WACOT Rice, own­er­ship and food se­cu­rity

Daily Trust - - OPINION - Yakubu Ahmed BK

Kebbi state has been in the news; and for a good rea­son. Since the rice rev­o­lu­tion of Kebbi state be­gan barely two years ago, ev­ery con­cerned Nige­rian has been vis­i­bly elated by the news com­ing out of the state. Rice is a sta­ple food in Nigeria. Just like bread, it has come to stay on the ta­bles of all homes in the coun­try. Any news, pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive about rice is of ut­most con­cern to Nige­ri­ans. When Gover­nor Atiku Bagudu an­nounced a plan to open up the busi­ness of rice farm­ing in the state, in or­der to take ad­van­tage of the rich Fadama land­scape of the state, the at­ten­tion of most Nige­ri­ans was promptly cap­tured. In fair­ness to the Atiku Bagudu ad­min­is­tra­tion, its lib­eral poli­cies in that re­gard had helped greatly in at­tract­ing in­vestors from within and out­side the coun­try. The Cen­tral Bank had, in re­sponse to those poli­cies, in­vested bil­lions in pro­vid­ing soft loans to rice farm­ers while many wealthy in­di­vid­u­als in­clud­ing peo­ple like Se­naror Adamu Aliero, ven­tured in to widen the scope and to­day a large chunk of the Fadama ar­eas have been tilled and have pro­vided jobs to many peo­ple. Aliero is the sole owner of the hugely suc­cess­ful La­bana Rice Fac­tory in Birnin Kebbi.

On the ba­sis of open­ing up the rice pro­duc­tion process and in­tro­duc­ing the busi­ness an­gle to it, the Kebbi state govern­ment un­der Atiku Bagudu de­serves all the com­men­da­tion. I must stress here that the pur­pose of this piece is to high­light the im­por­tance of for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment us­ing the own­er­ship of of Wacot Rice Com­pany, which was com­mis­sioned by Act­ing Pres­i­dent Yemi Os­in­bajo in Ar­gungu cou­ple of days ago as a case study. The ru­mor mill had spread the false­hood that the N10B fac­tory is owned ei­ther solely or in part­ner­ship with other com­pa­nies by the Kebbi state govern­ment. It has be­come nec­es­sary to clear the air about the own­er­ship in or­der to set the records straight and to clear all doubts about its own­er­ship. Since the com­mis­sion­ing, politi­cians in Kebbi and else­where have made at­tempts to make some po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal out of the seem­ing con­tro­versy.

Wacot Rice Com­pany is a pri­vately and largely owned by In­di­ans. Wacot - the busi­ness and mer­chan­dis­ing brand has been in busi­ness in parts of the North for a very long time. In Fun­tua, Kaduna state, the com­pany had been in the busi­ness of cot­ton pro­duc­tion and was owner of the pop­u­lar Gin­nery there. It was later that Wacot ven­tured into Rice milling in an ef­fort to di­ver­sify and to re­spond to the de­mands of to­day in or­der to stay afloat. Its en­try into Kebbi co­in­cided with the emer­gence of the Buhari ad­min­is­tra­tion as well as the new pol­icy of di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of the econ­omy and the em­pha­sis on self suf­fi­ciency in food pro­duc­tion oc­ca­sioned by dras­tic fall in the prices of oil. When the In­di­ans made their en­try into Kebbi, the land they sort was re­ported to be owned by the Emir of Ar­gungu, who, sources said, promptly sold it out to them, view­ing the de­vel­op­ment as crit­i­cal to the de­vel­op­ment of Ar­gungu Emi­rate, Kebbi state and the coun­try at large. The Kebbi state govern­ment got in­volved at the level of en­sur­ing an ‘’en­abling en­vi­ron­ment’’ and con­ced­ing a 5-year tax re­lief regime for the com­pany. Other than this, the Kebbi state govern­ment had no other col­lab­o­ra­tion ei­ther at tech­ni­cal level or at coun­ter­part fund­ing. Wacot Rice is fully and wholly owned by busi­ness con­cerns of In­dian ori­gin, and this is a wel­come de­vel­op­ment. Kebbi is grad­u­ally emerg­ing as hub of an all-year round rice cul­ti­va­tion, tak­ing ad­van­tage of its rich Fadama land­scape. The state is en­dowed with a very large ex­pense of arable land that has not yet been fully cul­ti­vated. With a very hard­work­ing reser­voir of man­power and one of Nigeria’s most peace­ful states, Kebbi can still ac­com­mo­date many more rice mills to cre­ate mil­lions of jobs, make Nigeria self suf­fi­cient in food pro­duc­tion and con­serve for­eign ex­change.

The arable land en­dow­ment in Kebbi, has given birth to a joint ven­ture ef­fort be­tween La­gos and Kebbi states. La­gos state has also pumped in mil­lions of Naira into the joint ef­fort. LAKE Rice which stands for La­gos - Kebbi, has been so suc­cess­ful that it is re­ported to be wax­ing stronger by the day. It is ex­pected that when it fully blos­soms into a dream ven­ture, the mas­sive im­por­ta­tion of rice from the Asian Tiger coun­tries will be a thing of the past. It is also an­tic­i­pated that the col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween La­gos and Kebbi would be­come an am­ple ex­am­ple wor­thy of em­u­la­tion by other states as a means of re­vi­tal­iz­ing the na­tion’s econ­omy through lo­cal sourc­ing of so­lu­tions to crit­i­cal is­sues of de­vel­op­ment as well as en­hance na­tional co­he­sion be­tween the var­i­ous na­tion­al­i­ties by whit­tling down the plethora of ag­i­ta­tions and the open threat of balka­niza­tion which have be­come stronger lately.

Nigeria is in­deed blessed with the po­ten­tials to be among the most pros­per­ous na­tions in the world. It has one of Africa’s most ac­tive pop­u­la­tions, the arable land to feed it­self and a promis­ing econ­omy to at­tract in­vestors all around the world. If you take away the Boko Haram in­sur­gency from the North East­ern re­gion, an­other very vast arable land for mas­sive all-year round cul­ti­va­tion of all sta­ple crops un­folds. Like the North Western part of Nigeria, the North East and the North Cen­tral have the po­ten­tial to feed Nigeria and be­yond and to pro­vide the raw ma­te­ri­als re­quired for in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment to take place. In this piece I have iden­ti­fied two crit­i­cal short­com­ings that have stymied growth of our econ­omy. One is lead­er­ship deficit/cor­rup­tion and the other is the high rate of in­se­cu­rity that is daily scar­ing away po­ten­tial in­vestors. With­out for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment and with a largely cor­rupt and in­se­cure en­vi­ron­ment, this coun­try will con­tinue to find it dif­fi­cult to at­tain the sus­tain­abil­ity re­quired to en­sure growth.

Ahmed BK wrote this piece from Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State.

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