Innovative policies and Songhai-type agricultural programs introduced by the Upper Niger River Basin Development Agency under the leadership of Ali, the MD, produce commendable results.

By Austin C. Anyanwu

His vision is still clear and intact. Vigorous effort is on-going to sustain his expressed intention to bring about full commercialisation of the operational mandate of the Upper Niger River Basin Development Authority (UNRBDA).  M.A. Ali, Professor of Agricultural Engineering is working hard to take the Federal government agency to a high level of success.

Within the nearly two and half years he has been in the saddle as Managing Director, UNRBDA has made record- breaking achievements. This is reflected in programs aimed at making meaningful contribution to sustainable food security in the country. Excellence has also been recorded in other statutory responsibilities carried out by the Authority since the new management led by Ali took office.

Eleven river basin development authorities exist presently, and operate in line with the River Basins Development Act of 1979. Under the Act, Authorities are saddled with key functions which include: undertaking of comprehensive development of both surface and underground water resources for multipurpose use. Emphasis here is on the provision of irrigation infrastructure and the control of floods and erosion and for watershed management.

The River Basins were also mandated to construct, operate and maintain dams, dykes, polders, wells, boreholes, irrigation and drainage systems. They are also authorized to construct, operate and maintain infrastructural services such as roads and bridges linking project sites.

Apart from the core mandate of the River Basins, they are now encouraged to contribute their quota in tackling challenges of food insecurity and environmental degradation in Nigeria.

The Upper Niger River Basin Development Authority (UNRBDA) is a parastatal under the supervision of the Federal ministry of Water Resources, which provides its operational remedy. The catchment area of the Authority, include Niger, Kaduna state, and the federal capital territory, Abuja.

Professor Ali’s road to success started soon after he took office, and articulated his vision and mission, in a very concise, unambiguous manner.  He told management and other segments of the agency to get ready for real service delivery. ‘’We must key into the Federal Governments change mantra immediately, and this means old things and ways of life must give way to modernity’’, he said. He promised reform and turn around.

Ali later drew up a four year strategic plan that comprised of goals, objectives and action plans. Ali told Verbatim that the goals includes increasing national agricultural productivity, attainment of national food security, poverty reduction, employment generation, commercialization of agriculture, attainment of relevant UN sustainable development goals and ensuring environmental sustainability.

The strategic objectives according to Ali were to increase irrigation land and relevant infrastructure to establish the Songhai model farms. He pointed out that to ensure sustainability of all projects, the knowledge base of the Basin is strengthened for improve co-ordination, planning and environmental resources management and to develop the Basin comprehensive water resource master plan and water channel.

Ali told Verbatim editors during a fact finding tour of the agency in Minna,  that he 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 as well as a vehicle for employment generation”, he said.

In line with his mandate, Ali explained that his vision is to combine his experience in the University and what obtained in the River Basins using the Songhai model as a platform to give out skill to our unemployed youths and graduates. The hope is that at the end of the day more employment opportunities will be created and also our agricultural productivity will be enhanced. I want to effectively use all available access within the River Basin to ensure that we generate employment and enhance agricultural activities and also promote national food security.

One of his first major outings was a trip to Porto-Novo, Republic of Benin as Head of a ten man delegation to Songhai Regional Centre, the largest Integrated Agricultural Centre in West Africa. According to Ali, the essence of the visit was to see how things are done in the Centre. He showed keen interest in replicating the Songhai experience in UNRBDA and returned from the trip with specialists and experienced farm managers to kick off the experiment.

Verbatim investigations reveal that the Songhai experiment in UNRBDA agricultural farms in Minna and other states is already a huge success.The Songhai farming method produces different crops and live stocks. The crops are presently getting ready for harvest now.

Abdul Aminu Omar, Executive Director, Agricultural Service, told Verbatim that a number of earth dams, bridges and roads have sprung up in strategic areas following the avowed determination of the management of the Basin under the leadership of Ali.

Dam projects which Ali said are in top gear of execution include Kuseki Earth Dam, Rafin Yashi Dam, Kudan Dam, Egbea Gaba Dam, Maitozo Dam and Chori Small Earth Dam.

Other interventions according to Omar, for the people in the catchment areaincludeconstructionof access road to Kuseki Dam, Construction of Culverts, Songhai Farm Modeland Construction of skill acquisition facilities to empower the unemployed graduate youths in the three catchment areas.

The administration of Ali has demonstrated that they have the capacity and commitment in keying into the change mantra of the present administration of economic diversification with emphasis on all year round farming.

John Bature Gimba, Director in charge of planning and Design added that agricultural extension services have been restored and the Basin are now positioned to deliver the mandate.Their effectiveness will be measured by the amount of additional hectare of land they are able to bring into cultivation.

Alhassin Bawa Ugada, Director, Finance and Administration pointed out that they have completed all irrigation projects and embarked on the rehabilitation of irrigation land scheme in some of the areas.

Ali also places high premium on workers welfare adding that he used last year to address their challenges and develop workable blue print to address their problems and he has achieved tremendous result in terms of prioritizing their welfare.The Basin as part of their effort in job creation initiated the graduate scheme employment scheme where many Nigerian youths are benefiting. Over 500 youths, from the various catchment area are said to have benefitted.

The Agency also embarked on construction and completion of earth dams and ground water development boreholes located in nearby communities. Equally, they have solar power borehole, and have adopted the green house technology for crop production. The Basin has intervention programs in water supply scheme which have provided portable water to the people in these communities.

Other achievements recorded by Professor Ali’s leadership include the completion of construction of dam projects in Minna and graduate youths employment programs which many youths has benefited from. Ali’s emphasis in opening rural roads has been one of the keys used to open up the various communities to attain acceleration growth in the social economic activities the people.

Water channel, in which some have either been constructed, rehabilitated or experimented to, at least to link two or three more water channels within the cluster of the community in which the irrigation are sited are also to the credit of Ali’s enigmatic leadership.

The photo reports displayed herein, tell stories of what has transpired in UNRBDA in the past two and half years. The brilliant Nupe scholar is indeed leaving legacy that may be difficult for many to surpass in many years to come.

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