BENUE used to be one of the most industrialized states in North Central Nigeria, with agriculture serving as support to many of the industries, providing them with raw materials. Today, several of these have gone quiet. But like the Biblical story of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37), watchers are asking: ‘Can these industries roar again?’
Long before the return to democracy in 1999, unemployment level in the state was low, due to the number of functional industries the state had. But of late, the state’s civil service has become bloated, due to the comatose situation at these industries, which once made the state a viable economic hub.
Apart from Benue Cement Company (BCC), which was the highest employer of labour, all other factories in the state have collapsed due to several mitigating factors, including poor management. Consequently, many people were rendered jobless.
The state once boasted of industries such as Taraku mills in Gwer East; Otukpo burnt bricks in Otukpo; and Benro packaging company in Gboko local council. Benro was responsible for the packaging needs of the cement company. Others were fertilizer blending plant, fruit juice and plastics industries, all located at the industrial layout on Naka Road in Makurdi, including the tomato blending plant in Nwannune in Tarkaa Local Government Council of the state.
Previous promises by governments to industrialize the state have failed, even as efforts to revive comatose industries have yielded no positive result.
Former governor, George Akume, started a promising project, the Igumale cement factory. But this is yet to see the light of day. The factory might have stood in the ranks of BCC. Regrettably, the immediate past administration of Gabriel Suswam abandoned several projects initiated by his predecessor.
The coming on board of a new administration, however, might have rekindled the hope of people, especially unemployed youths.
The state governor, Samuel Ortom, meanwhile, had inspected all dead industries with a view to reviving them.
But one resident, Sesugh Aondo, voiced pessimism over move by the new governor to revive industries in the state. He wondered, “Where a government burdened with inability to pay workers’ salaries, besides debt inherited from the previous administration, would find money to embark on reviving dead industries.” He dismissed the gesture as attempt by the governor to score political relevance.
“These abandoned industries are money-spinning ventures. Imagine how much the state could have been generating, were these industries functional. Think also of the level of employment they would generate for our people,” Ortom had said when he visited the Katsina Ala flour processing plant.
Already, the Chinese are working on the plant, which is expected to engage unemployed people as well as boost economic activities in the area.
Unlike Aondo, Mr. James Akpa, a Makurdi-based businessman, is optimistic. According to him, “It is important that all collapsed industries in the state are revived, so as to improve the earnings of the state government. Not only that, the issue of unemployment would also be drastically reduced.”
Akpa, however, sounded a note of warning on effort to revive the industries. He noted: “One thing is clear, since government is not a good manager of industries, it should hand them over to private investors. This will prevent the bad management syndrome.”
Following Ortom’s visit to the Katsina Ala flour processing plant, people of the area had expressed optimism that when work is completed, the trouble of transporting yams and other farm produce to long distances would become a thing of the past.
The initiative, if it succeeds, is no doubt laudable. But until then, the people of Benue State must wait patiently, hoping that soon moribund industries would roar back to life again.