By Rotimi Fasan
I was going to title today’s column “From groundnuts pyramids to rice pyramids”.
I opted for “Muhammadu Buhari is working” for one simple reason: using the former title rather than the latter would have occluded the point I wanted to call attention to which is whether President Muhammadu Buhari has, by his own admission, been the victim of an unfavourable press that cannot see anything good in him much less highlight the good deeds and high performance of his administration.
The former title is the caption of a video I came across on WhatsApp. I would not know if the video ever went “viral” but it was in my view a remarkable video ably narrated by a woman, an enthusiastic supporter of President Buhari, who did not identify herself. I also cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the video but it, nevertheless, speaks for itself should it be confirmed to be true. As narrated in this footage, the scene was the Abuja Trade and Convention Centre.
Has anyone been to this place and can they confirm this woman’s account? The story the video told was and should be sweet music to the ears of Nigerians.
The video displayed what must count as millions of sack loads stacked into the shape of a pyramid.
The sacks, according to the exuberant narrator, were filled with rice. Yes, rice, Nigerians’ favourite staple food! It was great to look at.
The narrator claimed she had never seen anything like that before and I cannot agree less. We were used to seeing sacks of groundnuts shaped into pyramids. These were more or less symbols, for me, of the old North.
They were images from my childhood that I cannot recall encountering again as an adult even on the screen. They belong to a bygone era defined by reliance on agriculture when Nigerians truly believed that farming, however, subsistent and unmechanised, was our national occupation.
Not like in the last few decades when everyone, including the farmers, have moved into the cities in search of white-collar jobs. Everywhere the eyes turned in the footage, it encountered pyramids of rice stacked high into the sky and you cannot but wonder if Nigeria is moving back to the good times in spite of claims that farm areas in Nigeria today are no-go places, abandoned to their new owners, usurpers of no mean pedigree, murderous thieves, kidnappers and Boko Haram operatives affectionately codenamed bandits.
Where did these pyramids of rice come from if the farms are no longer liveable? If sack loads of rice could be found anywhere in Nigeria, much less Abuja, why then are we nostalgically agonising over what a 50 kilogramme bag of rice sold for during the Goodluck Jonathan years compared to the high-end price it now commands?
We are talking here of rice grown in Nigeria, not China or Thailand, our usual sources of rice, as the footage narrator says. This is very flavoured, healthy, life-enhancing rice as opposed to the mostly unhealthy brands that are imported and have been contaminated during long storage in containers off the Nigerian sea coast.
What’s going on here? Is this happening in Nigeria and under the much-vilified Buhari government and nobody is talking about it? Are we so opposed to this government that we cannot see the good it does?
The woman-narrator credits the farmers who produced the rice pyramids as beneficiaries of the Anchor Borrowers Programme, one of the so-called social empowerment initiatives of the Buhari-led government.
The question to ask (if we can believe the evidence of this footage) is: if we have this much rice being produced in Nigeria, how come the effect is apparently not being felt in the country? Could this be the handiwork of middle men and other fishers in troubled water? Why is the price of a 50-kilogramme bag of Thailand rice still sold for N28, 000? Why are the locally produced brands of rice still scarce in the market? Is the supposed conspiracy against the Buhari administration so strong that Nigerians are not allowed to feel the “dividends” of his brand of democracy or governance? Are we that wicked? Or is somebody pulling a fast one on us?
If Nigerian farmers could be producing so much rice on loan facilities extended to them by the government of the day, why are reports of these scarce in the press? Let’s even assume that the Buhari government media handlers lack the sophistication to highlight the good performance of the government, but is the entire Nigerians press also part of the conspiracy?
Where are the rice pyramids from and where do they go to?Are some people involved in the surreptitious exportation of our locally-produced rice that could be great source of revenue, help ease the apparent food crisis in the land and our dependence on foreign products? For more than a year the Buhari government locked land borders into our country with the major aim of stemming the indiscriminate importation of rice and Nigerians cried and cursed!
Could that measure have yielded rewards that many are not aware of? Only recently, indeed last Friday, when I came across this rice pyramids video, the press reported Buhari’s lamentation that his government’s activities are not being fairly reported. He called for fairness in reports of security issues.
In his last interviews that had Nigerians debating his performance in office, the president called for a return to the farms as a panacea to our acute food problem. Many thought his response was incoherent and unconnected to the question asked. But a leader could be incoherent if all they do, including the manifestly great, go unremarked not to say appreciated.
Although, he has himself said he does not expect the appreciation of Nigerians but it would be wrong of Nigerians not to give praise where it is due. Here then is a challenge to all of us, the press especially, to follow up on the good deeds of this government, starting with confirmation that rice pyramids truly exist in Abuja and we can thereafter ask why the markets are not saturated with them and why the probable effects of this touted outburst in rice farming have been met with silence in the national press.
One would not want to believe that the rice pyramids, suppose that they exist, are exhibitionist, a mere show that was orchestrated over the course of many years or months just to prove a point while Nigerians are left hungry.
Should it be proven that the rice pyramids are what they are said to be and are being distributed on a rolling basis across the country, it would be safe to say there is a silent, if not silenced, but radical reform going on in this country’s agriculture sector under President Buhari.