By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
At a time many of his colleagues prefer to go to the Senate at the expiration of their tenure as chief executives of their respective states, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State says he wants to go into full-time farming. When this reporter encountered the governor on his farm overlooking the alluring River Forcados, a tributary of the River Niger, he was clad in a t-shirt and shorts with matching face cap, and could be mistaken for any of the locals in his Toru-Orua community. He spoke on his dream to take to full-time farming at the expiration of his tenure at the Creek Haven, the seat of power in his predominantly riverine state. Excerpts:
When did you start this farm?
I started this farm a long time ago. I haven’t really had time to prepare it and I am getting ready to do so. I have actually started and when I finish, I will be into full-time farming. I want to answer your question this way: I am encouraged to want to continue to underscore the importance of investing in agriculture by the federal and state governments on one hand and, on the second, by encouraging everybody to join the agricultural economy. I want to be able to provide what we eat and create jobs and wealth for all of us. That is the lesson of this farm. No matter how highly placed, one should be in a position to invest in agriculture and it doesn’t take too much. You can all go to your communities, one hectare, two hectares and plant something. Our people are essentially farmers and fishermen. So, for me, agriculture is very paramount if we are serious about creating and enthroning a sustainable economy. In this farm, I plant almost everything; for the past two, three years, we have been harvesting banana, plantain, cucumber, pineapple. There is everything here and you have joined me to harvest sugar cane. So, this is to encourage you to tell the story of agriculture. I have had a farm in Yenagoa since 2000-2001. Seriake Dickson Farm, which later became Seriake Dickson Farm Limited. When I went to the House of Representatives in 2007, by 2008, I started to prepare a farm in Nasarrawa State, a-100 hectare farm with a lot of cattle and crops. Now, most of my cattle have been brought to my farm in Yenagoa and Yenegwe. This is my story of farming. Everybody should take farming seriously.
What influenced your taking to farming?
I farmed with my parents. As a matter of fact, part of this area is owned by my family, my father brought me here and set up my first farm around where my house now stands. My first farm was established in 1984 and it was a plantain plantation. I rejected my father’s offer to take his land which I have given to the university. I told him I wanted to build near the river. I started acquiring this place when I was in the House of Representatives and it kept expanding.
How many hectares of land is this farm?
The farm here is about 30 hectares. It is not too big but I intend to make full use of it. You can see the large fish pond under construction, there will be poultry here, and you can see the piggery there. There will be a ranch for cattle. The one in Yenagoa is about 30 hectares too. My farm in Nassarawa is about 100 hectares.
But many see farming as unattractive…
That’s the mindset we have to change. Part of what I intend to do is to apply for loan. I have started talking to some banks; to help me raise funds to enable me grow my investments in agriculture as I am already looking at life after public office. I intend to stay here in my community, with my family in Yenagoa so that I can grow the investments, create jobs and also make profit. Farming is very profitable; we are now able to meet our needs in piggery. We cannot meet our needs in eggs in this state and even other poultry products; that is why we import. There’s great demand for agric produce which makes farming profitable in this state. Those who have gone into it have had no regrets. I have asked the banks to study my proposals and, in no distant time, I will have the loan based on my security because they are satisfied with the business plan. My fish farm is one of the largest in Bayelsa with hundreds of thousands of fingerlings and mature fish. We are constructing the preservation systems, we want to be able to preserve mature fish for long, to package and sell. The ponds are actually lakes. You know as an Ijaw man, our first food is plantain. We have planted a lot of plantain and we have produced dozens of plantain needed for sale. We have banana, mango, pineapple and orange and so on and so forth, but my main focus is going to be aquaculture, poultry, piggery, cattle. I am a herdsman, Ijaw herdsman, who does cattle rearing, in a confined environment. Ranching: this is what we recommend for everybody.
You once said it was your desire to return to school after leaving office, do you still intend to do this?
Yes, that’s my intention. I can’t be doing only farming. Age is still on my side and I have a lot of passion. Writing is one, teaching is another. I am likely to go back to school. I will like to be involved in teaching, carrying out research on my experience in governance in an under-developed and trying environment. Most likely I will be in classroom, but farming is a passion I have and it is a business I encourage everyone to go into.
Government appears to be the only industry most Bayelsans depend on.
Well that is the tragedy of an under-developed and deprived environment like Bayelsa where everybody thinks that survival must come from government. They don’t know that, first of all, they have to take responsibility for their lives and their future. Happily, we have made a lot of investments in farming to make their involvement easier. Look at the aquaculture village in Yenagoa and the several others that we are doing outside Yenagoa. Right now, we have capacity of 1,500 to 2,000 young fishermen that should be under training and they are also making money in the process. If you go to Ebedebiri, where the government poultry that we have established is, about 35,000-bird capacity is there, completed for young people. There is a programme to see how young people can go there and learn, although I have said that the University of Africa should take it over. There are two other big modern fish farms. One is coming up in Agalabiri constructed by the Israelis while the other is close to Yenagoa around Famgbe area but they have some community challenges because the people don’t know the benefits. So, I hope we can solve the community problems. But in agriculture, the biggest investment we have made is the cassava starch processing factory which is the largest, not just in Nigeria, but in Africa. It is built by the Dutch and they are rounding off and they will be here to run it up for two years. There is a lot of money in it. There is already a buy-back agreement for the starch that will be produced. That factory will encourage small scale farmers to go into agriculture, particularly to plant cassava. We need all the cassava produced in Bayelsa and in the entire South-South to service that factory. It will be commissioned in the next two, three months. There is enough space for foreign companies for the starch but, in the end, agriculture is in the hands of everybody like I am demonstrating. We have directed all appointees, cabinet commissioners and others to set up farms and they are doing very well.
You are not known to take alcohol or smoke; where do you derive your energy from? Doing so many things at the same time!
Well, I have never smoked and I don’t like taking alcohol. My strength comes from God. I live a simple life dedicated to the service of our people. I am a man of faith who also believes that God has a hand in what we do and what we accomplish and how we live our lives, so, I relax a lot. I serve my people morning, noon and night.