Sen. Ita Enang, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, says Nigeria should truly begin to look for alternative means of diversifying its economy in view of uncertainties around oil.
Enang, who made the call in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Wednesday, said the earlier Nigeria truly diversified its economy, the better for its growing population.
According to him, one area that needs adequate attention is agriculture, particularly fisheries and aquaculture.
He said his office was presently coordinating some experts from Greece as well as stakeholders within Nigeria to implement a fisheries and aquaculture project that would see to the establishment of a state-of-the-art fish processing plant in Nigeria.
According to him, the initiative will not only redefine fishing in Nigeria, but create employment opportunities particularly for the unemployed.
“Part of my job is to work on oil alternative economy and part of what I am doing is to coordinate MDAs on oil alternatives, projects and programmes other than oil that will sustain Nigeria while there is oil and after oil.
“The essence is to make sure that the Nigerian economy is diversified in such a manner that oil will simply be at the background because as at today, many countries of the world have oil, so we cannot boast that we have oil and can survive on that.
“Also, the technology for making oil is available everywhere. That is why we are engaging with the officers and men of the University of Patras, Greece, then officers and men from the Government of Greece.
“We are also engaging with experts in fishing and other agricultural potential as well as experts in the blue economy of the sea from Greece and technologists that will work on vessel tracking system.
“So that wherever vessels are in the water, whoever causes wrong fishing, whoever causes oil spill could be tracked.
“That is why we are having preliminary meetings with them in Nigeria which is led by my office.’’
He said the team of experts would be working with the Senate, the Office of the Speaker, the Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant Ministries, Agencies and Departments (MDAs), to deliver on the project.
Enang said it was a national project that would involve the six geopolitical zones with the first phase in the Niger Delta.
He stressed that beyond working in the high sea, the experts would also work on inland waters including Rivers Niger, Benue and others.
According to him, part of the project will be to establish a base in Nigeria for the manufacturing of technologically advanced vessels that can fish in inland waters and high seas.
“They are going to produce these fishing vessels or trolleys in Nigeria to enable Nigeria get to a point where it would have to earn from other sources other than oil.
“It is going to be a great partnership. The Greek company is going to provide part of their investment and skills while our MDAs are expected to play their various parts where necessary,’’ he said.
In a separate interview, Prof. Gergios Salachas, Dean, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, University of Patras, Greece, said the university would be involved in the training of more than 2000 Nigerians in the first phase of the project, with the latest fishing technologies.
Enang noted that at the end of the training programme, the trainees would be issued European Union certifications to enable them work anywhere in the world.
“This is a programme that will help with the economic development of the country while providing solution for the unemployment of thousands of young people. We will start with the education of 2000 people to become professional fishermen.
“After the training, they will be given European certification that would be useful anywhere in the world.
“I am very optimistic about this project because it is not going to be only about fisheries but aquaculture and technologies as obtained in other countries.
“It is important for Nigeria to improve the agricultural sector and that is why we are here to transfer our technology in fisheries and aquaculture.’’
The don said that University of Patras would be working in collaboration with universities of agriculture in Nigeria in facilitating the training.
He said while Nigeria had huge potential in agriculture, particularly in fisheries and aquaculture, they were not fully developed.
“The problem from our findings is not availability of natural resources but how to use technology to attract young people to develop interest in agriculture and help produce adequate food for local and foreign consumption.’’
He said with necessary measures and the right policies, Nigeria with its rich potential would lead other African countries in agriculture.
Mr Tassos Eleftheriou, Export Manager with Greek Healthy Foods, a food supply company in Greece, said its role in the project was to see to the possibility of importing fish from Nigeria to Greece, adding that there was a ready market that would off take any output.
“We are here to see the possibility of collaborating with some of the people who are involved in the market.
“We are here to inspire the people to inspire themselves to do what they have to do and what they know to do and if we do not think outside the box to innovate then we will continue to get the same result
“Nigeria with about 200 million people in my opinion needs changes and we are professionals in marketing and sales, we know the markets abroad very well.
“I think that 2,000 fishermen are very few. We need at least 10,000 fishermen to support all the fishing needs for Nigerian market. So, it will start with 2,000 but will expand in less than a year.