Sometime ago, I posted that Edo State was sleeping on wealth untapped. The advent of oil and the subsequent financial allocation flowing from it has made many States in Nigeria to become economically lazy to the extent that hitherto existing revenue sources were abandoned. When Nigeria had four regions, there was no oil discovery or allocation and yet these regions developed and prospered. With the absence of Federal revenue allocation, these regions looked inward, identified areas of revenue sources and exploited them. Agriculture was the mainstay and each region had their cash crops. The North for example was renowned for cotton and groundnut, the east prospered with palm oil while the west became rich with cocoa. Midwest the grandfather of Edo State was known for rubber.
The Midwestern government and people cultivated large hectares of farmlands with rubber trees which they exploited at reasonable profit after maturity. To further consolidate their leading position in world rubber production, the then government established a rubber estate with factory at Urhonigbe in Orhionmwon local government area of Edo State to plant rubber trees and also to process for export. The Urhonigbe rubber plantation was a model farm settlement where staff/labourers had their accommodation provided for them within the estate. The estate used to have a primary school, known as Urhonigbe Rubber Estate Primary School, for the children of workers and indigenes of the community or its environs who choose to have their ward and children in the school. It was a laudable project that transformed the historic village of Urhonigbe to a semi urban town with modern houses, tarred roads and even electricity. The estate cum factory had the potential of employing thousands of skilled and semi skilled workers and for many years the project and town thrived.
It is worth remembering that some of the early elites of Urhonigbe town who rose to very prominent positions in the society had their education abroad funded from the scholarship grant of the Urhonigbe Rubber Estate Board. Until recently, some Urhonigbe indigenes who worked in the farm became house/property owners in Benin City. At the peak of its glory, a day’s sale was actually sufficient to offset the workers wage bill. Urhonigbe today is a sorry sight and the factory an eye sore. Apart from the government of Chief Lucky Igbinedion that took an interest in the restoration of the factory by constituting a board to manage the place, providing money for replanting the old depleted rubber trees and rehabilitating the collapsed electricity scheme that serviced the estate and town, past and successive governments have ignored this State asset. Our neighbours from Delta State have capitalized on our carelessness to seriously encroach on the factory and State land, plundering and annexing it as their farmland. The houses and equipment that once adorned the estate have been thoroughly vandalized. Recently, some ministry of agriculture officials in connivance with some political chieftains sold off the remaining farm equipment and machines. We understand they later returned to offer a paltry sum of N500, 000 to the community elders who though initially refused had to accept when they were deceived to believe that government was coming to re-establish the plantation with the purchase of brand new equipment. The town has not fared better. The roads that used to be tarred are now in tatters arising from unchecked erosion and even though many prominent Edo Indigenes come from that area, the place is barely habitable.
Must we allow this State investment go to rot simply because we found oil? Now that oil prices are plummeting, does it not make sense to return like the prodigal son to our original agricultural father for survival? The factory is not beyond redemption despite the vandalisation. Our vast land that has been encroached upon must be reclaimed. It is our common wealth that must be protected and kept for generations yet unborn. The equipment that was dubiously sold must be retrieved. The Federal government in recognition of our exploits in rubber production had established in our State, a Rubber Research Institute at Iyanomo which still exists. Why till now has the State government not invited officials of this institution to visit the rubber estate, assess the facilities and hopefully proffer solutions to its revamping? Michelin Company, makers of Michelin tyres were till recently in Edo State because of the rubber plantations in the State which is a vital raw material for the production of their products. Even though they have relocated to Ghana because of unstable electricity and other constraints, Nigeria still remains a huge market for the sale of Michelin tyres.
Has government made any effort to contact them or other international companies with expertise in rubber or cash crops production on the possibility of assisting or partnering with the government to re activate the estate? Good enough, the price of rubber in the world market is still attractive, therefore investing or reactivating the factory could be a rewarding exercise apart from the tremendous impact it would make on the town and people of Urhonigbe. There are many other agricultural projects that have been abandoned in the State that must be brought back to life. The Warrake Farms at Agbede, the Leventis Farm at Agenebode, the Cattle Ranch at Igarra, the Goat Farm at Ubiaja and the Cassavita Factory at Uromi. These enterprises can be revived under a Public Private Partnership Scheme that would not only create thousands of jobs but provide the State appreciable revenue annually.
Government must therefore stop looking only at Abuja for revenue and learn as our founding fathers did, to look inwards at our State, develop our agricultural potentials and become truly self sustaining. It is do able. #TheFutureIsNow