Rear Admiral Woyengidinikpete Geoffrey Yanga (rtd), who has since retirement turned fish farmer spoke with PAULINE ONYIBE on the urgency of re-orientating Nigerian youths and changing their mentality for the country to achieve successExcerpt…
Why did you venture into fish farming?
I started last year. During the COVID – 19 period, I was in Abuja for the period that we were locked down, I was not doing anything. I was just sitting down there in the house. Occasionally, I walk around in the name of exercise. One day I was in a friend’s house and somebody walked in and started introducing mushroom farming and I said I was interested in it. I said instead of just lying down here, let me go and learn that one. I went to one resort centre, it was a demonstration farm in Abuja. When I got there, they have a number of things that they do there, fish farming, snail farming, mushroom, vegetables and so on. I picked the fish farming, snail and mushroom. I was now going there to reduce that boredom. I created small pond, small snail farm and small mushroom farm in my compound. As I was going to learn, I was coming to practice it. That was how I started.
Do you intend to go commercial?
Yes. I have it in mind in the next one or two years.
What should the government do to encourage the youths to going agriculture just as you have done now?
It is a very big task. I don’t know what the problems of the youths are. They have become so useless in terms of economic orientation. I look at it as a traditional set back. There is some kind of thing that has suspended us at the middle of our natural way of living and the modern way of living. When we were growing up here, there was nothing. You live and learn by what your parents and other older people do. What we were doing was subsistence agriculture. Because of our environment, naturally, Ijaw man has very little commercial sense. Our environment did not permit us that much. Why the environment didn’t permit us was because it was difficult for us to communicate outside our environment. We didn’t have people coming in and going out freely.
What was responsible for the lazy attitude of the people as inferred by you?
Then farming was mainly for survival not the commercial aspect. Then the so called western education, with oil even though oil was not an issue because the people didn’t even know what oil was. It was the western education and the church that spoilt everything. By going to the school, they were now feeling big and what they were now aiming at was to get education and get white collar job and they were disengaging themselves from the traditional way of living and at the same time not getting to the educational part. Our younger generation now is hanging. Some of them are not able to get the proper education and yet they have lost the traditional way of living and some of them now veered into criminality and menial jobs like Okada riding. You won’t believe that if we go to the water side now, 80% of the people fishing are from the North. It is becoming a culture now to be lazy. We were not lazy people. Our younger generation now is extremely lazy. I’m trying to adduce it to the environmental factor that made us leave the traditional way of living and not arriving at the educational aspect because their education now is not well grounded to make them innovative, so they are hanging. Even if they go to school they can’t think otherwise than to say government should give them work. Even the government job, if you go to the miniseries, they are not doing anything because the government has no task to give them.
How do we then reverse this trend?
For us to come back, it will be a very serious and deliberate effort to re -orientate our children’s minds that the world has changed. The education system has changed. In my time, once you finished secondary school, hopefully, you may get a teaching job. It is said that this oil may dry up, maybe in the next 20 years. Looking at the way the Niger Delta youths are running away from farming, not only here anyway.
Are they reaping any benefit from the oil wealth then?
They are not benefiting anything. The only people benefiting are maybe those who are political office holders who will also look for another way to survive not the ordinary person. The issue now is this re-orientation is supposed to be done by the government. Now another mentality of our people is that for instance, if I gather children here now and say to them, let’s go this way which will introduce a little bit of hardship because there is no way you want to do something good that you will not meet some obstacles along the road. But once they leave here, they will ask was that what he was doing to succeed? He wants me to go and suffer. That is the kind of mentality that they have now. It is Herculean task. In 1994, I was in Port Harcourt as a Lieutenant Commander then. I had this idea of communal development. I gathered some boys and made some arithmetic. I gathered them ad said let’s think commercial beyond being sustenance. The only way to go about it is to form ourselves into groups like cooperative society. I acquired a land for them and provided the farming implements and at the end of the year, all the proceeds will be your own. I went to Agip and Agip agreed to work with us and gave the requirements. I negotiated for land and gave them rain boats. They started and I was happy. One day I came and I didn’t see anybody. I sent for them and only one of them came and started giving excuses.
Then somebody came to tell me in confidence that they were advised that I was using them as my farming slaves. But when I come home on visit you will be asking me for small money. That is the problem. When government wants to help, they will come with that mentality. Their mind will be like Douye Diri, was this what you were doing to become a governor?
If you want to employ them, it is a problem. The land here has natural fertilizer, when flood goes now it is natural fertilizer.
How do you change that mentality and also let them know that beside oil there are other alternatives?
The oil is not even there. The oil is only for government. It is the government that controls oil money, not individuals. Individuals in the Niger Delta don’t have anything to do with oil money. The worst that can happen is that if there is no oil money, they will reduce the work force.
But the Niger Delta region is flood prone and the land despoiled by oil exploration, so how do they cope with farming then?
We don’t need fertilizer like other people need because farming is seasonal. The only thing is that there are some crops that can’t survive the flood. The disadvantage aspect is that you can’t preserve the crops. We also know that preservatives measures are not there in Bayelsa.
What do you think the government, donor agencies can do to help?
I don’t believe in government. It does not work and it is not working anywhere in Nigeria but government can support. Come with the initiatives and the proposals.
What can be done about this?
One thing is that we are illiterates. A lot of our people are illiterates in every aspect of life. That is uninformed ignorance. If you even try to introduce modern ways of doing things, they will resist it. Look at my people here, do you know the people farming yam here are people from Anambra State and they have been here since the early 1990’s or even earlier. Not one of our people has even learnt from them. Tell them this is how they do it, they will tell you that the work is tedious. That is the laziness aspect. Somebody will be in the Farm and if you listen very well, you will hear music. They are dancing Owigiri in the name of burial while Anambra people are farming.
What is your advice generally for Nigerian youths?
The major challenge is the advice working? You advise a big person, he will say is that what you have been doing to get to where you are? The politicians are also contributing to the problem in the sense that they induce these boys to become lazy. The truth is, there is no position that you can go into that you won’t meet obstacle. You can’t get to a position without being patient. That is the thing that our people must learn and the school that is supposed to introduce innovative ideas to our children has been turned to something else. White collar jobs are not available for everybody. The next thing would have been the innovative ideas that we get from the educational system but is it working? It is not just advising them. All of us are involved and must be involved to try and see how we can change the orientation of our children and younger generation including the politicians.