Brands & Marketing

Data, Not Oil, Should be the Mainstay of Nigeria’s Economy – Maigari

Ibrahim Maigari is the MD/CEO of Rice Afrika, a top food brand in Nigeria. He is also a Tech Expert. He strongly believes in the use of technology to transform livestock management, a feat he has achieved with Livestock24/7. At a time, he proposed to the Federal Government the idea of establishing a livestock identification bureau. An agency he believes will put an end to farmers/herders crisis in Nigeria.

In this interview with Godwin Anyebe, he discusses how data can drive Investment, and solve challenges of criminal activities. He also examines the anti-open grazing law.

Godwin Anyebe: As a top investor in rice production in Nigeria, what are your views on the level of commitment this administration has made in the rice sector?

Ibrahim Maigari: The investment government has made in the rice sector in the last half-decade is in trillions of naira and the sector has created about thirteen million jobs. Whether you like it or not, no government in this country has done what the Buhari-led administration has done in Nigeria’s rice sector. However, even with all the huge investments, the country might not achieve all the purposes set before her.

Godwin Anyebe: Why do you have this type of perception?

Ibrahim Maigari: Simply because of unhindered smuggling of rice into the country. Yes, our borders are porous and totally open. There are things that are prohibited to come into Nigeria, and rice is on that list. But when you visit the Nigerian market, you will continue to see smuggled rice in shops. Government should arrest this if the country wants to consolidate on her investment in the sector. The government is losing revenue because these smuggled rice did not come through the port, and the act is frustrating this sector that government has shown so much commitment.

Godwin Anyebe: How does government policy drive investment especially in the rice sector, because most people believe that policies in Nigeria are not sustainable?

Ibrahim Maigari

Ibrahim Maigari: Let me put this into perspective because there is confusion around our porous borders and the smuggling of rice. The Federal Government banned the importation of rice around 2017, and the policy still stands. Before the ban of importation of rice through the land borders, we had only eight rice mill in the country, but presently, we have about thirty world-class rice mill that is operational in Nigeria under rice processors association of Nigeria and there are several others that are not even registered. That tells you that, that policy brought in investment, Dangote is building one of the biggest rice mills in Africa. Lagos State is building one in Imota. Not only that, if you notice, there is an improvement in the cultivation of rice itself. There is an improvement from 3%. to 4-5% per hectare. Before that policy, Nigerians use to think that foreign rice is the best, but out of the ban, the price of foreign rice went out of the reach of most Nigerians forcing them to appreciate our local rice. It is the consistent posturing of government in these key areas that stimulated these rapid changes.

Godwin Anyebe: Kindly throw more light on the ban on rice importation through the borders? Will it not contradict the Africa free trade agreement?

Ibrahim Maigari: I think the borders were closed basically because of the COVID-19 issue, we should also understand the dynamics of the free trade agreement. Nigeria as a country has signed and ratified the agreement meaning our borders must be free for inter African trade. So, the issue is not of reopening the borders but smuggling of foreign rice into the country because the government till today has not lifted the ban on rice importation through our land borders. However, we are seeing a proliferation of foreign rice in Nigeria which means, smuggling is going on unhindered. During one of our meetings in Abuja, someone alleged that there were over one million tons of rice in Cotonou waiting for the government to open the borders.

Godwin Anyebe: You are a strong proponent of the use of technology and data for transformational development. How important is data?

Ibrahim Maigari: Data is the new oil. It should take over as the mainstay of our economy. You can mine and analyse data besides using it to do predictive analysis. You can also know how to take care of pending issues or pre-empt disasters that are coming. For instance, the farmers/herders crisis was foreseen by some of us before now. Without data, basically, it’s like you are driving a car in the night without a light.

Godwin Anyebe: Can you illustrate how data can help an investor using the rice business as an example?

