Nigeria: Ministers and others to face probe over export of rotten yam

By Chinyere Ogbonna – The House of Representatives has mandated its Committees on Agricultural Production and Services and Customs and Excise to investigate the Federal Ministry of Agriculture regarding exportation of yam tubers.

Nigeria's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audi Ogbe reacting to the house stand yam export

Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audi Ogbe reacting to the house stand yam export

The House alleged that the ministry disregarded the law prohibiting exportation of yam tubers. Others expected to be probed alongside the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development were Comptroller-General of Customs and the Executive Director, Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Director-General, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, Head, Nigerian Quarantine Service and heads of all other relevant agencies.

The decision of the House followed a motion by Mr. Jonathan Gaza, the legislator representing Nasarawa-(APC). The lawmaker had moved a motion on the “Need to Determine Why Food Products Prohibited from Exportation were being exported and did not meet international standards.’’

Yam being sold at marketLeading the debate on the motion, Mr. Gaza said the exported, rotten yams had raised concern about the capacity of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) to check the quality of goods billed for export.

He said the development became more worrisome especially in the case of MDA’s charged with the responsibility of conducting necessary examinations on such goods.

According to the legislator, the development also called to question the safety of food approved for local consumption by those MDA’s. “Recall that seventy-two tonnes (72 tonnes) of yam tubers were exported sometime in June this year but were rejected by the United States of America as they were found to have rotten on arrival.

He expressed concern that the development had caused the nation great embarrassment. “It is now obvious that produce approved for export by the government do not meet with world standards for 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 goods absolutely prohibited from exportation from Nigeria.

“A Bill for an Act to repeal the provisions of the Export Prohibition Act has recently passed second reading in the House.’’ Lawmakers, who spoke in favour of the motion, advised that the country should look inward to add value to agricultural produce as the case in Ghana and other countries, before exporting. The motion was unanimously adopted by members of the house when it was put to a voice vote by the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara.

The Federal Government had in June launched the yam exportation programme. It projected to earn ten billion dollars (10 billion dollars) in foreign exchange in the next four years, in an effort to diversify the oil-dependent economy.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government says it will not relent in its yam export policy which is aimed at attracting foreign exchange for the country. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said this during a sensitisation walk in commemoration of the World Food Day in Abuja.

Chief Ogbeh, who was reacting to reports that some yams recently exported to Britain were rejected, said that the policy had come to stay. He noted that the setback would not deter the dealers of the produce from exporting it, while pointing out that the current world market for yams was put at twelve billion dollars ($12 billion).

According to the Agriculture Minister, the country could not afford to stay away from it because it was the highest producers of yams in the world. “I read some news report about some yams arriving in Britain and being rejected. They stayed so long en route and if they stayed that long, they are bound to rot.

“It happens to yams from Ghana as well. We will not stop the policy of the exportation of yam. I can assure you that.

“It is a policy that will stay because we are the largest producers of yams in the world. We produce sixty-seven per cent (67%) of the yams.

“We will continue to help exporters; we will not as an institute export yams. We only support the private sector to do that and if there are problems we will solve them,’’ he said. It would be recalled that the yam export initiative was flagged off on June 29 this year and the consignment exported to the US recently was rejected.

Exporters of yam include Messrs Wan-Nyikwagh Farms (Nig.) Ltd, Gboko, Nigeria and Oklanbest Limited, Ibadan, Nigeria. Meanwhile, an exporter of the product, Mr Yandev Amaabai, has identified the challenges that government should address to ease the exportation yams to include lack of refrigerated container and the long time the produce stay on transit before it arrives Europe and America.

In a related development, the House supported a motion sponsored by two of its members, Mr.Kingsley Onwubuariri and Munir Agundi to investigate the importation of genetically-modified maize into the country. It therefore mandated its Committees on Agricultural Production and Services, and Customs and Excise to investigate how genetically-modified maize was imported without clearance from the National Biosafety Management Agency and report back to the house within eight weeks for further legislative action.

The Schedule of the Export (Prohibition) Act, Cap. E22, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 lists beans, cassava tuber, maize, rice, yam tuber and their product derivatives as goods absolutely prohibited from exportation from the country.