With the launch of Amotekun and the sudden emphasis on regional cooperation I think it is time for us to come up with an integrated Middle Belt economic programme

By Ayo Akinfe


[1] Amotekun is not perfect and a lot still needs to be worked out to prevent it becoming an uncontrollable paramilitary force outside the ambit of the law but it is a good idea in principle. Having a regional security that provides intelligence to the police and armed forces is a good thing as local people know the terrain and know where all the criminals are hiding out in their communities


[2] There are a few problems though as there is a danger that some governors may use Amotekun as political thugs. There is also the danger that the body may be replicated in other geo-political zones where the leaders are more interested in creating insecurity than preventing it. As we all know from past history, some governors will use such armed groups to engage in banditry


[3] Anyway, let us be positive. This could be the start of regional cooperation that could extend to numerous areas including housing, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, etc. I for one am particularly keen in economic integration, particularly in agro-processing. Farmland does not know borders, so if you have say a palm oil, cocoa, cassava, rubber, etc plantation, it makes more sense for it to be a regional operation. The wider an area it covers, the more mechanised you can be and the greater your chances of exploiting economies of scale


[4] How many Nigerians know that the Middle Belt is Nigeria's bread basket? It provides the bulk of the food crops we eat, especially yam, cassava, tomatoes, pepper, etc. Our Middle Belt has the most fertile soil in the country, with Benue State in particular taking yam production to unprecedented heights. Nigeria accounts for 70% of global yam production and I do not think the Idoma and Tiv get enough credit for this


[5] Our Middle Belt extends from the southern parts of Kebbi State right across to Adamawa State. Thanks to the fertile soil in the area, it is the main producing region for shea nuts, sugar, cassava, maize, pepper, tomatoes, yam, soyabeans, onions, etc. I want to see the creation of a Middle Belt Agricultural Agency with a mandate to grant land to farmers for the creation of mega plantations, offer loans to agribusinesses to process these farm goods and offer export credits to exporters wanting to export this produce


[6] Created and funded by the North Central Governors Forums, this Middle Belt Agricultural Agency should also appoint a renown economist as its chairman with a mandate to woo food companies and investors into the area. I want to see food giants like Unilever, Cadbury, Tate & Lyle, Nestle, etc all running processing companies and packaging plants in Nigeria's Middle Belt


[7] One other thing going in favour of our Middle Belt is that it is predominantly Christian and so there are no Sharia laws to scare investors away. Of all the North Central states, only Niger practices Sharia. If the state is serious about wooing investors, such laws have to be repealed. Niger State is the main producer of shea nuts in Nigeria but they are not going to attract international crushing plants if the staff of such companies are not allowed to mingle freely irrespective of gender


[8] We should also have a regional assistance programme. If for instance, Niger State has a budget surplus of $20bn and Kogi State has a deficit of $10bn, there is no reason why one state whop should not assist the other. Ohaneze Ndigbo actually went a step further than this by suggesting a revenue allocation formula under which 50% will be retained by states, 20% goes to the federation account, 20% goes to a geo-political fund and 10% goes into a sovereign wealth fund


[9] Nigeria's Middle Belt needs this regional cooperation more than anywhere else in the country because it is the part of the country criss-crossed by the Rivers Niger and Benue. Our Middle Belt is the only part of the country that can come up with a regional hydro-electric power programme linking plants at say Jebba, Idah, Yola and Lokoja


[10] As with Amotekun, the Middle Belt economic integration will serve as a pilot programme. If it is successful, it can be replicated in other geo-political zones across the country.