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Tarzoor: Agriculture And Tourism Will Help States Survive Harsh Economy



Former Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, Mr. Terhemen Tarzoor, is the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the March 28 governorship elections in Benue State. He spoke to journalists in Markurdi about his background and how the state can survive dwindling revenue from the federation account. Abuja Bureau Chief, MADU ONUORAH, was there.

Blueprint To Deepen Benue Economy

THE drop in price of crude oil does not affect Benue State alone. It is a national problem as we rely basically on oil to run the economy. It is the disaster the whole world is facing as a result of the politics involved in international trade. You will agree with me that anytime America sneezes, the whole world catches cold. And if today Nigeria is also catching cold because of the sneeze, then there is need for every individual component that makes up Nigeria to look inwards.

    The good thing about Benue is that God has given us the opportunity to rise up and shine, to prove to Nigerians that truly, Benue is the treasure. This is because people must eat. If people can afford to do without oil as was done in the olden days, you can’t do without food. That is our own natural endowment. It is our own oil. What we plan to do in the State is to harness our natural potentials and look inwards to build on agriculture. Benue under me will pursue agricultural industrialisation. We will begin to process our agricultural products. In this realm, we are not talking about pyramid agric. No, we will talk of processed agricultural products in that we won’t just store yam. We will process yam and other products in large quantities. People will buy. 

     If you go to Lagos, people will demand for oranges coming from Benue. If you go to Kano, our dear bothers breaking fast would want to do it with Benue orange. If you go to Akwa Ibom and Rivers, they would want our yams. So, the strategy to be employed is that we have to get involved in tactical economics. This is because since monies no longer come from the federation account as it used to, we must employ a deliberately and balanced growth. The little that is coming in would be plugged into the cardinal areas. I feel if growth in this area is achieved, it will communicate to other sectors of the economy. 

     So, we will not just spread to every sector because the resources are meagre. We will concentrate on agriculture and tourism. This is where we have two very great comparative advantages over others. And in that regard, we will be in the position to augment the little that is coming in from the federation account. This is our own thinking on how we would leverage on the situation and move Benue to greater heights.

   The next is education. You know that an educated state is liberated and better managed and ruled than an unschooled community. So, we are also going to look into the area of education thoroughly basically providing infrastructure, lecture halls, hostels and where necessary, road network within the schools. But we have to emphasize technical education. That’s why we have strategic models of government technical colleges in each of the three senatorial zones. There, students are enrolled to learn technical skills so that when they come out of schools, they will have the opportunity to pick up jobs with construction companies. And if somebody is building, they can go there, wire and earn an income. This will divert their attention from the streets. 

    We also plan to work on the health sector as health is wealth. A healthy society gives you more time to work than a society that is sick. And a healthy society saves cost than a society that is sick as government has to pick more bills. In this area, we would lay emphasis on the synergy between faith-based health centres and government health centres. We want to see a partnership that works between the health centres here in Benue owned by churches and the government owned ones in order for them compete among themselves.  

   On tourism, we are naturally endowed in this area as we have water bodies and the mountainous region in Benue. Unlike other States that are looking for rivers and artificial water bodies, we have so many of them that we will key into developing our river banks and making them high-brow areas to attract people to Benue. This is very important given what is happening with the very serious social unrest in the North. 

     It behoves Benue to fill that gap as we are in a better position to attract people that would want to come and invest or come for leisure. And it is on that premise that we believe that since oil is dropping by the second, we have some tourist sites that we can develop on and be earning some revenue and creating jobs for our youths and getting them on the streets.

    We are also looking at the area of pension reforms because it is very critical. As you all know, we don’t have old people’s homes or retirement homes as it is done in sophisticated countries. Since we don’t have the old peoples home, it is better you have a way of taking care of our older generations as and when due. That is why we are looking at pension issues where they are paid to go and enjoy their lives since there are no retirement homes.

  Therefore, these are cardinal areas we must tackle as a matter of urgency. And we will be doing this with the underlined assumption that if you achieve progress in these areas, you will drag other sectors on board. For instance, with the issue of job creation, if you industrialise agric and set up cash cows, spirits will not work there, but human beings so automatically, you have created jobs. So, you don’t need to emphasis on job creation. This model I have mentioned is a model that will address many other society needs.

