Chi Ibe profiles Akinwunmi Adesina: There is something about the man (Y!/YNaija.com Person of the Year 2013 Nominee)

by Chi Ibe

Minister of Agriculture and YPOTY 2013 nominee, Akinwunmi Adesina
Minister of Agriculture and YPOTY 2013 nominee, Akinwunmi Adesina

Imagine for a moment that Winston Churchill had taken his War Cabinet’s advice to end the war after the collapse of France in 1940. Hitler had pretty much won the war by then and rightly believed so. But the gambler in Churchill wouldn’t give in. Instead, he began to use his most powerful weapon – words – to rally the British people and prolong the war. Until the Americans started arriving in 1942 and helped to save the day. Churchill, that most famous of gamblers, got lucky, but only by staying in the game.

There’s no shortage of missteps to pick from Akin Adesina’s stewardship as Minister of Agriculture in his nearly 3 years of stewardship. Like unleavened bread, the much heralded cassava bread has failed to rise to the occasion.  Rice smugglers have been making out like bandits through our porous borders, unable to believe their luck at the gift of high tariffs on imported rice (not matched by local production) that the government has handed to them. The Benin Republic government indeed are grateful for this economic ‘stimulus’ handed to them by their Nigerian neighbours. Then there was the phones for farmers’ public relations fiasco which threatened to stick to write him off as just another disappointing government minister. There’s currently something fishy about the proposed ban (or not) of imported fishes.

But then, despite all of that – there is something about the man.

There is the unmistakeable passion he has for the job he is doing. He has the sense of a man who can rebuild the broken walls of our agriculture. This is why he always starts by reminding us what we once were as a food-producing nation. Thus, nothing he is attempting is radically new; he seeks to return us to what we used to be before the disease took hold of us.

There is the gravitas he brings to his job especially in international circles. He flies the Nigerian flag and earns respect for the country on his own merit not on some illusory past glory. He is comfortable in business circles – the Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2013 award lends credence to this. Indeed, he never fails to remind us that agriculture is a business and not just something government does. Perhaps the jury is still out on his fertilizer programme and GES, but what these programmes seek to do is to establish, for the first time in a lot of cases, a direct relationship between farmers and their government, sans the middlemen who have always ensured such programmes fail.

But most importantly his biggest achievement might be something that isn’t even a policy and is tough to quantify – getting people to think differently about agriculture and making it interesting to the not so usual suspects. If the plural of anecdote is data, then one can be excited by the stories of young men and women who are leaving offices to try their hands at farming.

Before the famous victory over Hitler, Churchill’s CV looked pretty ordinary if not poor. But by refusing to be cowed and trying again and again, his big break came. Eventually.

Once can one’s neck out, perilous as it is, and place a bet on Akin Adesina. He’s going to get lucky and we will remember his stewardship for it. Amen.

– Chi Ibe is a staff writer for YNaija.com

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