Ibrahim Maigari: If an investor is interested in investing in the rice business, such an investor must use data to make informed decisions. The investor must know that Nigeria’s national consumption of rice is over 6.6 million metric tons of rice in a year. The best year for our production was 2018 when we got about 4.3 million metric tons. Common economics will tell you that, we are producing less by about 47-50%. As an investor, this data tells you that, there is still a lot of opportunities in rice farming in Nigeria. That’s why you are seeing the likes of Dangote, Coscharis among others going into rice farming. It is data-driven information that guides them

It will also be clear that what augments our shortfall in production is importation. So, when Federal Government bans the importation of rice through the land borders and hikes the tariff through the port, it automatically tells you that, there will be a boom because Nigeria is a country of about two hundred million people. It was also projected that by the year 2050, we will be around four hundred million in population which means there is going to be a very viable sector going forward.

Let’s bring it closer, Lagos State has about twenty-three million people. When Lagos State was signing a MOU with Kebbi State over lake rice, the then governor of Lagos State, Akinwumi Ambode acted on information based on the data that Lagos State consumes about seventy-two trucks of 50KG of rice a day. That’s over forty-two thousand bags every day. As an investor, with thorough data, you are able to know that Lagos State alone consumes more than forty-two thousand bags of rice every day. The next thing that will come to the mind of an investor is how to get a share of that market. That’s how data help investors to make informed decision on investment because they say, figures don’t lie.

Godwin Anyebe: We have the problem of personal data management in Nigeria, how can we overcome this challenge?

Ibrahim Maigari: I think the present policy coming from the office of the Minister of Communication and Digital economy, even though it’s painful in a way, but it’s a movement in the right direction when it comes to synchronisation. There has been a lot of duplication in the past whereby the Road Safety Corp will ask you to do a different one, the banks will also ask you to do a different one, the passport office will ask you to do a different one. But the minister of communication and digital economy has continued to insist on National Identity Number as a means of identification, I think it’s good. Because everyone knows that when you travel outside the shore of this country, your only means of identification is your National Identity Number. If we can have our international passport, driver’s license, and others all synchronised in one place, the problem of data will be a thing of the past. There are countries that can trace you in an event of fraud through your phone number because everything about you is registered to your NIN, and that will check a lot of criminal issues.

Godwin Anyebe: Recently, there have been lots of debates and options on how to tackle the current farmers/herders crisis, what’s your take on open grazing?

Ibrahim Maigari: We have been on this for years, and I still feel that open grazing. which is nomadic pastoralism is no longer sustainable anywhere in the world including Nigeria. However, before you take such a decision, you should also look at the solution. We have been on this issue for ages without coming out with a solution. In fact, I have vowed before now that I will not talk about the farmers/herders crisis again, because it is sad how people joke with lives and property as well as our unity simply because of two things; hate and arrogance.

Read Also: Excerpt from Yema San Conversation

Open grazing is not sustainable but before you take any decision on that, you have to understand the four types of pastoralists we have. The first group is what we called the international trans-humans: these are pastoralists who move with their cattle from the coast of other West African countries and find their way into Nigeria. According to the ECOWAS transhumans protocol of 1998, pastoralists have unhindered access across the fifteen West African countries. They don’t look like our normal Nigerian pastoralists, they are dark. Their mode of dressing is different. They don’t speak the kind of fulfulde that is been spoken here. They move in groups, and some of them could be violent. These people have been existing before the scrambling and partition of Africa. So, they don’t see boundaries, what they see is the cattle route. ECOWAS protocol does not allow them to stay in a place for more than ninety days.

Godwin Anyebe: What about the second group?

Ibrahim Maigari: The second group is that the national trans-humans, they are citizens of Nigeria. For instance, some of the Northern States have indigenous Fulani herders. They also move around Nigeria, and because they are Nigerians, they are protected by the freedom of movement under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Rain stops early in the North, and the grass and water reserve will begin to dry. Therefore, these nomads will begin to move towards the South from the Ikom belt to the Ikorodu part of Lagos in search of food for their cattle because rain stays longer in the South.

