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Thursday, 30 June 2016

GRAZING BILL : HON. UJU ONWUDIWE SPEAKS TO FAMILY WRITERS ON HER SPONSORED CONTROVERSIAL ‘FARM ESTATE BILL’

GRAZING BILL: HON. UJU ONWUDIWE SPEAKS TO FAMILY WRITERS ON HER SPONSORED CONTROVERSIAL ‘FARM ESTATE BILL’


In the wake of the controversies surrounding the bill to “Establish Agricultural Estates and Farm Settlement in Imo State” which has been tagged “Grazing Bill” by most media outfits. Family Writers of Ifeanyi Chijioke, Chima Onyekachi and our investigator Chukwuemeka Nduka had an investigative interview with the sponsor of the bill, Hon. (Mrs) UjuOnwudiwe, the member representing Njaba state-constituency in the Imo State House of Assembly to explain the true nature, facts and essence of the bill.

Excerpts:
ON THE BILL YOU SPONSORED THAT IS CAUSING CONTROVERSY.

In recent times, there have been scarcity of tomatoes in the eastern part of the country and I have thought to myself that we can grow it ourselves. I decided we can go into Mechanized Agriculture and having an estate is important in operating mechanized agriculture. In my hometown of IHE-Enugu State, there is a pineapple estate and I know the benefits for my people and the town. In Ihe, you do not see youths rustling around or women begging for monetary gain; they all go to the farm and are self-employed. At a stage, land acquisition for other use became unfavorable for investors, who then decided to encourage the growth of the pineapple plantation in my community. The investors started free mentorship, bought pineapple stock and gave them free for planting after negotiation with the farmers. The farmers were given negotiating power in every deal. Organic manure was also provided and during harvest, trucks are provided for the farmers in the farm for easy transportation for sales. My people in Ihe, do not go through much stress in their jobs, buying stock or transportation of produce for sales, they just plant, maintain the crops and they make money to take care of their family.

Hard Copy
After seeing the success of the agricultural estate in my hometown, I decided I must bring the idea to the place where I am married into which is Imo State. In the village where I reside (I live in the village and not the city), the women there go to the market to buy little produce like vegetable and pepper. When I was young, those crops were grown in or at the back of our compound. In this recent time, people do not see the importance of going back to agriculture. Agriculture is what our forefathers used in training our fathers and us. People see farming as a dirty man’s business. They see those engaged in farming as people that their children are not buoyant, and it is time to change that mentality. If we are talking about diversification of the economy, Agriculture must be our priority. If we are talking about Plan B and thinking out of the box on how we can sustain ourselves, Agriculture is number one.

One maybe wondering why we need estates for agriculture, the estate to me is a demo that anybody will be interested to learn from it. There are specialists and agriculturists who know what it takes to grow a crop or to grow any kind of thing they want to, even if it is livestock. The term ‘Livestock’ has often been used as a propaganda tool because of cattle rearing. Cattle rearing is not the only livestock we have; poultry, piggery, fishery are all livestock which I am more interested in. I stated in the bill that the estates shall be in the three geo-political zones so that we can be able to go into lands which are important for usage in mechanized agriculture. For example, in Orlu zone there is specie of orange that grows fruits within a year. If we invest in such fruit, it will enable fruit processing factories that are located faraway in Lagos or Ibadan, to relocate to Imo state in order to cut costs of transportation, which will bring forth employment for youths and women.
Hard Copy
My idea for the bill is for the wellbeing of my people and never for grazing purpose. People tag the bill “grazing bill” because of politics, but I will not allow people who do not think positively about the people to destroy the good ideas of that bill. As I have told hundreds of people that have been calling me on phone because of the bill; I cannot say the bill is hundred percent perfect because I am a human being and I can make mistakes.  If you see anything in the bill that will expose dangerous foreigners to tap in or stand in or get involved in the negotiation, we will remove it. The bill is in the committee stage where amendment can be made. The committee stage involves public hearing, and organization under agriculture, individuals interested will be invited for the public hearing. During public hearing, everyone must put in their contributions and it will be generally accepted by the people. There will be valid argument with the specialists and agriculturists for a final fine tuning of the bill.

