Rice Demonstration Project

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Chris Collman looking at the first rice milled at the MOA's rice demonstration project at Ekoi-Mbiabong Mbat, with local extension agent and Chris's  Land Rover as a backdrop. Cira 1967
Chris Collman looking at the first rice milled at the MOA's rice demonstration project at Ekoi-Mbiabong Mbat, with local extension agent and Chris's Land Rover as a backdrop. Cira 1967

Story 2 - Mbiabong Mbat-Ekoi Atan Ubom Rice Demonstration Project My most troublesome project, little did I know it was worth the effort.

Contents

Introduction

This was a rice demonstration project run by the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), part was in INI County Council, Ikot Ekpene Division, Annang Province. It used land that belonged to 2 villages, each village was in a difference Province. I was asked to settle disputes between the villages and the villages and MOA that regarded the project.

Just prior to my arrival, day laborers at the site were chased off by a group of unhappy people with light weapons. A worker was shot it the rear end with an arrow. MOA employed 40 to 60 people, was constructing a large bund (levee) and had created 30 acres of rice paddies in a former swamp. Rice had not been grown in this region before. Frankly, I had to be talked into involving myself in what was clearly a volatile land dispute.

The doing

Unlike the 12 oil palm community farms I worked with in Ikot Ekpene Division, this demonstration project was "high maintenance". It required constant attention to the social and economic divisions of resources between the parties. Every small issue I had dealt with in the community farms and other projects, repeated themselves in this demonstration project. Fortunately, I had the full support of both Provinces, and the Ministry of Agriculture at the highest levels, including Enugu.

There are lots of stories in my mind about this project. Why is it we tend to remember the more challenging events and not those that were smooth. Why of the 4 county councils, most of my favorite stories take place in the most rural and not one I spent a lot of time in physically? Probably because I spent more time outside of meetings. Here are some short stories that revolve around this "very troublesome rice project" (an Annang way of putting it in English).

How to divide land by insult

Dividing land with 40 or 50 unhappy men waving machetes in the air as I crossed into a disputed section. This is also a story of contrasting leaders of each village (an native doctor and a politician).

I knew it could be trouble the first time I was going to divide land between 2 villages. There had been trouble just before being ordered to solve the land dispute. I heard gossip in villages far away from these two, about what was going on.

Fabian, my live in cook and unofficial translator, would know it was a special event when I told him to polish my rubber boots and starch my "wide leg shorts". Rubber boots were hot and starch in the tropics gave me a rash. This was my colonial look and completely for show. For my first land division, I also asked him for a stone so I could sharpen my machete. I told him he was not coming with me to that troublesome project because I needed somebody who really spoke their dialect.

One of the villages was led by a politician. He wore a felt Fedor hat, a western shirt and pants. He spoke some English and was always smiling. I spent a lot of time in his village because it was closest to the project and the Ministry of Agriculture senior staff lived there. I was always greeted warmly, often fed at different peoples houses, learned about the history of the project and relationship between the villages from this counselor.

The other village was led by an Okuku, a religious leader or medical practitioner. He wore a raffia skull cap that had palm fron stems sticking out like bouncing porcupine quills. He was always dress in local attire, cloth wrap, maybe a shirt, sandles and I want to say usually carried a hand fan. At some point in his life he had small pox and his face was heavily scared. He rarely smiled and never attempted English with me. I only saw him in meetings or inspections.

Both men had a list of complaints. I liked the counselor and for a long time could not get past the Okuku's hat, scared face and reputation. Both men were there along with men from each of the villagers.

The villagers agree to who would be my official translator for the day. This was common. I had a certain way I used translators so it did not matter to me who was translating. In fact, there were usually many people present who spoke English the same or better than my translator. I spoke a sentence at a time and had it translated that way. When possible I would mix in a story to make my meaning clear and difficult for the translator to twist.

The short story is that when it came to divide up the new plots, both villages went to either side of an small irrigation ditch. They stated yelling at each other. I thought it could get nasty. I saw a piece of tin on the ground that the children used to scare away the weaver birds from the rice. I told the translator to say exactly what I said, or else. By this time they were yelling in a monotone, which I knew to be a high state of anger. I banged the tin with my machete. Everyone looked at me. I told them they were making more noise than a bunch of monkeys in the trees and I would be leaving. I was going to give all the land to the government because they had broken their promise to me. I said good by and turned and started walking away. I did not look back but heard them talking with each other and then they ran after me. Gulp.

Well it turned out that the two leaders said I had made a mistake. I did not understand how they worked together. They still wanted me to divide the land fairly between the two villages. That was a turning point in the project, the land was divided and I like to think that the villages realized that it was just not between them. I realized that nobody had been really clear with each village and their leaders. Others had tried to play one off against the other and I was clearly not interested in going down that path.

How to remove juju and maintain the peace

I forgot the exact particulars. I think the senior agricultural manager at Mbiabong Mbat-Ekoi Atan Ubom Rice Demonstration Project 'happened' to be in Ikot Ekpene and our paths crossed. This adviser was a Nigerian (Igbo), received his higher education in England and had the equivalent of a Masters degree.

He let me know that work in a section of the project had come to a halt. There was nothing anybody could do, except Mr. Collman. Would I please make haste and go to the project and remove some things from a certain area so that the workers could continue to construct a key piece of the project. 60 men could not work until I took care of this issue. I appreciated the urgency of his request but was a little baffled by the issue.

With gentle questioning, I found out the things which had to be removed. They were merely palm frons. Well actually they were the new fron and were sort of hanging from string that crossed the area in question. How they got there nobody knew for sure. The manager was watching my reaction carefully and I decided to play along.