Around April to May, rain must have started in the North and they will begin to move up North from the South. On their way back unfortunately, that is the period of crisis. Their cattle will destroy the farm of farmers in the Middle Belt who were preparing for a new season. Then, crisis will start, sometimes it gets violent and a circle of reprisal will go on and on.

Godwin Anyebe: It is even reported that we now have the third and fourth groups?

Ibrahim Maigari: Yes like I said there are four groups. There is a third called the agro-pastoralists. The agro-pastoralist is a farmer but he has cattle. These are the group that you see embedded in a community. You will see a Fulani man speaking the Igbo language. His parents have been there for ages. Their wives hawk Nono around the same communities. You will see them in Yoruba land, and in some cases, they speak Yoruba more than the Yoruba person. They are farmers and they don’t graze far. This third group are mostly victims of troubles caused by the first and second group. When the first and second groups move around and cause destruction, communities see the third group as their brothers and attack them. The third group are also victims of rustlers.

Then there is the fourth group called the pre-urban. These are the ranchers, big-time investors that have seen opportunity in the livestock sector and choose to invest in it. Such investors will provide land, water, grass, security, vet care from their own resources because they can afford to do that.

Godwin Anyebe: Can the farmers/herders problem be tackled within ECOWAS or African Union?

Ibrahim Maigari: When you say, let’s ban open grazing, how are you going to handle the first and second groups? The first group is backed by ECOWAS protocol to move around West Africa, and the second group is backed by the constitution of Nigeria to move around Nigeria unhindered. So, if we want to regulate these things, let’s call for an amendment of the ECOWAS law. Let there be an identification code system where every livestock coming into Nigeria is identified. If we want to look at anti-open grazing law in Nigeria, we have to look at the area of freedom of association and movement in our constitution, and probably call for an amendment.

All over the world, there are nomads. Like the Igbo race, they don’t stay in their place. The Igbo man is an urban nomad, while the Fulani man is a rural nomad. They have a lot of things in common.

Godwin Anyebe: What do you think is the ultimate solution to this challenge?

Ibrahim Maigari: When calling for anti-open grazing law, you have to take into consideration several issues. We have been calling for a livestock identification system over the years. We have partnered with one of the best agencies in the world as far back as 2014 to design a national livestock identification system. We went to pastoral communities and talked to them about the dividends. They accepted, but we realised that there is no law to back it. So, we had to go back to the National Assembly. We partnered with parliamentarians. A serving senator then even sponsored the bill for the establishment of the national identification bureau, meaning one will know the total amount of cattle in a state, who owns them, their breeds according to their local government. This initiative would have solved all the problems associated with the farmers/herders crisis in Nigeria.

Godwin Anyebe: How useful do you think the National Livestock Transformation Programme can be in this situation?

Ibrahim Maigari: The National Livestock Transformation Programme domiciled in the office of the Vice President is another initiative that would have solved this problem. But hate and arrogance could not let that happen. One part of the country hates anything cow because of political reasons, forgetting the fact that most Nigerians eat meat, drink milk, and use leather products. When you hate the cow, you are forgetting the derivatives of the cow. You are forgetting the fact that this is a multi-billion dollar business. If we have to fix the sector, there has to be governmental plans like we have in the oil sector, in the groundnuts sector, in the rice sector. But all the strategies that the government is trying to bring in, people from other parts of the country will kick against it because, to them, the government is trying to help a particular ethnic group.

Another factor fanning the flames of this problem is arrogance on the side of the Fulani herdsmen. Arrogance in refusing to accept the fact that, the way you have been producing cattle five hundred years ago is no longer sustainable. This is because of urbanisation, modernisation, and a lot of other factors. The cattle route that you are used to hundred years ago are now cities, people own lands, people are farming. Therefore, you need to find modern ways of production, but arrogance has made them not accept reality. They also believe that, if you are not from their ethnicity, you cannot know their problems, and so cannot proffer solutions to their problems.