By Ati Kengkeng Kenneth

Bang! Bang!! Bang!!!…and I sprang up from my bed, confused and distraught. That was the end of a much desired siesta. In my curiosity, I stepped out of the house to enquire of the source of the noise that truncated my rest. Alas! Another hotel was springing up hastily about two blocks away from my house, the latest entrant to venture into the hospitality/tourism industry in Benue State. Before you continue with the illusion of Femi Kuti’s song “bang bang bang”,it was a block making machine at the hotel site that broke down with such loud noise.
Fellow Nigerians, I welcome you to the greatest challenge of the economy of the “Food Basket of the Nation”. Over the last 10 years, my home state has thronged helplessly into a hotel boom.My house is a stone throw away from a hotel and a guest house, with two others less than 400 meters away. Less than 2 kilometers radius from my house, you can comfortably count at least 15 hotels, yet I don’t reside in the centre of Makurdi town. Makurdi is a small town with a maximum radius of less than 8 kilometers. Over 80 percent of the entire population of the state are civil servants. While Makurdi is more populated than every other part of the state, they share almost the same developmental characteristics, especially in the propagation of drinking joints and hotels. Otukpo, Gboko, Katsina Ala, Vandeikya, Adikpo and Zaki Biam have towed the line. All these towns lie within a radius of about 200 kilometers from Makurdi.50 kilometers away from Makurdi lies the hub of soya beans in northern Nigeria,35 kilometers further, you will find the volume of tomatoes that you cannot see anywhere in West Africa. About 120 kilometers further, you will find the largest deposit of all sizes and varieties of yam tubers in the world at Zaki Biam with Ugba and Anyiin supporting in same crop trade.A little to the right from Gboko or Katsina Ala, one will find hundreds of orchards all the way through Ushongo to Vandeikya until you leave Benue State into Cross River State. Within a radius of 100 kilometers from Katsina Ala, you will find an alarming amount of mangoes, oranges, yams, tomatoes, soya beans, cassava, potatoes, maize, millet, cocoyam…It won’t be far from the truth if I say that every crop under the sun has the capacity of thriving on the soil of Benue. To crown it all, we lay claim to a river that runs right through a sizeable portion of the length of the state, dividing it perfectly into two beautiful halves from Katsina Ala through Makurdi to Lokoja. I dare say that NO STATE IS AS BLESSED AS BENUE.

My grouse however lies with the business acumen of the average Benue man, most of whom are Tiv and in whose area lies over 80percent of the treasures of the state. The average Benue man is not business conscious in the right direction hence the propagation of hotels. Worst of all is the fact that politics is the mother of most businesses. Politics in Benue State has made more hoteliers than any other line of business world over. More than 65 percent of the hotels in Benue are owned by either past or serving members of the executive or legislature both at federal and state level with the State Governor rumoured to own one as well. Once a political office holder is out of office, his/her business crumbles like a pack of cards with alarming ignominy. Numerous examples abound. To further display the foul and derogatory thought pattern of our elite, we do not have occasions or functions that get them filled. If not for the Kilimanjaro-sized lust in their hearts that seeks expression in such places, we do not command the audacity to attract national conferences, festivals or conventions that will lure one into thinking the market exists. Not a single hotel in Benue can comfortably cater for 60 guests at a time and if we must attach the hotel rating system, at most, we have the best to be a 3 star hotel. Many are just glorified “boys quarters”

On the other hand, our most and only viable sector lies in ruin. We have had successive governments sing the anthem of diversification of the economy with little or nothing to show for it. It is totally needless to itemize the programmes of government aimed at achieving this feat as it will only amount to an aggravation of emotions. Inspite of the lack of incentives to farmers, the lack of storage facilities, lack of mechanised farm machinery, lack of extension services and all other harsh factors unmentioned, the average Benue farmer rises against all odds to till the soil and get something out of it every year. In an effort to make ends meet, coupled with adverse poverty and extortionate destitution quickened by inflation, prices fall drastically and our brothers round the country troop in with their trucks to fetch their “loot” from the gross consistency of blunders committed by our elite. This applies to virtually every agro-allied settlement in Benue State. Tomatoes and oranges rot and are thrown away or sold at give away prices, lack of storage facilities has become our undoing. Benue State is home to one of the three Universities of Agriculture in the country. Unfortunately, it’ll amaze you to know that tractors in that institution are used for water distribution and many more purchased by the state government are parked in the houses of poiltical office holders. Animal feeds are imported from Jos and Ibadan while every raw material for its production is found locally yet, the University feed mill remains moribund. Taraku mills is dead. The fruit juice industry, tomato blending plant and fertilizer blending plant share the same fate. None has delivered even a morsel of their intended product. This is the predicament that has befallen my state and it is totally man-made.

While the Federal Government continues to dilly-dally with this sector, one would expect the State and Local Governments to be a little more serious with it rather than play ball with their “ogas at the top”. We are starving our nation and the world at large. We are no different from the militants in Niger Delta that held Nigeria hostage with kidnapping and pipeline vandalism. Our weapons are not SMGs, AK47s, gunships or RPGs but mismanagement and corruption which is a more elaborate reflection of our country Nigeria. Brazil, India and Malaysia with whom we started have long gone ahead to stabilise their economies through agriculture. If Thailand, a country smaller than Cross River State is the largest producer and exporter of rice in the whole world, then we are nothing but an aberration to humanity. With food importation in excess of 1.3trillion naira, we stand tall as a sham of our appellation “food basket of the nation”. God Almighty who has blessed us thus far is watching with disdain as we reject this age long labour of man for the trivialities of life. I said it before and I repeat for the umpteenth time that “documents will achieve absolutely nothing for us if humans don’t stand behind to push forward such agreed agenda”. All the visions and road maps we’ve had have brought us nowhere. The choice is ours, either to live up to our status or hopelessly wrestle tourism out of Plateau State to become “High-life tourism basket of the nation”.

Ati Kenneth Kengkeng is the Winner of the maiden edition of Heir apparent Leadership Reality TV Show. He is an Agro-Allied Entrepreneur and resides in Makurdi ,Benue State.

Comments
  1. Tyoapine Dominic says:

    How I Wish Many View Benue In Your Eyes As Well As Mine, ALot Of Agricultural Products Are Being Wasted And Sold So Cheap, Making Our Farmers Toil Goes In Vain, Its A Pity To Say Benue Is A Food Basket. Who Can Save Benue and retain the name?

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