The Sun News

Fresh hope for oil palm industry

… As minister inaugurates new boards

Cosmas Omegoh

The palm is a tree of unmistakable, multifarious value. Echoes of this truth resonated in Abuja recently at the inauguration of board of various parastatals, agencies and institutes under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Newly appointed board members of 23 parastatals, agencies and institutes were inaugurated on the occasion, with the ritual performed by the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri. And while the ceremony lasted, the refrain on every lip was the place of agriculture in the renewed drive for economic sustainability.

It was an occasion held at the headquarters of Nigerian Air Force Officers Mess and Suites, Abuja. In attendance were bigwigs of the All Progressives Congress (APC), including the party’s organising secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso. Also in attendance were various state chairmen of the party, including Dr. Ben Nwoye from Enugu State.

The board members who were inaugurated on the night would take charge at the National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom, Jos; National Root Crop Research Institute, Umudike, Umuahia; Cocoa Research Institute, Ibadan and Lake Chad Research Institute, Maiduguri. Also inaugurated were the board members of Rubber Research Institute, Benin City, and Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research, (NIFOR), Benin City, among others. Some of the board members of NIFOR at the event were the chairman, Emperor Chris Baywood Ibe, an oil industry frontliner from Enugu State, Dr Sylvester Ameh Agada from Benue State and Alhaji Solum Wakilbe from Brono State.

In his opening speech, Lokpobiri congratulated the board members on their appointment and charged them to work hard and realise the federal government’s drive to make agriculture the cornerstone of Nigeria’s economy.

“The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development wants to develop agriculture as a key driver of the economy to guarantee sustainability,” he said.

“Meanwhile the Nigerian population is growing at the rate of 3 per cent per annum and this is alarming. Therefore, we must produce food to feed our people and earn foreign exchange. In this regard, our national institutes have a great role to play in producing, storing and processing food in the country.”

He stated that the country still had a lot to do to increase food production and reduce the huge import bills to the barest minimum. He therefore charged the board members to regard their inauguration as a clarion call to support food revolution, using their competences and capabilities.

“You have a duty to engender co-operation and good governance at the various institutions and to bring your wealth of experiences to bear on the policies of the agencies.” He also enjoined them to help achieve positive change for all Nigerians and to be change agents whose watchword should be probity and accountability.

Earlier, a director in the ministry, Dr Buka Hassan, told the board members that President Buhari had directed that great technocrats be appointed. “You are here because you have great experiences that will add value to the agencies,” he said.

Speaking on the night, Dr Ameh Agada expressed happiness at his appointment. “We are privileged that the President Muhammadu Buhari appointed us to serve in his government through the auspices of NIFOR.   

“We are aware that during his electioneering, his promises were pivoted on three fronts:  security, economy and corruption. So far, he has created a strong new platform for growth, and we are grateful.

“So, we as the board members of NIFOR are ready to support our chairman, Emperor Chris Baywood Ibe, to create policies that will support the growth of the agency, especially the empowerment of the youths. And I think that with good policies, we are going to encourage the youths to go back to agriculture.

“If well managed, agriculture will once again be the mainstay of the economy of this country. We on our part will work hard within the short time to revive NIFOR, bearing in mind that it is one of the oldest agencies in the country. Oil palm produce is very important to every one of us; the tree is of great value.”   

Also on the night, Emperor Baywood Ibe expressed joy over the task. He said: “The challenge is great considering the fact that NIFOR is one of the most important agencies of government. If effectively managed, it has the capacity to turn around the agric potential of the country. But our challenge is the shortness of the time. But we have a good feeling that this is a new beginning for the agency. 

“Although I’m an oil and gas major, the major relationship I see between two industries is the business aspect of it all. Therefore, our approach to the assignment will be from the standpoint of businessmen. I have been in oil and gas industry in the past 28 years. So, we look forward to bringing in the private-sector- driven approach to the affairs of the agency. If we don’t do that, we will have a lot of challenges because a lot of Nigerians don’t even know what NIFOR stands for.

“For that reason, we have to begin to create awareness about NIFOR and what it stands for. We have to work to bring back the glory of the agency, recalling that some 50 years ago the government heavily relied upon NIFOR for sustenance. It is one of the oldest agencies, established in 1964. It was from NIFOR that the Malaysians picked up their first set of oil palm seedlings.

And today, Malaysia is one of the largest producers of palm produce. So, we see no reason why if we apply the business sense we cannot take the agency to greater heights as long as we are not bugged down by bureaucracy.

“So, we look forward to making NIFOR one the best places for investment. The oil palm is very important in our lives; therefore, Nigerian should think of investing in it from now. By doing so, we hope to collectively turn around the oil palm industry and bring it to the status it occupied in the early 1960s.”     

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