Zeinab Badawi speaks to the Nigerian agriculture minister Audu Ogbeh. She asks why such an oil-rich nation seems unable to enjoy greater stability and prosperity?
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Welcome to HARDtalk, with me, Zeinab Badawi,
from the Swiss resort of Davos, where my guest is one
of the delegates of the annual World Economic Forum -
Nigeria's Agriculture Minister, Audu Ogbeh.
When President Buhari came to power 18 months ago, he raised hopes
that he would reform the country.
Instead, Nigeria is involved in its worst recession for 20 years.
There is widespread food insecurity in the north and growing unrest.
Why can't this oil-rich nation with plenty of farmland
feed its own people and enjoy greater stability?
Minister Audu Ogbeh, welcome to HARDtalk.
Minister Audu Ogbeh, welcome to HARDtalk.
Thank you very much for inviting me here.
We've seen 2 million people displaced by Boko Haram
in the north of Nigeria.
Terrible food insecurity there now.
The UN Humanitarian Office is warning of severe food shortages.
Nearly half a million children face acute malnutrition and that people
will die if aid is not given.
Are you managing to get these people some food to eat?
We are managing to get them some food.
My ministry sent over 10,000 tonnes of grain,
about four months ago.
On a regular basis the National Emergency Management Authority sends
anything up to half a million tonnes of grain to north-east.
This is not to say that that's absolutely enough to feed them,
but food is being rushed to the north-east almost
on a weekly basis.
And you can categorically say that people will not die
in northern Nigeria?
A few will die, a certain number will, because they are moving back
to their villages now.
It's too late...
What does "a certain number" mean, Minister?
You could have a few thousand probably not getting enough food,
especially the children, in the camps.
Because they have special kinds of food they need to eat.
We are importing out any single time now...
I just approved about ten shiploads, ten aircraft loads of ready to use
food materials from Western Europe to be delivered to
children in the camps.
Because they can't eat the kind of food is the adult seat.
Milk, you know, soya beans, protein enriched foods like that
for the children to eat.
But definitely many will go through hardship.
But you just said that you believe that thousands,
including many children, could die.
Many could die, if the programmes are sustained, they went.
If there is any halt in them, or any difficulties in the way
of deliveries, a number will die.
I can't be precise.
Are you saying here, now, that you are appealing for more
help to prevent those deaths?
As much help as we can get, but at home we are doing
a whole lot of work.
I am a member of a national committee for delivering
food to the north-east, especially because I am
in the Ministry of agriculture, but other agencies, the Red Cross,
the National Emergency Management Authority, organisations
like the Dangote Group, are sending things to the north-east
like rice and beans and yams and so on on a daily basis.
But what you have got to do is to ensure that these people
enjoy some stability, and that means really
defeating Boko Haram, who have been responsible
for many atrocities.
We all know about the schoolgirls who were kidnapped and so on.
President Buhari says, "We are getting the better of them."
But the International Crisis Group says that there is still substantial
resistance by Boko Haram.
This is a war you cannot win in one day.
It is not a regular war.
If it was, the Nigerian army is capable of dealing with it.
Number two, people must remember, when it came
in initially, the handling - I'm not just here to criticise
the previous government - was extremely poor.
President Buhari came in and how to restructure the Army.
To put them in a position to put Boko Haram on the run.
It will not end overnight, I can assure you.
But is the Nigerian army properly equipped to fight Boko Haram?
Let me tell you what a security analyst based in Lagos says.
He says, you can't send men to fight Boko Haram wearing flip-flops
and rusty rifles with no ammunition, that is not going to work.
He's right, isn't he?
Well, I don't know who he is, or whether he has been
on the waterfront.
He is with the Pilgrims Africa security company,
which is based in Lagos.
How often has he been on the waterfront?
Sometimes, commentators far-away from the front can comment and it
makes it look like nobody is doing any work.
But, rifles and tanks and weapons of all kinds have to be bought.
But it's also a question of inspiring trust and confidence
amongst people in your country about the abilities
of the security forces.
If that situation had not changed, some would not have been captured.
Even the people in Borno State themselves will tell you that
things are a lot better, they have more hope
and more confidence.
Well, let me tell you what happened
in Borno State, and you know very well yourself, Minister,
that's nearly 100 people died because the Nigerian Air Force
accidentally hit a refugee camp in Borno State.
A very tragic occurrence.
It is not going to inspire trust, though, is it?
Didn't the US Army hit Russian troops in Syria?
Didn't they apologise for it?
If we talk to the Americans, we'll put these things to them.
Friendly fire, and so on.
Things happen in warfare.
Nobody can imagine that the Nigerian Air Force deliberately
bombed a refugee camp.
I didn't say that.
I said it doesn't inspire trust and confidence in the military.
Accidents do happen.
We regret it, we are sad about it, it shouldn't have happened,
but these things do happen.
