May 11, 2015

Why there have been no food riots in Nigeria — Adesina, Agric Minister

Why there have been no food riots in Nigeria  — Adesina, Agric Minister

Akinwumi Adesina

•How I rejected car bribe

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s celebrated Agriculture Minister has used his vast experience to revolutionise the nation’s agricultural sector and is now vying to be the first Nigerian president of the African Development Bank. Adesina, who enjoys the support of both President Goodluck Jonathan and President-Elect, Muhammadu Buhari for the top continental job, stands tall among other contestants, having worked in all regions of the continent before taking up the agriculture portfolio in Nigeria. In this interview, Adesina speaks on his bid, his service to Nigeria and unfolds his agenda for transforming Africa’s economic development to give succour to the people of the continent. Excerpts:

By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North

Why are you interested in presiding over the affairs of the African Development Bank at a time when the continent is beset with serious economic and developmental woes?

I want to say that I have what it takes to run a successful AfDB in the midst of the economic situation in which it has found itself. Before delving into that let me first and foremost, thank President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for giving me the opportunity to serve Nigeria as a minister of Agriculture. In everything in life, one needs a platform to showcase what he can do before he can excel or fail. I have been working in many parts of Africa and the world for over 25 years before President Jonathan invited me to join his administration.

Before then, I had never met or discussed with him. He never knew me apart from what he was told about my capability and high level of exposure. So I am grateful to him for that opportunity to serve my country because there is nothing more important than serving your country.

I am also very grateful for the fact that Nigerians have also supported me here in what I have done; all the state governors, the private sector, the bankers and other stakeholders have been enormously supportive.

So it is not just my success on what we see in agriculture today but a national success that so many people played a lot of roles and as we look towards the African Development Bank, I am so grateful and humbled that President Jonathan has put me forward as Nigeria’s candidate for that job. I am humbled because it is a mark of confidence that he and Nigerians have in me.

That is why I am grateful to the president and the president-elect for throwing their weight behind me in this contest. It is a Nigerian project and as you know a Nigerian has never won this position since the bank was set up in 1964 and so it is a great opportunity for Nigeria to head the bank. So I don’t look at it as a personal thing at all; I look at it as something that I am coming in to serve.

I am not looking for a job but I am putting myself at the service of Africa to put the whole of my experience which is vast. I have lived in more than 15 African countries in West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa.

I have lived and worked for more than 10 years in Francophone countries, I am totally fluent in French. I have lived and worked in Niger Republic, Mali and Burkina Faso.

Huge amounts of experience

I worked in Ivory Coast for five years during which I supervised 10 PhD students from the Faculty of Social Sciences in the University of Abidjan’s Ivorian Centre for Research in Social Sciences. Almost nine of my 10 students got excellent; they were all taught in French. I am totally fluent in French.

Akinwunmi Adesina

Akinwunmi Adesina

I lived and worked in Cameroon and as such, I believe I bring a huge amount of experience that cuts across Africa. I was the Regional Director of the Rockefeller Foundation New York for Southern Africa where I was in charge of all the countries in Southern Africa from Malawi to Zambia to South Africa itself to Mozambique to Botswana to Namibia.

When I was Vice President of Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa, working with the former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Anan, I was in charge of all of Africa in terms of policy.

So all I am saying is that I bring vast amount of knowledge on the ground on what the challenges are from small countries to large countries to fragile states. I am comfortable in every part of Africa. So I see myself as a Pan African candidate and so I bring to this thing what motivates me.

Beyond my experience on the job, I have an unassailable passion to eradicate poverty because I am a product of poverty. I have seen and experienced poverty in its raw form before becoming what I am today.

So, at all times, I want to do something to bring hope and succour to those who are poor and to lift them out of poverty to good life because poverty is an abnormality and should not be made to remain in our society as a normal way or life.

You see I grew out of poverty and having lived and grown out of poverty, I know what it is to be poor. That is why in all my life, I have devoted to helping the poor.

Vision for Africa

My vision for Africa is to have an Africa where you have a lot of significant and inclusive growth. A growth that you can call a shared prosperity by all, an Africa where each country is linked to the other so that you have good regional integration.

I am yearning for an Africa that is open to the rest of the world so that we can be globally competitive. An Africa where you have a lot of peace, hope, security and stability, an Africa where our young people are not moving out in masses, running here and there but an Africa where we are proud to call home.

But given what you have marshalled out, do you think the AfDB has really the kind of funding that can help to achieve these laudable targets?

The bank’s total capitalization is $100 billion, the amount of money that is paid out by the bank every year is over $80 billion so it is not small but given the size of the problem in Africa we can’t reduce solution of the problems of Africa to the balance sheet of the African development bank.

The bank needs a president that can articulate Africa’s agenda, that can work effectively with African governments, that can work effectively with donors, that can put Africa’s issue constantly on the centre of global dialogue and that is where my experience comes in and this is really where I believe I bring a whole set of skills to help this bank to lift itself globally for relevance.

From what you have done in Nigeria in the last four years, carving a niche for yourself and Nigeria in the Agriculture sector of the economy, is there any lesson you can replicate for Africa using the AfDB, if you eventually get the job?

