Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Audi Ogbeh, recently granted Punch Newspaper an interview. Here is an excerpt.
Question: With respect to government’s plan of making Nigeria self sufficient in rice production, what further steps are you taking to stop foreign rice inflow into the country?
Ans: The Economic Community of West African States’ treaty has all kinds of publications like free trade in between countries and that is something weighty. The Senate had raised that issue in the past. Senator Hope Uzodinma’s committee raised an issue which I sympathise with very strongly. What it said is that goods produced within the region should have free movement. But some of our neighbours are not moving goods produced, rather they import goods, station themselves around our borders and then smuggle them into our economy.
For instance, the Republic of Benin doesn’t eat parboiled rice. They eat white rice. But all the rice coming through the borders in Nigeria are parboiled. I have a list now of all the ships that left Thailand in the last seven weeks and they’ve arrived. There are 571,000 tons of rice waiting to enter Nigeria for Christmas but we won’t allow it. So when Senator Uzodinma raised that issue in the Senate, he was saying that we needed to review the treaty because we were at the losing end.
In fact, why are we allowing this when the rice is not grown in the Republic of Benin? They bring tomato paste and chicken that are not produced in the Republic of Benin and because the Nigerian market is so huge they want to exploit it. I sympathise and fully endorse the views of the Hope Uzodinma-led committee of the Senate to do something about this.
No economy, out of sympathy, should damage our own and out of sentiments, we should not allow anybody to do things to us which we can’t do to them. When Aliko Dangote (Nigerian businessman) was trying to ship his cement through the Republic of Benin to Togo, it took him one year to persuade them to allow him to do that.
Punch, December 10