The president is mounting an enquiry.
Why did it happen?
Somebody has to be called to account for it.
And will there be resignations?
I do not know yet, it depends on the findings.
But the fact is, it is not just Boko Haram.
You say you are getting the better of Boko Haram and I put it
to you that you have got armrests now from the Islamic movement,
a Shia group in northern Nigeria, 300 people were killed
in Kaduna State in 2016.
We've also got in the south-east Biafra separatists.
We all remember the terrible Biafra war in 1967-70.
And you've got conflicts between pastoralists and farmers
spreading across the country, leading to deaths.
So, really, you've got so much in your hands.
It's not just Boko Haram.
We have a lot on our hands.
We are working towards solving them.
I mean, this is a country of 193 million people.
A country hit by severe economic recession.
And people have started reacting in different ways.
I mean, Boko Haram was a product of a certain amount of neglect and,
perhaps, indifference to the real issues in the economy.
We got caught by what they called the Dutch disease.
Oil and gas came in and local production literally halted
in agriculture and manufacturing.
The long-term effects of these uprisings are driven mainly by lack
of inclusion and perhaps lack of internal productivity
and activity in the economy.
And you are seeing that now in the south-east with the Biafra
separatists who was saying, "We are not treated fairly
by the federal government."
In May, there were 40 deaths in Onitsha,
Amnesty International say, you know, that police
opened fire on civilians.
There is no part of the country you go to where you don't
find people telling you they are not well treated.
Each of these states...
Nigeria has 36 states.
Each state has an autonomous government of its own.
Everybody blames only the president at the centre.
It doesn't always make sense.
But the fact is...
You have alluded to it.
Nigeria is a deeply divided country.
That's what a UN report said in 2016.
It also said, since independence, Nigeria has struggled to build
and sustain national integration.
For decades, different segments of Nigeria's population
have at times expressed fears of marginalisation.
Everybody complains of marginalisation.
There is always one group saying we have been left out of the scheme.
What is there to share?
The general revenue from oil and gas.
There is a formula for distribution to the states.
They get their own share of the revenue.
But every still blames the federal government for marginalisation.
You know why they complain - we haven't had enough of our people
appointed to certain key positions at the centre.
Let's look at agriculture, because that's your ministry.
Now, Nigeria spends $22 billion every year importing food.
It got so much agricultural land, yet more than half
of it goes unfarmed.
It is tragic, because once we got into this habit of importing,
because there was oil revenue to bring in the rice, the sugar,
the milk, people simply gave up on agriculture.
A crisis among the elite.
Banks wouldn't lend money to agriculture.
They lent money to...
It was at 25%.
And that remains the lending average in Nigeria, even today.
So we gave up on agriculture.
Now, we have no more returns from oil and gas,
we are short of food and everybody's realising that we made a serious
mistake and we have to correct it.
Which is exactly what we're doing.
But it has...
It is amazing, because, in the 1970s, Nigeria
was an agricultural superpower.
Before we got oil and gas.
You were number two in cocoa production,
you were groundnut exporters, exported palm oil.
You now have to import your palm oil.
People just relied on oil?
Everybody relied on oil and gas.
In a way, it is good that we are facing a new reality.
Get back to agriculture.
That is your core competence as a nation.
And believe me, we are working at it.
This year alone, we are almost close to stopping the importation of rice,
which cost us $5 million a day over a period of nearly 30 years.
We are about to end it.
We can do it, we have decided to do it, we have the support
of the president and many of the State governors are working
on it, and I assure you, it another year, we may be selling
rice to somebody else.
But, you know, a lot of people, I think including you,
will agree that when it comes to the smallholder farmers
in Nigeria and most of the farmers are, of course, smallholders,
but also agribusiness, high borrowing rates have made it
practically impossible for them to scale up production.
They want to borrow, but they can't, and the banks are not lending.
A tiny fraction of Nigerian banks' lending goes to local
Almost zero now, because they lend to traders, to importers,
not to the farmers.
But you just said you were getting to grips with the problem.
We have found a way out.
This bank has intervened and the Bank of Agriculture
has been restructured.
Just two days ago I had a meeting before I came here to fix finances
to support lending to agriculture at a single digit.
And it is because of the central bank's intervention,
direct intervention, criticised by some economists,
which has worked for us.
The rice production and grain production has gone up phenomenally
in the last 12 months.
We have to work it out.
We can't rely on the commercial banks.
The Bank of Agriculture will come into place.
And then the interest rates we charge will be the average,
that farmers can manage.
The good news is that the yields on farms have risen because we did
a soil map of Nigeria, change the fertiliser application
formula and farmers have yielded up from two tonnes a hectare,
to seven and a half.
And that has made it more safe for them to go back to the farm.
