Monday, 1 August 2016

A Right of Reply : Anambra Vegetable Export Story: Beyond the Trial on Social Media

 
 
 
 
 

Since the Governor of Anambra State, His Excellency, Chief Willie Obiano rendered an impressive Account of Stewardship to Anambra Communities in Abuja and other parts of the North on July 22nd this year, a core of bitter opposition, fanning the usual embers of hate, has kept the social media abuzz with claims, alleging that a paragraph in the governor’s Report Card is a lie.

This needless controversy was curiously sparked off by a vacuous statement, stitched together by the vicious opposition in Anambra State. As it turned, the poorly worded statement soon found a perfect outlet in Sahara Reporters, a New York-based Nigerian-owned online portal that has earned a reputation as a Media Undertaker, which in its characteristic kill-and-destroy approach to journalism splashed the story around, hawking a below average appreciation of the governor’s actual statement. It is needless to state that Sahara Reporters woefully failed the test that requires adherence to media ethics that insist on objectivity and fairness to all parties. Naturally, undiscerning members of the public unfamiliar with the untamed reflexes of Sahara Reporters got stuck in the middle, clearly unprepared to believe the lure against a governor that has demonstrated a clear leadership vision and a remarkable capacity for good governance in a mere two years.  

Nevertheless, it is pertinent to note that a reportage and analysis of something as weighty as a Governor’s Report Card demands an obligatory fidelity to facts from any responsible media. The overarching considerations here are accuracy, objectivity and fairness. It is saddening that Sahara Reporters and the madding crowd of opposition baying for blood have clearly fallen short as usual, in this regard.

In factual terms, the fatuous charge against Obiano is drawn from the following paragraph in his Report Card -

Anambra has assumed a prominent position in Nigeria’s Agricultural map. Precisely, in January this year, Anambra made headlines when it became the first state in Nigeria to export vegetables (Ugu and Onugbu) valued at $5m to Europe.

It is indeed regrettable that in spite of the economy of words deployed to capture the core message of the above paragraph, Sahara Reporters and its sponsors curiously consider it a lie. Its tendentious headline screaming “Obiano Lied about $5m Vegetable Exports,” leaves serious hints about an embarrassing cognitive deficit. Perhaps, goaded by the desire to slash his rising profile, the sponsors of Sahara Reporters showed an appalling lack of rigour in dissecting the governor’s comment or visualizing the big context in which it was framed.

They seemed laughably confused in choosing what to doubt about the governor’s comment. Should they insist that there was no export of Ugu and Onugbu from Anambra State to Europe or that the quantity exported was not worth $5m? They failed woefully to realise the symbolism of Anambra’s vegetable export to Europe; they failed to grasp the audacity of thinking outside the box that it tells us all. But perhaps even worse is the pathetic reduction of this sublime statement in courage and vision to a mere beer parlour argument over $5m. They missed the large statement; the watermark of hope. And we are therefore left to understand that Obiano’s sin is for being farsighted, for daring to shrug off mediocrity that his peers wear as a prized robe.

I find it bemusing that, in contrast to the repeated use of the word “investigation” in the report, Sahara Reporters failed to do any investigation or even thoroughly read Obiano’s comments for a more enlightened analysis. The governor’s choice of the words “valued at” simply indicates that the sum of $5m is the estimated utility or merit of the Ugu and Onugbu (not tomatoes as claimed by the report) that Anambra has exported to Europe (not South Africa as again claimed by the report). And by the way, the fact is that Ugu and Onugbu were exported to Europe over a considerable period of time with an estimated value that is far in excess of $5m. There are no questions about this. The entire Export Business is done in partnership with ABX World Inc. a logistics firm with years of experience in the business whose team of experts can be approached by any investigative journalist for inquiries.

So, where is the LIE that Sahara Reporters and its sponsors are screaming about? Is it that Anambra has no vegetable farms where Ugu and Onugbi can be grown or that it is impossible to export vegetables to Europe? And can anyone who has followed the hopeful narrative of the Obiano administration in the past two years doubt the capacity of Anambra State to carve a new glorious path for the people? It rankles to think that Sahara Reporters is spearheading a campaign to destroy one of the few ingenious efforts by a Nigerian governor to seek an alternative stream of income and cut down on the over-dependence on oil revenue that has left most states in deep financial paralysis today. In saner societies, Obiano’s vision should attract commendation, not condemnation. Surely, the emerging picture from this scenario is not pleasant. Obviously, Governor Obiano’s rising profile is the issue here, not the export of vegetables by the state. After sweeping major leadership prizes in the country in only two years, a bewildered opposition is desperately looking for a chink in his armour. Sadly, Sahara Reporters has offered its services as an undertaker. We shall see how it all plays out in the end.

