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Poultry sector as metaphor for our problems – Dele Sobowale

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Governing Italians is not impossible; it is merely useless.” Benito Mussolini, 1883-1945. Italian Fascist leader.

Mussolini was fortunate; he had Italians to govern and not Nigerians. He would have shot himself long before his enemies got him, if he had my countrymen as subjects. There is probably no nation on earth where the people are the worst enemy the government has to face as Nigeria. Indeed, it might be right to claim that no external enemy can attack Nigeria and inherit the confusion and the lack of patriotism.

Integrated poultry

On Wednesday, November 8, 2017, one of the leading national newspapers published a report which brought tears to my eyes. It was titled “N2.5Bn Chickens Wasting Away In Cold Rooms.”

The immediate past President of the Poultry Association of Nigeria, PAN, Dr Ayoola Oduntan, reportedly announced at the Nigerian Poultry Show tagged ‘Abeokuta 2017’ that “N2.5bn worth of frozen chicken is wasting away in cold rooms all over Nigeria, produced in Nigeria by Nigerian farmers; while the people that are smuggling in chickens are feeding fat from the joblessness of our people.”

A few months ago, the same poultry sector had lamented the glut of eggs in the Nigerian market resulting in massive losses for farmers.

Altogether, Nigerians are deliberately or inadvertently working to dismantle our poultry industry. To start with, N2.5 billion worth of chickens is not a lot of birds. At N2000 per bird, we are talking of a little over one million birds in total. Despite our low per capita consumption of chicken, by global standards, still with a population of 180 million people, one million chicken should just about be sufficient for two weeks or at worst a month. So, why are they wasting away in cold rooms?

Three reasons account for the situation and they all point to Nigerians not doing what we should be doing to save our economy. In fact, Buhari might on occasions be wondering if governing Nigerians is not useless. The solution to this problem lies in our hands – consumers, investors and governments. Governments include all state governments.

If the reader is one of those buying imported chicken from the open market or from the leading supermarkets, then, you are the major part of the problem. Let me explain.

If every Nigerian insists on buying only chicken grown in Nigeria, one million birds per week will not be sufficient for our needs. Each of us can help the situation by simply refusing to patronize imported chicken whether smuggled or not. We can collectively turn the poultry sector into a job creating machine for rapid economic growth and lasting development because it has a lot of linkages which space will not permit me to address.

To help the situation, we should all just stop buying imported chicken and encourage as many people as possible to do the same. The result will be astonishing. Once smugglers are deprived of markets the supply will dry up. Smuggling thrives only as long as there are customers for the product. Years ago smuggling lace was popular.

The poultry producers themselves should not assume they are totally helpless. In every situation, those under attack will repel the invasion if they also undertake self-defence. Smugglers, big and small, and their distribution channels are not peopled by ghosts; neither are the major intermediaries who bring the products to the ultimate consumers totally unknown or impossible to track down and identify.

PAN should be prepared to tax its members to establish a team of investigators who will be charged with tracking the smugglers and mapping their distribution channels. Then, a series of sting operation with Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, will have to be carried out to gradually close the channels and penalize the owners. It has been done before and it can be repeated several times until the smugglers and their collaborators get the message that there is no market for smuggled chicken in Nigeria.

However, neither consumer resistance nor investors measures will deter smuggling of poultry products until the Nigeria governments – all thirty-seven of them — develop a policy of “No tolerance for Smuggled Chicken” in any state of Nigeria. Just as it required monumental global effort to eradicate polio, Nigerians, led by governments, must develop the will to stamp out smuggled chicken from the country.

It might call for the creation of a task force whose members include NCS, Police, PAN and civil society advocates. Like NAFDAC fighting fake drugs, they should be charged with ridding the country of smuggled chicken just as we are now on the verge of eradicating polio.

The first and most important step for them is to map the entire country to determine the major destination points for smuggled chicken and the network of distributors, wholesalers and retailers. It requires no rocket science intelligence to know that Lagos, Abuja, Portharcourt, Kano, Kaduna, Warri, Calabar, Onitsha, Asaba etc will constitute the major markets.

Neither does it call for much wisdom to guess that the fast food outlets and big hotels might be some of the biggest customers of the  smugglers. The first step is identification of the criminals and from there the battle plan can be developed. It has been done before and it can be successful if all the parties are fully committed to it.    There is no alternative to saving our poultry sector. It is “do or die” affair.


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