One of your predecessors as Agriculture Minister,
Akin Adesina, now president of the African Development Bank,
says agriculture is really, really important, it employs two
thirds of the workforce in Nigeria, 28% now of GDP comes
from agriculture in Nigeria.
But he says you've got to bake farming sexy,
so that all those young Nigerians want to work in farming and not just
all go to the cities.
Are you making farming sexy?
I'll tell you the story of a young man I saw in Kebbi State.
Kebbi is about 1,000 miles from Lagos, 1,000 kilometres.
And he was wearing a T-shirt.
The T-shirt bore the name of a local politician in Lagos.
I saw him in Kebbi and I said, where did you meet that family?
He said, oh, I was under the bridge in Lagos for one year,
nearly starved to death, until I heard that rice growing
was taking place in my state and I got back home.
And in one year I made more than half a million naira in income.
The young men and women are returning to agriculture.
On a large-scale.
Because we are buying them equipment, giving them good seeds,
preparing land of them, and increasing the number
of tractors on the farms.
It's the only way of doing it.
But, as things stand, Nigeria still depends on oil and gas
for 90% of its export earnings and about 70% of state revenues.
When do you really think we are going to see that greater
diversification in the Nigerian economy so that those
figures go down?
There is a simple strategy.
In another year, we will be absolutely self-sufficient
in the local staples.
We are number two in the world in sorghum, number three in millet.
So you could halve your import bill?
We are stopping rice importation.
That's cutting $5 million a day from the import
bill in another year.
Once that is done, we move to exports.
Cocoa, cashew, sesame seed, pulses from India, cassava.
And if you really want to boost your agricultural earnings,
you're going to have to give some added value to your raw product.
Let me give you one example.
Nigeria accounts for about 11% of Africa's total tomato production,
yet you spend $100 million a year on importing tomato puree
from China and Italy.
It just doesn't make sense.
Tomato paste producers, from certain parts of the world,
continue to lower their prices to make a local production
in Nigeria unprofitable.
Who are you saying is doing that?
Some countries from the far east.
The one that's name begins with C?
We're saying, listen, we need to create jobs
for our people, especially women in agriculture,
and they keep lowering the prices, so we have an alternative.
Either ban their products altogether, or raise the duties,
because we can't keep satisfying the sentiment of so-called
free trade sentiments.
OK, but that is one side of the argument, but you've also got
to make sure you have proper processing plants,
canning facilities, people who have the skills.
Precisely what I'm telling you.
To make puree out of the tomatoes.
One of the biggest puree plants in Africa -
it can't operate because if it buys the tomatoes from the local farmers,
processes at home, the prices will be a bit higher
than the imported.
But those importing to us are subsidising their commodities.
But when that happens, that's when Nigeria and other
African countries, of course in the same situation,
will really start boosting your export earnings from something
other than oil.
So as I said, things stand at the moment that you depend
on oil, and we are seeing the activities of the militants
of the Niger Delta, the oil producing region of Nigeria,
the Niger Delta Avengers.
There have been attempts to have negotiations with the government,
but they have said that they are renewing their campaign
for a wholesale destruction of Nigeria's oil production in 2017.
You're going to face a tough year.
The vice president of Nigeria was there just Monday morning before
he flew here for the Davos conference.
He has met with them.
The talks going on at the highest level between the Nigerian
government and the militants.
A number of us believe that perhaps really we need to take steps
to evolve and engage in war of the Niger Delta citizens
in the oil industry, to guarantee peace and equity.
By doing one or two things.
Build a few more refineries in that zone.
Let the shareholding belong to these members of those communities,
so they become part of the exploration and exploitation
of the resource in their region.
I think that language and that message we will probably begin
to see shortly and then we can find peace.
So you are optimistic on that?
But all this comes at a time when Nigeria is deeply
engulfed in recession.
The worst for decades.
You have inflation about 18%.
Your growth last year was negative.
You have high levels of unemployment.
About an $11 billion budget deficit.
Even President Buhari himself, in September,
said, Nigeria suddenly seems to be a poor country.
Where are you going to get the money to do all the things you say that
you want to?
Two things will happen.
Economists tell you you have to spend your way out of recession.
If you have to spend your way out of recession, you have to find
the money to spend.
Where is that money going to come from?
If you don't have the money, you can borrow.
But people aren't borrowing for you.
Lenders like the World Bank have said, we don't want to lend money
to Nigeria because we don't think President Buhari is carrying out
the reforms that we would like him to.
But some of the reforms they are asking for is further
devaluation of the currency, which is making life more
miserable at home.
If you go taking new measures that make people unhappier,
and there is a revolt at home, then they say,
OK, there is too much chaos in your country.
You're referring to the fact that the naira is allowed to float
and we saw a depreciation of about 40% of its value.
Exactly, because as long as your import dependent,
you keep weakening your currency.
There is no end to it.
Two things will happen.
