President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday appealed to the people of the Niger Delta to embrace peace and focus on agriculture for sustainable economic development and wealth creation.
Buhari made the appeal at the 20th Anniversary of Nigerian Agip Oil Company’s Green River Project Farmers Day, held at the Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha Banquet Hall in Yenagoa.
The president urged them to take advantage of the huge potential in agriculture and stop the destruction of oil and gas pipelines, which only served to destroy the country’s ecosystem and economy.
The president was represented at the occasion by the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Sen. Heineken Lokpobiri.
He commended the unrelenting efforts of the Nigerian Agip Oil Company, who he said had proved that oil production and agriculture can coexist.
“They have for the past 29 years supported their host communities to focus on agriculture through the Green River Project, a corporate social responsibility initiative which has resulted in sustainable development in these communities.
“I appeal to the people of the Niger Delta region to embrace peace and focus on agriculture for sustainable economic development and wealth creation.
“I urge you to take advantage of the huge potential in agriculture and stop the destruction of oil and gas pipelines which only serve to destroy our ecosystem and economy.
“The present administration is committed to doing everything possible to support Niger Delta to achieve their potential in agriculture which is far more than its endowments in oil and gas,” Buhari said.
Buhari said the focus of his administration was to redirect attention to agriculture in its entirety and empower Nigerians in a productive and sustainable manner.
He said the process entailed treating agriculture as a business to create wealth and provide employment.
According to him, it also involved taking the country from being an import dependent country to a self – sufficient nation, with surplus for export to earn foreign exchange.
The president noted that Nigeria spent an average of $22billion annually on wheat, rice, sugar and fish imports.
Buhari said that Nigeria had an estimated 84 million hectares of arable land with an estimated 10 per cent only being optimally utilised.
He said there was an abundance of land available for cultivation to meet the demand of about 170 million consumers in the Nigerian domestic market and the entire West Africa sub region.
The Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Agip, Mr Massimo Insulla, said it was significant to choose the theme Sustainable Farming for Sustainability for the milestone celebration.
“This is to underscore the achievements of the Green River Project over the years, in terms of the important roles it is playing in the livelihood and sustenance of many families.
“The opportunities it provides for youths and women empowerment and as a model for sustainable socio-economic development.
“It has also become a vehicle for positive engagement and collaboration with communities and host governments, such as we are having here today.
“I am therefore pleased that NAOC Green River Project’s Farmers Day celebration is being held for the first time, in a different location, and in Bayelsa,” he said.
Insulla expressed gratitude to Bayelsa Governor Seriake Dickson, for accepting to host NAOC Green River Project’s Farmers and other farmers from Delta, Imo and Rivers states.
Prof. Humphrey Ogon, Vice Chancellor, Niger Delta University, Amassoma, said the programme was timely and is commendable considering the economic situation of the country.
Ogon said that the benefits included improving the livelihood of farmers in the region, food security and creation of employment.
“I will therefore use this opportunity to unveil a new relationship between Niger Delta University and the Green River Project for our mutual benefit in the area of collaborative research.
“Currently NDU operates a research farm and is developing integrated farm, which frame work is a perfect platform for such research collaboration,” he said.
The occasion, with the theme, ‘Sustainable Farming for Sustainability’, had in attendance representatives of host governors of Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and Imo states.
Others were General Manager, District of Agip, Mr Marco Rotondi; former Military Governor of old Rivers, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, among others dignitaries.