BY OCHEREOME NNANNA, Chairman, Editorial Board
On Wednesday, 21st December, 2016, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos and his Kebbi State counterpart, Governor Atiku Abubakar Bagudu (whom Ambode humorously referred to as “my business partner”), carried out an inspiring assignment together at the Conference Chamber of the Government House of Lagos State: they launched the “Lake Rice” brand for consumption in Lagos, nationwide and (with time) the world at large. Lagos offered to sell the 50 kilogramme of the product at the subsidised price of N12,000.
It was unprecedented because, for a change, Nigerians from different geopolitical divides were not bickering over divisive issues like Fulani herdsmen/indigenous communities clashes, religion, share of the national cake, ethnicity or cultural differences. Rather, Lagos State, with the largest metropolitan population in the country (estimated at about 20 million people), and Kebbi, one of the foremost rice-producing states, were combining their comparative advantages to introduce the Lake Rice to the world (LAKE being a combination the LA in La-gos and KE in Ke-bbi).
These two governors have sworn to break the long-established monopolistic distribution chains with which foreign-owned companies, dominated by Indians, have long colonised the Nigerian rice market. They would be replaced by Nigerian merchants, companies and cooperatives to ensure that never again are inferior foreign brands used to undercut local farmers, flood our markets with inferior and toxic products and sabotage the country’s national interest. The market women and cooperatives are now going to be shareholders in the soon-to-be-indigenised distribution chain. Each of the local companies can now package and sell the rice in their own brand names.
This innovative venture to link up one of the foremost theatres of rice production with the biggest market in the country was hatched sometime in August 2015, when it became obvious to anyone with commonsense that the days of crude oil-fed dependence on imported rice and other products that can be produce in Nigeria, were over.
When Bagudu was elected as Governor of Kebbi State last year, he decided to put his knowledge and experience as an economist and former employee of the World Bank, to work. He discovered that all that Nigerian farmers needed was assistance to provide cheaper and more nutritious rice than the stuff being importing.
He went into a joint venture with the Bank of Agriculture, BoA, which was recently made more effective by Godwin Emefiele’s CBN, and invested N4billion to get them plug the farmers of Kebbi State into a financial lifeline for improved productivity. Together, they estimated it would cost N210, 000 per hectare to produce up to six tonnes of rice in the dry season and another five tonnes in the rainy season. Some farmers now even produce two rounds of rice and one crop of wheat on the same land every year.
“They have already planted their wheat and will start harvesting in February. After that, they will plant rice, harvest it in late May and plant another rice for the wet season”, Governor Bagudu told Vanguard at his private residence in Asokoro, Abuja, recently.
Altogether, there are 78,000 registered rice farmers participating in the rice revolution in Kebbi State, and all are verified with the Bank Verification Number, BVN, to avoid corruption. Over 100,000 hectares of land is under rice cultivation. Other companies are now setting up in the state, thus increasing the number of farmers involved. They are also participating in CBN’s Anchor Borrowers programme. All farmers involved in the scheme are trained before they can qualify to participate, and this has increased the average yield per farmer from 2.5 tonnes to an average of five tonnes and even more per hectare per crop. Kebbi State recorded at least 1.4 million tonnes of rice in 2016 alone.
According to Governor Bagudu, another wonderful discovery from this rice experiment is that the rice mills can get 100 per cent of their power needs from the rice husks. The husks can provide the clean and environmentally friendly electricity needed to power the mills. The leftover husks can be converted to coal briquettes and sold to households for cooking.
“It is not a fairy tale”, Bagudu explained, “go and see it. It is in Ebonyi, in Kano, in Kebbi. Even in Lagos where we send some of our paddy for milling, they have seen that the husks can generate electricity. It is a wonderful value chain element of rice production”.
Governor Bagudu firmly believes that getting Nigeria to reclaim her place as an agricultural export giant is neither magic nor rocket science.
“Why did we become dependent in oil? It is because we invested in petroleum and neglected agriculture. The total bank loan to agriculture in Nigeria is less than five per cent of the bank loans. How can we treat agriculture that way? If we want to make the farmer wealthy so that he can feed well, send his children to school, be able to afford quality healthcare and stop being poor, we must invest heavily in agriculture. And that is what we have done”.
Abubakar Bagudu has been a part and parcel of the political process since the return of our democracy in 1999. After graduating in Economics in from the Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, he obtained his Masters from the University of Jos and later went to the USA to read International Affairs at the Columbia University, New York.
In 1999 he joined the All People’s Party, APP, as a loyalist of the late Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi group, along with others such as Attahiru Bafarawa, Saminu Turaki, Adamu Aliero, Ahmed Yerima and Ogbonnaya Onu. While Onu was elected a presidential candidate of the APP as Shinkafi’s proxy, the others except Bagudu, went on to become governors.
Bagudu had to patiently play in the shadow of Aliero who was from his constituency. He bided his time till Aliero, who was elected into the Senate in 2007, was appointed by the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, then he contested for the vacant Kebbi Central Senatorial District seat and won. He was re-elected in 2011.
While at the Senate he served in various committees, such as Education, Interior, Foreign Affairs among others.
As the 2015 general elections drew near, he and the Aliero group decamped from the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and joined the All Progressives Congress, APC, on which platform he contested for the seat of governor and won.
Atiku Abubakar Bagudu is one of the few governors who have used his exalted position as governor to put no less than 600,000 people to gainful employment through farming and related value-chain offshoots in just 18 months. He is a great evangelist for the Nigerian rice, not just Kebbi or Lake Rice. This governor has become the foremost symbol of Nigeria’s march towards an era of ‘Rice Pyramids’.
The impact of his innovative governance reverberates nationwide, and the editors of Vanguard had no problem in unanimously voting him as one of our Governors of the Year 2016.