How Akwa Ibom is taking over in agriculture like in oil production – **Exclusive interview with SA on Project Monitoring (Agriculture)**

In this exclusive interview with reporter Tony ESIN, Special Assistant to Governor Udom Emanuel on Project Monitoring (Agriculture) Mr Moses Armstrong, an ace Nollyhood actor, speaks about the intricacies of movie development in Akwa Ibom State, how he came into politics, his role as SA to the Governor on Project Monitoring and strategies earmarked by the state government for development of agriculture in the state, among others:

You’d been a veteran Nollyhood actor, now by virtue of your current appointment as SA to the Governor on Project Monitoring, you are a politician. Would your fans be wrong should they insinuate that you have abandoned the film industry?

To start with, I want to disagree with the notion that I dabbled into politics. I always say I am not a politician but I see myself as a professional who takes part in governance. We want to see how we can change the face of politics in Akwa Ibom State and by extension, Nigeria, from the way it was being played.

We try to see how we can make people to believe in government because a lot of people had lost interest and lost faith in government. Our work here by the tutorials of His Excellency Deacon Udom Emmanuel is to see to it that people believe in government. That is why His Excellency came up with the Dakkada creed. So we are his foot soldiers, we are driving the lofty visions of the governor. And that is why we try to separate politics from governance. Right now we are doing governance. We are serving the people and we want to serve the people right.

I did not venture into politics. I have always wanted to serve my people even when I was in the movie industry. When God helped me and I hit stardom, I was enrolled into the circle of top celebrities in Nigeria. I told myself that I would not allow my people suffer what I suffered as an up comer. As an upcoming actor I know what I suffered.

What I could not understand and learn in four years, I decided to come down here to train my people in three years for them to understand the rudiments of movie acting and movie production. That was why I came down to Akwa Ibom State. I went round the local government areas to train the youths free of charge. Therefore, seeing myself right now in the circle of government I see it as a clarion call to serve my people. I see it as something more than an appointment. It is a divine call from God to serve my people. On that note I want to thank His Excellency Deacon Udom Emmanuel for giving me the chance, the platform and allowing me harness my inert qualities in serving the people.

Does it mean that you will be combining your acting with your current political engagement?

Actually, it is not about combining the two. Right now my focus is on serving the people so I may not be in the active movie industry for now. But that doesn’t mean I cannot help a brother. Now I do it for charity. I don’t do for pay. I have done it once or twice and also assisted some in production. But my main focus now is how I can build up something using my office. A lot of people say office of the SA is nothing, no, it is something. Our work is more tedious than people think it is.

Alright sir, could you expatiate on what you mean when you say you suffered in the movie industry? It could be interesting to the masses.

When I mean I suffered in the movie industry, I mean ‘suffer.’ I had four long suffering years before I became a star. That was at the backdrop of the fact that the movie industry was being controlled by the Igbos and the Igbos were the producers, they were the director, they were the marketer and even the actors. But if you asked me, I wouldn’t blame them because if I am in a position and I have to help people, I will look at my people first. So before those people will look at their brothers before they come to you, it becomes almost impossible. But then our creative ingenuity always gave us a chance to showcase once or twice in some very good roles.

The facts is that before they will pick you up and push you to that level where you can stand out, it takes time because of where you come from. A lot of people used to get angry saying the Igbos are doing this and that but for me I don’t blame them. Where are our own people? We can as well become marketers. We can as well become producers, directors. That is why I really commend the person of Emem Isong for a job well done in the movie industry in trying to promote our people, in trying to promote our culture to the extent that she sometimes risking her capital into our indigenous movie to make sure that we also propagate our culture and make our people also get to stardom in the Nollyhood industry.

What is the status quo at the moment, has there been any improvement in the movie business in the state compared to the time past?

A lot, we have a lot of movie stars from this town now. We have had a lot of producers and all that. We are still in the learning process anyway. For the fact that the industry is down right now does not mean that we are out. We are still in the building process. And because we have gotten to this level and we don’t want to remain in this level, we are now shaking the basket to separate the chaff from the seeds.

In a nutshell, could you let us know what your office as the SA to the Governor on Project Monitoring (Agriculture) entails?

Yes, the office as the SA to the Governor on Project Monitoring (Agriculture) is simply to monitor projects mainly in the agricultural sector, evaluate them and report same directly to His Excellency and also see to it that every project of the government is well documented and protected.

But when I came into office, I tried to expatiate on my job description. I had to look beyond just monitoring and reporting. I am a result-oriented individual. While I am monitoring and reporting, I thought it wise to also do some sensitization and mobilization as well as re-orientation in my own little way to see how we can get to a cluster of farmers to understand what their challenges are so as to proffer the way forward for them and report back to His Excellency for onward progress and development.

It is quite interesting to hear that. In the meantime, how far have you gone in doing that?

So far it has been very good. Despite the ensuing economic recession we have done our best to stand tall among our equals. In my own little way I have been able to go round, sometimes, very odd villages to talk to farmers and sensitise them telling them to believe and key into the numerous lofty programmes of Governor Udom Emmanuel in agriculture.