The bottom line of the bill is for us to keep our people busy and also to sustain ourselves in our environs, because if we continue this way, I bet in the next 5-10 years only God knows what it will cost a woman to cook a pot of soup in her home. Now, in the villages they are no more interested in farming, those still interested are struggling because they lack modern ideas on how to plant, maintain and harvest, that is the reason you see crops not yielding well. But with the passage of the bill, there will be mentorship, teaching and guidance. When I was young, most times we go to the farm for fun sake because our parents believe that even if we are not doing the work, we should know exactly what is happening in the farm. Those days, during harvest, the cassava from our farms is always taller than us and we made jest with it. But this time, it is very difficult to see any healthy cassava produced by any farmer.

Why is this happening? The land might not be fertile and the farmer may be unaware. Those days, my grandmother does not use fertilizers, she uses organic manure and there is a specific place in the compound where the manure is dumped and subsequently used in the farm yearly, which results in good yield. That is basically the idea I want us to be talking more about. Let us go back to Agriculture and stop depending on other people to feed. When those we depend on for food decides not to export to us anymore, it results in scarcity and price hike. In recent time, a single piece of tomato is N100, to make stew for a family now costs about N1000. How many families can afford it? Our people are in danger if we solely depend on Ofe-Aku (palm stew), because it is high in cholesterol, because of the scarcity of tomatoes we have been subjected to eat unhealthy. We do not want to use what we have to get what we do not have. As far as I am concerned, if you come to this country, Igbo people are stronger than most tribes.

It is sad when I see my youths wasting away in the market square, drinking and smoking because they are jobless and waiting to be given money to start up a business. Even when they are given, it is not cherished by them because they did not sweat for it. But when you expose them to agriculture, they do the work and make money; they will cherish it because it is their sweat. Giving out money freely is not a good idea because they may not be able to manage the business set up for them. The youths need to wake up and be doing something tangible, the women also. The only thing I feel that will be fastest way to get over the economic downturn is to go back to agriculture, so we can use what we have to get what we do not have. That is the summary of the bill but if there is anything in that bill that anyone feels will attract somebody to come and endanger my people, let it be pointed out. Why should I be talking about grazing bill against the wishes of my people? If herdsmen come into my village to invade, will I be spared because I sponsored a grazing bill? I am not


spared from security risk, the risk in the grazing bill is massively high and I say no to grazing bill. If there will be grazing bill, let everyone stay in their various states and build ranches to maintain their cattle and circulate it in their market so that everyone will be comfortable. Exposing your people into the hands of people that do not believe in your ways of life is not accepted by me.  I can never support grazing bill and there is nothing like grazing bill in Imo state House of Assembly.

THERE ARE CONDITIONS AND TERMS ATTACHED TO THE BILL THAT WE NEED CLARIFICATION ON. THE CONDITION WHEREBY “THE STATE GOVERNOR WILL BY SPECIAL INSTRUMENT ACQUIRE LANDS FROM THE THREE GEOPOLITICAL ZONES OF IMO STATE FOR THE PURPOSE OF ESTABLISHING AGRICULTURAL ESTATES AND FARM SETTLEMENT.” WHAT IS THE SPECIAL INSTRUMENT? WILL THE STATE GOVERNOR BUY FROM THE COMMUNITY AND WILL THE FARMERS OR LIVESTOCK REARERS BE ALLOWED TO BUILD THEIR HOMES THERE?

The communities have two options, which is the either they sale the lands voluntarily or become shareholders in the agricultural estates. The decision is theirs and nobody will force them or hijack any of their lands. Any community that we will get land from must benefit more than every other person in the project. Hijacking of lands from the community is not encouraged in the bill. And please I must emphasis that cattle are not the only livestock that we have. I have not seen an Igbo man moving around with cows in Igboland, so I am not even looking at cattle rearing in the bill. I am looking at poultry, piggery, snailery and others. I am also looking at other things we can be able to do with fruits, yam, cassava, vegetable and the rest. It still depends on the zone and what they feel their land is fertile to produce. Investors will come and test the soil to know what plant will be fertile to grow there. I am more interested in investing on what we can eat.

In Imo state, we have Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), and they have large unused lands which we can switch over to, if that session of the bill is causing ripples. I have a meeting with the D.G and we will discuss about it. There are rules and nobody will be forced to give out their lands, you cannot hurt somebody and at the same time be blowing cold air on them. Everything must be under negotiation, are the communities willing to give out land voluntarily or they want to be part of the estate? Whichever, they will decide. If there will be a problem, we will move into the ADP lands. My main concern is that we must sustain ourselves and produce what we have even if it is not up to 100%. Even if it is 20% that we produce, let us use it to buy other things that we do not have. My idea of the bill is sustenance for my people.

