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Ortom’s China Tour

Alex Ohemu

Expansive road construction would open up the rural areas making it easier for farmers to transport their produce to township markets

Shortly before his inauguration, the Benue State governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, led a high-powered delegation to the Peoples’ Republic of China. The visit was on the invitation of two global business players from that Asian country, Hongye International Limited and CGC.

The governor-elect was accompanied on the visit by some All Progressives Congress, APC, members, including a member of the party’s Board of Trustees, Chief Audu Ogbeh. Ortom, immediate past Minister superintending over trade and investment and Audu Ogbeh, a foremost expert on agro business, are a good pair to synergize on foreign investment imperatives for the state.

The visit is in keeping with the governor’s promise to partner with the private sector for the rapid socio- economic development of the state. It is noteworthy that the delegation’s focus included agriculture, coal, water, road construction, airport, dredging and irrigation. The team embarked on the journey to determine if facilities of the two companies are suited for the development of these sub sectors of the state economy.

The visit is the right step in the right direction. It is the right step for a government that is determined to rescue a state under the shackles of underdevelopment and transform it into a buoyant economy. It is an agenda-setting outing for an administration that has shown clearly that it is conversant with the challenges, yearnings and aspirations of the people and is poised to address them.

The Ortom China tour is significant in some vital respects. It sends a clear and positive signal to the electorate that after May 29, the new administration is going to hit the ground running as far as governance in Benue State is concerned. The trip is a clear indication of the nature, trajectory and tempo of the incoming leadership and the likelihood that the government will be action-packed, eventful and result-oriented.

The cumulative effect of this initiative, if sustained and expanded to other emerging economies like India, Singapore, Indonesia, Korea etc will, in no distant future, put Benue State on the map as Nigeria’s number one destination for foreign investment. This is one foreign investment trip that will no doubt add value to the state economy. This is so because we already have comparative advantage in some of the areas under focus.

Take agriculture, coal and the dredging of River Benue for instance. Agriculture happens to be the mainstay of the state economy. About 80 percent of the population is engaged in it. The land is available and fertile, the climate and weather are favorable while labor is cheap.

This is by no means a favorable outlook to attract a prospective investor to develop the sector. Cassava, rice, yam, assorted fruits are likely to come under serious consideration by the Chinese because of their industrial potentials. It would be recalled that one of the key policies of the Obasanjo administration, when Chief Ogbeh was the adviser to the president on agriculture, was the encouragement of massive cultivation of cassava across the country, particularly for export.

As a matter of fact, that administration pioneered cassava bread in the country and it is our fervent hope that the Ortom-Ogbeh initiative will introduce other cassava food series like noodles, buns, pizza and cake while rice milling and yam flour production would be given added boost. Also, there is a sprawling deposit of coal lying fallow in Owukpa, Ogbadibo Local Government Area waiting to be exploited as source of energy. Statistics show that the quantum of coal underneath Owukpa has the capacity to produce several thousand kilowatts of electricity to swell the national grid.

For a state that has been suffering from perennial epileptic supply of electricity since the past four decades or so, the current initiative for foreign direct investment in the sector should come as a welcome relief. One of the few positive legacies of the outgoing administration is the durable water infrastructure it has put in place. What is lacking is the supply of water to users where the facility is available. What is required is the reticulation of the project, a process that requires huge financial outlay that government can ill afford.

A probable area of intervention by foreign investors therefore should be the reticulation, perhaps, under a build, operate and transfer, BOT, status. The dredging of River Benue is long overdue. The economic advantage of dredging the river can hardly be over emphasized. It means that Makurdi would become a seaport. It will provide attractive, cheaper and safer means of haulage of goods within and outside the country.

It will also promote trading activities among communities living along the banks of the river. Above all, Makurdi would become a hub of marine transport, a terminus for ships laden with goods to and from various countries of the world. Waiting indefinitely for the Federal Government to honor her obligation on the dredging of the river may soon prove counterproductive if care is not taken. The state government could invite foreign investment partners to fund the project and later get reimbursement from the Federal Government. Benue State has great potential for irrigation farming, otherwise called Fadama Farming.

It is an alternative to rain fed farming. It is capable of producing most food crops but it is particularly suitable for the production of high value vegetables and cereals during the dry season. Dredging the River Benue will serve as a further boost for irrigation because communities living along its banks will benefit immeasurably. The aggregate economic advantage of these foreign direct investment initiatives on the economy of the state is incalculable.

For instance, the proliferation of industries from these efforts will absorb the army of unemployed graduates that are daily pounding the city streets in search of jobs. Industrial and manufacturing activities will pick up in Benue and more people will engage in trading and petty businesses. Expansive road construction would open up the rural areas making it easier for farmers to transport their produce to township markets where they would get value for their efforts.

Increasing number of people, including farming households, will get disposable income to meet individual and family needs. There would be value addition for perishable goods, particularly fruits and vegetables with the availability of storage facilities. Irrigation would provide additional income and alternative employment during the slack period of rain fed agriculture.

The seaport would transform Makurdi into a commercial hub with the potential of offering the youth and the entire population the opportunity to earn more income. Thus, the initiative will not only add value to our primary products and create wealth and sundry opportunities in the state; it will also create an enabling environment for commercial activities and investment into the state to thrive. The Ortom trip to China is indeed, a worthwhile tour. •Alex Ohemu, wrote in from Makurdi via alexohemu@yahoo.com

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