Thursday, September 13, 2012

Benin Republic gets 5th Songhai Centre

At Ketou: Songhai Centre opens 5th Centre in Benin Republic

Food sufficiency fosters peace, security – Yayi Boni

The aboriginal Yoruba settlement of Ketou (Ketu) in Benin Republic was the focus of national and international attention on Tuesday, September 11; when a Songhai Centre was formally launched in that town, located some two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Porto Novo; official capital of old Dahomey.

About 5pm, President of Benin Republic, HE Thomas Yayi Boni, unveiled the plaque commemorating the launch of Ketou’s Songhai Centre; which is part of a project for the promotion of agricultural entrepreneural skills for the socio-economic transformation of rural communities in that country.

Ketou Songhai, which covers a land area of 360 hectares, is the fifth such Centre in Benin Republic. Other Songhai Centres in this country are located in Porto Novo, Savalou, Parakou and Kinwedji. Aside from the unveiling of the plaque, the programme’s other activities included Presentation of of the Centre’s Management Plan, a guided tour of the centre and addresses by select dignitaries, including President Yayi Boni.

Indeed, the inauguration of Ketou’s Songhai Centre came on the heels of the official launch of the Industrial Zone at Songhai Regional Centre in Porto Novo a few hours earlier. And, as was the case in Ketou; Mrs. Helen Clark, Head of the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP), was on ground; having visited Benin Republic for these reasons.

Speaking during the event, Songhai philosophy propounder, Father Godfrey Nzamujo, a Dominican Priest; explained: “Songhai thrives on the principle that, whatever we do, if it does not address the triple challenge of curbing poverty, creating jobs and protecting the environment; then we have to think again”.

Father Nzamujo, now Songhai Director, was partly prompted; when he realised from studies, decades ago that; “Africa was in a crisis situation”. With population growing at 3.6%, against 2.1% rise in agricultural production; this imbalance was likely to engender poverty, hunger, despair and even crime as well as insecurity.

And, this was succinctly put in context by President of Benin Republic, Dr Thomas Yayi Boni; who in his address at the launch of Ketou Songhai Centre; intoned: “Food security will enhance peace in the country as well as improve the living condition of the inhabitants, especially the youth, who represent the future of any nation”. The Beninese Government’s commitment to Songhai Centres’ project is just one of many efforts by President Yayi Boni to improve the living conditions of his country’s indigenes. And, it is worth noting that President Yayi Boni, despite speaking extempore came across as eloquent, assuring and convincing; consequently drawing a loud applause from the audience after his speech.

In her address, after unveiling of the plaque, Mrs. Clark said: “At the UNDP, we are very pleased with other UN agencies to be supporting the efforts to expand Songhai Centres at the (Benin Republic) national level. We see the Songhai model supporting the regeneration of African agriculture and making agriculture an attractive industry for women and youth. We need women and youth to be engaged in, and enthusiastic about, using Africa’s fertile land to boost agricultural production”.

Mrs. Clark, who went on to congratulate Father Nzamujo “for daring to have this vision and for starting this movement, which has trained so many youths, not only in Benin but across the (West African) region”; subsequently added: “What really sets the Songhai model apart, is the emphasis on training the young people. By empowering young people, Mr. President (of Benin Republic), you and your country are investing in the most valuable asset you have; because young people contribute to their families and their community. We know that agriculture is a noble occupation, and modernised; as it can be through the Songhai model, it offers good living. So, we share your vision, Mr. President, of improving agriculture by engaging the young people of your country. I look forward to hearing more about inauguration of more Songhai Centres in Benin and throughout Africa and to seeing Africa’s youth make the contribution it can make to the region”.

Founded in October, 1985; Songhai, Father Nzamujo explained; aims, among others: “To draw Africans into a development mentality”. Thus far, Songhai has proven to be a huge success. Such has been the impact of Songhai on every settlement with a Centre; that, apart from being contacted to replicate Songhai in each of the 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), some states in Nigeria; including Cross River, Benue, Enugu, Imo, Katsina, Lagos and Rivers now have or are planning to establish a Songhai Centre.

“At Songhai, nothing is lost”, due to skillful and advanced techniques of waste recycling, declared Nzamujo. Put simply, Songhai is an integrated production system based on diversified agriculture and thrives on expertise in animal husbandry and fish breeding as well as conversion of wastes and by-products to useful items.

Songhai, the priest added; aims to restore in Africans the values, attitudes, and competences, which facilitated the emergence of the Songhai Empire, a world-famous civilization in West Africa some 600 years ago; from which Project Songhai derived its name.

Hear him: “Songhai aims to establish an entrepreneurial platform of integrated development, an enabling environment to find social, economic, technical and organisational solutions that will take Africans out of poverty, pulling them towards autonomy and sustainable socio-economic development”. To achieve this goal, there was need “To draw Africans into a development mentality”, he asserted.

Aside Dr. Yayi Boni, Beninese President; Mrs. Nardos Bekele-Thomas, Resident Coordinator, United Nations’ Network in Benin as well as Resident Representative of UNDP; Mr. Marcel A. de Souza, Benin Republic’s Minister of Development, Prospecting and Economic Analyses; the Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic, Ambassador Lawrence Olufemi Obisakin; and, Mayor of Ketou were also among the dignitaries that witnessed the launch of Songhai Centre, Ketou.

Amb Obisakin was accompanied to the event by Head of Chancery at Nigerian Embassy, Cotonou, Mr. Ernest Monn. Interestingly, Iyalode of Yoruba Land, Chief (Mrs.) Alaba Lawson, also sent a four-person team to represent her at the event. The representatives of Iyalode Yoruba Land were Mrs. Anita Okuribido, Mrs. Helen Ogedegbe, Mrs. Oluwafunmilayo Oluwasanya and Mrs. Jeanne-Frances Maduakor, Benin Republic Bureau Chief of Ovation International Magazine.

Sierra Leonean-born Dr Patrick Kormawa, Regional Office Director and Representative of the United Nations’ Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO); Mr. Chukwuma Henry Okolo, Vice Chairman of Dorman Long Engineering Limited; Mr. A. T. U. Muoneme, MD of Annes Agro Processing Industries Limited; Mr. Uraua Emkamit, Paramount King of Washington DC, USA-based Aurar Auset Society; numerous traditional rulers, including the Roi de (King of) Ketou; recent graduates of Songhai Centre and a Japanese-born representative of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for West Africa; were also there.


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