In this interview YUSUF BABALOLA, Governor of Kebbi, Senator Atiku Bagudu explained how Nigeria could stop the smuggling of foreign steamed rice from the Republic of Benin and how the rice plant increased in the state under its administration.
As a rice producing country, how do you smuggle in the Republic of Benin?
It affects us, but at the same time it is a reflection of what we are doing wrong. If we are smart as a country, we should consider other West African countries as part of Nigeria. We must make the Republic of Benin the 37th state of Nigeria. We must encourage their farmers to also become rice farmers, and I am confident that their production is so small that it cannot threaten the production of Nigeria, and thus they will participate in the fight against smuggling in Nigeria.
But sometimes they are also the same victim as we are, because this smuggling is committed by economic saboteurs, which are sometimes transnational in nature. There are foreigners of different nationalities, mostly Asians who exploit countries, but this does not mean that the national authorities of the Benin Republic can not do something, they can, and President Bukhari very criticized it.
Some time ago, the President of the Republic of Benin rushed to Nigeria because Nigeria rightly expressed its anger in this situation. It is not only rice, but also poultry. A bird in Nigeria is threatened by smuggling from the Republic of Benin.
Do you support Nigeria, owning a large stick, closing the borders?
I called it earlier because it would show them that allowing smuggling constitutes a threat to our economic interests, and it is even a threat to the ECOWAS protocol, because if we cannot support each other for domestic production, then one of the main goals of ECOWAS the protocol was defeated.
Closing the border is yes, if it is the only thing that can send the right signals. But more than that, for us Nigerians, we should treat this country as stipulated in the protocol, as if they were part of Nigeria, because it would also help us to help them increase their internal trade. If this is the only thing that will attract attention and make other West African countries know that we mean business, because we mean business. We want Nigeria and indeed West Africa to be productive because we are competitive. We must sell to the world, not the other way around.
In terms of selling to the world, we produce enough rice to feed ourselves?
Indeed, what will happen if you produce, and someone does not buy it from you? What will you do next? You borrowed as part of the borrower's loan program, and you produced rice, soybeans or cassava, and no one buys from you, what will you do next year if you are a farmer? You will reduce production.
Agriculture policy is like the unique selling point of this administration, which is now being studied by many states. What did you do differently that made you achieve this success?
What we did differently is to understand that Nigeria has found itself in many areas, particularly in agriculture, and was encouraged by the policies of President Mu.Hammadou Bukhari, where he correctly invented the mantra: "Let us grow, what we eat and eat, what we grow." And I always believe that Nigeria is competitive. With the least support, Nigerians can produce competitively healthier, and that is what we did.
We started by creating a partnership with the state of Lagos, and I have to thank Governor Ambodé, he was very inventive and grateful and adhered to the same point of view that we can do this, we can provide more risky rice to Nigerians, rice that is produced locally , rice, which is produced in conditions where you can even go and check than rice, which is produced in another place where there is industrial pollution and metal poisoning in water.
If you are not even able to know, NAFDAC complained a lot about the quality of imported rice and the conditions in which it is produced with fertilizers that are used in those countries that we do not even know compared to rice that grows in 36 states of Nigeria, including PKT in the best climates. Thus, this was done by the anchor-borrowers program, that our farmers are mostly hardworking across the country in all cultures, but they need support, they need support to buy the best seedlings, buy sufficient resources, get loans so that they can pay for working strength and for those who rely on irrigation, buying irrigation pumps, buying fuel to feed irrigation pumps and helping them in the market.
Today, rice producers in 36 states make money. Today, rice consumers in Nigeria also appreciate that Nigeria’s rice is better. Today, investors are investing in the creation of companies that will compete with international ones. So, we differently believed in what we are doing, believe in the potential of our country and work so that we unleash this potential, because no matter how much potential you have, if you do not believe in it, it will be in vain.
On the rice issue, about two months ago, one of your commissioners said: Kebbi will export rice. What are the conditions and when do we expect it?
Already people from Benin, the Nigerian Republic and Libya are buying our rice, except when you define exports as sales to the West, but we sell to other countries. In Kebbi you can figure everywhere, and the more we support our farmers to invest, the more they can do.
What is the rice trade between Lagos and Kebbi? How much does it cost?
Over the past year, the deal between the state of Lagos and the state of Kebbi has a total of about N8 billion, but this is just with the Lake rice brand. Mills sell their rice in their brands to the markets of Lagos, the Kano markets and elsewhere. We have three large plants in Kebbi, and since we know their ability, we know the amount of rice rice they buy, and because we know the amount of rice rice they buy, we know the value that is generated.
