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Yam export is Nigeria’s latest joke

If you believe that jesters’ theatre then, you can believe that I, Ikenna is the current Secretary General of the UN. I never needed anyone to tell me that that was silly trick at best or deceit taken to a different level.

We were told some quantity of yams was sent off the shores and there was some ceremony about it. That’s so nice and we wait for another consignment. Please before you join the bandwagon of Minister Audu Ogbeh’s claptrap, ask some basic questions including  the volume of subvention, grants and loans the minister gave yam farmers since he came to office. Who are these recipients and how did that spiral the yam production in the country?

The much we know is that three states – Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba produce the bulk of yams in Nigeria. Are these not the same people herdsmen have been killing recklessly and grazing on their crops? So when did Minister Ogbeh stave off that crises to amplify the production of yams to start export?

I, just like you have known Chief Ogbeh, not from today, but from the days of his leadership of the PDP. In 2003, after the general elections that brought President Olusegun Obasanjo the second time, I attended the annual lecture of the Newsweek Magazine at the NIIA, Lagos. The guest lecturer was Admiral Mike Akhigbe.

Ogbeh’s speech at the function made me understand better how his mind works. I never forgot what he said ever since to the extent that whenever I see his face or hear his name my mind goes back to the scene he created justifying the brazen rigging of the elections of that year by the PDP.

Ogbeh had said that in Nigeria, the only free and fair election is the one where every candidate wins. That was his way of making what his party did look like non-issue.

It was the same Ogbeh that cautioned Adams Oshiomhole, as the NLC chief to stop threatening Obasanjo with wars and protests over fuel pump price and never to forget that Obasanjo is a General and never afraid of wars.

It is the same Ogbeh who metamorphorsed into one of the born again patriots, progressives and best citizens, as every member of APC is. And we have seen how far they have gone.

On the social media this week, I read an article on Ogbeh’s yam export joke that aligned with my views and decided to revisit the matter and reproduce the piece I don’t know the author as none was indicated. It’s so lucid and apt that more Nigerians should see it.

I reproduce it and giving the credit to the unknown author of this wonderful piece.

I hate to be the one to burst your bubble if you have been grinning from molar to molar, celebrating Pa Audu’s “incredible feat” of exporting 72 tonnes of yam to the US and UK. I watched the report on AIT. Nicely packaged yam, in lovely cartons. I was tempted to celebrate Pa Audu for this achievement. Then I ran the numbers.

According to the May 2017 report by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, 1kg of yam goes for N256. This means that 72 tonnes of yam would have a street value of N18 million. Do the math. Forget that this is less than 50% of the volume of trade on a good day in Katsina Ala yam market every week. Anyway, the yam was well packed, and then freighted to the US and UK. Let us assume that the packaging and freighting cost N3m  (and it might be a lot more, given that yam is heavy). So we have about N15 million net worth of yam (18 – 3 = 15). Assuming we sell it at twice the price, we would make a profit of N15 million. Again, let us assume that we did not incur additional cost in the transaction. So, here is the summary: we exported 72 tonnes of yam, and made N15 million. Good business, good profit.

Now this is where I am going with this: If 72 tonnes of yam is processed to pharmaceutical grade starch, (PGS) (that is the major component of tablets and capsules), we will get about 9.7 tonnes of pure PGS. Depending on your source, pharmaceutical grade starch goes for anywhere from $20 – 40/kg in the international market. And you can google this up. Pa Audu’s 72 tonnes of yam is therefore worth a princely N102 million if it was processed to PGS (assuming it is sold for $30/kg, just to be conservative). So, N18 million worth of yam, processed to N102 million, profit of about N84 million.

The question is, has Audu made N15 million or lost N84 million? Imagine, for instance, that Benue State was interested in setting up a starch production plant in Katsina Ala. Would we need to export 72 tonnes of starch to make N15 million, instead of making 84 million? And this is a state that makes a pitiable IGR of N250m/month. The same Benue produces arguably half of the oranges in the country but there is no single fruit juice making industry in the state. This is not about Benue.

Nigeria produces 50m metric tonnes of cassava annually, 20% of world production according to FAO, but what do we do with it? We convert it to fufu and eat. Zero percent is processed to PGS or other value-added products. If only half of it is processed to PGS, we would be making N35 billion per annum in sales. Again, open Excel and do the math.

So we have Audu exporting yam, exporting jobs, losing revenue and feeling cool. And we have Gov. Ortom in the background, loving the spotlight of this new enterprise, waiting for applause. He cannot see the opportunities and the waste. He cannot understand why IGR is only N250m/month. Then we have the federal government exporting crude, exporting jobs, messing us all up. Then we have us, eating 50m metric tonnes of cassava, converting it to pooh when we can convert it to cash.

And we want to be called a developing country.

We see these things happening almost everyday and everywhere in Nigeria…same thing goes with mackerel, salmon, wheat, rice etc. Meanwhile, Benue, Kogi and Cross River states put together, make up more than 80% of the total land mass of Portugal.

Let’s put our mind and brain into action.”

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3 Comments

  1. charles 22nd July 2017 at 4:46 am

    Poly-trick-cians at work. Let us pray that those yams were well packaged as not to rot before delivery.
    Ruins, ruins and ruins. May I ask, do they want to develop this country?

  2. Tai Mtn 22nd July 2017 at 12:37 pm

    If the writer knew all these facts, why has he not set up a starch factory all these years or use the same enthusiasm he is using against Ogbe to promote starch production. Yam is sold all over Europe and America these days and definitely they come from countries like Nigeria. Does it mean that those countries who have been exporting are as ‘foolish’ as Ogbe as you want us to believe?

  3. Peter Okeke 22nd July 2017 at 1:56 pm

    A wonderful piece that is thought provoking and an exposition of our monumental embarrassment among nations that are less endowed. Oftentimes our patriotism comes last when the potential of making some few crumbs of dollars or pound sterling that drops from the masters tables comes with its rustling temptations and sweet aroma. We become greatly endowed people with incurable stupid and servile mentalities that drag the resources and future of the coming generations down toilet pits.

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