by Richard-Mark Mbaram
This relentlessly passionate minister got over $5 billion of investments into the agriculture sector in just three years. New rice investors alone have put up an additional $2.6 billion, including $1 billion by Dangote.
Elections are here and this is the silly season when even thieves pontificate as saints. For those who have never been in public office, we could understand, possibly forgive their ignorance. But, how do we explain the failure of someone who blew two chances to make a change, but chose to turn around and vilify another who is making the change to happen after him? None can be more disingenuous and laughable as the attempt of Adamu Bello, an ex-minister of agriculture whose term was known for the worst on fertilizer corruption, to disparage the work and achievements of Nigeria’s reformist minister of agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina.
Let me say as someone who has followed affairs of governments for decades, that there is no comparison between Adesina and Bello. Adesina is the most refreshing face to come into government in recent times with world class professional pedigree and who in a short period of 3 years totally transformed the agriculture of Nigeria. He is undisputedly the best minister of agriculture Nigeria has had since independence.
The irony is that while millions of farmers praise the incredible work of the minister based on extraordinary achievements and revolutionary impacts, some office-bound pen clutchers, who have neither been to a farm nor know issues on the ground, turn themselves into purveyors of a preferred narrative. Unable to cope with his strings of achievements, creativity, professionalism, relentless passion and iron clad integrity, they simply throw up their hands and say he is dazzling them. Let us get real, the truth is that failure and underperformance are the preferred narratives in Nigeria, especially for public officers, but Adesina is excelling.
When the worst flood in the history of Nigeria occurred in 2012, they spewed the preferred narrative: looming food crisis, famine, imminent national destitution. Unperturbed, Adesina went on to launch the Flood Recovery Food Production Program. The President launched the National Dry Season Farming Policy, the first in our nation’s history. The consequence of this was that Nigeria now produces its food in both wet and dry seasons. Rather than a food crisis, the price of food declined by February of 2013, as food production from dry season boosted supply. By the third quarter, the Financial Derivatives had this to say: “Price of food continues to decline, with farm harvests doing wonders”. Nigeria never experienced a food crisis. The purveyors of doom had been silenced but they never acknowledged the incredible feat of how a nation survived its worst flood in history and turned adversity into opportunity. The reason was simple: Adesina’s success flew in the face of the preferred narrative.
To excel or dare to achieve draws vilification. To acquiesce to lacklustre performance, hide your light, put it under the bushel, and in false humility accept you are not good, draws sympathy. This tyranny of false narrative does not ask critical questions to find out why things are the way they are, or question mundaneness in public office, but rather praises those who thoroughly have bastardized the economy, pilfered and turned the poor into pitiable wretchedness. Those who oppress the poor are eulogized; those who steal are celebrated, while anyone daring to be different and who never succumbs to the preferred narrative of failure is circumcised without any anesthesia.
Adesina has no apologies for the visible success in the agriculture sector. It is not a success of the Minister alone, it is an incredible outcome of radical policy reforms, penchant for impacts and responsiveness of our farmers, banks, research institutions, private sector, and the unparalleled set of production incentives. Some would prefer that this brilliant technocrat with an intimidating intellect and mind for details gives no statistics, stumbles along and accept any destination is as good as another.
The detractors would ignore facts on the ground and deliberately paint the preferred narrative, even as our farmers and private sector, local and foreign, have embarked on an incredible transformation in the agriculture sector. To them, investors pouring billions of dollars into agriculture are under some illusion, captivated and under the spell of a remarkably cerebral minister of agriculture, who has deluded them into some form of acquiescence. Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Flour mills of Nigeria, OLAM, Unilever, major global seed companies and the world’s number one food company are so dazzled by this man that they just pour billions into agriculture without thinking about the consequence.
They seem prepared to proclaim that Adesina’s achievements that brought the world’s leading organisations, from World Bank, Bill Gates, Kofi Annan,US government, UK, Germany, Africa Development Bank, FAO and IFAD, with over $1 billion in financing commitments – a record in Nigeria’s history – all just happened from Adesina’s alluring charm and magic wand that made their brains functionless. Let’s face the fact: Adesina is excelling and jealousy-driven underachievers and avowed detractors just can’t understand the pace of his success. The pace makes them dizzy because they are not used to this kind of transformation that breaks all barriers. That a racing car is completing the laps in record breathtaking time, as you move your head in repeated frenzy to keep up, does not mean a record is not being set.
The e-wallet system he developed to deliver fertilizer and seeds directly to farmers via electronic vouchers on mobile phones was initially lampooned and misunderstood. The preferred narrative was it would fail. Today, the e-wallet has reached over 14 million farmers. For anyone who visits farmers across the country one thing would be clear: bountiful harvests and praises for a President who supports them and his dynamic and relentlessly passionate Minister of Agriculture who has transformed their lives.
