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Oshiomhole and Adesina before the argument started

Oshiomhole and Adesina fight over “stomach infrastructure”

Adams Oshiomhole, the governor of Edo State, has called the “agricultural revolution” of the Goodluck Jonathan administration “a big scam”. This has prompted a rebuttal from a spokesman for the Minister for Agriculture in the Jonathan administration, Akinwunmi Adesina.

In the fog of claim and counter-claim, it is necessary to establish who is telling the truth.

Oshiomhole said: “The agriculture revolution was one of the advertised achievements of President Goodluck Jonathan, but we have since realised that it was purely a scam on us. It is also a policy contradiction where a government will give waivers and support importers to import what can be produced locally, thereby putting its own people out of business while enriching other nations. Local manufacturers that produce locally are punished. Unfortunately for us, rice millers imported rice without even paying duties, as a nation we should not be seen to be importing what is locally produced. Where then is the success story in the sector? Agriculture is not about bow-ties and designers suits but hard facts that cannot be uncontroverted.”

Adesina favoured bow-ties and designer suits, so that bit is true, even if it is a low blow. But Oshiomhole also needs to know that governance or progressive politics is not about wearing khaki fatigues. What about the rest of his comments?

Nigeria is still dependent on imported rice despite all the proclamations about Jonathan’s “Transformation Agenda”, which included the “Agricultural Transformation Agenda” (ATA). Adesina, despite reeling off a lot of figures, did not dispute this fact.

Rice farming in Nigeria
Rice farming in Nigeria

What would have been useful for informed debate would have been some reliable figures on how much Nigeria spent importing rice before Jonathan and post-Jonathan, or the size of the imports before and after. We heard from Adesina about support for farmers, increased commercial lending for farmers, more seeds, fertilisers and so on. The former minister claimed that: “National paddy rice production rose by an additional 7 million MT and the nation reached 85 per cent sufficiency in rice production.”

It was not quite clear if this means that Nigeria produces 85% of the rice it consumes and imports just 15%. For an effective rebuttal of Oshiomhole’s claims, Adesina should have told us:
a) What percentage the country was producing before the ATA intervention
b) Where their figures came from
c) Whether they can be verified independently

A CNBC Africa report in June this year claimed that $291m was spent on rice importation in 2014 and that $172m had been spent already this year, showing that the rate of expenditure was higher.

A guest on the programme, Ndubuisi Nwokoma, an economist from the University of Lagos, said that Nigeria was producing more rice locally year-by –year. He believed that rice importation should be banned, or at least, the tariffs should be high enough to discourage imports. He acknowledged that the country had the capacity to produce more rice in areas such as Kebbi State.

From the available information, it seems that local production of rice has improved to some unknown degree. Oshiomhole, unsurprisingly, did not acknowledge this. But it appears the country is still spending scarce foreign currency importing rice. Although circa $291m does not appear to be huge in the wider scheme of things.

The waivers and support for rice importers, that both Oshiomhole and Adesina, agree were in place, do not seem to be a good idea. Domestic production should be supported by tariffs against imports.

Adesina said: The governor may wish to ask the leader of the cocoa value chain, an illustrious son of Edo State, who served under the immediate past minister of agriculture in revolutionising cocoa production, Edo was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the efforts to increase cocoa production base through the free distribution of cocoa pods for raising seedlings in many farms in the cocoa-producing states.”

There was little evidence on the results or impact of this claim. If Adesina wants to claim to have transformed agriculture in Nigeria, he should be providing solid evidence of what this meant in reality in Edo State.

Oshiomhole should realise that, unlike us, whose job is to criticise, he was elected to govern and make a difference to the lives of the people of Edo State. He has been governor for seven years – longer than Jonathan was president. What has he done about agriculture in his state?

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