Let me speak on the issue of agriculture sector. When we came here I said that we must change how we look at agriculture. I told Nigerians not to see agriculture as a developmental activity or as some way of life.

I told Nigerians to look at it as a serious business that can bring in money and support for families.   I insisted that we must change our attitude towards agriculture and make it the centre of our development.

Domestic food supply

We worked very hard and with the President’s big support to deliver. In four years, we added an additional 21 million metric tonnes of food to our domestic food supply. We created 3.5 million non-farm jobs in Nigeria, all the people that used to come from the north to go to Lagos to go Abuja to work as night guards, where are they today?

They are not there anymore but happily working in the farm and earning real money. As a result of our strategies, our food import bill declined from N 3.1 trillion in 2011 all time peak down to N35 billion at the end of 2014, according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics.

Again, look at what has happened today, despite the depreciation of the Naira and the falling oil price; you can hardly notice any significant increase in the prices of food.   The International Monetary Fund, IMF, and others have continued to congratulate us on the effective management of our resources to produce abundant food to cope with the crisis arising from oil crisis. An IMF team came to us the other day and said that they were coming from Venezuela and that they saw that they were food riots everywhere but not in Nigeria and wondered how we did it.

So the amount of food we produced created fiscal buffers for us to save us in these hard times and we can say with pride that agriculture saved Nigeria from food crisis.   The other thing that we did was that we also got the banks to lend to the agriculture sector. So, I want to say that I will take what I did in Nigeria to other African countries to increase food production and create wealth for farmers. I cannot forget the impact of the electronic wallet system to agriculture in Nigeria and it is something worth extending to all part of the world.

With the introduction of the e-wallet, we ended corruption of over 40 years in the nation’s agric sector in just 90 days. Through the same scheme, we are giving our famers seeds and fertilizers by mobile phone thereby eliminating middlemen, corruption and ensuring transparency and accountability in the sector.

In spite of the transparency measures you have introduced into the Ministry of Agriculture, you are being accused of approving waivers for rice importers thereby making the Federal Government to lose revenue to the tune of N36 billion? Why did you do that?

Look let me tell you the truth. I am the one who blew the lid on the scam. I have never approved a dime for any importer because in the first place I don’t have the power to approve any waiver in Nigeria.

Proceeds of corruption

What is happening now is that the people I stopped from corrupting the system and rejecting their bribe money are using the proceeds of corruption to dent my image. It is all mischief; it is all misinformation; it is all mischaracterization.

I was the one that alerted the nation in January this year that the government gave allocations for people to bring in rice and that some of the companies have refused to pay government and I said the amount they owe is N36 billion. I am the one who called a press conference in Lagos and released all the data for all the companies.

I wrote to the President that the Nigeria Customs Service must be made to collect every single dime from the importers. I published the list of the companies but you know when you fight corruption, corruption fights back and in this case I find it very funny and ridiculous that the hunter is being hunted.

Agric Minister, Akinwumi-Adesina


The fact of this matter is a very simple one; the NCS must collect from everybody what they owe, my job is to set the policy direction and I have done that already. I was the whistle blower and I published all the names of the companies.

It is funny that these companies now go round media houses trying to spoil my name. Look, these people must realise that Nigeria is not a banana republic, everybody that owes must pay.

Now in this particular case what was even quite funny about it was that companies went ahead and imported rice above their allocated quota. They all signed an agreement with the NCS that if the allocation they get is lower than the amount of rice are bringing in -which custom allowed them to bring in- that they would pay the cost.

Now, when the allocation was done and they didn’t get what they wanted and they bluntly refused to pay for what they had already imported. My only offence is that I insist that everybody that owes must pay. It is as simple as that. I did not approve any waiver for any importer as claimed by my traducers.

I insist that there must be rule of law and accountability wherever I operate. These people are just trying to confuse a clear and straightforward issue: They owe money and they must pay up and nothing more. I didn’t give waivers to anybody because it is only the President that can give waivers.

The former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Mike Andooaka, who is a rice miller, testified at the public hearing in the House of Representatives in Abuja that it was under my leadership in the Ministry of Agriculture that allocations had been given out transparently. He said that he never believed that he could get allocations without knowing anybody in the ministry and lobbying to be given one as was the practice before I came on board.

Public hearing

At the public hearing, I openly challenged those making noise over waivers to say if I have at any time asked for anything from them in order to get any allocation from my ministry and everyone was quiet and I challenged them to say if I have ever collected a biro pen from anyone in the course of doing my duties, yet nobody could face me.

You see for me as a minister I am known for this, you don’t have to beg me for anything, you don’t have to plead with me for anything, you don’t have to lobby for anything.

I am a public servant and not a boss as some people do. I asked the importers if any of them had ever given me a kobo in the course of their interaction with me or any of my staff, and that they should expose me there before the world or keep shut forever but yet none was forthcoming. So, where did the waiver approval come from? Some people are just out to tarnish my name for nothing.

One of the companies even tried to bribe me with a car and I rejected it outright. I can’t be corrupted and I can’t be influenced.   I am in a public office and I serve Nigeria with all of what I have and they attempt to spoil me for being a whistle blower.