Dear Audu Ogbeh, tomatoes should be the most pressing thing on your mind now

Dear Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development,

We hope this meets you well.

It’s only a few days into the New Year and we’d hate it too if someone chose now to add more to our plates than we had bargained for. So we plead extenuation ahead of making the demands we are about to.

Fondly, we recall when you were confirmed as the Minister of Agriculture by the Senate. You had been out of active governance for 32 years. Rather than allow us to be daunted and sceptical because of that, you assured us of your pedigree. You promised us since you “left Government in 1983, [you had] been in School; the School of life learning about Agriculture.”

Surely if he’d been at this for 32 years, he’ll know how to consolidate President Buhari’s efforts to shift some of our economic burdens to agriculture; effectively diversifying our crudely dependent economy, we thought. We believed in you. Even when we heard that you had accused us Nigerians of being the reason why our staple food, rice was expensive, we thought “surely, he did not mean that”. They were saying you had said that the reason why rice was so expensive was because Nigerians eat too much of it. But we were sure that you’d know if no one else did, how much we’d rather not eat rice alone if we could find a cheaper alternative. Anyway, the good rice had become too expensive for many of us to even rely on at the time so we endured all year and celebrated “low-key” at the end of the year with the more affordable “locally produced” rice – sometimes rubber was all we got – but there’s no need to open old wounds.

So much about rice. It was important to talk briefly about that before moving to what may lead up to us losing faith in you soon. Tomatoes. A crises that has been looming but you know us, we always manage to stay smiling. It could be the amazingness of Nigerian Jollof or just God but we know we have been surviving and we’ll love to keep it that way. Actually, we’ll love to do more than survive. We deserve to flourish. But we know how bad things are and choose to believe you are on top of things so we’ll survive for now.

However, we have been hearing for some time now the whispers from tomato paste manufacturers that their industry is on the verge of collapse. This is dire. This is dire, sir. We cannot survive expensive rice and no tomato paste at once! You must know that. You must.

Last month, Mr. Nnamdi Nnodebe of the Union of Tomato Paste Manufacturers in Nigeria bitterly complained that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) policy on Forex to exclude triple concentrate tomato paste from the scope of the 41 items on the restricted list is suffocating their manufacturing.

We know that you are most likely still trying to fix the looming problem of locusts and quelea birds that are massing up in Kebbi, Zamfara, Sokoto and Jigawa States. But we beg of you to take this just as seriously.

Your complaint about our habit of importation of everything – even toothpick – is valid but you haven’t left us much of a choice seeing as it is not really our fault hat we cannot yet produce triple concentrate. The union leader gave a perfect analogy:

“when someone is sick instead of providing an alternative treatment you take away the only treatment because you feel the drugs are not the best in the market but you still fail to provide an alternative; what do you think will happen to the sick person?”

Just to be clear, if the CBN policy remains, what the tomato manufacturers are saying is that keeping the concentrate on the list will bring manufacturing to a grinding halt. Even we do not have to be experts to understand that means we will then return to importing tomato paste (the finished product).

You won’t be happy and neither will we. So this is us bringing this pressing matter to your notice. We are sure you probably didn’t hear about their outburst yet is why we haven’t heard you address this.

We hope that you can work something out with Mr. Emefiele of the Central Bank and maybe mention this to President Buhari at the next Federal Executive Council meeting. You know, just do your job. Let’s all remain happy.

With lots of concern,


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