 


 
 

Regardless, it must be mentioned that though the government of Anambra State does not feel strongly obligated to reveal its trade secrets, a lot of evidence has been supplied to illuminate on-going conversations on this subject matter.

Against our better judgement, we have shared the following information with the public –

That the Anambra State Agricultural Export Programme is anchored on the resilience and ingenuity of the rural farmers who are scattered across the three senatorial zones of the state

That through the Ministry of Agriculture, the state identified the cultivation of vegetables in a significant quantity throughout the zones and subsequently organised vegetable farmers into cooperatives to facilitate the distribution of vital materials, technical and financial support amongst them.

That the state government is in a partnership with ABX World Inc. a Lagos-based logistics firm and has charged it to identify viable markets for Anambra farm produce across the world. ABX has just entered a similar partnership with Ondo State now

That in line with this partnership, ABX World Inc. has identified the UK and European Markets as viable markets for vegetables produced in Anambra State.

That in partnership with ABX World Inc. a Special Training was held for Anambra farmers on how to produce 100% Organic Vegetables, the vegetable business itself, preventing allergens, handling of bookkeeping and operating the vegetable business.

That some experts from the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service were invited to visit all the farms and conduct phytosanitary tests on them after which those that passed the test were duly certified to participate in the export business.  

That the state government subsequently established an Export Desk to coordinate all the ministries and departments in the export chain, namely Agriculture, Transportation, Trade & Commerce and Finance to ensure a strict compliance to basic guidelines

That a Digital Control Centre was set up to capture the necessary data of all farmers and document the coordinates of all farms in the state for geo-mapping and tracking of farm produce.

That the state government has rolled out a clear Export Policy that would guide the export business and create wealth for the people through a creative deployment of the ingenuity of Ndi Anambra

That so far, vegetables are produced in commercial quantities and off-taker activities have been vigorously going on since the take-off of the scheme in the six local government areas of the state and in the 24 communities spread out as follows -

1. Anambra West LGA - Onono, Umuikwu, Umudora, Agwe, Oroma and Mmiàta.

2. Ayamelu LGA – Anaku, Omo, Ifite_Ogwari and Omasi.

3. Idemili North LGA - Abatete, Orukwu, Nimo.

4. Orumba North LGA - Umuchu Ndike,Ndiowu

5. Orumba South LGA - Eziagu,Umunze, Ogbunka, Ogboji.

6. Ogbaru LGA - Obioshimili, Osamala,Igbo Ifeanyi Odoekpe etc.

It is very pertinent to note that the entire export scheme has been designed in a scalable framework. At full potential, the numbers show a possibility of N1.6bn a month in aggregate impact on the economy of Anambra State by way of income to farmers, freight forwarders, freight handlers, logistics providers and consequential additions to the state IGR from the proceed of sales. This targets 25 tons of lifting per day, scalable to 50 and 100 at optimum.

Critical to the entire value chain is a conditioning and processing centre and a galaxy of purpose-built, temperature-controlled freight trucks criss-crossing Anambra State. In the seven months of this scheme, these value chain activities have been farmed out. To lend roots to this initiative, the state plans to host two cognate workshops in the near future. One of them will be delivered by Global G.A.P, the world’s leading farm assurance programme. It will focus on identification and certification of farmers for global sales. The second one which will be delivered by the Nigerian Shippers Council will focus on regulation and logistics.

We therefore make bold to say that Sahara Reporters and its hate-filled sponsors should have avoided this tragic episode of misleading Nigerians in their typical tear-down journalism if they had acted responsibly and conducted the simplest investigation. It is disturbing to see that rather than play the expected investigative role, Sahara Reporters chose the easy option of sedentary armchair journalism and relied entirely on a pathetic piece of propaganda hawked online by opposition media handlers.

Nevertheless, we wish to state clearly that the Willie Obiano administration is beholden only to the good people of Anambra State whose mandate and support it has risen to justify with a sterling performance in the past two years. The Agricultural Export Programme that has generated this controversy is just one of the numerous initiatives of the Obiano administration that have endeared him to the people. There are many other value-laden achievements that are just as impactful.

We therefore invite anyone who is in doubt about our Export Programme to visit any of the locations cited above and see things first hand. We also invite all prospective investors looking for a safe haven for their investment to come to Anambra State. Anambra is safe, vibrant and ready for business. With over $4.2bn investments attracted in two years only, there must be a reason why the investment community believes us!

 

We urge you to find out!

 

Thank you

 

James Eze

 

SSA to the Governor on Media 

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