Udom Emmanuel is one person that is God-fearing, I want to tell them that. He has the people of Akwa Ibom at his heart. That is why even with the lean economic situation he is still making so much effort to make sure that salaries are paid. I tell people that that is one of the ingredients of the Dakkada creed and the main essence of Dakkada. It is not about shouting Dakkada. It’s about you, if you have something doing, you do it to be independent because government does not have the money. The work of the government is to roll out policies and schemes that affect life positively. So what they should do is to embrace these schemes. There are a lot of policies right now in the agricultural sector in the state. if you have a land, let us see how we can inspect it and see how it can be utilized and get back to the government. It could be taken for one thing or the other. Plantation could be done there. We want our people to get involved in all these things for us to be able to have food sufficiency in Akwa Ibom State.

You have recently introduced an agricultural programme for peasant farmers in the state mainly to develop agriculture at the grassroots, we see this as a good intervention. How is it running?

When I came into office I sat down and strategized on how I could implement some of the good programmes I had in mind. To start with, I didn’t study agriculture in school so I had to learn the job. I employed the services of a consultant, Ndaeyo Consult to be precise. We sat down on a round table and had a discussion and I asked pertinent questions.

That is how we started. Before now, the SAs to the Governor on Project Monitoring (Agriculture) with their team have been going round the state monitoring and reporting. After that, what! So, on a round table we came up with the idea that we should empower the peasant farmers in the state. And I told them, government doesn’t have money, we all know that. Private sectors have been very difficult to assist

At the end of the day we came up with the idea that we need to approach Central Bank because there are a lot of credit facilities in Central Bank just lying with nobody to access. So my consultant who is an expert in that field approached Central Bank and we had a talk with them. I was invited by the Development Fund Officer (DFO) for a talk. We told them we have about 3000 farmers who are willing and qualified to access these facilities. As God would have it, we struck a deal by the grace of God. That is what we are seeing today.

Therefore I want to really give a very big kudos to my consultant, Ndaeyo Consult and the entire crew of the new face of agriculture and my information coordinator, Moses Eskor for doing a great job. The facility is very simple to access.  It is a soft loan facility from Central Bank. The idea is that we are mustering 3000 farmers as a cluster and also presenting them to Central Bank for a soft loan facility.

The loan is facilitated by the New Face of Agriculture in conjunction with the First City Monument Bank (FCMB). The interest rate for this very loan is 9 per cent single digit, single digit in the sense that it is going to expire in one year. Now, if you are able to access for instance N200,000, the interest is going to be N18,000. This N200,000 as the principal will be added up to the interest and it becomes N218,000 which you will be paying by installments for one year.

And now we still added another grace, that we give you three months grace to be able to harvest your products for like two or three times and start making money. From there, you start paying from the fourth month.  It now goes for nine months. So we are making it very simple for our peasant farmers to be able to grab this opportunity to maximize their productivity.

So, all these things are in place. Right now we are giving out forms. Just yesterday the giving out of forms was ended and we are now waiting for them to return their forms. Already a lot of people have gone to FCMB to open an account in readiness to access the loan. Meanwhile we are still mustering other forms that are coming in and then sending them to FCMB for onward registration and then accreditation tags are being given where we are going to have a flag-off and by the grace of God we are going to have the governor to be at the flag-off and also the governor of the Central Bank will be there to see what we have done so far in trying to empower our farmers in our little way to give a facelift to agriculture in Akwa Ibom State.

How soon is the flag-off ceremony coming sir?

We cannot be precise about that for now, but in the next few months to come because we need to wait for the return of forms and then onward forwarding to the FCMB and of course the opening of account which you know is not a very small exercise. So it is going to take a little bit of time.

But we hope to have it not too long from now because everybody seems to be asking, ‘when is the loan going to be given?’ What they are particular about is the money, they don’t want to know how tedious the processes are.

Over the years there is an agricultural development programme that existed in the state, the Integrated Farmers’ Scheme. Is this your new programme replacing it or rather complementing it?

No, it is not replacing the Integrated Farmers’ Scheme. It is only complementing it. This one is specifically for poultry farmers. IFS involves every aspects of agriculture, crop production, livestock, aquaculture, poultry and all of them. So it is just an added advantage for poultry farmers.

That is to say you are working hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant bodies to implement those programs?

Yes, that is a very good point. I have a very good working relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture, Technical Committee Agriculture and Food Sufficiency, and the Bureau for Technical Matters and Due Process. So we are working hand-in-hand.

You can therefore know that what we are doing now, the Ministry of Agriculture is aware of it. They have endorsed it, same with the BTM and other committees. So it is an encompassing programme. It is not something that we are just singling out a particular group, everybody is involved. Even the House of Assembly is aware of what we are doing.

In your candid view, do you think the strides made by the state Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel in the area of agriculture are enough to drive the needed development?

Well, when you say ‘enough,’ we are being limited. It is progressive. At this time of economic recession, it is a welcome development. It gives us a new direction away from the oil that is dying right now.

His Excellency is really working. Just yesterday he has just flagged off a FADAMA programme in Onna. A lot have been done already. Like I told you, he is still going to flag off this soft loan scheme for peasant farmers. Many others are even coming. For instance we have just done a survey on a demonstration farm for tomatoes production. Very soon 1000 youths are going to be trained. I am just coming back from a garden egg farm which we also intend to train some youths to go into garden egg plantation in the state. We are taking over. Akwa Ibom State is taking over Nigeria in Agriculture just like we lead in oil production in Nigeria, we are going will soon become number one in agriculture.