From Warlord to Farmer: Retson Tedheke shares his passion for a new Nigeria, where a future is assured
By Lawrence Audu
Life in itself many say is a struggle – to survive and to make your impact on humanity. This was the reason for Retson Tedheke to join the arm struggle against military incursion into the creeks of the Niger-Delta, the rich region whose communities remain ravaged by activities of oil exploration. A wealth whose value remains invisible in the communities where they are produced.
After many years in the creeks of the Niger Delta in arms struggle against the government, armed with economic sabotage, a struggle many militants believe is for the restoration of their community’s glory, Retson Tedheke has found a new lease of life in the peaceful and serene community of Ga’ate, in Nasarawa state, where his vision for a brighter Nigeria is helping him mobilize and motivate young Nigerians to build a sustainable future through the agricultural value chain.
As the rains prepare to begin for the year, Retson is in a hurry to get the green house done in record time for the production of vegetables and other temperate crops. In the midst of all these, his vision for one indivisible humanity, especially among Africans, remains very clear.
The Nigerian Farmers Group and Cooperative Society which sits on 1000 hectares of land 75 km from Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, has in just 4 years become a model for how modern and organic agriculture can be practiced in Nigeria.
From land preparation, cultivation, planting/ breeding to harvesting and processing, the NFG assures the nation of food security.
As part of its Corporate Social Responsibility, the farm is providing electricity to the community in addition to schools and a clinic in addition to a massive 500 cubic meters’ irrigation dam which also serves in the dry season.
With the diverse ethnic groups in the community, mutual respect for people and their beliefs form the basis of work ethics here.
Considering his family background, especially having a father who has attained the highest height in academic pursuits by becoming a professor, one wonders what attracted him to militancy in the creeks.
An avid reader, with an enviable collection of books, Retson lives his African ideology daily.
“One of the biggest advantage and knowledge for the creeks is knowing that violence accomplishes nothing but builds more enemies I ran away from the creeks because I was going to be killed anyways.
“When we started from the creeks our insight was a revolution that was premised on liberating our people. But then all of us forgot that the revolution that was to free our people from the insanity of the oil industry in creating a western hegemony a process where the west still dominates but we become tools for the west in using our own people to furnish and build their own society at the expense of our own communities.
“Development is a function of arms struggle as it is a function of national growth. While arms struggle will give you the power of the gun, the national development will give you the power of ideology and a focus of national development and growth. So I got to that moment where I asked the question should we continue to use arms as a means of intimidation or we drop the arms and begin to think about our people but once you drop the arms and begin to think about your people, you create the enemies that do not want you to.”
Retson, together with a few friends, obtained a credit facility with which they started on a small scale. Over time they have integrated the project into a farm community where everything is produced.
“Nigeria is 200 million in population and counting they need to feed; they need to sleep in shelters they need to have water. It is now beyond the population but the component of the economy capable of sustaining that population” he says.
In the last few years, Nigeria has suffered devastations from conflict between indigenous farmers and migrating herders, leaving a death toll of unimaginable proportion, as a result of struggles for greener grazing areas in the central and southern states, as the Sahel region continues to dry up due to desertification.
Retson’s farm has become a model for ranging, with the addition of Frisian bulls and crossing with the local breeds, there will no longer be need for herders to graze openly.
Agriculture according to Retson has always been the foundation of real national development and economy globally. On the calls for restructuring giving the myriads of issues in Nigeria, he thinks it is all about implementing workable solutions and not dancing to the gallery.
The hydroponic plant on the facility has made it possible for grasses to be grown for the animals within 7 days, mostly from grains gotten from the farm.
Today, the farm has moved from just an idea to a reality, where dreams of many young Nigerians are being realised. Adamu Ga’ate who doubles as a staff of the farm as well as the liaison between the farms and the community with the help of Retson has secured admission into the university where he hopes to equate his experience, passion and career. And so is the story of many others working to make a decent living on the farms.
As Nigeria’s population expands, the need to focus more on ventures such as farming has become imperative. More importantly, when young minds are positively engaged, it is difficult for politicians and anarchists to rent their minds for sinister motives.
“Nnamdi Kanu, Sunday Igboho, Shekau and the rest dominate the minds of many because we have chosen to focus more on petty bigoted sentimentalism, parochial sentimentalism. Think about it… how is my ethnicity going to put food on the table? You want your own country fine and good, you want to secede fine, but what is the guarantee that those your politicians stealing your money in Nigeria would not do same in your new country?
For Retson, life is continuously under construction and the time to stop isn’t just yet.