From Magnus Eze, Enugu

Alhaji Sani Friday Nnaji is a prominent Igbo Muslim from Mbu-Amon in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State. A commercial farmer, his company, Ugwuanama Farms Limited, recently signed agreement with the Enugu State Government for the development of a produce city. The initiative has raised dust in some quarters following insinuations that the project was a decoy to secure land for Fulani herdsmen. But Nnaji in this interview debunks all the allegations explaining that the agreement was clearly for crop production while adding that the company is not involved in livestock production.


Why do you think that there’s incessant religious crisis in Nigeria?

Majority of the crises we are having in Nigeria, many people attribute to religion, but the answer is no, it has never been religion; just that people are using religion to achieve their personal aim. Those that commit crime, there is nowhere they read in our Holy Book that they should go and commit crime. Nowhere did anybody ask you to go and kill for Jesus Christ and nowhere did anybody ask you to go and kill for Islam. So, it is direct in both the Bible and the Quran that if someone commits an offence, there are step by step ways to justify and to penalize the person.

So, those people who commit those irregularities do so for their own personal gains but attribute it to religion to put more salt to it so that some people would have some level of sympathy for them. So, Islam teaches us the total package of life. Islam teaches us when we eat, when we stand, when we sleep, whatever you do. There’s nowhere Islam asked you to kill a human being that Almighty Allah created.

You were not there when the Almighty God created the person. You don’t know the purpose of creation. So, for you to take that life, you are committing the highest sin on earth.

As an agriculturist, what’s your take on how insecurity is affecting food security in the country?

The major cause of food insecurity is insecurity. When you come to Enugu State where we are now; you go to areas like Isi-Uzo, you go to areas like Uzo-Uwani where the bulk of the food is coming from, the major distraction there is the activity of herdsmen killing and chasing people out of their farmlands. So, if you have security there, I believe that the issues will be solved. The major issue of food insecurity is the security of the area. You see that many people cannot operate in their farmlands because they are afraid. They don’t want to be killed by the herdsmen or other bad elements.

Being one involved in large scale farming, you even work with the locals, could you proffer solutions to these recurring issues?

The solution is just the step the Executive Governor of Enugu State, Dr. Peter Mbah has taken to open up large scale farmland for farming. When you do that, you have cut off the movement of the bad eggs among us. I have done it in my own village, Mbu. Since I started farming four years ago, clearing a lot of hideouts for criminals, no criminal had crossed those areas again. So, I believe that in other locations, if you open up those hidden areas, there will be no hiding place for criminals or kidnappers. So, the best solution to stop the insecurity we are having is to open up those areas for farming and the governor has taken that step.

You recently signed an agreement with the State Government for development of Produce City. Tell us what is therein for the people of Enugu State?

The general aim of a produce city is to solve the issue of food insecurity. The state, the locals, the village heads or the Igwes, have donated some of their farmland to serve as land bank of the state, which my company Ugwuanama Nigeria Limited applied for and we got 15,000 hectares. Those hectares will contribute a lot of food to the food bank of Enugu State and this will solve the issue of insecurity, issue of food and it will create a lot of jobs. So, we have started the land development already, very soon, the governor is going to launch the land clearing.

By your proposal, do you have idea of the number of persons that would be engaged in that Produce City?

For my own farm, if you know the size of a hectare you will know that 15,000 hectares is not a small place. We are going to introduce tomatoes and other crops not common in this side of the world using mechanised agricultural system. We are going to employ a lot of persons there. We are getting farmers all over Enugu East Senatorial Zone.

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We are going to empower those farmers by giving them inputs, ranging from fertilizers, agro chemicals and other inputs. They are going to be our out-growers. We are going to mobilize some other youths to those sites where we farm mainly cassava and palm produce. This is going to create a lot of jobs. We are not sure of the number but both direct and indirect jobs are going to count in hundreds of thousands.

But there’s this thinking that what you’re doing might just be another guise of grabbing land for Fulani herdsmen. Are you thinking of ranching or something like that?

We are aware of all sorts of misinformation, innuendoes and sometimes blackmails, particularly in the social media, probably because of our religious background, with some people guessing that what we are trying to do is to enthrone Ruga in the state, but I can tell you that all that is false and cheap blackmail.

As far as we are concerned in Ugwuanama Farms Limited, the agreement we signed with the Enugu State Government clearly spelt out that we are not going to do livestock there. We have decided to refrain from joining issues with certain individuals and groups in the social media, trying to malign the corporate image of Ugwuanama Farms Limited by linking its activities with animal farming agents. This allegation is clearly baseless and imaginary.

What we are doing is essentially crop production. So, for those that are well informed, they should know that what we are doing is crop production. That is what we are known for all over Nigeria. It is not just in Enugu State, we started it in Jigawa State where we have 15,000 hectares of land and in Zamfara State as well. This is what we have been doing for more than 10 years.

Let me use this opportunity to inform the public, particularly the people of Enugu State and Ndigbo, about our business of food production in Enugu State. Ours is a firm that has been in the business of crop production in Nigeria over the years. We are in commercial agriculture in states like Zamfara and Jigawa where we have been planting crops such as rice, maize, sorghum and other crops in commercial quantities and we have made marks in those areas.

What we have is a limited liability company registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) with myself, wives and children as shareholders and directors. We are natives of Ugwuanama, Mbu-Amon in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State and the company is managed by competent persons from the family who are quite versatile in agriculture, entrepreneurship and management.

We decided to bring our investment down to our native state; Enugu, because of the Igbo philosophy of Aku Ruo Ulo (Think-home), which Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other pan-Igbo organizations have preached all the while and we quite agree with them.

As I mentioned earlier, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Enugu State Government for concession of 15,000 hectares of farm land in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area, we are already concluding with the host communities on the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) contracts. Please, bear in mind that the land was given by the communities to the Enugu State Government who in turn ceded the land to us for cultivation of the crops that we mentioned earlier.

So, we are looking at introducing smart and mechanised agricultural systems that will develop out-growers while we become off-takers. What this means is that the communities who are the land owners are the real farmers with our support and at harvest, we will buy up their produce at the prevailing market prices.

We have actually been in this practice for over four years in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area and the beneficiaries of this scheme are there to confirm for themselves. In this particular Produce City project, we have already started the land development, we have collected data of the farmers in Isi-Uzo with the purpose of empowering them with farm inputs because they are our out-growers.

Since you would be producing large quantity of cassava, any plans about processing?

Already, we have established a cassava processing plant at Ikem. We are going to process it into different types of value-chain; majorly in cassava and ethanol. About 80 to 90 percent of ethanol we consume in Nigeria are imported while we have the best raw materials here in our land. With each kilogram of cassava, you can get one litter of ethanol. So, we are in the best position to harness the raw materials here. The only thing is to add value to it.

When you are using cassava, both animal feeds, starch, ethanol are there for production. We also have cassava flour and other things. The state’s target is to have about five million tons of cassava every year and we are trying to contribute at least half of it.

So, coming back to the agitation on social media where people are saying that the government is trying to use those lands for Ruga purposes or ranches, as far as I am concerned, in the agreement we signed, it is clearly stated that we are not going to do livestock there. So, what we are going to do there is mainly crop production.