Comrade Christopher Ndiubuisi Okwuosa is the founder and chairman of the Children of the Farmers Club, a non-governmental organization that promotes agriculture, culture and tourism potentials of Nigerians and Africans in general. In this exclusive interview with O’star Eze, he discloses how the award winning concept of agrotechnocraft village would check youth restiveness and unemployment in Nigeria.
Why was this club formed and what has been the experience so far?
The Children of the Farmers Club was formed in 1993 and registered in 1994 to seek ways of achieving efficient and effective system for the development of rural areas in Africa. We started with advocacy visits to communities to train and engage rural kids. From 1996, we started visiting the 21 local government areas of Anambra State, in partnership with the Anambra Broadcasting Service and the Ministry of Agriculture, to train youths on fishery and other agro related skills. Then, Nigeria had been suspended from Commonwealth programmes during the military regime. We were called back in 1999 when Obasanjo became the president and he travelled over 105 countries of the world trying to clean up the image of the country. That was during the Y2K frenzy when there was apprehension over what would happen in the new millennium. So, the Commonwealth sort for how to solve the African problem and they felt that Nigeria would be part of it. They spread the contest out to all the Local Governments in Africa in seeking for organisations, or individuals with the best concept to solve the problem of Africa. We in the CFC came up with a concept which we called the Agrotechnocraft village that would promote agriculture, indigenuous technology and craftsmanship. The village would be such that nobody would leave the village without having a skill. We observed that the major problem we are facing in our cities is that many of our young people migrate to the city without any skill and they become a problem to the society. Take for instance, if a vulcaniser migrates to Abuja, he has a skill and therefore adds to the value chain. But, if you have somebody who has graduated from the university and has no job in Abuja, he might not have any skill. So, we thought that there was need to take this concept into our universities. In 1999, there was a contest in Abuja and we presented the concept during the contest and we won. Nigeria then took this our concept to Lusaka, Zambia for the World Commonwealth Millennium Award competition for the African region and we won. We received the award from President Olusegun Obasanjo However, when we came back, the government turned their back on the concept and it was never developed till date.
What have been the challenges of this club in its verge to achieve its mission?
The cold attitude of the government towards the concept. Like in Anambra State where the concept was birthed, we are yet to see the four walls of the governor’s office despite all the letters we had sent seeking audience to present the concept. Imagine that 13 governors were present when the award was given to us by the president then, Olusegun Obasanjo, during the second international youth summit in Abuja. We never received any reception from the state government. We have been writing to the governors from one administration to the other since then without any success. Now, we have decided to dedicate the award to the state government for implementation. We cannot carry the load alone. We have written several letters to the government and till date we are yet to receive even an acknowledgement letter.
What impelled you to form the club?
Every black man is a child of a farmer. The first thing that brought international communities to Africa was hunger. They were looking for people who would help them over there. Me, I am a child of a farmer because I come from Ogbaru, an agro-community. I looked at the future of our young people and I realised that it is bleak because most of them lack skills. That was why we decided to form this club to bridge that gap. We are a group of resource persons skilled in metal work, stitching, painting, livestock farming, crop farming and processing as well as fabrication of materials that could be used for processing these agro products who came together to form the club to assist our young people. Like, if you come to Ogbaru, you will find some young people with fish ponds of their own who are products of our club. We use our platform to secure land for these projects. We have a government document telling us that anywhere in Nigeria that we find land suitable for the agrotechnocraft village, we should use it.
What you are talking about is similar to the controversial Ruga settlement idea. What is your take on RUGA?
Anyone interested in animal husbandry should go and buy a land, fence it and make a ranch, not having a colony. They should cage their animals up, just like we have fish cage that we make in natural environments like in the River Niger. So, providing settlements for anyone interested in it is not a bad idea, especially if the person is ready to pay for it. You find truckloads of livestock and vegetables being transported from the north to the east every day, while we have acres of bushes lying fallow around us here in the east. Government give the northerners loans, tractors, bulldozers and other facilities to enable them grow food but that is not the case in these parts. Some time ago, some Israel nationals came to Anambra State with the idea of setting up farm settlements. That is exactly what we are talking about. We have skilled kids around looking for who would guide them aright.
How do you think this club would help check youth restiveness in Nigeria?
That is the first positive effect this club presents to the society. Like in the University, if a kid comes into the university and joins our club in their first year, by the time they get to their final year, they are equipped with skills and a business plan for setting up their own outfit. As soon as you get to the camp, you submit it to them as what you want to do and when they send you to the community where you will serve, you ask for land and get to work executing your plan. That is why we say that this club should be in our university curriculum because it is the best place to implement it.
Have you made any effort to reach out to other corporate firms and individuals besides the government and what has been your experience?
Yes, we met with the first Israeli ambassador to Nigeria. He invited us for a chat and he promised that as soon as the Nigerian government gave their nod to the concept, they would step in and back it up. Then, we were in partner with 4H, an American youth development programme in Houston, Texas which we linked up with a Texas university looking for a sister university to run partnership programme on behalf of the project. That is why we are reaching out to Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka (UNIZIK) to see if they would key into this project. The students can go for a cross cultural programme. As we speak, the club has been set up in UNIZIK though for now what we do is mainly sensitization to show them that the concept is possible. However, we observed that the students are not quick to accept the idea because they do not see money flowing in it. However, those that stick with the project are exceptional from the others.
What is your appeal to the government?
All we are asking from the government is to accept the project as their own. A project that has gained the level of recognition as ours should have been a household project by now. In fact, we are supposed to have set up at least one agrotechnocraft village in each of the 747 local government areas in Nigeria. And with that, we should no longer be talking about youth restiveness and hunger. Imagine that our budget runs into trillions of naira. If one billion is dropped in each of the six geopolitical zones, before the end of one four years tenure, you will see the impact.