June 10, 2017

Policemen now escort farmers to farm lands, says Gov Okowa

armed herdsmen

Armed herdsmen

Security agents exploring best option to evict herdsmen from Abraka forest
Says recession stinging harder but administration on course

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Festus Ahon (Correspondent, Asaba) and Perez Brisibe (Reporter, Ughelli)

DELTA State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, has revealed that following the escalating attacks on farmers and other villagers by rampaging herdsmen, policemen have been deployed to escort farmers to their farms, especially at Abraka, Ethiope East Local Government Area, the most dangerous area in the state, where cattle men have a stronghold, popularly known as “Sambisa forest.’

Though he did not give details of the escort arrangement by the police, the governor called on the Federal Government to break its silence on the problem which herdsmen posed to the state and other parts of the country and come out with appropriate strategies to tackle the menace.

The governor, speaking at his quarterly briefing with reporters at Asaba, the state capital, recently, said the state government was taking steps to contain the cattle men, but without apposite federal guidelines, even the intervention by state governments would be inconsequential.

His words: “The operatives (policemen) are providing security there (Abraka) and currently escorting farmers to their farm lands. A unit of policemen with specially trained police force has also been deployed to Ossissa to deal with the issues there too. But as I did say, the federal government needs to speak up on this matter as this is very important if we are to have a way forward on this matter.”

He stated: “We are beginning to have a new form of crisis, not that it has not been there, it concerns the clashes between armed herdsmen and our communities and farmers. It has been a very problematic thing and not something restricted to Delta State, but it is very unfortunate that it is escalating not only in Delta, but across the country and we are trying to work out the best ways to deal with it.”

“I have been talking with the security agents and the Commissioner of Police, who has been very proactive and talking with my colleagues, many of them are challenged with this, with some of them having much worse challenges than we have here.

“And if we are diversifying into agriculture, we must find a solution to this. We have called on the federal government to find an appropriate policy, but the House of Assembly is trying to work on a law to deal with some of the issues that can reduce to the barest minimum the clashes between the armed herdsmen and the locals. But we do know that without a policy by the federal government, it would still be challenging so we are hoping that the federal government would be able to come out with appropriate policies on this.,” he said

On what his government was doing concerning the stronghold of herdsmen at Abraka community, Ethiope East local government area, popularly known as “Sambisa forest”, Governor Okowa asserted: “We are aware that there are challenges there, but I will not call it a Sambisa forest. The Commissioner of Police has also been in touch with the Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, South -South.”

“As I speak with you, in the past two weeks, a detachment of two units of mobile policemen which is about 126 policemen with some specially trained anti-terrorism policemen are already resident at Abraka though at a high cost to us, and they are looking at the best ways possible to get the herdsmen in that place to move out of the forest. It is something that has to be planned in such a manner that we do not have casualties.

We‘re in difficult times, but …

Reviewing his performance in the last two years, he stated: “We have been able to go through these trying times because people have worked and have been patient with us in offering their suggestions and I believe that we have continued to move ahead. We may not be as fast as we ought to be because of the very obvious situation we find ourselves because of the economic recession in the country, but we have continued to keep faith with what we told our people that we would do.”

“We came in as a government at a point in time when the oil prices have gone low, unfortunately, a few months after, we ran into a very disturbing circumstances that we had in the oil producing area with a lot of our pipelines being blown, particularly the Forcados Export Line and till date even while work is ongoing, we are still awaiting the final repairs of the line. That means as at today, a lot of our oil is being shut in and we are not having the full benefit of the oil production in the state and that has obviously affected our finances. But by God’s grace, we have continued to stabilize the economy of the state and we hope that in the next few months, we would have an improvement in our resources as the line comes back to life.

“We did promise our people that we would indeed try to create wealth for them which is encapsulated in our prosperity for all Deltans agenda because we are a government. Despite the fact that there is the need to engage people in civil or public service, when the public service is already outstretched, you cannot continue to fill it with people. Otherwise we would run into a very big mess in terms of being able to manage the current expenditure of the state. But in the alternative, we have continued to provide our people with the skills through training of our youths not only in agriculture, but in other skills that could enable them fend for themselves,” he said.

