Friday, 2nd June 2023

I will focus on agriculture, youth empowerment, says Paul-Birabi

By Chikachi Eke
22 February 2023   |   4:01 am
Naakuu Paul-Birabi is Accord Party’s candidate for Khana/Gokana Federal Constituency in the 2023 general elections. Chikachi Eke examines his chances.


Naakuu Paul-Birabi is Accord Party’s candidate for Khana/Gokana Federal Constituency in the 2023 general elections. Chikachi Eke examines his chances.

Naakuu Paul-Birabi is Accord Party’s candidate for Khana/Gokana Federal Constituency in the 2023 general elections. Chikachi Eke examines his chances.

Paul-Birabi comes from a long line of notable four-generation empire builders. The most famous was his grandfather Hon. Timothy Naakuu Paul Birabi, widely regarded as the “Father of the Ogoni Nation.”

In Ogoniland his emergence heralds a generational shift from the old guard to an enthusiastic crop of young people determined in seeing Nigeria revisit the highly vexatious Ogoni question. Since 1999 Ogoni representatives at the state and central legislatures remain unpopular, handpicked by external potentates and imposed on the people. Paul-Birabi promises a transparent leadership devoid of external control.

Within Rivers State, the Paul-Birabi factor means going back to the drawing board to recalculate the balance of weakness. The immediate threat facing Rivers is a possible Ogoni backlash. No Ogoni has ruled Rivers since 1967 when General Yakubu Gowon created it. Ijaws, Ikwerres, Igbanis, Ndonis, etc, have all ruled as governor, deputy governor, Speaker of Assembly or Chief Judge. The only exception are Ogonis, whose patience appears to be running out.

The emergence of Paul-Birabi signals a new impetus for peace and political stability in Ogoniland, as his candidacy is devoid of unscrupulous political history. He comes with clean hands but will Ogonis have the foresight to appreciate this opportunity?
At the center, Paul-Birabi is expected to introduce bills aimed at declaring Marshal Plan for Ogoniland. His constituency is not being cleaned as prescribed by the report of the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP.  The consequences for the health and wellbeing of Ogonis are severe. There is exponential growth in oil-spill associated diseases like cancer and respiratory illnesses. His frustration is that no Ogoni political leader is even talking about it.

Finally, his victory at the poll could redefine the fractured relationship between Ogonis and foreign oil multinationals. The ill-will nursed by his people against oil multinationals must be addressed someday. Paul-Birabi is likely to intervene as a federal lawmaker. An internationally acclaimed lobbyist, he knows when and how to negotiate.

Born in 1980, Paul-Birabi’s first degree is in Agricultural Economics from the University of Northingham, United Kingdom, where he served as President of the Students Union Government. His Master’s was in International Business from the London Metropolitan University.

After his postgraduate studies he worked in publishing, advertising and investment banking before pitching in with a reputable lobbying firm. Upon returning to Nigeria in 2007, he served as aide to Speaker of the Bayelsa House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Werenipre Seibarugu. Thereafter, he took up appointment with the Corporate Communications Department of the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency, RSSDA.

For seven years he worked as administrative aide to Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State. He got involved in Climate Change and Environmental Protection. This was a singular privilege granted him by Governor Imoke. His first engagement was COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he participated in discussions with the United Nations, UN, on special status for Cross River as sub-national. The state hosts 25% of Nigeria’s original forests stock.

The Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, known today as Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, was another occasion for him to come to the fore. As a key focal point in the Governor’s office, Paul-Birabi integrated all relevant MDAs while ensuring that Cross River stood out among the top performing states for four years running.

He was part of an administration with significant successes in welfare reform, healthcare, education, water conservation and basic sanitation. Over a hundred solar-powered boreholes were drilled and 66 Primary Health Care Centers built across the state. “Project Hope” ensured free health care for pregnant women and children under five with great strides made in tackling maternal and infant mortality.
Paul-Birabi has short and long term solutions to his people’s problems. The short-term plan addresses the immediate problems facing Khana/Gokana Federal Constituency. The problems fall under three broad categories of inadequate basic education, undeveloped agriculture and dearth of industries.

He aims to utilise areas Ogonis have comparative advantage as long as it is not oil and gas. Ogonis have been obsessed with the petroleum “beneath” their soil to the exclusion of other resources “within” the same soil. They have large swaths of arable land that can easily give them comparative advantage in the agro and allied industries. It is a question of changing from traditional farming to mechanisation. Farming with machines will lead to bumper harvests and what to do with excess products leads us to food processing.

He plans to build three cassava-processing plants complete with their own supply chains for ease of product distribution. Ogoni garri, celebrated locally, can also be distributed nationally. Paul-Birabi recalls seeing well-packaged Ijebu garri sold in African shops in London. His agrarian vision will see Ogoni garri sold in the Diaspora. His agricultural blueprint will also see pineapple-processing plants built to extract concentrate for export. The by-product will then be converted to animal feed as nothing is wasted. Agriculture alone can create 2000 direct jobs.

Paul-Birabi wants a national debate on the Ogoni question since Ogoni youths are hunted down as “cultists” and killed by state actors; when the real enemy is poverty. Ogoni poverty is not by accident. It is part of the global conspiracy against groups unfortunate enough to be richly endured by God. Reversing this gang-up requires a thorough understanding of the working of international instruments governing multinationals and supra-nationals. An expert in international business and political orders, he encourages Ogonis to first secure their land by exploring opportunities on ground than wasting time and scarce resources chasing after the petrol dollar.