Niger State Deserves More Respect
I have repeated these lines far too often in the past on these pages and, at the risk of boring my readers; I dare to repeat them yet again: Niger state is a fantastically gifted state. Nature has been abundantly kind to it. By virtue of its location, climate, soil and hydrology, Niger State has the capacity to feed the nation. Its lush plains and paddy fields are not only suitable for all-season farming, they are also offer vast grazing fields, fishery and forestry.
It was not for nothing that until recently, Niger state was host to the most advanced cattle and abattoir in the entire federation. The Nigerian Cereal Research Institute (NCRI) was not located in Niger state by accident. It was done in recognition of the vast marshy terrain that stretch from Badeggi all the way to the banks of the tributaries of the river Niger close to Pattegi.
Apart from rice, and other cereals, cowpea, Bambara nuts, root and tubers (yam, cassava and potatoes), oil seeds and nuts (soybeans, sheaths, groundnuts and a variety of fruits (mango, orange, banana, cashew and guava), cotton and sugar cane have for long profited a string of small-time farmers in the state. Until it succumbed to mismanagement and unfair foreign imports, the once buoyant Bacita Sugar factory sourced a healthy chunk of its essential raw materials from Niger state.
On top of all these the state is also rich in gold, clay, silica and sand, granites, marble, copper, iron, lead, kaolin, limestone are known to exist in the state although is also true except for a company linked to the former Speaker of the House of Representatives Ghali Umar Na’Abba which is said to be doing well mining Gold, most of the other minerals listed above have not been quantified and assessed for their quality and economic viability.
But the existence of three major hydro-electric power stations located at Kainji, Jebba, Shiroro, along with another currently under construction at Zungeru should more than compensate for that. Added to its rich human resource, Niger state should be among the most economically viable states in the nation, and should never be classified among the states struggling to pay worker salaries. Its internally generated revenue should also be top-notch. Sadly that has not been the case.
In spite of its uncommon endowments, however, even as I write this, the state that is taking all the national accolades for its industrial scale production of rice is Zamfara and not Niger state! Despite the presence of three hydro-power stations in the state with the possibility of two more at Zungeru and Gurara, the hapless indigenes of the state have endured darkness for the upwards of two months while electricity generated from the same dams were channeled to Abuja and other locations. And that is in spite of the obvious environmental deprivations and contagious effect of the location of the dams on the economic well-being of their immediate host communities.
To be fair, most of the problems afflicting the state presently pre-date the current administration in the state. In recent times, the Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, has also proved that he is a listening governor. The pothole-strewn road that links Suleja with Minna has been rehabilitated despite the vastly diminished allocations from the federation account, even if it is also glaring that much still needs to be done.
This discourse, therefore, is more of a lamentation of the obvious injustice the state has been forced to endue by the federal authorities. For instance, while the adoption of the Abuja masterplan pre-supposed that all the adjacent state capitals will be linked by dual carriage-ways, the main road linking Abuja to Minna was the last to be contemplated. Niger state, we must not forget, contributed the largest chunk of land to the Federal Capital Territory.
The same perception of injustice no doubt contributed to the recent call by the Niger state government for 13 percent derivation from the federal government for the various dams located in the state. The dynamics may be different from that of the oil communities in the Niger Delta, but the logic and environment hazards are not dissimilar. The federal government certainly cannot afford to take the civility and patriotic disposition of the people of Niger state for granted. And Niger state has a long list of grievances to point at.
The Hydro-Electric Power Producing Areas Development Commission (HYPERDEC) with headquarters in Minna was approved for take-off several years ago but there seems to be an absolute lack of enthusiasm from the federal government to see it through. The people of the affected states covered by the commission have been patient so far, but we must be under few illusions that were the same dams located in the Niger Delta, the power transmission lines leading from them would have come under threat ages ago.
The Niger state government will also be within its rights to mourn about insufficient funding and failure to upgrade the National Cereal Research institute to meet its undoubted potentials by the federal authorities. Seeking to diversify the economy is one thing, doing the appropriate things to make the aspiration a reality apparently remains a major challenge. But Niger state must not be left holding the can in the process.
It is time that the appropriate questions are asked about the various intervention funds approved by the federal authorities and their judicious application. The ruling party must find a way to acknowledge the overwhelming support it garnered from Niger state in the last general elections. And one way to do so is certainly not by denying them access to the electricity that is partly-sourced from their backyard. It is so inexplicable to contemplate that as of today, even the near-most communities to the three dams have not been connected to the national grid.
The people of Niger state certainly deserve more respect for their sacrifice for the national good like their counterparts in the rest of the nation whose contagious resources contribute to national economic development.