The people fetch water from streams and ponds. Lanterns provide light in the night. The village primary school is in disrepair, while the nearest health facility is nine kilometers away via an unpaved road that is impassable most of the year.
Though generally acclaimed as hard working farmers and fishermen, the people of Ikoneto, like most rural dwellers in Nigeria, remain poor and deprived.
The abundant yield of their farmers and fishermen often waste away as they have no means of accessing markets in the big towns.
They are not alone. Statistics show that more than 70 per cent of Nigerians live in the rural areas without basic social amenities like roads, potable water, schools, electricity and medical facilities.
Successive Nigerian governments have attempted to make life better in the rural areas but with little success.
Hence, rural-urban migration has continued with its attendant consequences. These include high crime rate, prostitution, homelessness and destitution.
To address these shortcomings and stem the tide, past administrations have formulated and pursued various programmes geared at enhancing the productive capacity of agriculture — the mainstay of most rural communities.
In 1991, then military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, established the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI). It was headed by AVM Larry Koinyan (Rtd).
Babangida also created the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in his effort to open up the rural areas.
Between 1999 and 2004, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in collaboration with the World Bank, FAO, USAID, DFID and some Nigerian consultants, carried out studies to determine ways to improve the quality of life of the rural dweller.
Specifically, the studies were tailored toward identifying the main problems of the rural settlers and how these could be tackled.
The outcome of these studies led to the development and launch of the National Policy on Integrated Rural Development Strategy and the National Policy on Rural Travel and Transport.
The two policies are aimed at creating the enabling environment to boost agriculture and other rural productive activities.
However, the enabling rural infrastructure are still grossly inadequate.
President Umaru Yar’adua’s administration’s is, however, determined to unlock the immense but untapped potential of the rural areas.
It is in pursuance of this objective that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources recently organised the first All-Nigeria Rural Development Summit.
The two-day summit, organised in collaboration with the House of Representatives Committee on Rural Development, had as its theme “Sustainable Rural Development for Vision 20-2020’’.
It is expected to propose sustainable institutional and legal framework for an efficient coordination and implementation of rural development initiatives and programmes.
It will also develop appropriate strategies to empower the private sector to drive and implement rural development initiatives across the country and propose mechanisms for sustainable funding of rural development activities, including the establishment of a rural development Trust Fund.
It is also expected to outline how rural development would contribute to the achievement of President Umaru Yar’adua’s 7-point agenda.
Yar’adua set the pace for the discussions. He noted that rural Nigeria, which is “home to more than 70 per cent of Nigerians”, deserve special attention.
“There is abundant human and natural resources begging to be effectively harnessed in the rural areas,’’ he said, adding that the inalienable role of rural development to Nation building accounted for its reflection in his 7-point agenda.
He said that the various programmes being implemented by his government in the areas of poverty alleviation, national food security, rural telephony, universal basic education and Primary health care, demonstrate his commitment to developing the rural areas.
Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), chaired the summit. Gowon told participants to look at all the basic requirements and infrastructure that would contribute to the development of the rural areas.
He also urged them to look at, and carefully review all past policies and programmes, especially those geared at enhancing the productive capacity in the agricultural and rural development sub-sector of the economy.
“A well developed rural area will be an attraction for people to settle in their rural communities and stop rural-urban migration”, Gowon stressed.
In a paper he delivered at the summit, former Chairman of DFRRI, Koinyan, regretted the neglect of the rural areas, saying that it had caused a lot of havoc and untold hardship for the people.
In his paper on “The Import of Rural Development on Overall National Development Goals,’’ Koinyan said that the present situation of rural areas in the country called for an aggressive and all-embracing development effort.
He said that the federal government must act fast to ensure even spread of development in rural areas.
Koinyan lamented that the development of the rural areas had been relegated to the background by the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources and urged the Federal Government to create a Ministry of Rural Development with “a well thought out function.
“The Ministry should be saddled with the responsibility of acquisition of rural sociology and communication capabilities to help other federal ministries and the three tiers of government, to mainstream rural development effectively in their functions.’’
Hajiya Ramatu Usman, the National President, National Council of Women Societies (NCWA) — a participant at the summit — suggested that government should provide agro inputs like fertilizers and tractors, as well as improved seedlings, to aid rural women to produce more food.
“Government should also improve rural roads,’’ she said.
Another participant, Chief Benjamin Ovirie, Chairman, Poultry Farmers Association, Delta State chapter, said the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources should be involved in rural development.
Ovirie, who is also the state Deputy Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), said that a department of rural development should be established in the ministry as a matter of priority.
“There must be a special budgetary provision for the development of the rural area,’’ he added.
Madam Juliana Odey, a cassava grower and participant, said that if the government wanted to eradicate poverty in the rural area, attention must be paid to the welfare of rural women and children, who she described as “the producers of food in Nigeria”.
Odey would also want government to re-introduce DFRRI.
“I will like DFFRI to come back because when we had DFRRI some few years ago, they developed the rural roads and provided boreholes, amongst others.
“You cannot eradicate diseases like guinea-worm, polio and malaria if the rural people do not have clean water to drink,’’ Odey said.
Mrs Rose Gyar, the Assistant National Secretary, Nigerian Association of Small-Scale Industrialists, on her part, said that accelerating development in the rural area would depend on the level of industrial activities there.
“Unfortunately, our rural areas lack the enabling environment that can accelerate industrial development,’’ she said and urged stakeholders to suggest measures that would lead to the provision of infrastructure toward a better rural area.
While policy makers and other stakeholders pursue policies toward improving rural life, analysts have continued to call for the right political will to implement such policies.
They say it is when such policies are faithfully implemented that the rural dweller will feel the impact of governance and put in his best toward national growth and development. (NANFeatures)