It was Plutarch, a Greek philosopher, who once said: “It is indeed a desirable thing to be well-descended but the glory belongs to our ancestors.” The essence of Plutarch’s philosophical muses over a century ago has found expression in Captain Idahosa Okunbo’s relationship with and service to God.
Popularly referred to as Captain ‘Hosa by associates, his life and times reflect a disciplined fatherly upbringing by a respectable community leader, teacher and clergy, Reverend Robert Amos Okunbo of blessed memory. His father taught him the Godly path to follow in his formative years and, today, at over 60 years, the business mogul has continued to appreciate the God factor in all that he does.
On September 6, 2018, Capt. ‘Hosa demonstrated his love for God when he caused associates, including Edo state deputy governor, Phillip Shaibu, Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri and Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Mr. Segun Awolowo, to converge on kilometer 2 Benin City Bypass Road, Off Sapele Road in Benin, for the first fruits harvest, a ceremony that signposted a typical religious offering of the first agricultural produce of the harvest of Wells Hosa Greenhouse Farms Limited, a multi-billion naira venture under his chairmanship, to God.
The farms represent the ultimate fulfillment of his desire to have an all-encompassing rewarding relationship with the trinity of the air, the sea and the land. He had once said that he had conquered the air as a commercial pilot; conquered the sea with the acquisition of over 50 vessels which were deployed in security of crude oil movement by his Ocean Marine Solution, OMS, and that he hoped to conquer the land with his venture into the greenhouse farms.
The conquest of the land, according to him, would be achievable as long as he was alive and to the extent that he would work at it until the land swallowed him up in death, which is a debt that all humans would one day pay. But over all, it is significant that Captain ‘Hosa deemed it fit to remember the Biblical injunctions to fear God and obey His commands.
In simple obedience, therefore, he requested the pleasure of Archbishop Margaret Idahosa of the Church of God Mission International, Benin, to present the first fruits to God and to showcase the first successful commercial indigenously-owned greenhouse farm in Nigeria. Thereafter, he had gone to the palace of the Oba of Benin, Ewuare 11, for royal blessings.
For Captain ‘Hosa, the feat is worth celebrating. His lowly upbringing is a symbolism that he relates with today in the contrasting scenario of the trajectory from modesty to wealth. Little wonder he still lives with the picturesque mental images of the village-setting subsistence farming and the age-long passion for agriculture on a mechanized basis as a means of livelihood.
In fulfillment of a dream, which he had long harboured and nurtured, Captain ‘Hosa is today a pioneer of the greenhouse farms project, which is presently one of the largest of its kind in West Africa. The development of the farms is based on hydroponic technology, which is a method for growing plants in controlled environments, using mineral nutrients in water and with no soil. The method incorporates various systems integrated by irrigation, fertilization and pest control to obtain optimal plant growth and a greater yield as compared with traditional open field methods.
Available records show the farms project is in the forefront of pioneering the industry in Nigeria. It is committed to ensuring food security and employment within and outside the local communities. There is no doubt that the farms project is revolutionary. It sits on 27 hectares of land and has the housing capacity for 28 hydroponic greenhouses, each of 5440 square meters. It also has an estimated production value of 4,200 tons per year as well as estimated projected revenue of $6 million per year.
According to Captain ‘Hosa, “At full capacity, it will directly employ 500 people while indirectly employing thousands of youths and women who will be engaged in the production of many types of vegetables for local consumption as well as export.” The project is significant to repositioning and refocusing Nigeria’s topmost priority export, which at the moment weighs in favour of oil. Read him: “Nigeria is the 14th largest producer of tomatoes in the world. In Africa, we are ranked second after Egypt. Nigeria accounts for 65 percent of tomatoes produced in West Africa. Presently, the nation produces 1.8 million metric tons of tomatoes annually, but sadly, nearly 0.7 million metric tons of this quantity is lost after harvest.
“It is also significant to mention that in 2017, Nigeria’s agricultural sector accounted for 20.85 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Over the years, the Nigerian economy has grown three times its size and the agricultural sector has contributed more than 27 per cent of this expansion. In spite of these facts, the agricultural sector accounts for only nine per cent of export while crude oil accounts for over 70 per cent.”
He expressed confidence that the farm would help to revolutionize the tomato industry in Nigeria and also impact the entire agricultural sector. The confidence stemmed from some three interesting facts which he shared with the audience: “first, in the years 2000, Mexico had 790 hectares of greenhouses. By 2016, this number had increased to 25,251 hectares of greenhouses nationwide. This is a growth trend of about 1,200 hectares per year.
“Second, in 2017, the agri-food sector of Mexico reached record figures in exports, obtaining revenues of $32.6 billion. This represents an annual increase of 12.5 per cent, compared to the same period of 2016,” and “third, the agri-food sector in Mexico is now the third largest exporter, surpassing even oil and tourism. For a country whose economy, as recently as the year 2000, depended fundamentally on oil exports, Mexico presents an excellent example of the rewards of the greenhouse initiative.”
Wells Hosa Greenhouse Farms project is equipped with the state-of-the-art facilities to respond to the demands of moving products from Edo state to the rest of the country. Indeed, the voyage that birthed it was characterised by ups and downs just as the intense passion that propelled the venture was circumstantial. While, for instance, the circumstance that led to it was the cancellation of the crude oil movement and security contract given to OMS by the NNPC, the initial investment into the farms project had failed, thus prompting a review of the entire concept.
Captain ‘Hosa’s “bitter-sweet” story is the stuff that only the audacious can imbibe and run with. Since it was the first major investment he would initiate in his home state, he was determined to ensure it succeeded. Therefore, when San Carlos, his initial partners from Mexico could not make a success of the first outing; and, because he was determined to succeed, he sold one of his three challenger aircraft and channeled the funds into the farms project. Today, as they say, the rest is history.
And, as he rightly rounded off on the occasion with the words of the French writer, Francois de La Rochefoucauld: “Thinkers think and doers do. But until the thinkers do and the doers think, progress will be just another word in the already overburdened vocabulary by sense.” According to him, “Wells Hosa Greenhouse Farms Limited has chosen to go beyond thinking to doing.” And in doing, anything, it is agreeable, is possible through hard work, persistence, the drive for perfection and the grace of God.
Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, writes via [email protected]