From militancy to entrepreneurship: The story of Retson Tedheke
At the heyday of the Niger Delta militancy, the name, Retson Tedheke rang a bell among militants and even the joint military security operatives that were fighting to take over the control of the creeks held firmly then by the ‘Creek Boys’.
Retson was dreaded for his stubborn stance and resistance of the military incursion in the creeks. His influence and stake in the oil-rich creeks grew with the ownership of crude oil refining point, where he refined the crude he stole from the many pipelines he burst with his boys.
While in the creeks, the university graduate still found time to invest in the stock market, though he lost millions of naira during the financial meltdown.
The loss was colossal and painful, it encouraged him to burst more pipelines, steal more crude and recover the money lost to the nosedived value of stocks. At a point, the Ugheli, Delta State-born militant, discovered that the way they were going about the crude oil ‘thing’ was not the best.
However, respite came when the late President Musa Yar A’dua’s administration offered the militants amnesty and he gladly accepted to leave the creeks.
Outside the creek, he sustained his fight but in a different direction. He channeled his militancy to activism in support of social justice and welfare of the masses.
“I lead a march to the National Assembly in 2016 tagged ‘Occupying Us’. Dr Bunmi Awoyemi, Idris and I were the arrowheads of the occupy movement, and in November this same year, we lead the second Occupy Us, blocked the National Assembly and stopped senators from accessing the main gate for a couple of days”, the ex-militant said.
But true change came when the activists realized that while occupying the National Assembly, senators and House of Representative members were going through the President and DSS gates. It was then the concept of a Nigerian farmers project came up to occupy the farms rather the National Assembly and streets.
Explaining his rationale for choosing agriculture as tool for positive activism, Retson said, “There is no growth in human history that does not come from agriculture. What we did as a country was reverse engineering. Oil was supposed to help us push our agricultural model, but when we discovered oil, we ignored every other aspect of our development, especially agriculture and industrialization”.
Today, Retson has led a group of social activists to develop Nigerian Farmers Group and Corporative Society (NFGCS), an innovative agricultural model that runs on over 1,000 hectares of land in Gaate, Nasarawa State, and offers Nigerians from across the world opportunity to invest in the farm as subscribers without being present, while the corporative utilises the fund realised from subscription to employ farmers who cultivate the hectares on their behalf with high yield crops, harvest, process, warehouse and market. It is an improved farm settlement model that is best described as ‘farmers without border’.
The all inclusive farm, which also offers ranching platform under the supervision of paid herdsmen, delivers good return on investment to the subscribers at the end of a farming circle, as well as, gives subscribers’ opportunity to invest in its two investment windows of February-May and August-November farming circles.
“We should not be talking about unemployment in this country when every hectare of land can employ two-three people conveniently and can pay them average salary. We have about 300 people that work on the farm every day without any government support. This corporative is paying them about N1,500 a day, that is about, $4-$5 a day and we give them meals of about N200 a day”, Restson, who is the national coordinator/secretary general, Nigeria Farmers Group & Cooperative Society, disclosed.
Also explaining further on the rationale for his investment in agriculture, Retson decried the fact that Nigeria spends over $4billion a year to import food. “I call it the insanity of our humanity because if you are spending that much money on importation, what you need to revolutionize agriculture is not more than $2 billion a year. If you spend $2 billion, you will produce food that we can consume and also export. So, the context and structure that became the Nigeria Farmers Group and Corporative Society is farming, revolution and activism”.
Explaining the subscription model, which thrives on the principles of modern business and investment, Tedheke said, “For instance, if we put the cost of farming one hectare of maize at N280,000, all you need to do to become a member of the corporative from anywhere you are in the world is just to pay N280,000 into your subscription account and we will farm for you.
“After that, you expect return on your N280,000 once every year. Instead of doing it in the farming season, we do it annually because you prepare the land, plant, harvest, warehouse and all that. So, we stretched the timing to have comfort. So, the bulk of the money used in paying workers, to support and manage the farm come from our subscribers”.
As well, subscribers are not limited to one crop or size of land, but as much as their investment portfolio and risk appetite are.
So far, the NFGCS model has been successful in less than two years of its establishment. “In the last farming season, we paid off everybody that invested and most of them have invested even more with us in the new farming season”.
Considering the location of the farm in the north central region which is volatile due to herdsmen and farmers clash, one may wonder if Retson is a magician. Of course, he is not. The magic wand for him is understanding and carrying the locals along. “First, we did not buy the land, we leased it from the owners. Secondly, we made the owners stakeholders by employing their fathers, wives and children to work and earn income. Thirdly, any Fulani community that is around, that owns cows, become part of our farmers and security team. With that arrangement, they know that the farm pays their bills, support their families, hence they will not allow their cattle to destroy the farms”.
Beyond the farm, Retson stepped further to cement the cordial relationship with continued participation in community activities. Aside borehole, he built a community primary learning centre, which serves as school in the morning and recreation spot in the evening. In recognition of his empowerment initiatives to the community, Ibrahim Adamu, the ruler of Gaate, turbaned him with a chieftaincy title of the Serikin Yakin Gaate (The warrior of the community) in January this year.
“I am the Serikin Yakin Gaate of the community. I am their warrior, their defender and head of the hunters. I was turbaned in January this year because the people felt for the first time in the history of the community an Urhobo man is coming here and helping their community. When you have a community like this with an average of N1.5 million being received as salaries every other week, how many communities have this kind of empowerment and why will the people want to steal from you their guest”.
Beyond the recognition with a chieftaincy title, some families are naming their male children after Retson. At present, there are over two boys who bear Retson in Gaate community.
The father of three sons, whose parents were veterans of the Nigerian Civil War, is fulfilled occupying the farms today. Perhaps, his root explains his activism.
As well, he does not subscribe to militancy as a way to get result.
“What we do as militants is to destroy to become relevant. But what nation building needs in not destruction to become relevant, it is the synergic relationship to become relevant and that is what the farm does. When I was in the creek, every time, you are worried that the army is going to show up with gunboat and open fire on you. But in the farm here, I am relaxed doing my farming in a supposedly herdsmen region with everybody around and offering genuine support. I have peace of mind, freedom of movement, association and to do whatever I desire, which the militancy did not offer me”, he said.
However, he thinks that with the inclusive farm model, NFGCS has been able to pool together so many puzzles that are troubling the Nigerian state together for good and recommends the model to government and more private sector participation.
“ As you have seen, the Fulani men are here, the Mada man is available, the Uhrobo man, Igbo man, Yoruba among others are here. We created a synergy because it is the interest of the farmers, the interest of our people, and the interest of our country that was first”, he concluded.