“Liars ought to have good memories. Algernon Sidney, 1622-1683.
What is it about rice that makes it the favorite food item about which Nigerian political leaders lie so much? Is it because rice rhymes easily with vice, lies and lice (those insect parasites feeding on human blood? Lately in Nigeria leading Nigerians on both sides of our great political divide – APC and PDP – have taken to releasing vicious lies about rice.
First, it was the Federal Ministry of Agriculture which was releasing figures from fantasyland telling us that Nigeria is almost eighty per cent self-sufficient in rice production only for Chief Audu Ogbeh to raise alarm last month that a neigbouring country was importing more rice for Nigeria, than China with a population of 1.3 billion. Ogbeh must be one of the few people in Nigeria who does not realize that most Nigerians live on imported rice – smuggled or not. But, he is not alone as this true story from Akwa Ibom State will prove to the reader.
“You cannot adopt politics as a profession and remain honest.”
Louis McHenry Howe, 1871-1936. To this observation, former US President Obama added in South Africa on July 16, 2018 that “All politicians lie. But, in the past when they were caught lying, they feel ashamed. But, now they just lie and lie some more.” (CNN)
Coincidentally, on that same July 16, 2018, at Ikot Ekpene Stadium, the state’s People Democratic Party, PDP, was holding a political rally designed to get the political power-holders in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District to, not only endorse Governor Udom Emmanuel and Senator Godswill Akpabio for second term, but, to declare them “unopposed”. Those gathered at the venue for the event, which was televised live on AIT, must have conveniently forgotten that the PDP is desperately trying to re-brand itself and closure of the political space to other contestants for office sabotages the effort. But, that is the business of the PDP; not yours and mine. What is our business is what was said on that day by some key individuals to the thousands gathered at the venue and to thousands more watching the telecast on the fateful day.
It is necessary at this point to explain why I was in Akwa Ibom on that day. Being politically neutral, I have no interest whatsoever in the lies that members of all the political associations in Nigeria share among themselves. I am a firm believer in the verdict of Dr. John Arbuthnot, 1667-1735, that “All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies.” When Vincent Ogbuluafor, former PDP Chairman predicted that the PDP will rule for 70 years, he was trying to play God and I told him so. Even Ogbuluafor was shown the way out of office before his term expired. The APC now sitting on a Throne of Ice is unraveling even faster that the PDP. I have no interest in all the rigmarole of politics.
I was in Akwa Ibom mainly to consult with Obong Victor Attah, my mentor, senior brother and friend, the Father of Modern Akwa Ibom State whose 80th birthday comes up on November 20, 2018 and to assist in the preparations for the great occasion. To Attah, I owe a sacred duty to participate fully. Then there is a standing pledge to late Mrs Allison Nneyin Attah, former First Lady who on her death bed said to me. “Dr promise me you will never leave Attah.” My reply was simple. “Madam, that is the easiest thing to ask of me. You have my promise, Madam.”
But, I have another duty, just as sacred. As a media man, I have a responsibility to the Nigerian people wherever they may be and who ever they might be to bring to them the truth about matters concerning them and of general interest. Rice is one of them. It is not by coincidence that the grain is the largest produced grain in the world and the chief ingredient for “stomach infrastructure”. As I have repeated on these pages before, I was neck deep in rice business – growing, buying and milling – in Sokoto until death forced me to return to my Lagos State. I still honestly believe Nigeria can be self-sufficient in rice production – if we go about it the right way. There is no space to explain that statement.
Just as I was preparing my notes for the meeting with Attah, two items in one of the national newspapers caught my attention. First, there was a picture of a Professor (God save us from professors in Nigeria!!) presenting to Governor Udom Emmanuel a sample of bags of rice said to have been produced at Ini Local Government. Now, the easiest way to get my attention and unknowingly invite a visit is to mention “rice being grown or milled anywhere in Nigeria. I will certainly go there to see for myself what is being advertised.
