Hon Eseme Eyibo is the Chairman of the newly inaugurated board of Cross River Basin Development Authority . A former spokesman of the House of Representatives, Eyibo in this interview with JOHN SILAS , spoke on his new assignment vowing to turn the agency around.
As one who has been involved in governance and lawmaking, what does this appointment represent?
I think that first and foremost, I want to say that river basin development authority has as its core mandate as the management of land and water resources. In managing those resources, there has to be critical innovations and reforms when it comes to the issue of human and material assets. Between human and material assets and the core mandate, there has to be a connecting rod because without the human and material assets being harnessed it is going to be difficult to actualise the core mandate of the authority. So, the recruitment of leadership into this critical sector is therefore at the heart of governance. To me therefore, the President’s appointment is a conscious and demonstrated commitment to recruiting men and women of expertise and very strong pedigree to join in the reconstruction and rebuilding of our national institutions. So I see the appointment as a very conscious recruitment into leadership intended to jumpstart reform and rebuilding of our nation. Those are the sort of actions that will create that platform for a new economic and social order. I want to let you know too that the issue of land and water is at the heart of our common humanity. The key thing here is the understanding that before oil, agriculture had been the mainstay of our economy. Therefore, can agriculture now add to the diversification process without proper management of land and water resources? The answer is No. so, I see myself as a member of a team that is intend to jumpstart the diversification and to drive a constructive renewal process in our national development. I see it as a challenge
There is this perception of river basins as a Siberia and people tend to avoid them. Some would wonder why you are upbeat about the appointment.
I don’t consider it is just about thinking out of the box. When the wrong people are recruited into the leadership of the right places, you begin to get the sort of issues you raised in your question. That has actually been part of the weakness you observe in several institutions. I see myself not looking at the lucrativeness of a place but rather, asking myself what I can do to improve and increase the value of the place. For me, it is about adding value, not about reward and money. I also understand that there are four key things in driving change. You must have an idea of what the institution is all about; you must a clear idea of what you intend to do; you must be able to identify the milestones and as a leader of such institution, you must be able to translate those ideas into concrete deliverables. These can only come from your thinking and ability to drive reform and reposition the agency towards achieving and delivering its core mandate. This is where your character comes to play. The attitude and character you bring to it drives the process. For someone with clear understanding and clear vision money and reward is the least in the hierarchy of thought. So, there are a lot of windows of opportunity created by the river basin in agriculture. Today the world over, nations are driving their economy using agriculture as tool. It will amaze you to realise that Japan, with only 20 percent arable land -80 percent is mountainous- is capable of feeding itself and also exporting food. How did they do it? But in our own case, when we are faced with task of making institutions work, we often begin to think of how lucrative such places are. We often forget that our assignment is to turn the place around and make it lucrative.
How do you intend to achieve these objectives?
First, there must be observance of the rule of law and ethical integrity. There must be the issue of innovations. We do not intend to drive the process with the mindset of normal bureaucracy. We have to change our attitude so that we can drive the process and achieve our goals. A River Basin is a business and must be pursued from the stand point of business. Not the business of acting in breach of the law but business in terms of profitability and maximizing what you already have. That’s what governance is all about –to trigger interest and participation.
What new things are you going to bring to the River Basin development Authority, given that many Nigerians do see the reason for its existence?
We must first understand the intention of government in creating river basin authorities and mandating it to manage land and water resources. We all know of dams, irrigation etc, but what had made river basins fail to achieve objective is the issue of recruitment of wrong people; people who do not understand what river basins are for and people who just think of what they will take out of river basins. But, if you understand the opportunities that exist there and what you can do, then, it is a goldmine. I have been in talks with some development partners about participating in development at that level. We are not only looking at food security but also from the standpoint of business and participation which brings the development partners and communities together while we act as collateral to investments using the resources at our disposal. As business, we will generate revenue for the Cross River Basin Development Authority. We will create value. We will share ideas and expand the opportunities. We will collaborate with international interventionist agencies to push agricultural development. You know that such agencies are always willing to participate but they have always been encumbered by non-availability of land. We shall begin to talk with them on that. We can guarantee land.
The present administration is committed to fighting corruption and that is one of its major policy thrusts. How are you going to translate this policy at the Authority?
We are going to have a value orientation desk with a desk officer. From time to time we will invite law enforcement agencies to train our security operatives in the management of assets, both human and material. Safety is key to what we do. We shall also bring in law experts to educate and train our officials on issues of law and corporate governance. We shall engage ICPC and EFCC on personnel training so that no official will plead ignorance in the actions they undertake. We shall expand the management of corruption through public education and enlightenment.