The report last week that Nigeria, the giant of Africa exported more than 72 metric tonnes of rotten yams to the United Kingdom is one of the most shameful things to come out of Nigeria in the last few decades. If anything, it tells us that this country of 180 million people is not ready for world leadership, let alone domination. It paints in vivid colours, the rot in the system; literally.
When Audu Ogbe announced his plans last July to export yams to Europe and America, not a few warned that that was a disaster waiting to happen. In fact the opening statement of this column titled: Audu Ogbeh’s Wrongly Premised Yam Project (July 29), we labelled the move, “ill conceived, ill timed and ill executed”. Three months on and our prognosis of the Ogbeh yam project is spot on.
The ill fated export project had the backing of a powerful PR machine that helped drawn the voices of the so called ‘naysayers’, painting them as unpatriotic and enemies of the country and that the yam export move was a veritable dollar earning alternative to oil and gas. As a result of my stand on the issue I was the victim of a very intelligent harangue on social media about the ‘brilliant’ yam deal.
I had argued that we weren’t ready for yam export for very simple reasons including that yam prices are hitting the roof. That we needed to satisfy local needs before looking outwards. I also argued in economic and, somewhat, technical but reachable terms that the problems of storage and better infrastructure for agriculture needed to be achieved before exporting same and in doing so, let’s have an eye for value added products. Perhaps my arguments were high on economic jargon so I will try to appeal solely to common sense in this iteration.
Had Ogbeh not been in a hurry to carve his name in gold, which I alluded to in the July story, he would have been a bit more circumspect and put that exported 72 metric tonnes of yams into the local market and have millions of Nigerians thank him for flooding the yam market and thus helping drag down the price of the staple, which is now out of the reach of average Nigerians. We are all well aware of how Nigerians curse and swear when prices hit hard. The direction of their curses is only too obvious.
Had Ogbeh given this whole thing a bit more thought, he would have tackled preservation of agric products, a perennial problem here before proceeding to champion ferrying tubers across the Atlantic in conditions that would result in degradation before getting to their destination and shaming the whole country.
But why did handlers of the project not think that yams can get bad? A basic instinct! One does not need any form of scientific or some transcendental knowledge to tell that. Even our illiterate ancestors that tilled the land knew that it was a given, that is why they invented barns for preservation. It can only be inferred here that Ogbeh was in a hurry to impress. What is even more befuddling was that he claimed that a ‘technical committee’ was set up for the purpose”.
The whole saga makes one wonder who and who made up the Ogbeh yam committee? Yes your guesses are as good as mine; cronies, friends, relatives and patrons-Quacks. You may add to the list. This may just be the classical Nigerian committee that is often devoid of depth and the solution of a real problem. “Let us send yam to Europe”, it is evident, was the linear thinking of the committee without consideration of intervening factors, amongst which was preservation. They even failed to realise that yam export is against the laws of the land! The export prohibition act cap c22 of 1999 forbids the export of agric items like cassava and rice, maize and beans. The punishment for this offence is life in prison. They also probably thought too hard about the amount of greenbacks to be pocketed as to be blinded from the ‘what ifs” of the project. Part of the “what ifs” being, “what if we fail”?
They have failed and hurt the pride of the country. They have failed and vilified a nation. They have failed and have our heads hanging down, in shame. This is more than enough reasons for heads to roll. But will the honourable minister be honourable enough to take responsibility? Will he resign? May be he will, maybe he won’t in the typical Nigerian fashion but it is clear to us all, as it has always been, that Gerontocracy will do us more harm than good. The issue of gerontocracy and ne’er do wells in government were the original purpose of this article but the pull of the bungled yam export to Europe was just too much to resist.