Hon Unyime Idem Tasks Federal Government on prioritization of the Agricultural sector
…makes case for the Resuscitation of NIFOR Sub Station, Oruk Anam.
By Vincent Aluu
Hon. Unyime Idem, Member representing Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives has called on the Federal Government to take urgent steps in prioritizing and revamping of the Agricultural sector as a way out of the present economic doldrums. Hon. Idem made the call while on an unscheduled visit to NIFOR (Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research) Substation Oruk Anam. He decried the level of decay that has visited NIFOR, a substation that donated palm seedlings to the visiting Malaysians who now occupies the position of the second world producer of palm oil. He also lamented the poor working condition of the staff and meagre salary being earned by the workers. He maintained that the future of Nigeria lies in the agricultural sector as it will guarantee massive employment, foreign exchange, food security, boost local economy and improve the living standard of the people.
“Let me first and foremost appreciate God Almighty for granting us journey mercy to this place. Today’s visit is for us to come here and see things for ourselves. Truly, we lack federal government presence in this area. Though NIFOR is a Federal Government Agency, there is nothing to show that government is here. NIFOR substation is the second best in terms of size after the station in Benin; the level of neglect is alarming and does not show that it has anything to offer. Looking at the facilities around here and the landmass which is about 286 hectare, it bothers me why such a place will be allowed to decay and idle away. The potential of agriculture is massive as it will provide jobs for our teeming youths, provide raw materials for our industries, foreign exchange earnings for the country, food security, boost local economy and improve the living standard of the people. The oil we used to depend so much on in the past has failed us. It is time for us to look inward and harness the potentials of this place as allowing it to rot away is counter-productive. We cannot have a place like this and our youths are idling away without jobs. The Federal government through its relevant agencies should prioritize and take serious the issue of agriculture and put this place back to its former glory. Our economy will bounce back if we take the route of agriculture. Let me assure you as the House of Representatives Member of this zone that I will endeavour to liaise with relevant authorities and bring this issue up on the floor of the House. By the time I let me colleagues know of the plight of NIFOR, motion will be put in place to revamp it and put it back to proper use for the benefit of all.”
Hon. Idem lamented the poor remuneration of workers, poor working conditions and non-representation of the host state and communities on the Board of NIFOR and promised to make a case for inclusion. He also queried why budgetary provisions meant for the substation all these years have not reflected on the agency.
“It is unbelievable that in the 21st century, when government is talking about minimum wage of N30,000, my constituents are being paid a paltry sum of N3,500 per month. This is unacceptable and can only be described as man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. Our intention is ensure that government looks into your welfare, the working condition and the remuneration of the work force. We hope that when this place bounces back, it will compete favourably with NIFOR station in Benin and elsewhere. On the issue of board membership, I am hearing it for the first time today. The absence of a board member or management staff from here is the reason why this place is like this. We will make a case that people from this zone are accommodated and given a sense of belonging so they will also carry out oversight on the workability of this place. By God’s special grace, this place will come back to life and you will all smile”
Hon. Idem counselled the youths to ensure they are good ambassadors of the Federal constituency by ensuring that they collaborate with management of NIFOR to ensure the plantation is brought back to life. He talked them against becoming stumbling blocks in the wheel of progress of the federal constituency promising that during his tenure as their representatives, there will be positive change, job and wealth creation.
Hon. Unyime Idem who was accompanied to the visit by Dr. Nathan Ekaette, former Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Agriculture, a son of the soil and other stakeholders from Ukanafun and Oruk Anam, made a brief stop-over at the palace of the Clan Head of Ibesit, HRH Idoreyin Ebong.
NIFOR substation Oruk Anam was established in 1946 and started operations in 1947, as a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The massive money-spinning facility houses oil palm processing mill, palm wine bottling mill and a host of plantations. It was sited in Oruk Anam due to its advantageous terrain and prevalence of palm and coconut plantations. The substation which cuts across seven communities of Itung, Ikot Ntuen, Ikot Ukpong, Edem Idim, Nto Adua, Uruk Obong and Uruk Onim, sits on a 286 hectares of land freely donated by these communities to the federal government so as to attract development to the area.
It is on record that in 1960, visiting Malaysian agricultural experts collected and cross pollinated oil palm seedlings in Ikot Okpong, one of the host communities of the substation before transporting them to their country. Regrettably, Malaysia is today the world’s second biggest producer and exporter of oil palm in the world after Indonesia while Oruk Anam substation, the trail blazer and where Malaysia’s seedling originated and were cross pollinated has become a shadow of its former self, is in a sorry and retrogressive state. The sub-station created jobs and wealth for the people. Economic activities was enhanced as oil palm plantation owners had ready buyers for their produce, engaged the services of the unemployed and there was improvement of the living standard of the people.
The once bustling 72 year old Substation of Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) in Akwa Ibom State is in a grim state of dilapidation and abandonment; has been turned into a huge site of dilapidated buildings, moribund vehicles and machines in the abandoned mills while the sprawling hectares of oil palm and coconut trees have been overtaken by weeds and wild palms. In the early 1950s, Nigeria was the largest producer of palm oil in the world accounting for 40% of global output of the production.
At independence in 1960, Nigeria controlled 43% of the global output and raked in 82% of its national export revenue from palm oil. From that Golan Height, Nigeria’s production level took a dive to 7% in the 1990s. Currently, the country has a world share of 1.57%, approximately 970,000 metric tonnes with Indonesia leading with 33 million metric tonnes and Malaysia with 19.8 million metric tonnes. From the world exporter, Nigeria has become a major importer of the product with yearly demand put at 2.7 million metric tonnes.