(Legislative assistant speaks) On that clause, it is important we know that usually the Land Use Act law states that the primary owner of the land is the government whereas we have the customary owner. The government always has a disposition where they feel there is something meaningful to do with the land. But the term ‘special instrument’ in the bill permits negotiation instead of the fiat of the government. We are talking about a buying concept as pointed out earlier by the Honourable. If we impose the government presence in the community, it means there could be security risk which will affect the investment adversely. The clause of special instrument was introduced, so the government will not be too rigid about what they used to do but there shall be a forum for discussion with the community. People have misinterpreted that clause because of political undertone, when actually the fact is to provide an opportunity for a negotiation and not forceful collection of lands

THERE IS A CLAUSE IN THE BILL THAT STATES OF “CONFIDENTIALITY BY MEMBERS OF THE AGENCY IN HANDLING OF INFORMATION AND NON-DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION TO A THIRD-PARTY.” IS THIS BILL A CONFIDENTIAL BILL OR IS IT RESTRICTED TO THE STATE GOVERNMENT AND THE PUBLIC IS NOT ALLOWED TO KNOW ANYTHING, INVOLVE IN THE BILL DIRECTLY OR IMMEDIATELY WITHOUT CONSENT FROM THE GOVERNMENT? PLEASE CLARIFY.

Even in our personal lifestyle we have confidential things. There are things the office needs to handle first before it comes to the notice of the public. There are things that are supposed to be filtered before you present it to the public. There are decisions the body of the agency needs to take first before it comes to the public, which means working in the agency have to abide by the rules. We want to avoid a situation when an issue is raised and not yet concluded and the public will already hear about it. In any firm and even in your journalism profession, there are things you cannot tell me no matter how close we are to each other, because you do not know how I will take it and it may cause more harm. It happens in most offices, organization and in our private lives. In any organization, the people working there must know that for you to say something out to the public, a decision must have been taken. Some people might be working in a firm and the little they will hear they will expose to the public and unwarranted questions will begin to be asked. This clause is all about rules that will guide the body. You need to understand this is an agency that is not yet existing, so we need rules and regulation that will bind the agency by law in order to know what they are supposed to do and not supposed to do.

(Legislative assistant speaks) In addition, we also know that there is nothing that can be established now that will run variant to subsisting rules governing the country. You know that there is freedom of information Act which is the Act in the country that permits disposition of certain level of information and we must also establish the rights of individual to access such level of information. We all know that there is no law or acts that we will establish that will run counter with subsisting rules in the country. Every business has a secret, if it does not, then it cannot be competitive. The clause is more or less preserving the integrity of the institution, it is not anything sinister.

PLEASE CLAREIFY THE CLAUSE OF “HAVING ONLY A SELECT THAT WILL BE ALLOWED ON LARGE SCALE FARMING.”

(Legislative aide speaks) We want to have a demonstration base. Before now, we cannot say there is a place in Imo state where you can find a large-scale farming. As a student of International Economic Studies, I know that part of what sustained the economics of the European Union (EU) nations, is a standardized agricultural practice. They push in money to ensure that there is subsidization of the food produce as that is part of the sustenance of the economy, the eradication of poverty and any form of health challenges is achieved through what is called food security. That makes them to map out certain amount of money annually to ensure they subsidize that part of the economy which is what guarantees the health in the European communities. If we talk about social welfare system in Nigeria or its non-existence, the first element is lack of food security. Now we are talking about self-determination, if we eventually succeed and Biafra is free to go, what can we say is our background? I read news online about a Northern senator who said “take your oil and we take our yam”, which is actually a strong statement. Even the oil, are we prominent in the industry? In the next fifty years or less, Oil will be like


water without regard because there is a dynamic change technologically in the global world. Tax has been placed on gas emission which has made most automobile manufacturers to diversify to clean energy making the Oil a zero source of income in the nearest future. What does this tell us? It simply means if we are talking about self-determination, we must also think of how to develop and utilize our economic resources. If we decide to say everyone should go into mechanized agriculture, where do they learn or understand it? Twenty years ago, we didn’t talk about confectionaries (fast food) until UAC went into establishment of MR BIGG’S, which became a trail blazer. Subsequently, individuals buoyant enough went into the same business copying the blueprint of MrBigg’s. We have the mentality of copying instead of originating ideas. We must be able to demonstrate a center where they will see the productivity before they will be able to replicate it, that is the concept for the settlement. It is not about telling people to move away from their subsistence farming but reorienting people to talk about commercial farming, so that when they are able to adapt to a lot of agricultural practices they will be convince to go into mechanized farming.

