Against the backdrop of the recent ministerial press briefing by the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture, The Eagle duo of CAMI EZENWA & MOTUNRAYO IDRIS took up the state Commissioner for Agriculture, Hon SUARAU OLUWATOYIN ISIAKA on some of the key projects of the administration, a session facilitated by Community Network Integration (CNI). Below are excerpts:
Could you please give us an overview of the activities of the Ministry of Agriculture in Lagos State, especially within the last one year?
Thank you so much for that question. And permit me to start by first appreciating the governor of the state, His Excellency, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode who has deemed me fit for a position in his administration. I would say upfront that he is the best governor to work with, and this has made all the difference for me. You know that even if you have all the ideas and capabilities but do not have the support of your boss, those ideas would amount to nothing.
That said, I would add that the last one year, has been eventful for the ministry. Having keyed in with the broad objectives of the administration as led by his Excellency, we pursued the implementation of our key projects and programmes.
For example, the Ministry of Agriculture implemented a lot of programmes under the 2017 Agricultural Value Chains Empowerment Project.
Under the auspices of that programme, farmers, fishermen, fish farmers, butchers, processors have been provided with necessary agricultural inputs. You know that all the gadgets without the right training may not amount to much and that is why, in addition, to those needed equipment, the government also offered them capacity training. These initiatives were targeted at ensuring steady food production and supply to the citizens.
In that area of capacity building, how many people were you able to reach?
A total of 1,500 people from across the five administrative divisions of the state were impacted and if you factor the multiplier effect, you would agree that though modest in terms of sheer number, that on the long run, it is commendable. I say this because the intervention would positively impact on job creation, value addition, livelihood sustenance and increased food production state-wide.
Providing them agriculture inputs based on need was a way of ensuring they do not just attend the programme, but have something to practicalise what they had been taught.
One of the projects of the government that is making impact in the lives of people in the state currently is the LAKE rice project; could you please give us an overview of the state’s LAKE rice project?
When we came in newly, His excellency, the governor of Lagos State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, with the passion he has for Agriculture and food security in Lagos state, said I should go to kebbi State and meet with the governor for us to go into collaboration. That visit and the discussions that followed led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two states and that was how LAKE rice project came about.
We have been on it, and today we thank God that we have been able to achieve our aim. You can see, that today, a lot of Lagosians are enjoying the LAKE rice. The rice from kebbi to Lagos is about N16, 000 and this is the actual price of producing a bag.
The government of Lagos State is subsiding the rice by about N4, 000, because we sell a bag of the rice at the rate of N12, 0000 for the 50kg size. So, the total amount that the state spent on the purchase of LAKE rice is N4, 623, 116, 000.
The implication of this is that from 2016 to date, the state government has subsidised the rice to the tune of about N1, 049, 140billion, just to make sure that the people in Lagos are comfortable and have the rice at the finger tips. It will interest you to know that a total of 150 marketers and other ancillary service providers on the value chain have been empowered.
Still on rice, we have been able to put in the process, the biggest mill in west Africa which is 32 tons per hour. Nobody has been able to reach that capacity in the sub-region. As I am talking with you, necessary process has been begun, and in another two three months, we will start shipping in the containers of the mills.. We are expecting about 250 containers to bring it to Lagos state.
We hope that these would impact on an Agric integrated programme for the South-West region of the country. We expect that states in the region would start planting rice and we would be the off-takers by buying their paddy. And this would not disturb our existing arrangement with kebbi state, because kebbi is the largest paddy producing state in Nigeria.
Our correspondent was recently at the Abattoir market and noticed a dramatic change from what it used to be; how did this come about?
You are right. That place used to be a death trap to humans on account of the way meat was being handled there, but now the situation is different. I visited the place after we came in and I saw the need for us to do something. We reasoned that there are certain basic requirements how people should purchases meat for consumption. And that was how the whole thing started. The abattoir had been in that terrible state in the last fifteen years or thereabout before the facelift that the current administration did.
Thank God, because if you go there now, you would see what we have been able to do. If you go to the same with the animal market; you will also see what the governor has done there, spending close to N1bn to put the place in proper order. Between now and December, the place would become a different place entirely. So, what ordinarily should take about two years, he has promised to do in about nine months.
In the area of youths empowerment and engagement, what would you say the administration has been able to do?
We are also empowering youths and women from across the states, in fact, in the recent, about 315 youths have receive empowerment programmes for different skills.
I can also illustrate with the fishing communities, where the administration has initiated what it calls the Fish Cage Culture project. This is domiciled in Ikosi beach, Agbowa and here 60 youths of different age ranges are currently actively engaged in productive activities. As a result of the interest and awareness thus far generated, the state government has decided to extend same to Afowo community in the Badagry area of the state.
The multiplier effect is that the project, apart from creating income earning opportunities for the people, would also trigger development in the areas of infrastructure such as roads, construction of jetty, provision of electricity and predator barriers.
This is what government is all about – providing infrastructure and amenities to enhance living and welfare of the people.
In fact, if you pull the figures, there should be more than 1, 000, impacted in poultry, aqua culture/fisheries.
What do you consider a fundamental challenge facing the ministry in carrying out its functions
What I would consider a fundamental challenge is encroachment on government land by the people. And they are doing this in their belief that it is a state government property, and that nobody would fight them Some just believe that the state government would not prosecute them.
My second concern is the way people use property of the agriculture ministry.. A lot of people use Agric property as if it was not bought with money. Just because it is not their money, they do not just care.
People should realise that whatever project or scheme that has been provided by the government is tax payers’ money. Government tries to build a project and you see that within the second third day, such property or infrastructure is damaged. People just start misusing them. To me it is a challenge.. It is not peculiar to Agric ministry alone, but experienced across the other ministries and parastatals.We should protect what the government uses our money to provide for us.
How about prosecuting those people who try to encroach on government property; one is tended to believe that the practice would reduce with increased prosecution of offenders
It is not easy because it is like a crisis and what we do is try to manage it, not escalate it. We try to retrieve those properties from them and you know how difficult it could be to get a judgment; it could take you four, five years.
What would be your dispassionate assessment of Gov Ambode especially against the background of the next election?
The truth is tha Gov Ambode has done so well. We are in the 5th month of the year, close to election time and you cannot see a single person coming up to indicate interest in contesting against His excellency. This is because of what he had been able to achieve in the state. They are afraid to go into contest with him. The man has done so well, and what I tell people is that he is God-sent. I am not saying that he is a saint, being a human being. He has not offended anybody, but has been courageous and demonstrated that he is someone to work with.
If your interest is to sit down and list his errors, you would rather be inundated instead by what he has achieved. He has done marvellously well, that you can not find something to fault him with. To that extent I do not see where anybody would start accusing or criticising him. I do not see anybody coming out to say he wants to contest, except if there is somebody who desires to waste his money.
If you look at it, from Badagry where I come from to Epe division to Ikorodu to Ikeja, there is no place the man has left untouched, with series of infrastructure. He has created series of jobs, and for these, it is kudos to him. He is a man that knows what he is doing, because he has paid his dues from the local govt to state level to the position of governor,.
As a member of the executive in Lagos, what are those things you find very exciting, that has helped to sustain your enthusiasm in office?
I have said it: the kind of governor I am working with is rare, and that in itself is inspiring. He is my role model. Secondly, the way myself, the Permanent Secretary and Special Assistant, Food Security have been working together is commendable. We also thank God that the staff have been very wonderful with us. And then you have these projects that have been impactive that this administration has put in place, you feel encouraged and excited to be part of the administration.