There is no doubt that Cross River State, especially Calabar, its capital, has been home to a lot of northerners. A good number of them are into legitimate endeavours, occupying some places as they ply their trades. One of such places is Bogobiri, where there is a thriving palm oil depot. And many of these settlers have become millionaires.
Nearly 70 years ago, there were few Fulani and Hausa settlers who worshipped in a small mosque in the community, according to Alhaji Ibrahim Bogobiri, who arrived Calabar as a young man. Soon, others joined them in droves.
There are several settlements in parts of the state, where the Jukun and Kanuri have also turned into their permanent homes.
At Bogobiri, on a daily basis, no fewer than three long heavy duty trucks laden with hundreds of jerry-cans of palm oil depart the bubbling depot.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the activities of those involved in the business have impacted on the only road in the area and surrounding houses, such that the road has become very slippery to both vehicles and pedestrians.
There is also the fear that if the oil is inflammable, there could be fire outbreak at any moment if nothing is done about it.
Mallam Nafiu Saleh Musa, one of the palm oil dealers who have made fortunes, said he had spent over 25 years in the business. He hails from Jos in Plateau State.
With two wives and four children, siblings and other dependants, Musa has no other major business than going into the hinterlands of Cross River State to source for ripe oil palm, which he will buy or wait for their owners to process them into oil before he will buy and transport to Bogobiri commuunity in Calabar.
He inherited the business from his father, who also spent many years in the state.
“I have been in palm oil business for over 25 years. It is a family business. My late father was in it before he died. It is the business that brought me to Calabar. I now buy large quantities of palm oil and send to my younger brother in Jos, who sells it and remits the proceeds to me in Calabar,” he said.
Musa, who is in his late 50s, said he had many farming friends in Akpabuyo, Akamkpa and Bakassi local government areas of the state, who he gives loans to rent and cultivate lands.
“They will harvest and mill the fruits, then supply the oil to us. We usually enter into agreement,” he added.
The businessman said he and other dealers gave out loans because many of the smallholder farmers do not have enough money to cultivate their farms and process the produce. He added that sometimes the farmers would approach them for help to enable them nurture or process their plantations.
“We will inspect the farm and give conditions, and if acceptable, we sign. The farmer will then hand over the final produce to us to sell and recover our money,” he further said.
Musa also said that despite signing agreements, some farmers disappointed them severally and ran away with their money.
“There are few selfish and dubious ones, but I hand them over to God who rewards justly,” he said.
He said palm oil business had changed his life, as he lives well and maintains his large family. And he is not thinking of changing the business.
“From the business I married two wives. I also take care of my siblings and four children. I doubt very much if I would think of leaving this family business; it has been good to us.
“I am used to all the challenges, losses, as well as the gains associated with the business,” he added.
To save them from greedy and dubious oil palm farmers, Musa wants some level of security from the state government since palm oil, to a large extent, also boosts local economy.
He said, “Palm oil is a value chain business that engages endless streams of people at different stages of procession. It can gainfully engage many young Nigerians. We appeal to the government to support farmers by creating easy avenues for them to draw credit facilities because capital is really our drawback. The government should not share money to politicians to waste but to farmers who will sustainably and profitably engage people.
“The future is great if government can help. The amount of palm oil in Nigeria can sustain industries and private demands.”
According to him, the quality of Nigeria’s palm oil is the best and the most sought after despite that fact that millers do not filter it well enough.
“I have traded in and tasted palm oil from Ghana, Cameroon and Malaysia, but they are no match to that of Nigeria. We have the sweetest and scented oil with nutrients, much of it from Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, where dealers look towards for supplies,” he also said.
Another palm oil marketer, Murtala Ahmed, 43, who is also from Jos North in Plateau State, has a diploma in Business Administration from a tertiary school Bauchi. He has been in the business for 19 years but has stayed in Bogobiri for 15 years. He, too, has made fortunes from palm oil.
“Indeed, I can say that I am better off in this business. I have some assets and small money to maintain myself, a wife and three kids. In the future, I hope to marry up to four wives as permissible in Islam. Because of noticeable changes in my life, people always approach me for assistance and to link them to opportunities. Let me add that the business has tremendously improved my status,” he said.
He said his elder brother brought him to Bogobiri after the demise of their father, who was in the business throughout his lifetime.
Ahmed said he would continue with the business.
He, however, said there were many noticeable changes in the business, especially in terms of the cost of the product. According to him, previously, one could buy a jerry-can of 25 litres of palm oil at N5,000 or N6,000, but today, the same quantity goes for N18,000. The price is not stable, he added.
Ahmed said much of the palm oil produced in southern Nigeria ended up in the North and surrounding countries, including Sudan, where there is large market.
