I WAS at the main market in Uyin-Ekiti last Sunday February 27. Uyin is one of the towns in Irepodun Local Government of Ekiti State. That is one local government that has produced at least four governors. General Adeyinka Adebayo was the second military governor of old Western state. His son, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, was the first elected governor of Ekiti State. Both are from Uyin-Ekiti.
The incumbent Governor Ayodele Fayose is from Afao from the same local government. Ernest Adeleye, who was military governor of Rivers State during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, is from Igede in the same local government. Therefore, Irepodun is well positioned in the power equation of Ekiti State.
But I was in Uyin to look for what we now call local rice. In Ekiti, it is called Igbemo rice, named after the town which has endured the rigour of producing local rice despite the overwhelming oppression of imported rice. I moved round the local market which was in full session despite being Sunday. There was no Igbemo rice in Uyin market. What we have is Aroso rice, the imported brand from Thailand and other Asia countries. Our country spends an average of N15 billion every month to import these brands of rice. We Nigerians may be poor, but we do have an expensive palate.
There was a time Ekiti was producing the best rice in the world. The rice belt was a swath of fertile land from Ikole to Igbemo, Ire, Uyin, Aramoko, Okemesi, Efon-Alaaye and many other towns. Our people made good money from it. In those days, every community had its cluster of rice-mills. I remember those days in Okemesi when the rice mills use to work round the clock during the milling season. Today the rice mills are silent and just like Uyin, it is Thai rice that dominates Okemesi market.
It is time we produce more of what we consume and export more what we produce. In that way, we would not be complaining that the dollar exchange rate is affecting the price of garri
Now each morning in Okemesi, like the other Ekiti towns, the youths would gather at every intersection perched anxiously on their okada, bemoaning their fate and thinking of the next round of politicking when there would be drama, free drinks and enough empty promises from politicians to drown their sorrows.
How did we get to this pass? During the Second Republic, Nigerians fell in love with Nigerian rice especially the Ekiti brand. It was a roaring romance. With money coming in, our people used every opportunity to celebrate their great relationship with rice, the king of grains, which was keeping cocoa, the king of crops in its proper place. Farmer and trader guilds would parade the towns in colourful aso-ebi at any pretence dancing to the beats of local orchestra and gangan drummers.
They would return from their farms stead on Friday evening and the long weekend will start which would not end until Monday dusk. Every Monday, the guilds would meet, have a feast of pounded yam and bush meat. Soon, the palm wine tapper was made poorer despite these feasts for these men and women of money preferred beer imported from Lagos and Ilesha. Every farmer wants to show off his new wealth while the rice mills were roaring day and night. That was how the new wealth of the rice farmers destroyed the age old trade of the palm-wine tapper.
Now the rice mills are silent and the farmer sneak into town like a debtor fearful of being seeing by a vengeful creditor. In truth, it was the government that took away the market from the Ekiti rice growers. It started when President Shehu Aliyu Shagari fell in love with rice. His government wanted Nigerians to eat more rice than the Ekiti farmers could produce. The regime then set up a Presidential Task Force on Rice headed by Alhaji Umarru Dikko, then the minister of Transport. The committee duty was not to show Ekiti farmers how to grow more rice to meet the requirement of our rising appetite for rice, but to open our gate for the importation of rice from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and anywhere else where that magic grain can be found outside the shores of Nigeria.
Since then, Nigerians have developed far bigger appetites.
In this country, there are people who feed on imported mushrooms and drink only juice made in Europe. We have appetite for everything including frozen turkey from Denmark, milk from Norway, wine from South Africa, brandy from France and toothpick from China. In this new twist, our women are in the forefront. Has it occurred to you now that you can hardly find a woman wearing African hairdo? You may still find her if you have enough patience like the man waiting to view a truly black beauty on Nollywood.
What is clear is that our governments have lost the magic to chart the future of Nigeria. In the past, all the big enterprises, the schools, the hospitals, the airline, the telecommunication company, the industries, the banks and insurance companies were all founded and owned by the government. We have now discovered that the visions of the founding fathers are different from the visions of the successor generations. The generation that enjoyed free medical service and free education cannot replicate the same when it got the chance to rule. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. We are poorer and angrier now than when Nigeria was being ruled by only three premiers. Now we have 36 governors and yet we view the future with trepidation.
We have seen now that the era of government as the commander of the economy is past. What would have been the fate of our country if government is still in charge of telecommunication and the President can hire and fire the managing directors of Globacom and MTN or appoint the new chairman of Dangote Corporation? We have seen the mess made by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, which has held on tenaciously to its wounded monopoly of the petroleum sector. The NNPC is now involved in merchandising, peddling petrol by the roadsides through its so-called mega stations. It is time government rethink the entire economic infrastructures of Nigeria and the less government involvements we have, I believe, the better.
In the past, the government of Nigeria use to be in charge of cement, the banks and all the universities. Now we have seen what has happened with official encouragement and the opening up of many sectors to private players. If there is no Dangote Cement, what would be the price of cement in Nigeria today? With the rising cost of dollars, how would we be able to finance cement importation for our development? Today the country is almost meeting all its local demand for cement. The icing on the cake is that a Nigerian citizen has become a major player in the industry world wide.
It is good that President Muhammadu Buhari is contemplating a national debate on Nigeria’s economic emergency. The truth is that we need less of three things: less government, less imports, and less corruption. If Dangote and co can make our country self-sufficient in cement production, how can we not be self-sufficient in rice production?
We remember that our country was once producing its own vehicles, its own tyres, its own textiles and its own shoes. Now we are bringing up a new generation whose fashion sense is conditioned by the bend-down boutique and where the ladies only wear fake hair from Brazil, China, India and other places. What would have been the fate of our country if there are no Zenith, FCMB, GTB, UBA, Fidelity, and ECOBANK. Access, Diamond and others? May be we will be going to the banks now with our mats as we wait for our tally numbers.
It is time we produce more of what we consume and export more what we produce. In that way, we would not be complaining that the dollar exchange rate is affecting the price of garri. Let put our country back to work so that next time you are in Uyin Ekiti market, you will not be worried about the dollar price of a grain of rice.