Background As An ‘Okada’ Rider 

 We all have our past. No one can work away from his past or roots. I hail from Makurdi. And you know, growing up on the streets of Makurdi wasn’t easy, especially coming from a very humble peasant home. I remember very vividly when I finished secondary school, instead of idling away, my elder brother bought a bike for me to engage in ‘okada’ work in order to take care of some of my little financial needs. And that ‘okada’ experience is one that I will never ever forget. 

   That is why I am passionate about them. I still see some of the people we were doing business together now. Whenever I see them, sometimes I stop and chat with them and say, ‘o boy how u dey. Abeg hold this one.’ You must grow in whatever you do. I felt that was not my calling and I left and went to the university. Some also when they saw that Tarzoor was in the university, it urged many to also join me. 

    What took me to the university was that there was this faithful day that while riding my ‘okada’, I was privileged to see a young lady who was a girlfriend to my secondary school classmate. He knew me very well and when we were in secondary school, he was not up to me in terms of knowledge. But he was looking down on me because I was doing okada. When I was to pick his girlfriend, he now tapped me on the back and told me to be careful with his girlfriend that “you okada people don’t reason’. I felt challenged and told myself that I must go to this university. Is it because this young man is in ABU that he is talking to me like this? When I came back that night I thought of my encounter. The next day, I started pursuing to go to the university. That was what inspired me to go school. 

    And when I got to school, in my own annoyance, I discovered it was even better being a student than being outside. For example, where it comes to girls, when you come home they will rush you.  But then I thought that with okada money, when you give them the money they will follow you yet will follow their undergraduate boyfriends who would not give them anything. So that is why I went to school and it was a wonderful experience. 

    So, I would call on other youths to emulate and see that you can be what you want to be and no one would stop you, provided you prepare yourself and you are of zero negativism around you. So, it is not a bad experience at all.

On Wokers’ Welfare

   It is good to prepare the minds of the people because what is happening globally is what has come and we can’t run from it. We all know that the sitting governor for almost eight years has been paying salaries consistently and also increasing salaries consistently to a magnitude that no other State in the North Central can equal. And suddenly it is not meeting up, this call for reason especially for the fact that as it is the same government has elections at stake, why would the government choose not to pay salaries? You know, it is simple knowledge. If when one had nothing at stake one was paying salaries consistently, is it now that we have election that one would deliberately decide not to pay salaries. It is simple knowledge. The government that I know is a very responsible system and the governor of Benue state has been very responsive to the plight of civil servants. So, on the issue of salaries, we all know the breakdown. And some of us that are insiders know the effort that the government is putting in order to ensure that this very issue becomes an issue of the past. 

     The situation points to the fact that there is a something wrong somewhere which is attuned to what is happening at the centre. And because Nigeria, being a mono-producing economy and with every one of our States being linked, Benue is also not left out from the cold that oil prices have sneezed. But we are making very serious and practical efforts in addressing this matter and I know that the government will insure that that is an issue of the past. At several fora, we have appealed to civil servants to understand why it is that way. 

   But you see, anytime you talk about money, eyebrows are raised. But when salaries were being increased at very high percentage levels, no one raised issues. If you go to other sophisticated economies, at moments like this, the government will downsize. But who will we cut? That is why we are where we are. But there is always a way out. And the governor of Benue State is making frantic efforts to address that. I don’t see it affecting elections because we have continued to talk to Benue people that are also in the know of what has happened. We will continue e to appeal to them so that we will transit this phase.

 On A Divided PDP

   The good thing about society today is that we are invited to be honourable people. About 18 of us were involved in the gubernatorial race where we all agreed in the Lowest Common Multiple (LCM), that we would support the candidate who is elected at the end of the day. The LCM became our working mantra as we all know very well that power comes from God and he gives it to anybody. 

  Of course, my dear brother, the former minister, Ortom was also involved in this accord. But he chose not to honour it. As a member, it behoves us to see why some people are no longer worthy of being called honorable people. Their own integrity is at stake. What makes you honorable is owning up to what you said yesterday. So, at the end of the day, primaries were conducted in a very clean, free and credible environment and I now emerged and he congratulated me and every other person who contested with me congratulated me. 

 In any case, the issue of reconciliation is the party’s responsibility. It is theirs to reconcile those who contested and the onus also lies on me as a candidate to also visit them, which I have been doing. And it is a continuous process.

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