“Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Edison, 1847-1931. US inventor.
To which President Theodore Roosevelt, 1858-1919, added that “He who makes no mistakes makes no progress.”
Honourable Minister, permit me to disclose to all those reading this article that we have never met. But, you did something which an Old Boy of Kings College, KC, who grew up with the same attributes of regard for honourable conduct which only a handful of public servants have ever done. You stood for honour. I was so impressed with your courage and sense of responsibility at the time as to promise myself to demonstrate my personal gratitude whenever the occasion arises on behalf of other Nigerians for the risk you took. Permit me to redeem my pledge now – even though you were not aware of it.
As an old school person myself, Igbobi College, IC, your stand for honour resonated so loudly that it was impossible for me not to applaud you for the position you took. You were then the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, when your colleague, Dr Ngige, the ex-Governor of Anambra State was ordered kidnapped by the financier of the party in the state at the time. Right there in Aso Rock, with President Obasanjo present, it was revealed that the election of Ngige was rigged. While all the others present, including Obasajo, acted as if nothing serious happened, you wrote to the former President asking a principled question: WHAT HAPPENED TO HONOUR? Or something like that. Obasanjo kicked you out of the office and brought in another Chairman for whom honour is always dispensable.
But, you won me over as an everlasting fan. Then, as now, I came to believe that any mistake made by you is genuine human error to which all of us are prone. The exported yam debacle for which you are now being ridiculed has provided me with the opportunity to be a minority, and possibly the only person, standing on your side with you on this matter, now and in the future.
However, before readers go away with the impression that this is an emotional reaction, let me quickly point out that I have had some experience with attempts to export Nigerian food products abroad before. Some were successful; others were not for various reasons too numerous to explain. I am not an armchair commentator in this business. That explains why I was impressed by the efforts of Chief Audu Ogheh and the private sector exporters who have taken up this challenge to export yam abroad. I applaud them even with the failure.
Let me start with the agricultural economics side of the issue. Any country which accounts for sixty(60) per cent of any commodity globally has already established a current competitive advantage over others. That country is also probably wasting a large quantity of what is produced on account of various infrastructural deficiencies. In Nigeria, causes of post harvest losses include rural roads to bring the products to the urban areas; lack of safe storage facilities resulting in damage to the yams; losses sustained on the road etc. We lack the data to estimate the percentage of post harvest losses simply because the funds are lacking to bring the yams to the cities – not to talk of the ports for export to other countries.
Contrary to the views of those who think exporting yams will deprive Nigerians of food, exporting will actually reduce post-harvest losses by speeding up the process of evacuation from our makeshift storage facilities and farmers will begin to receive the rewards of their labor and that will provide more incentive for them to expand cultivation and yield per hectare of land. That is, or should be, the goal of this export initiative. We should not give up now that we are close to success.
There is also a collateral benefit which expanding land brought into yam cultivation will bring. Virtually no farm cultivated to produce yam yields only yam as harvest. Most of them engage in alley crop production – especially vegetable. So, as we expand acreage for yam we will also be producing vegetables – which are nutritionally valuable.
The Honourable Minister is also a farmer, so he understands what I am talking about. But, most Nigerians are not. Farming challenges are more difficult to overcome than those in manufacturing and services. But, once overcome, the returns on investment are monumentally higher. That is why we must support Audu Ogbeh to succeed in this quest to export yams. In reality, what we will be exporting will be only a fraction of what rots away between the farm gate and our eating places – be they palatial mansions, 5-Star hotels or road side restaurants.
I am aware that the question in reader’s minds regarding what went wrong and what we can do about it has not been answered. Rest assured that the second part of this series will honestly address those issues as best as I can. What every reader of this article should go away with is the hopeful message that Nigeria stands today on the verge of becoming the world’s largest exporter of yams and we will generate billions of dollars from the venture – thanks to Audu Igbeh; Old KC “boy”.
He missed road; he should have stopped at Igbobi College. Better school really –if I may say so.