Dangot is built in another part of the state, and there are many small mills and even millers outside the state, such as Umza in Kano and Olam in the states of Nassarava, Ebony and others, most of whom send their rice from Kebbi.
How many farmers benefit and how does a regular farmer or citizen have access to buying this rice?
This is a very straightforward thing. We registered under the Borrowers-Anchors Program (ABP), in which 200,000 farmers participated. What I mean by participating farmers are farmers whose biometrics have been captured, whose farm is known, whose farm size is known, whose credits and ways of repayment are known. And we can measure their productivity gains, some of them used to produce one ton per hectare, now they produce up to seven tons per hectare.
Thus, because of this, we can measure our profit. Rice is available everywhere, so local consumers can buy because rice is produced and consumed mostly worldwide. There are small-scale mills, in particular, women-mills, some of which, as you can see, provide a local market, then there are industrial mills that produce and pack for larger markets and for export.
You mentioned that Dangot is building a mill in another part of the state. In general, how many industrial enterprises we have a Kebby state?
Large – four, but we also have smaller ones. Most of the rice millers crushed small, and you have hundreds of small millers, because most of them are done by women. About two months ago we bought 250 small mills to give women because we don’t want them to lose more millers, because the market is for everyone.
Returning to the Anchor Borrowers Program, how were you able to solve the problem of debtors?
I think that there are two mistakes that people make, the first goal of the program is to make Nigeria self-sufficient. This is associated with a certain risk. So, if you evaluate the program using redemption, you can miss the broader task, since the broader goal is to make Nigeria self-sufficient, create work. And then we try to convince people who are in debt to repay their debt.
What tends to happen in the financial system, so we say that the financial system is unfair to the value sector if a company borrows money and they cannot pay at that time that tends to be restructured, they understand why they did not fulfill and did not encourage them to reorganize.
This is how the Nigeria Asset Management Company (AMSON) was created, because many bankers provided loans to large companies and large individuals who cannot pay. So what have we done? We encouraged them, even by creating an institution that took bad loans from the banking sector and worked with these debtors to pay them. We must consider agriculture, which will provide Nigeria with self-sufficiency in many cultures. We need to understand that at the initial stage we can take a risk.
I do not justify the lack of payment, but what I say – if it is only about $ 100 billion.. The United States was loaned under the Anchor Borrowers Program, and the repayment is between 40 and 60%, I think this is a very good record, dealing with the program, which is about three years old, and it has achieved the main national goal – rice self-sufficiency.
Consciousness is only goodwill, the respect that Nigeria brings that when we say that we will do something, the world will become serious for us. When President Bukhari met with world leaders, one of the things he told them and proudly agreed with the fact was that Nigeria had reduced rice imports by 90 percent. When he met with President Trump, he repeated the same thing as a statement of respect for our country, which does not even have monetary value.
As for IGR, how much do you get from the rice business in the state?
As I said, we have a big millers who buy rice drinks, employ people and generate income. For us, this was the first goal for the state. We want the state with authorized persons, authorized people then to do something as important as what the tax authorities collect, which means that they can send their children to school, take care of their children, they can provide medical care to themselves, they can feed themselves.
This is our first goal, this is our first paradigm, we do not think about tax revenues. We want people to appreciate the government, appreciate what the government can do for them, believe that they can achieve development, and then their contribution to the state will come later.
How did you overcome the challenge to succeed?
The biggest problem is that we, the Nigerians, are not yet fully aware that agriculture is the most talked about in international trade, and because of this, most of our commitments are not implemented, and we do not have sufficient mobilization of stakeholders to oppose this. more difficult problem, Why do we import meat from abroad, why do we import milk, why do we import wheat, because these countries have established barriers, significantly subsidizing their farmers so that instead of buying and from us we bought from them.
This is the biggest problem of agriculture, be it rice, cassava, milk, poultry. Why are we here talking about the Benin Republic who is selling chicken in Nigeria, what a shame. Most of us grew up in families where chickens run easily. Therefore, if we endow our own farmers, they can not only produce enough chickens and eggs for Nigerians, but they can also export.
The biggest problem was that we didn’t have a collective assessment as a nation, but recently and fortunately, President Muhammad Bukhari correctly identified it with enough help from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as chairman of the NEC and many initiatives. We are the ones that should be sold to Europe, not to buy from Europe. Today, rice in the lake is very popular, because good people in Lagos, which is a critical market, appreciated it, we spent our time on the use of imported rice with lower quality, so we can do better for ourselves.
Do you think we can abolish Nigerian minds to patronize foreign rice?
That's why I talked about stakeholders, the media is the interested party. They have to interpret stories, especially because it’s true, they have to show that what we import, whether rice or poultry, is not as good as Nigerian products. The more we do, the more we trust ourselves.