Alhaji Altine Shehu Kajiji is the National President of the Commodity Brokers Association of Nigeria (CBAN), in this interview with Peoples Daily’s RAJI BELO spoke on the measures taken by the Federal Government to kick-start the Nigeria Commodity Exchange for the benefit of farmers in the country, the activities of the association, among other national issues bordering on agro-business. Excerpts:
What is your impression of the recent World Economic Forum held in Abuja and what are the implications on agriculture?
As you all know these days, government agencies sometimes are interested in organizing conferences to discuss issues and maybe to make noise but I think now we should go beyond making noise. The whole world had been invited to Nigeria to discuss about economy especially that of Africa. The main aim of the World Economic Forum is to exploit many ways to grow the African economy. I think one way this would be described as a right step is, if it will help in creating jobs for the youths, if there is increase
in provision of social amenities and there is improvement in people’s lives. There is no way you can industrialise and grow this economy without agriculture, there is no way the economy can grow without producing conducive environment for farmers to be able to produce the products for various manufacturing companies.
And even if farmers produce, when they are not aware where to take their produces to sell at a good price, when they produce and cannot produce the quality needed by multinational companies and are not even aware of the quality needed by various local and international companies, then there is a problem. I have not seen a provision whereby government provides access roads to get input. So, as far as I am concerned, I don’t think what they are doing is for the benefit of the larger society, remember that about 70 percent of the population are farmers and about 90 percent out of this are subsistent farmers who do not have access to credit, input and information that will lead to high yield at the end of harvest. You may be surprised that the Commodity Brokers Association of Nigeria (CBAN) were not even invited to the World Economic Forum only people outside the country came and now they have gone back to their various countries. I cannot see the immediate impact of the WEF on the agricultural sector but may be in the long term.
Do you think the recent huge investments made in agriculture by Nigerian entrepreneurs like Dangote will transform agribusiness in the country?
Well I am aware of what Dangote, Tony Elumelu and few other Nigerian entrepreneurs are doing in the agricultural sector, which is commendable. But some of these multinational companies like Olam are exploiting farmers in the country. For example, Olam is a company from Asia; they do business and actually go to the grassroots. They know all the nook and crannies where farmers are in the North. But they refuse to teach our farmers how to improve their farming activities so that they can have good seeds and quality yield. What they do is that they meet farmers and buy without any standardisation whether the seeds are good or not, they don’t care but just buy. This is not what is obtainable in other countries of the world and even in some African countries like Ethiopia and Kenya. So, Olam buys at
the same price and goes to their companies and grades it and sell so that they will maximise profit. For us what we after is for grassroots’ farmers to maximise whatever they earn so that if they farm this year, they can be able to farm next year but the reality is that most of them are farming at a loss due lack of standardisation of prices of commodities.
What is Commodity Brokers Association doing to tackle this ugly trend?
As an association, what we have been doing is to enlighten the farmers. Three months ago, we were in Dawano market in Kano, which is arguably the biggest commodity market in West Africa. We invited stakeholders and discussed with them by enlightening them on what the government is doing especially with regards to the Nigeria Commodity Exchange and that soon it will be operational. We tried to meet governors in the North to inform them what is happening in the agriculture sector. But you know these are policies of government and If government is serious about this, it should embark on awareness campaign to enlighten Nigerian farmers on what they stand to benefit. We are worried and want to see our farmers benefit from what they are doing so that there will be improvement in farming activities.
Many attributed the problems of exploitation of rural farmers to lack of marketing boards. Do you agree on that submission?
Time has changed, the world has become very competitive and I don’t see it as necessary to have marketing boards because the world is now a global village. Recently, the Minister of Trade and Investment created a working group to look at the possibility of the workings of the Abuja Commodity and Security Exchange, which has now been renamed the Nigeria Commodity Exchange. Although, I have been part of the working group in Abuja trying to work out a model and see how it will work efficiently just like how it is working in Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia and other parts of the world. If
this platform is working and when farmers are sensitised and there are good roads and electricity, then there is no need for marketing boards. There should be competition and through that, people will easily know prices of commodities like cocoa, including their grades in India, China, among others daily. Thus, through this, people will be able to know on daily basis the prices of commodities and the value of their commodity in Nigeria just like what is obtainable in the petroleum sector where you have different grades of fuel like the Bonny light, others.
Many Nigerians are not aware of the operations of the Nigeria Commodity Exchange. What is the Association doing to make it vibrant?
Well, it is very unfortunate that many Nigerians are not aware of the activities of the Nigeria Commodity Exchange. The major thing that can transform Nigeria is agriculture.
80 percent of industries use agricultural products and in commodity exchange, it is not only about agriculture but involves other minerals. But unfortunately, government has laid more emphasis on petroleum, which involves only few people who are highly technical, and employs few people living the rest of Nigerians unemployed. This is unlike agriculture where large population is engaged in such activities. Government has always been making noise about agricultural transformation on the pages of newspapers but the actual commitment to sensitise the farmers is not there. So, the best way is for synergy between the federal, state and local government councils in order to transform agriculture.
Some African countries like Ethiopia and Kenya have an efficient commodity exchange where agricultural products like coffee are exported to Europe to earn huge foreign exchange. Why is Nigeria unable to tap into this opportunity to earn income?
You see this trading platform, the way Ethiopia and Kenya made it, was the provision of a trading platform like what we have in commodity exchange.
Nigeria established this Abuja Commodity and Security Exchange in 1996 during the regime of late Sani Abacha but up till now it is not working. It is surprising that Ethiopia that established its commodity exchange in 2006 is already exporting agricultural products to western countries and this is due to the fact that they have shown seriousness. So, what is happening in the country is lack of seriousness on the part of the Nigerian government.
There are plans by the Federal Government to privatise the Nigeria Commodity Exchange. What is your take on that?
My opinion is that government is trying to favour some people by trying to privatise the commodity exchange. How can you sell a place that has not been operational since its establishment? How can government sell an important institution like the commodity exchange in a country of over 150 million people, where 70 percent of the population is farmers? What government should do is to channel funds to the commodity exchange to make it operational and sensitise Nigerians on the benefits they stand to derive from the institution. The essence of this exchange is to enable ordinary farmers at the grassroots to be aware of the prices of commodities. For instance, if I am a farmer in a village in Sokoto and I know that a tone of maize is sold in India, Lagos at the cost of N10, 000, then I will not listen to a middleman who comes to my village to probably buy it at the cost of N2, 000 because I am already aware of the actual price of the commodity. So, the farmers who are working to earn a living will not be farming at a huge loss because they are now aware of the price of commodities elsewhere.
There are insinuation that the Chairman of Transcorp Tony Elumelu is bidding to buy the Nigerian Commodity Exchange. Do you think he has what it takes to manage it?
Elumelu is a smart entrepreneur and probably he has seen that the commodity market would be more profitable than oil in the future, especially with the discovery of shale oil in the United States. I strongly believed that very soon, the whole focus will move to agriculture. So, Elumelu has seen the window and as such wanted to position himself by buying the commodity exchange to colonise Nigerians. But government is duty bound to protect Nigerians by not allowing one individual to own an important institution like the commodity exchange. Government should devise a strategy whereby the commodity exchange should be owned by stakeholders like farmers association, commodity brokers association and other entrepreneurs like Elumelu rather than selling it to an individual at the expense of Nigerians. What we are saying is that the commodity exchange should not be sold to an individual because doing so will not augur well for the country.