Cheering success stories

The governor, however declared: “We have stayed on course in these last two years in what we call our youth agriculture program and the skills training program. In the first year, about 1,300 people were trained, and in the second year, about 3, 000 have been engaged. All these people have been fully trained and have received their starter parks. In the second batch, some are in the process of receiving their starter parks, but one good thing about the training is the mentorship by a specialized unit, which follow up these entrepreneurs towards ensuring greater success.”

“I can truly tell you that in the few local governments that I have visited in the course of our town hall meetings which we started recently, we have been to six of the 25 LGAs, we have seen success stories and are pleased with what we have seen and with the confessions of our youths, who are in these programs.”

“We have continued to provide support for technical education in the state. Three Technical Colleges, including Okwagbe, Sapele and Agbor have been fully worked on and we are also working on the Issele-Uku, Ogor and Etagbugbe Technical Colleges because we are interested in ensuring that our children begin to acquire skills in addition to their secondary education. We would continue in our support and development of technical education because we know it would help to tool our kids for the future because it’s not just enough for them to acquire paper education, there is the need for them to have that confidence in life.

“From our eight vocational centers being run by the Technical and Vocational Board, we have in the last two years been able to train 4, 000 persons and I think the numbers would increase before the end of this year. But one challenge we have is that we need to find ways to ensure that these people after their trainings get the needed tools to be able to establish themselves.

“We are also in partnership with the CBN on the Anchor Farmers Program and that program is engaging a lot of our farmers as a little over 4, 000 of them have been accredited and documented in Delta state. We wish it would be more but most of our farmers were not able to meet with the demands of documentation. But this number is what we have and we believe the program would impact on our farmers because they are going to be supplied with the necessary inputs to enable them grow their farms in a much larger fashion than before. There is also an anchor person, who is going to buy off the products from them, the same person that is going to provide them with the inputs.

“At the end of the farming season, the input which is being provided as loan is recovered in cash and the balance of the money is given to the farmer. In that manner within time, we are likely to have our farmers grow out of the subsistence farming. But this program at the moment is running for just rice and fish productions. We are hoping that in the course of time, we would be able to get the CBN to partner with us in oil palm farming which has a longer gestation period.

Creating micro and medium-scale entrepreneurs

“I have decided to bring this to the fore because we believe that in a country, we should be able to make people to hold on to a vision to be able to create wealth for themselves, rather than sitting down and waiting for government to do everything which is not possible for the government. By the time we take this through several years, we believe that a lot of our youths would be in a position to become micro as well as medium and small scale entrepreneurs, and this would definitely boost the economy of the average small scale family in the state.

“Through the Micro Credit Agency, we have also continued to offer reasonable loans at a low interest rate of nine per cent to our people in farming and commerce and this is paying up and as we promised, we provided a loan facility of about N50million to our market women and I believe that is helping them in growing their commerce. We will continue through the Ministry of Agriculture to support farmers and stay focused on that,” he said.


98 roads in two years, 20 commissioned, others on course

In the infrastructural sector, he stated: “A lot is being done on road development while we are continuing with some of the roads that we were able to fund which were started by the past administration. So, new roads have been awarded while some old roads have been rehabilitated because they have been in very bad shape. As at the last count in the last two years, we have awarded 98 roads, out of which 20 have been commissioned in the first administration with 25 to be commissioned in the course of this second year anniversary.”

“We would be taking this along during the town hall meetings, so it is very likely that the commissioning of these projects would spread within a course of about three months for us to reach out to all the local government councils. That means we still have about 53 roads that are ongoing at various stages of completion and we are carrying out inspections in the course of these town hall meetings,” he added.

How we are funding education

Okowa continued: “In the schools program through SUBEB which partners with UBEC we are able to develop our primary schools and what happens is that for every budget year, through the UBEC, they provide 50% of the funding, while we also provide 50% of the funding. Since we came in, we were able to provide our own funding for 2013 and 2014 funds. Just recently, they have advertised for the 2015 funds which we have made provisions for and we hope that in the next few months, we would do same for the 2016 program by providing our own support.”

