Nigeria’s House of Representatives, the second chamber of its bicameral legislature, disturbed by reports that the international market is rejecting our yam tubers because of poor quality, has asked its Committees on Agricultural Production and Services and Customs and Excise to investigate the Federal Ministry of Agriculture that is supervising the exportation of yam. Agriculture minister Chief Audu Ogbeh flagged off the initiative in June this year. The ministry is overseeing it, hand in hand with the Nigerian Police Force, Directorate of State Security, Quarantine Services, National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency, Nigerian Immigration Services, Nigeria Customs Services and FAAN Aviation Security, among others.
Besides, the House believes the programme breaches an extant law that prohibits yam exportation. The (Prohibition) Act, Cap. E22, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 lists beans, cassava tuber, maize, rice, yam tuber and their product derivatives as “absolutely prohibited” farm produce from export. The action of the House was initiated by Rep. Jonathan Gaza, APC, Nasarawa state. He wanted the House to investigate the rejection of yam exported by Nigeria on the international market. “Recall that 72 tonnes of yam tubers were exported sometime in June 2017 but were rejected by the United States of America as they were found to have rotten upon arrival”, he noted. “It is now obvious that produce approved for export by the government do not meet world standards …’’
The reports of yam export rejection and the concerns of our lawmakers, leading to a decision to begin an immediate inquiry, have not come as a surprise. If anything, they confirm the concerns that Peoples Daily raised in its August 17, 2017 editorial titled “Yam export, yes but are we ready?” In that editorial, we said inter alia: “We welcome this yam export initiative of the government as a way to wean the country off dependence on a single foreign exchange earner, oil. This fossil fuel is becoming less reliable as a revenue earner, this besides its many other disadvantages like environmental pollution. Diverification of the revenue base, therefore, is very critical to the reflation of the Nigerian economy still in recession.”
However, while endorsing the government’s yam export initiative, we did not ignore certain obvious challenges that ought to be addressed immediately, one of them standardisation. On that, professor Simon Irtwange, who chaired the yam export technical committee, assured that “We have standards that we are following and they have to do with pytho-sanitary requirements to meet international standards. We have combined the standards of Ghana and Nigeria to make sure our yams are not rejected at the international markets”.
If, in spite of that assurance, Nigeria is today reporting a significant percentage of exported yam was recently rejected on the international market, it is either the technical committee lied to the nation or smugglers have crashed the government’s safety net. We raised other concerns, particularly the number of hands involved in making the pap. We warned it was a recipe for disaster. We said: “There is a wise saying, ‘too many hands spoil the soup’. This large number is a sure recipe for disaster.” Then we noted, “Already, two agencies – Quarantine Services and FAAN – are quarrellling over access to export and import destination points at airports.”
In that editorial we mirrored exporters’ concerns. “Exporters have complained over lack of quality yam seedlings, transportation and storage. Add to this, the issue whether or not we are meeting domestic yam demand. The WHO recently placed Nigeria in the list of countries that will be hit by famine and starvation this 2017 due to failed harvests caused by terrorist activity in the northeast. Prof. Irtwange himself hinted at a funding difficulty for his committee.”
Then we concluded that “These are veritable challenges that the government needs to confront head on. Resolving them will be the key to the success of the yam export programme. Anything short of that amounts to wishful thinking.” This still is our position, today reinforced gratuitously by last week’s House action.