By Dele Sobowale
“You burn the house to roast the pig. It was always the only way mankind roasted pigs.” Saul Bellow.
Many Nigerians cannot wait for May 29, 2019 to come. It will relieve them of one public servant who has become more of a public danger than all the others put together. The man is Chief Audu Ogbeh who I had tipped as one of the most likely to succeed among Buhari’s Ministers. Don’t blame me totally. Ogbeh attended Kings College, KC, Lagos in the 1950s, at a time when KC was the second best secondary school in Nigeria. He probably should have stopped at Yaba to attend the best – Igbobi College. But, before KC boys, current and old get hot under the collar, I must confess that Igbobi College also donated two prominent people to Buhari’s “third worst team”. Sadly, the Vice President and Fashola attended IC. They will number among the galaxy of failures now attending the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, Meeting on Wednesdays. The only exception is Senator Udo Udoma, old KC “boy”, Minister for Budget and National Planning, whose excellent work on the 2018 budget had been messed up by the Presidency and the NASS when the budget was singed on June 20 – making it a document good only for the dust bin because it will never be implemented.
Ogbeh attended KC at a time when admission was purely on merit – just like IC. Segun Awolowo, first son of Awo was admitted to IC. You must be absolutely brilliant to get in; otherwise the gate was slammed in your face irrespective of whose son you might be. So, that was what gave me the confidence that Ogbeh would deliver.
Until my good friend Dr Reuben Abati, who also served time in Aso Rock’s mental prison, mentioned it, I never knew that demons, witches and wizards have made Aso Rock their permanent abode. I had always thought there was one curse in that place – the Aso Rock disease – defined ailment which afflicts people who are invited “to come and eat” in the rock. Suddenly, the absolutely brilliant people we used to adore transform into new character types leaving us wondering if there has been identity theft and somebody else had shown up for work at the Rock. Now, I am prepared to accept part of Abati’s theory about strange and supernatural forces (can huge sums of money be among them?) operate in the Rock. After all, Reuben was an inmate.
That brings us to the subject of today’s sermon – Chief Audu Ogbeh who has been getting himself and us into all sorts of problems by announcing some totally balmy ideas that are designed to make situations worse. Three examples will be sufficient to prove the point.
First, readers would recollect the proposal to establish several “Cattle Colonies” in all the states of Nigeria. The uproar that greeted that idea lasted several months until the President was forced to disclaim it. Chief Ogbeh operated as if blissfully unaware of the Land Use Decree of 1978 which vested land in state governors. Even the Federal Government must request for land from His Excellencies occupying Governors Mansions all over Nigeria. So daft was the idea, his own state Governor, Mr Ortom, was the first to reject it before others turned it down.
Even with two states – Kano and Kogi – offering to establish such “colonies” it was still deemed impractical because all the obstacles in the way of execution had not been cleared before Ogbeh went public.
We were still trying to put that nonsense behind us when Ogbeh announced triumphantly that Nigeria had joined the league of major yam exporters. The impression was created that in a very short time Nigeria will overtake Ghana and other established yam exporters. That was before rotten yams exported from Nigeria were shown on television and before the gridlock at Apapa and Tin Can ports put paid to yam exports – at least for a while.
At any rate, Ogbeh coming from Benue and Minister of Agriculture should have realized that the bulk of yams to be exported would have to come from there. Benue had been “captured” by his beloved herdsmen. It is axiomatic that where herdsmen run riot farmers stay at home and harvests drop. So, even if we develop the customers for Nigerian yam, sustainable supply is not guaranteed. That is simple enough to understand – except when people reach the Rock.
“Our other problem is smuggling. As we speak, a neighbour of ours is importing rice than China is importing. They do not eat parboiled rice; they eat white rice and they are using their port to try and damage our economy.” Chief Audu Ogbeh.
Ogbeh made those remarks at a workshop attended by people one hopes are not educated morons. But, before Ogbeh reached that part of his address, he had said other things which are at best comical but at worst unethical about rice from Thailand. But, before proceeding, let me again remind the reader that I was deeply involved in rice cultivation, harvesting and milling in Sokoto before the head of our family died in 1990 forcing me to abandon my rice career. Haske Rice Mill, located on Kalambina Road, Sokoto, next door to Sokoto Cement had been closed shortly after I resigned because there was nobody to manage it. It is still there today for anybody to verify.
When Ogbeh pronounced that all rice grown in Thailand and exported is “poison”, he must have assumed two things none of which is true. First, that Thailand exports rice only to Nigeria. Nothing can be further from the truth. The country’s rice is exported all over the world and most countries have very stringent food import controls such as will preclude any country from sending “poison” to them everyday. In salesmanship, we call what Ogbeh was doing “knocking the competition” – which is often counter-productive unless you can prove your allegations. Ogbeh offered no proof. Who and when were the tests conducted to prove that Thailand’s rice is “poison”?
Second, are we then supposed to believe that Thailand sends “poison” only to Nigeria? If so we should not blame the Thais. Ogbeh has merely condemned his own government for allowing “poison” to be imported. Meanwhile, it is not only rice smuggled into Nigeria that enters the country. Even now we still permit some imports of rice. Are we to assume that rice bound for Apapa Wharf is fit to eat but rice send to “a neighbour” is “poison”?
Three things were clear to me when reading the Minister’s emotional outburst against smuggled rice. One, Ogbeh is ignorant about rice business and his utterances show it to those who have been and are still involved in the trade. Two, Ogbeh’s real motive in raising this false alarm was to cover up the failure of our rice policy. Those who promised to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice by a certain date are finding the goal post receding. They need excuses to cover up their failure. Who does not know that without imported and smuggled rice domestic production cannot meet the demand for the commodity?
Rice is landing at Cotonou port because Nigeria is not producing enough and because port charges are lower and evacuation of goods faster than in Nigerian ports. All these are contributory factors which cannot be wished away simply because a Minister is in panic.
“There are no desperate situations; only desperate men.”
Joseph Goebbels, 1897-1945. Hitler’s propaganda Chief.
Goebbels made this remark when it became clear that Nazi Germany would lose World War II. The man who had been in charge of cooking up lies for Hitler was pushing the panic button. Ogbeh’s announcement regarding border closure smacks of pure desperation on the part of the Buhari government. It is not only rice that crosses the border. Are we going to stop the entire ECOWAS because we can’t grow enough rice?
SECURITY OR STUPIDITY?
“ISIS threat: Federal Government tightens security at the airports.”—News Report. June 20, 2018.
Citizens in every country are forced to endure the stupidities of those in power. African leaders are invariably the least intelligent and they seldom offer excellent solutions to the problems their societies face each and every time. That explains why none of them, except Mandela, has ever been a case study for leadership anywhere.
Only the most ignorant Nigerians could have not foreseen the possibility that ISIS, the Islamic State, which had been terrorizing much of the Islamic world in the Gulf area would not eventually reach for Nigeria. Islamic terror has gone global. But, it is ridiculous for the FG to imagine that the terrorists will come through the airports with their weapons neatly packed for seizure. Nigeria shares borders with seven countries, especially in the North where to the best of my knowledge at least 150 illegal borders exist. Of what use is beefing up security at the ports which will most likely not be the preferred points of entry?