Second, on July 11, 2018, I was reading the same national newspaper which published the photograph of the professor presenting “Ini LG rice” to Governor Udom, when an article written by one Joseph Michael. It was most probably a fake name because Akwa Ibom indigenes seldom use two foreign names. It was titled “Will Akpabio prove pundits wrong?”. In that article, “Mr Michael” wrote as follows: “…in less than three years of being in the saddle as the state governor. The state (Akwa IBom) has a thriving pencil and toothpick factory; a starch manufacturing company…fertilizer blending plant…He (Gov Emmanuel) is working on flour mills..” Without realizing it, Mr Michael had painted the picture of a miracle working Governor whose achievements must be chronicled for Nigerians and other state governors who have achieved little in three years. I penciled down visits to all those factories – if time was available. Given my tight schedule, I did not expect time to be available.
Furthermore, each time I find myself in any state which has a thriving local and community media, I must buy some of the tabloids and get to the grassroots of that state’s politics. Akwa Ibom has one of the largest and most vibrant collections of local print media. The first shock I received was from the local media. Apparently some people in the state were not convinced that the factories mentioned by Michael exist at all. And, if they did, they were not thriving as he claimed. That increased my interest in the rice mill.
But, what finally triggered my visit to Ini was the PDP rally on Monday, July 16, 2018 at Ikot Ekpene. We had not finished our discussions on planning for the birthday when Attah announced he had to go to Portharcourt for two days. I had to wait for him at Uyo, and I had two days on my hands. On Monday, I sat in front of the television to watch the broadcast of the PDP show at Ikot Ekpene township stadium. After the usual twaddle for which Nigerian MCs are known worldwide, the Chairman of the occasion was introduced at 1.05pm. Engineer Chris Ekpeyong, former Deputy Governor, among other things made this startling statement, which is quoted verbatim. “We have been told you are building a rice industry. We want to see it.” Ekpeyong is from the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District and a leader in every true sense of the word. Yet, here he was talking as if the rice mill was fictional – “we want to see it.”
At 2.00pm Governor Udom Emmanuel stepped up and after the usual malarkey for which politicians are known worldwide had this to say about the rice mill at Ini LG. “We launched Made in Akwa Ibom rice which is now available. You will get over fifty bags of rice if you want it.” That was the final inducement for me to go to Ini LG and buy Made In Akwa Ibom rice. But, first, I went to various markets in Uyo to ask for Akwa Ibom rice and the rice merchants looked at me as if I needed a straight jacket. So, on Tuesday, July 17, 2018, I went to Ini in search of rice. As it turned out, it is only about twenty minutes drive from Ikot Ekpene and you pass through Ikono L.G before turning right on the Arochukwu road to reach Ini. There I saw an uncompleted unit with a sign board reading:
IBOM AGRICON FARMS LTD
RICE PROCESSING FACTORY
RC 1417367 INI LG.
I saw a few people working there and asked to buy rice. There was none. Furthermore, as an expert in rice, it is obvious there is no mill there; at best a rice repackaging outlet. But, there was no rice to buy.
Somebody must be deceiving the Governor and Senator Akpabio.
N.B. There is more….
NIGERIANS CAUGHT IN A POLITICAL VICE GRIP
“A political party deserves the approbation of America only as it represents the ideals, the aspirations and hopes of Americans. If it is anything else, it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.”
US President Dwight Eisenhower, 1890-1969, Nov 7, 1956.
Back in 2013, as it became clear that Nigeria could not survive four more years of Jonathan, and as the APC was being formed, I made some predictions which are now coming true with sickening ferocity. Read a few from an article titled “IS APC THE ANSWER?”
Even the devil knows that after fourteen years in government, at the Federal level, and in most states, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, has failed. There is hardly any problem we had as a nation, in 1999, that has not got worse or remained unsolved. The singular exception has been communications and the GSM revolution. Education, infrastructure, power supply, corruption and official greed remain with us; same with high unemployment and the decline of industries. Today, unlike any time in the past, we live under a Mrs President who intrudes into operations of government, at home and abroad, at will, bringing with each intrusion discord and sometimes ridicule. We know the problems; even if some ethnic jingoists would want the rest of us to join them in pretending that all is well. But, from now until 2015 and, perhaps beyond, the most urgent question is: Is APC, as presently constituted, the answer? My answer for now is: perhaps not. We may need another political party.