Even the once skeptical National Assembly members, across all party lines now praise Adesina for this incredible feat based on what they have seen on the ground in their constituencies. That is why the National Assembly has said it would legislate the system to enshrine transparency and accountability for all times, even beyond the term of the present Minister. Nigeria is the first in the world to develop the e-wallet for reaching farmers and accolades are pouring in from the African Union as several other African countries are now copying it from Nigeria, including Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya. Beyond Africa, India, China and Brazil are knocking on Nigeria’s doors. To Adesina’s detractors he simply mesmerized them through intellectual hypnotism. What ingenuity. What level of incredulity.
The rice policy he put in place, derided at first, is now a success. Within 3 years 6 million rice farmers received improved rice seeds and fertilizers, expanded paddy rice production by 2 million hectares and 7 million metric tons. The Africa Rice Center, the USAID/Markets and several international organizations who directly monitor the rice program are full of praises. The rice millers in the country, now impressed with the quality rice now being produced, are full of praises for the revolution in the rice sector. The number of large integrated rice mills in the country expanded from just one in 2011 to over 25 today.
Food imports declined from N1.1 trillion in 2009 to N 634 billion by December of 2013. Food price inflation declined from 8.1 % to 7.9% in November 2014 despite the devaluation of naira and the oil price volatility. These trends, both the CBN and NBS attribute to continued decline in food prices as Agric output continues to rise. All the hard work of Adesina in guiding his ministry to produce 21 million MT of food in three years are now showing. Despite the devaluation, food prices have remained relatively stable. In other civilizations a transformative leader like him would be celebrated and promoted for higher office.
This relentlessly passionate minister got over $5 billion of investments into the agriculture sector in just three years. New rice investors alone have put up an additional $2.6 billion, including $1 billion by Dangote. Never in the history of Nigerian agriculture has anything like this happened. Investors are rushing daily into Nigerian agriculture. The largest development bank in the world, KfW of Germany just invested 30 million euros in the $100 million Fund for Financing Agriculture in Nigeria, the first-ever private equity fund for agriculture in the history of Nigeria. The KfW director general, Doris Khun, said this was the first time the KfW was doing such an investment in the world and it was due to how agriculture is being transparently and professionally managed in Nigeria. The Nigerian Sovereign Wealth Investment Fund invested $10 million. To Adesina’s detractors he simply put them all these global institutions who have rigorous due diligence under influence of his charms. He must be the most powerful man in the world. How ludicrous.
Those who pilfered under the old massively corrupt fertilizer scams are now back, trying to confuse people. How else do we place an Adamu Bello who once ran the ministry of agriculture under two successive administrations? Can we safely describe him among the best, or among the worst? Just Google his name. His entire two-term of seven years had one incontrovertible achievement: a medal in fraudulent fertilizer scandals. He sat over scandalous fertilizer contract inflation and scams, including N14 billion impropriety in fertilizer contracts which led to probes by the EFCC and the senate. Under him, allegations were rife his companies and cronies got fertilizer contracts. Under Adesina, the scandalous reputation of the ministry of agriculture was turned around. He boldly and decisively ended the rottenly corrupt system, for which he is acclaimed. Adamu Bello should now be held accountable and publish the number and names of farmers who got his subsided fertilizers, state by state, for his seven years as minister.
Ask around the country, the ministry of agriculture is seen today as one of the best top performing in the nation. The water fountain in front of the once decrepit building of the ministry used to be known under Adamu Bello as the open market for fertilizer contractors and traders in contract papers, called the “fertilizer contract exchange market”. Adamu Bello should go today to the Ministry of Agriculture, and see the totally rebuilt and furnished with a corporate look that matches top-end corporate offices. The open fertilizer contract exchange market vanished three years ago as an incorruptible Adesina boldly dismantled the rotten and corrupt fertilizer contracting and procurement system. For millions of farmers who now easily get their fertilizers through his revolutionary e-wallet system on mobile phones, Adesina is a hero. That’s why they call him the “farmers minister”. As Adesina is always quick to point out “I work for the farmers’ president”.
There is no comparison at all between Adesina and his predecessor ministers of agriculture. His real achievements are on the ground for all to see. From farmers, private sector agribusinesses, investors, young graduates, bankers, governors, one thing is clear and universally agreed by those who know: Adesina has totally turned agriculture around. His light and unparalleled accomplishments cannot be hidden or distorted by unimpressive non achievers who sat over a rotten Ministry of Agriculture that Adesina has now restored to glory.
Adesina is unapologetically pushing the frontiers of agriculture, food and agribusiness with an intellectual, patriotic and religious zeal that has never been seen in the sector. So infectious and transformative are his innovations and capacity to build coalitions from farmers, presidents, ministers, private sector and civil society, for focus on transformative ideas in agriculture, that the Minister of Agriculture of Kenya called him “Africa’s minister of agriculture”. The truth is that he stands in a league of his own and no mudslinging can diminish his incredible performance.
Those who truly love Nigeria would not find any fun in this futile journey of vilifying a reformer. We should pray to have more like him in other sectors of the Nigerian political economy. Those who failed to achieve, especially when they had almost everything going for them, should not seek to pull those who manage to achieve more with less after them.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.