Inside story of a blueprint and experimental activities on water resource management, mass food production, livestock breeding and animal husbandry spearheaded by M.A. Ali, Professor of Agricultural Engineering at the Upper Niger River Basin Development Authority in Minna, Niger State.
BY TOBS AGBAEGBU
Professor M.A. Ali, incumbent Managing Director of the Upper Niger River Basin Development Authority, UNRBDA, in Minna, Niger State may well be the ready elixir to the food security challenge in Nigeria and other nations of the sub-Saharan Africa. The brilliant scholar, of Nupe stock in Niger state, who bagged a Doctorate degree in Agricultural Engineering from Ado Bayero University in 1995, and became a Professor, at the same university, 2014, is doing much already since his appointment, January, 2017, to provide credible leadership for a team that is developing processes and methods through which food crops, livestock breeding and animal husbandry can be multiplied in quick succession and within shorter periods to meet national food demands.
A blueprint for effective management of water resources to help address food security in the country which UNRBDA has put in place is intended to be an advanced form of the popular Songhai farming method developed at the Songhai regional centre in Benin Republic. Songhai’s farming methods as stated in the organisation’s website “emphasize protecting the natural resources and the environment’’ and “integrate producing agricultural crops, raising livestock and fish, and producing energy’’. The idea is to help human beings eat healthier foods and live better lives.
Professor Ali is a rare gem. A fact finding visit to UNRBDA by a team of Verbatim magazine’s high ranking editors, last month, was quite revealing. Ali is on top of his core responsibilities and also thinking ahead.
The River Basins Development Authorities Act of 1979 in Nigeria which is being amended saddled each of the 11 Authorities in the country with key functions. They are to undertake comprehensive development of both surface and underground water resources for multipurpose use with particular emphasis on the provision of irrigation infrastructure and the control of floods and erosion and for watershed management.
The River Basins were also established to construct, operate and maintain dams, dykes, polders, wells, boreholes, irrigation and drainage systems, and other works necessary for the achievement of the Authority’s functions and hand over all lands to be cultivated under the irrigation scheme to the farmers; supply water from the Authority’s completed storage schemes to all users for a fee to be determined by the Authority concerned, with the approval of the Minister and construct, operate and maintain infrastructural services such as roads and bridges linking project sites: provided that such infrastructural services are included and form an integral part of the list of approved projects.
Another of their function is to develop and keep up-to-date a comprehensive water resources master plan identifying all water resources requirements in the Authority’s area of operation, through adequate collection and collation of water resources, water use, socio-economic and environmental data of the River Basin.
River Basins are encouraged to do more now. Indeed, the Nigerian government has started the process of revitalising the River Basin Development Authorities to tackle the challenges of food insecurity and environmental degradation. There are also hopes that reviving the River Basin Development Authorities would further add impetus to the economy of the oil-rich nation that is already facing challenges of various dimensions.
The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, had reasons to lament at a public function early this year, that the River Basin Development Authorities had over the years abandoned its core mandate of supporting agricultural development. He said, while flagging-off the Graduate Farmers Employment Scheme (GFES) at the Anambra-Imo River Basin Development Authority in Agbala, Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State that GFES was another milestone in revitalising the River Basins.
Adamu disclosed that about 5,450 graduates across the 109 Senatorial zones of the country would be trained and empowered to set up their various agricultural ventures. He said that the scheme would guarantee food production and provide opportunities for the graduates to be meaningfully engaged and become employers of labour.
“The scheme will be a continuous process and 50 graduates will be selected from each of the 109 Senatorial zones across the country and the beneficiaries would be empowered to set up their own agricultural ventures“, the minister said.
As Managing Director of the river basin authority, sitting atop management which included four other Executive Directors, all professionals, Ali exhibited full understanding of the enormous job ahead of him. The other Directors include David Emmanuel who is in charge of Engineering Services and Abdu Aminu Omar, for Agricultural Services. John Bature Gimba is the Director in charge of Planning and Design; and Alhassan Bawa Ugada, an Acting Director, in charge of Finance and Administration.
Ali explained to Verbatim during an interview session, that he, indeed, understands perfectly that the river basin is a vehicle you can use to enhance a lot of things like agricultural production. He explained that if agricultural production is enhanced, it yields a lot of things. ‘’It means improvement in economy; it means saving scarce foreign resources. It is also a vehicle for employment generation”, he said.
Before he had the job of turning UNRBDA around trust upon him by President Muhammadu Buhari, Ali already had an uncommon passion for matters relating to river basins. That passion was clearly demonstrated in what he opted to do, in addition to acquiring the highest degree available on the subject.
Giving insight to Verbatim, about his attractions to River Basins, he cited two reasons. For the first, he said: “It was River Basin that encouraged me to study what I studied because Hadejia Jamare River Basin used to be something that people admired, that is, the activities that go on there. Also a sister of mine was in a boarding secondary school in a town called Kura and whenever we were taking her to school, we passed through farmlands that belonged to Hadejia Jamare River Basin and we see machines working on the farms’’.
The second reason, according to him was for the love of machines. Ali Explained: “I love to play around with machines. It was River Basin that pushed me into studying Agricultural Engineering. In my part two, when I came out for SIWES (Industrial Training), I went to a River Basin to do my SIWES there. When I finished, I wanted to work in either a River Basin or a manufacturing company. Fortunately the Assembly plants were still functional in those days, National Truck Manufacturing Limited (NTM) in Kano, Volkswagen of Nigeria Limited (VWON) in Lagos, Anambra Motor Manufacturing Limited (ANAMMCO) in Emene, Enugu, Steyr Nigeria Limited in Bauchi, etc. I was fortunate to go to NTM where I learnt everything that has to do with tractors, implements and heavy trucks.
“In the University we were working with River Basins, we were working with ADP’s. You know ADP’s are like River Basins and we use to have what we call monthly technology review meetings. Most of the technologies that ADP’s use, emanate from the universities so I have always interacted with the River Basins but God has destined it that I was not to enter the River Basin from the bottom but to come from the top’’.
There is no gain saying that the MD of UNRBDA is in a familiar terrain. He is clearly a square peg in a square hole and the credit for making the right choice goes to Suleiman Adamu, Minister of Water Resources who supported his recommendation for appointment; and ultimately, to President Buhari who took the final decision to offer Ali the Job .