Wonderful. The new raffia fron, the yellow one. I think I heard of that before in that part of Ikot Ekpene. What do those people believe about that? Does it have some poison or curse so that when they touch it their body swells up and they die? The manager confirmed that is what those people believed who lived around there.

That was why I should go up there and remove it. Right, that sounds easy. I did it by the numbers.

  1. Send the "informant" back to the project and announce I would come the next morning to see this strange unknown thing.
  2. Have Fabian polish my rubber boots, take extra special care with ironing and starching my shirt and shorts for the next day
  3. Visit the site with as much fan fare as possible, inspecting the established rice plots, and stall for time by asking lots of questions about what had been accomplished.
  4. After seeing non-workers from both villages had arrived to watch my performance, proceed to the area in question.
  5. Carefully inspect the area, making sure I understood the significance of this particular piece of land (it was really small, 50 by 100 feet at most).
  6. After some time, the Senior agricultural manager directly encourage me to tear it down, so they could continue work. I tried to put on my "shocked and surprised" expression.
  7. I was sorry but it was not going to be removed today. I was not happy that the workers would not be paid for 2 or maybe 3 days work. This was not what their families and clans expected but that was the way it was.
  8. Announce that I would be paying a visit to the leaders of each village to discuss this loss of wages due to this unfortunate event which must be dealt with.
  9. Visit both leaders, ask them what their village was happy about and what they were unhappy about. After listening to the complaints, say they will be taken care of.
  10. Before I left I told each that I hoped those yellow frons would be removed by those who put them there because you never knew in times like these when government would just show up and take somebody away.

The cause of the juju was fairly obvious. The Ministry of Agriculture had not evenly hired from each village. Since one village was significantly further away, the Ministry only rented living quarters from the closest village.

The real problem was how fix it without appearing to do anything. I went back to the Senior Agricultural Manager and privately gave him some advice: announce the results of an audit of the project which had just been completed. Post a list of all those employed at the project at both villages every week, showing each employed persons home village. I recalled that the Ministry had previously agreed to hire evenly from each village months before. I appreciated the distance, but even if none of the agriculture staff lived in the second village, a similar number of rooms must be rented in each of the villages. This was also part of the agreement. Pay attention to who the Ministry was renting from in each village. He could rotate staff at the hardship post if he could not afford empty rooms. I apologized for not reminding him of these important details sooner but this would get the project back on track and improve his reputation for getting things done.

The next day the juju was gone and the project quieted down. Or was that because I evacuated and went to the other side of Africa.

Exciting trips

not to mention some exciting trips in my Land Rover.

Biafra and beyond

The big story was what happened between the time I was evacuated in 1967 and my visit to Ikot Ekpene in 1972. The divisional office had just reopened within the month when I introduced myself and asked after 'my village projects'. "We remember what you did. It was the rice project that was the most important in the time of Biafra." The roughly 100 acres of rice turned into over 1000 acres at that site and another site had another 600 acres growing. As sort of an after thought, I was told that 8 of the 12 community farms were still being kept up without any government supervision.

Still amazes me, what a special time in Ikot Ekpene was for me and evidently how Peace Corps Volunteers had some kind of positive impact upon on the daily lives of people in Nigeria. By contrast, my time in Somalia was completely different.


--Rcollman 10:49, 2 November 2007 (EST)

Post script

I got a chuckle out of this when I did a Google search "rice Akwa Ibom mbiabet". Looks like Ambassador Sam Edem on Oct 17, 2007 made an announcement about a new rice mill. Then a few days later on 25 October, 2007 it was reported: "Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Amb. Sam Edem has said that the commission embarked on commercial rice farming in order to not only provide huge employment for rural dwellers, but also save the country of over $1.2 billion it spends on rice importation annually.

Speaking during a fence-mending meeting with leaders, youths and people of Mbiabet community, Akwa Ibom State, over the misunderstanding that followed the proposed relocation of the NDDC Rice processing factory to Ibiaku Ntok Okpo, a border community in Ikono Council Area urged the communities to see the project as belonging to all no matter where it is situated.

Edem who brought to bear his diplomatic skill in handling the volatile situation, appealed to the parties in the dispute to bury the hatchet and work together to gain the full benefit the project will bring to the people and community.

Describing the Rice Mill as a catalyst that will fast- track the development in the region, while assuring the host communities of the multiple benefits the locals stand to reap from the sitting of the rice project in the area.

“This project is a catalyst because it will create the pace to transform the economic landscape of this community, the Local Government and the state as a whole,” he assured. Also speaking at the occasion, the consultant handling the project, Chief Felix Idiga said but for the problem in the communities, arrangements had been concluded with the foreign technical partner to start the bagging process of the rice project.

“We believe we will start processing the rice within a short period. As of now, we have a lot of rice grains packed in the warehouse ready for processing and bagging.” He expressed optimism that the project will not only benefit the immediate communities, but the country as a whole, adding that with adequate funding, in the next five years, Nigeria may not need to import rice.”

Setting the tone for the immediate return of peace to the community, the paramount ruler of Mbiabet community, Obong Etim Akpan Edward, said he would not trade peace with anything whatsoever, noting that it is only in an atmosphere of peace that development can thrive. The Chairman of Ini Local Government Area, Hon. Ibeto Ibeto, who pledged full support for the siting of the rice project at Mbiabet Ikpe, said the “factory was back to the community to stay.”

  • Interesting. Exactly what was happening when this project started when it was only 30 acres. "The government" moved the hard assets away from this same village. An earlier announcement a month before said a mill would be put at "A'Ibom". Note the caption on the picture above.

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