By Dele Sobowale

…Published  in the Vanguard of November, 27.

“When did we consume all the rice demonstrated in the Buhari Rice Pyramid …luncheon, or was it like the borrowed Ethiopian plane for Nigeria Air? — Professor Sherrifdeen Tella, PUNCH, November 20, 2023. 

Professor Tella’s articles on the back page of PUNCH every Monday is my first port of call every week. I want to read what other professional economists are writing about important national matters. On November 20, 2023, he asked a question which I answered a week after Buhari, Osinbajo, Emefiele, the former Minister of Agriculture, the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) and other APC Government officials put up a show in Abuja designed to fool fellow Nigerians. For all those mentioned, it was not their finest hour. On the contrary, the scam demonstrated to me how low the Buhari administration would go to deceive Nigerians. Compared to the borrowed Ethiopian Airline plane, borrowed by Hadi Sirika, former Minister of Aviation, also a great hoax, the lie about rice was a great crime against humanity. Less than one per cent of Nigerians fly; but all of us eat rice. For Buhari to deliberately deceive us about rice was the litmus test of the lack of integrity in that government.

“It was beautiful and simple; as all great swindles are.” O’ Henry, 1862-1910

A week after that show of shame, which was designed to benefit mainly two individuals – Buhari and Emefiele – and collaterally, the Minister of Agriculture, I published on this page an article pointing to the swindle involved. Based on my extensive experience in the rice sector, three things were revealed to me. First, it is impossible to leave pyramids of real rice in an open field, even for a night, without inviting all the rodents from a mile radius to come and eat. The phony rice pyramids were there for more than three days. The rodents would still have visited even if the rice was previously sprayed with pesticide. Second, it is virtually unheard of for so many thousands of bags of paddy rice to be moved around without spilling some grains. The grains spilled would on closer examination, reveal the source(s) of the paddy. Third, no single rice farm, known to me, could afford to allow so many bags to go for exhibition for several days without disrupting its production process. Even the biggest three cannot cope. Altogether, the source(s) of the paddy rice on display remained mysterious until after the show. Our scouts went to the exhibition site; got some samples and we strongly believe that the paddy rice was imported and not grown locally.

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That was the end of the charade. Buhari needed to convince Nigerians that his government was moving us towards self-sufficiency in rice production; Emefiele needed the show to promote his claim to the Presidency at the time. Nigeria was being steadily marched towards a failed Anchor Borrowers Programme, ABP.

COTONOU CONNECTION

“Every lie has an expiry date.” Anonymous.

There was another reason for suspecting that the Buhari government was not telling Nigerians the truth. As the government went into over-drive promoting falsehood about its achievements on rice, a parallel drama, representing the truth was going on in the Cotonou Port of the Republic of Benin – our next door neighbour. Without any exception, more than twice the imported rice to feed the whole of ECOWAS; and ten times what Benin would consume, was received monthly. The exporters from India, Thailand and Philippines, the recipients at Cotonou and global monitors of international trade were certain about the destination of almost 75 per cent of the rice – Nigeria. But, Buhari’s government officially closed the border to prevent imported rice from coming in; pretended none was being consumed and only ended up enriching the staff of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS – who also benefited immensely from the national self-deceit. Meanwhile, a fleet of old Volvo station wagons daily delivered smuggled rice to every part of Lagos State. Without the steady flow of contraband rice, Lagos and the rest of Nigeria would have long felt the impact.

HOODLUMS INTERVENE

“The evil that men do lives after them…” William Shakespeare, 1564-1616.

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Buhari’s administration committed more atrocities against Nigerians than any in history. In eight years, during which over 230,000 people were slaughtered and more than 4 million farmers were driven off the land by hoodlums, no single criminal was apprehended or prosecuted. Either on account of wisdom deficit, or mental laziness or myopic ethnicity, it never occurred to Buhari that he was building our future food security with one hand and destroying it with the other by treating bandits – especially herdsmen – with kid gloves. Incidentally, it was not surprising to me that herdsmen menace abated significantly once their Life Patron left Aso Rock and the Inspector General of Police is not a Fulani. But, together, they encouraged herdsmen to acquire immunity and to consequently slow down the march towards Nigeria’s sustainable food security. By the time Buhari left office on May 29, 2023, the farm population had been depleted; most of them would never return to farming even if the hoodlums leave them alone.

 Unfortunately, the bandits are not leaving soon. I was in Niger State two weeks ago, following a story on university education. Between Izom and Minna, my hired taxi, whose driver went with me reluctantly, overtook a military convoy including several tanks and tough-looking soldiers in personnel carriers. The impression cannot be lost on anybody witnessing the spectacle that we are at war in one of Nigeria’s food baskets. Niger State not only has the largest landmass of all the states, it has for long been the weather-vane for expected food production – particularly rice. The International Rice Research Institute, IRRI,  was once situated at Badeggi, where rice was once available year-round. But, Badeggi and the rice farming communities have become de-populated by hoodlums who seized rice harvests; levied the people taxes and killed with impunity all those who fail to obey their instructions.

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“Love and business and family and religion and art and patriotism are nothing but shadows of words when a man is starving.” O’ Henry

Consequently, even people in Niger are starving. Most of the road side markets travelers used to patronize are now closed for fear of hoodlums and they are unlikely to re-open any time soon. At any rate, there is no food to sell. Even farms close to road-side communities in Niger state are no longer being cultivated. The reversal of fortunes is frightening.

WHY RICE PRICES WILL CONTINUE TO RISE

“Rice price skyrockets as local production declines.” Report, November 20, 2023.

The news report was based on another report – AFEX Wet Season Crop Production Report for 2023. The AFEX Report revealed as follows:

 Rice consumption in Nigeria has been steadily increasing, aligning with the consistent growth of the rice market, nearly matching the annual population growth projection of 2.6 per cent at two per cent. This has led to a supply gap of  2 million metric tonnes annually.”

 The AFEX report for 2023 is just as depressing as the truthful reports for the last six years. Nigeria has consistently produced less rice than its population needs and the import-dependence has never been more acute. Unless, the security situation is addressed strongly, hunger will add another dimension to insecurity and rising food inflation.

This might be Buhari’s worst legacy for us – killing the dream of food security. 

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