmers and finance agricultural activities through policies that will be friendly to farmers. Shettima said all the steps were being taken to wage an economic war on Boko Haram by making the group a small minority so that it can be overcome by majority of employed citizens.
The governor then advised the trainees to live up to the trust that the government bestowed, while realising that they are entrusted to help in addressing a serious crisis through knowledge based agriculture.
The challenges of tackling Boko Haram are surely enormous, but the step taken by the Borno government is no doubt one of the surest ways to deal with the phenomenon from its roots. This is the challenge all the 19 northern states government must face squarely, to checkmate other symptoms of this disease from spreading across the entire region. It has already manifested in various other states but could well be surmounted with visionary leadership, as Chief Audu Ogbeh has said.