“From available records at SUBEB, they have already constructed 1,173 classrooms and what we are doing is not just to construct new classrooms but to rehabilitate the classroom blocks in schools that are already aging and what we are trying to do is do the whole school concept. We have a lot of primary schools and it is difficult to attend to all of them, but we would try to handle one school in every local government. So, we have 25 schools at a time in every circle and we thought that, that is the best thing to do, rather than have a sketchy section that now means it would take some time.

“In Delta State, we love education and that is why we have over 1, 000 primary schools. I am not aware of states that could boast of over 1, 000 public primary schools and we have 475 secondary schools.

“We have also provided a lot of chairs for our pupils, but there are a lot more that needs to be provided to enable our children sit comfortably in their various classes. Through the basic and secondary education, we have constructed 327 classroom blocks. In the last few years, we have also provided about 52, 000 desks and over 6,500 teachers furniture but this is still not enough for our schools and we hope that we can provide much more,” he said.

Created 17,000 temporal jobs

“What we have done as regards roads construction is that we have been able to keep a lot of jobs going on rather than people being retrenched and by the time we embark on various construction works, you would find out that we are actually keeping the jobs of people who ordinarily would have been out there in the labour market. So in that stead, we have about 17, 000 jobs created and in the course of the second year, we have been able to keep a total of 22, 934 jobs according to the records made available to us,” he said.

Maritime varsity takes off October

Apparently in an attempt to douse the controversy over the Nigerian Maritime University, NMU, Okerenkoko, he said: “You are also aware that the Maritime University is also on course, and the Senate has already passed the bill for the establishment of the university. I am informed that by God’s grace, the House of Representatives would be able to pass that bill in the month of June , meaning that accent would be given as soon as possible. So we are very hopeful that the school would come into full session by October 2017.”

Over bloated LG workforce

Answering questions from reporters, he said: “Concerning the salaries of local governments, it is unfortunate and I have taken time to speak concerning this because the nation is in some form of recession. The bulk of local government finances come from the FAAC allocation but with the situation in the country, what they have been receiving since 2015 has been 50% of what they receive in the past.”

“So what we get monthly in FAAC allocation is not able to take care of the local government workers and that of the primary school teachers. Put together, their salary is N3.4billion and what we get monthly ranges from about N2.4 to a maximum of N2.7billion, so there is always a huge gap. We normally as a state support with 10% IGR which ranges between N250 to N300million. We can surely intervene when we have enough as we have intervened in the past. In January last year, there was a time we had the window to borrow some funds, and we were able to offset some salaries we were owed before December, 2015.

“Out of the N10 billion that was borrowed then, we spent N7 billion on the state, we did release N3.6billion as grant to the councils to support them as salaries and in that month, we were able to help them in paying three months salaries. But since February when we started having major challenges in oil pipelines, it has not been easy for us.

“But there have been obvious reasons why things are like this, the numbers of workers we have in our councils are high, on the average, we have above 700 workers in every council, looking at this and the work they do, you would find out that the number is really high but it is a situation we met on ground,” he said.

Okowa also said, “Out of the number, a bulk of the workers in the councils ought to be at the lower cadre, but unfortunately, these aspects are areas where you do not even have staff, while those where you are supposed to have a minimum number of staff are actually over blown in terms of workforce, so there is a lot of challenges and going forward is difficult.”

LG chairmen should sit down and solve the problem

The governor said: “The decision on this would not be taken to me as governor, but I think the council chairmen themselves have to sit with the management of the council and fashion out a way to move forward. Also, the salary of the council workers and primary school teachers is higher than what is obtainable in other states because at some point in time, I think due to pressure by the previous administration, they scaled up their salaries to be at par with those at the state level, then the effect was not felt, but now that there is recession, it is becoming obvious.”

I believe if they are at the same level as other councils across the federation, it would have been to the extent at which it is. I have challenged the council chairmen alongside the NULGE and NUT, to sit-down and solve their problem because it is an arm of government on its own with a leadership.

Sack or review salary

“ I tend to coordinate it so that it does not get to a crisis. However, it’s becoming really difficult for us because for two years, the oil economy is not improving, neither is the IGR of the local government councils shooting up. It means there are only two possible things to do, because if from the forecast the oil prices is not likely to improve in the next one two years, it means there is a huge challenge on our hands. Hence there are only two possible solutions and it is for them to take the decisions and not for me as a state governor.