Ahmed said that on a weekly basis, at least 10 trucks loaded with palm oil, each containing no fewer than 500 jerry-cans, would leave Bogobiri for the North. .
Like Nafiu, Ahmed, also counts on local oil palm farmers for supply, as well as gives out loans to facilitate the business despite the numerous risks involved in it.
“Oil palm plantations are in many parts of Nigeria, mostly in the southern region. We do go to oil mills where millers would sell desired quantities to us. Other times we rely on local traders and suppliers who go into hinterlands and buy, then sell to us. We give loans to be able to procure as many jerry-cans of oil as possible.
“We also travel to remote villages and buy from local plantations. Note that the neighbouring Cameroon also produces and exports palm oil through Bakassi into the state,” Ahmed said.
On whether marketers modify the oil to increase quantity, Ahmed said they monitored suppliers against such practice.
He said, “To improve on the quality or get the desired quantities, we give out loans to producers frequently. We go into agreements so that they can supply up to 200 or more jerry-cans of palm oil. Regrettably, however, insincere farmers run away with our money. This has happened to me few times. But I don’t regret it because in business you must encounter these things. What we now do is to assure them that money is available to pay them once they bring in any quantity.”
He is, however, worried at the rate government agents harass them over taxes. He called on the authorities to dismantle too many checkpoints on the roads, which he said were not necessary.
“There are too many roadblocks mounted by the police, customs and immigration, where our trucks are forced to give out money, which we in turn certainly pass down to the final consumers. This is seriously affecting our business,” he said.
Ahmed also said the future of palm oil was really bright because it is always in hot demand, which dealers do not have the capacity to meet, including local needs.
According to him, Cameroon produces more palm oil than Nigeria. He said they produced up to 500 trucks, which they export to Nigeria.
Daily Trust on Sunday also reports that although they are very few in the state, the Jukun are the most active in the palm oil trade. Many of them have live in many parts of the state for many years and are very comfortable.
Mohammed Yauri said, “What attracted my father to Calabar in particular is the hospitable nature of the place. We have been here for over 30 years. I have two wives and children. We don’t have problems with either the Hausa or the natives. We don’t look for problems and they don’t give us problems.
“I travel into the hinterlands to buy palm fruits or palm oil, which we take to Kano, Bauchi and other northern states,” he said.
Another Jukun, Idris Hammed said, “When I arrived, my relatives encouraged me to join them in the palm oil business. I am amongst those who are sent to palm oil-producing communities to source for the produce.
“There is peace down here. I don’t intend to return to my state of origin. My challenge now is how to bring my two wives and children to join me in Calabar. With good friends and relatives and the prevailing peaceful atmosphere, I hope to settle here.”
The secretary of northern communities in the state, Alhaji Shaaban Abdullahi, said they had lived in many parts of the state for many years and were very comfortable.
“We are mostly into transportation, yam distribution and palm oil business,” he said.
Also, Owali Ilem, the chairman of Oil Palm Growers Association in the state, said they depended on imports to satisfy local demands.
Speaking on the Bogobiri oil palm depot and the fortunes made by his brothers, Musa Maigoro, a lawyer and special adviser to Governor Ben Ayade on non-indigenes affairs, said the place had been a major source of revenue for the state government and a rallying point for northerners for over six decades.
He said, “Bogobiri is one of the biggest and oldest palm oil markets in the state. It has been in existence for the past 60 years, according to a reliable source.
“There is an influx of dealers from northern Nigeria. In fact, Bogobiri is their rallying point. It is one of the revenue-generating points for Calabar South Local Government, and indeed, the state. Three to four trucks buy palm oil from the depot and transport to the North on a daily basis.”
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that at least seven northerners are serving as aides to Governor Ayade.
Also, the Cross River State commissioner for commerce, Rosemary Archibong, said the palm oil business and the overall economic activities attached to Bogobiri had supported the internally generated revenue of the state.
According to the Calabar Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, as at 2018, there were over 18,000 farmers in the state who produced over 200,000 metric tonnes of palm oil and had over 360,000 hectares of oil palm plantations.
But despite this fact, according to the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), as at 2017, the country had imported 450,000 tonnes of palm oil, to the tune of N116.3 billion, a situation they described as worrisome. As a way of solving the problem, therefore, the NEPC said the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had set aside N30 billion to encourage farmers to boost production.
Presently, the annual palm oil demand in Nigeria stands at 2.5 million metric tonnes, whereas local production stands at 1.25million tonnes, leaving a gap of 1.25 tonnes.
Nigeria is the fifth largest producer of palm oil globally, with an annual production of 970,000 metric tonnes. Cross River State is the second largest producer in the country, after Edo.