Cut down your food bill, which we will, in another year.
I can assure you food importation will drop so drastically,
the world won't believe it, and we will become major exporters.
Right now, we feed west, north and central Africa in grain.
But, you know minister, there is scepticism
that the government plans will ease the crisis.
Let me tell you what economist Doyin Salami said.
He was on President Buhari's transition team.
Buhari is instinctively not capitalist, but has not articulated
a feasible strategy for achieving inclusive growth
through state driven means.
He needs to be a bit more pro-market.
Everybody in Nigeria is pro-market.
You are right.
There is one problem.
I am not an economist.
I am a teacher and a farmer.
Economics is a very imprecise science.
Sometimes there are so many contradictions.
We had a meeting with the entire Cabinet about six months ago
and they suggested, borrow your way through and sort the problem out,
fix the economy and then repay the loans.
The moment the government unfolded this plan for borrowing,
the whole country went up in arms.
Don't borrow any more money.
Then they said, OK, sell marginal assets, redundant assets.
Ah, don't sell a thing.
The Saudi Arabians are selling off, according to their announcement,
49% of Aramco.
The Saudis are not anywhere in as much difficulty as Nigeria.
A population of 25 million.
And the point is?
The point is, the same economists who say borrow your way through,
quickly said don't borrow.
The next minute, they say sell some of your assets.
Or they say, don't sell anything.
So you are saying President Buhari is getting conflicting advice?
He is getting conflicting advice.
And yet, most of the elite in the cities, and in fairness
to them, they mean well, they don't really connect very much
with what goes on below.
But even President Obasanjo, a former president of Nigeria
who is a supporter of Buhari, has said the economy,
economics is not his strong suit.
Is that true?
And you asked them, what do you suggest in these circumstances?
And they tell you nothing concrete.
That's the problem.
But there have been criticisms of President Buhari
from diplomats, business leaders.
They all talk of paralysis and a lack of urgency,
the government losing momentum.
I mean, it took him six months to appoint a cabinet
after he won election.
He had certain challenges which were not known to the public.
Some people said he should have named the Cabinet as quickly
he should have.
Some said he didn't name the Cabinet in good time.
He was under different kinds of pressure which suggested that
perhaps because he was watching the economy, the cost of governance
in Nigeria is so heavy that before he came,
90% of our budget went to recurrent overheads and debt
servicing, leaving 10%...
That wasn't the point I was making.
I have to put it to you, even allies such as his wife of 27
years, Aisha, has said, I'm not sure if you ran for office
in 2019 whether I would back him.
She says, he doesn't know 45 of the 50 people who have been
appointed in his administration.
This is his own wife!
She did make that comment and we recognise it.
She expressed her view, which also shows that Buhari
is a Democrat.
Well, I don't know, he told her to get back
into the kitchen - and the other room, wherever that
other room is.
It was meant to be taken as a joke.
It was a family matter.
She made a comment, she had her reasons,
but that wasn't a national and international crisis as people
made of it.
The point is, right now in Nigeria, the only way to go is to go back
to agriculture, get it right - and we are working hard at it -
because until you sort out the food problem,
nothing else will work.
And corruption was the big thing that President Buhari campaigned on.
And he is fighting it so seriously.
And they are fighting him back.
He says 10 billion has been lost, but so far you've only managed
to recover 600 million and only one person,
a former national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, is standing
trial for corruption.
There are many people in court.
Why do you think he has taken the corruption fight to the courts?
Because there are deliberate delays in the system.
And he knows as head of state and President that there are certain
things that could have been done faster.
He is not a judge.
He is no longer a military head of state.
He cannot just tell people without trial.
The cases go to court.
Some have been in court since 2007.
So we will see movement.
Finally, in June, President Buhari declared that Nigeria is facing
"probably the toughest time in the history of our nation".
Do you agree?
Probably true, yes.
If he doesn't succeed, Nigeria will fail.
He will succeed because we are working at the issues now.
The problem, and this is advice to all of us,
the Nigerian elite, the banking elite, the political elite,
is for us to look inside Nigeria a little more.
We have experts on every subject, we have people who have the finest
degrees from the finest universities in the world.
The majority of us don't know our country well, unfortunately.
Minister Audu Ogbeh, thank you very much for coming on HARDtalk.
Thank you very much.
Wednesday will start quite windy across northern and western parts
of the UK, and continue that way.
Whereas into parts of southern England, the Midlands,
East Anglia, it is troublesome fog once again.
HARDtalk's Zeinab Badawi speaks to one of delegates at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, the Nigerian agriculture minister Audu Ogbeh. The Nigerian government, in power for eighteen months, had raised hopes that it would reform the country.
Instead, Nigeria has been engulfed by the worst recession in 20 years and continuous militant attacks. Why can't this oil-rich nation with plenty of agricultural land enjoy greater stability and prosperity?