The expertise of professionals working in the agricultural estates will be available and affordable for individuals interested in investing in the business in their private capacity. The EU banned the importation of beans from Nigeria because Nigerians have poor packaging knowledge and do not understand the how to preserve according to EU standard. We can leverage on that even though we do not grow beans in large quantities over here. We must have a center and use it as a consolidation center for whatever that we import over here, and at the same time adding value to make our profit. Such center is developing the expertise that will help us leverage on agricultural product for the good of our people, so that even if we successfully secede from Nigeria, we do not have much to lose. The idea is to jumpstart our people on time to succeed and provide a reference model so our people who were not used to commercial agriculture will begin to see where it is demonstrated and will become interested in going into it. Remember the key problem is the gap between the aged and the youths. The youths have not seen any value in agriculture; it is only when they see the commercial aspect of it which is the greatest profit-oriented enterprise in the world. If we do not change the psych of the youths towards agriculture, we cannot get it right.

Hon. UjuOnwidiwe: Moreover, whatever we are doing in Imo state, I believe if it succeeds it can never end in Imo state, other eastern states will go into it. Imagine these states having three major agricultural produce in their various states, what else are we going to be talking about in the eastern region? We will just be interchanging our crops; you can buy tomatoes in Imo state, go to Ebonyi and buy rice, then another state for yam or whatever produces. As you can see, we are comfortable to sustain ourselves in our home without depending on others which is actually the major idea behind this bill.

(Legislative aide speaks) Diary product was mentioned in the caption used for propaganda against the bill but we should be aware that in Igbo land, traditionally the cow used for installation of the title “OgboEfi” is not the Northern cows but the native cow (Nama) groomed in Igboland. The taste of our native cow is far better than the Northern cow and it is resistant to tsetse fly. It is not only the Hausa/Fulani that grooms cows, so “diary product” should not be used as a propaganda tool. The Nama specie of cow is more expensive and scarce compared to the Northern cows. We have many indigenous researchers, experts and consultants around the globe, so we can decide to develop that particular breed of cow that is resistant to tsetse fly in our land.


ACCORDING TO THE NEWS ON MOST NATIONAL DAILIES, THE BILL HAS BEEN PASSED, IS THAT TRUE?

Not at all, that statement is coming from propagandists. The bill has not been passed and it is at committee stage. Before the bill will be passed, everyone will be involved. When we are in the House of Assembly, we are representing the people and not ourselves. We do not take decisions alone. Whatever decisions we take will be generally accepted, because it is the people will consider when we make the law. The masses must be involved in whatever we are doing. We cannot pass just this sensitive bill especially now the propagandists have portrayed it negatively before the real details of the bill are revealed. The bill must go on public hearing before the committee will come up with reports, removing what is not necessary and add what is necessary the people want to be added in order to make it more adoptable for everyone to go into it. The committee is looking for a time convenient enough for everybody, because they are going to invite all the groups under agricultural sector, the public, individuals and the media. The stage after second reading is to make everyone to make input but the input must be generally accepted. You do not make input that will have personal benefit; your input must be generally accepted by everyone. If there is anything in the bill that will allow dangerous foreigners to come into our lands, it shall be removed. The idea is for us to be able to produce what we can eat and push our youths off the streets. I have spoken to my youths that they must leave the streets because the security problem we have in the state is due to unemployment. We cannot allow that to continue. The Federal government, over the years has pushed billions of naira into agriculture but there is nothing to show for it because the loans are only accessible to individuals who eventually will not go into agriculture. Some go into agriculture without having good knowledge of the business. The bill has not yet been passed; it is part of propaganda in the social media.

HAVE THERE BEEN ENLIGHTENMENT AND SENSITIZATION BY THE GOVERNMENT TO THE PEOPLE ABOUT THE BILL DUE TO THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING IT?

Individually, we have done that but we are still planning on going public. We plan to go on radio live programme from next week. I planned it with the D.G of IBC two days before she passed away, we are just getting over the shock. My media aides will handle it before we go into public hearing.
    Family Writers will bring you her submission of the investigation soon!

2 comments

  1. That bill is dead on arrival. Look for something else to do.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Time to wear our thinking cap....self determination is more beneficial whereby there is food security....returning to mechanized farming is the way forward...

    ReplyDelete

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