Obiano and the Vegetable Export Challenge

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ANOTHER ANALYSIS

Two weeks after he told his audience in Abuja that the state has registered the exportation of vegetable to the tune of $5million, Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, has come under scrutiny. David-Chyddy Eleke writes

Sometime in February this year, some print media houses published stories of the exportation of vegetables cultivated in the Anambra State to parts of Europe and America. It was simply a beautiful piece of news that eloquently showcased the governor’s efforts in his agricultural revolution in the state. But two weeks ago, in a forum organised by the state government to avail it opportunity to interact with its citizens in Abuja and parts of the north, the governor mentioned again the feat, putting a price tag to the worth of vegetable so far exported, and this has triggered criticisms from opposition.
Obiano had told indigenes of the state that, “in January this year, Anambra made headlines when it became the first state in Nigeria to export vegetables (Ugu) and bitter leaf (Onugbu) valued at $5 million to Europe. At the same time, our locally produced brand of rice known as Anambra Rice recently emerged the Best Rice in Africa at an African Products Forum in Lagos. Anambra Rice was adjudged better and more wholesome than other competing brands from South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Morocco, Namibia and Cameroon. Our agricultural sector has also attracted investments from seven companies valued at $1.011b while the large industrial farms have pushed our local rice production from 90,000 metric tons to 210,000 metric tons. At this rate, we shall soon surpass the 320,000 metric tons we consume in Anambra State per annum.”
A day after the story of his feat was published in daily newspapers, opposition parties and individuals rose to refute the governor’s story, saying that it was blatant falsehood for the governor to claim that such level of vegetable was being produced out of the state. The opposition which consisted mainly of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) supporters stated that there was nowhere in the state where vegetable could be found to be cultivated in such quantity. They challenged the governor to make available to them the location of the farms, where in Europe the vegetables were exported and the company that handled the exportation of the produce.
As the governor’s media aides were still grappling with replying the accusations on the social media, Sahara Reporters, an online news portal fired another salvo in which it carried a screaming headline, stating that Obiano lied on the exportation of vegetables to Europe to the tune of $5million. In its report, the online medium claimed to have launched an extensive investigation in which it found the claim to be false, while also analysing the pictures posted online by one of the governor’s aides as one of the farms in which the vegetable was harvested.

Sahara Reporters insisted that the photograph used by the governor’s aides to deceive the people of the state to have come from Anambra was not taken in the state. The website wrote; “Sahara Reporters has found that, as part of Obiano’s campaign, he used images allegedly from Anambra farms depicting luscious produce, including red tomatoes. The governor’s public relations stunt has been circulating on Internet platforms featuring photos of tomato farms said to be producing European standard tomatoes.
“However, when Sahara Reporters reverse-image-searched the photos being circulated by Obiano’s government, our investigators found that the images were lifted from other websites but deceptively identified as photos from Anambra farms. For example, an image of young vegetable plants actually comes from an Internet page from August 13, 2014, titled ‘Irrigation Practices in West Africa’. Another photo circulated by Obiano can be traced back to a 2010 blog post by an American named Chris Courtin, who had taken the photo during his fellowship in Nyumbani Village in Kitui County, Kenya,” the website stated.
The report by Sahara Reporters has further strengthened the opposition, who have been bandying the report about to discredit the governor. The truth however remains that in the quest to diversify the state’s economy with the attendant dwindling resources from oil, the Anambra State government adopted agriculture as one of the pillars of the government, and has been pursuing its agricultural revolution with vigour.

Some Anambra indigenes who said they have been following the argument on the controversial export who spoke to THISDAY on the issue believed that no one can take away the fact that Obiano has done a lot in the agricultural sector of the state, and that as a result of this, the state has also made a considerable leap in the production of agricultural produce not only limited to vegetables. Some of the pundits said that the governor may have goofed when he said that the total cost of vegetables so far exported. Mr. Ozochukwu Ibe, a banker said $5 million amounts to over N1.6 billion and the governor cannot confidently claim to have exported such quantity of vegetable. But Ibe added that what gladdens the mind is that even though the net export of the vegetable may be less than the quoted sum, what no one can truly disprove is that the Anambra State did not export vegetables.

Rising in defense of his principal however, Mr. James Eze, SSA Media to the governor while providing defense for his principal said those who were saying that no vegetable was exported or that the state could not have made such earnings from vegetable fail to take a cursory look at the speech of the governor, in which he stated that the vegetables exported were valued at that sum, and does not translate to the money having already accrued to the state.
Obiano was also accused on the social media for rushing to do some sort of face saving measures after he released the figure and was discredited for lying. They insisted that he had embarked on aggressive photo collection to ensure that he supported what they believed was a lie he had told. Some of it they said involved assembling local women who were seen in a picture processing vegetables, with a banner right behind them with the inscription; Willie is Working’ and another picture of a consignment of vegetable at Murtala Muhammed International Airport awaiting lifting for export, with the same banner.
In his reply to his critics, Obiano stated that nothing except envy and fear of his achievements could have fueled such criticisms for a move that should ordinarily have been applauded.
Speaking on his behalf, Eze stated that those who doubted and are trying to cast aspersions on the governor because of his claims were those from the opposition in the state, who were envious of the governor’s “great feat”. Eze directed those still in doubt to the company handling the export of the products saying, “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. The government of Anambra State does not feel strongly obligated to reveal its trade secrets, to those who are trying to cast aspersions on her as a lot of evidence has been supplied to illuminate on-going conversations on this subject matter already.”

Meanwhile, some Anambra indigenes, including a local farmer, Mr. Ezikiel Nnanyelu in an interview with THISDAY praised Obiano for making agriculture one of the pillars of his government. He said that before now, getting fertilisers was a very difficult task for farmers, as even though they were made available, they were shared by people who were not even farmers, but today even peasant farmers like himself, are accommodated. When asked if he was getting the fertilisers because he hailed from the same area with the governor, Nnayelu said it was not true. He insisted that all farmers in the state were getting it, and that this was made possible through the streamlining of farmers in the three senatorial zone, and also segmenting them according to what farm produce they cultivated, while also forming them into cooperatives.
Nnanyelu who did not entirely condemn those who criticised the governor over the export was of the view that such people will actually spur up the governor to hasten the next date of export, and unlike the previous which was done without much media attention. “The next batch of export will go with a lot of fanfare, and involvement of the media,” he added.