The Chairman of Tuns International Limited, a front line farming outfit in Nigeria, Chief Olatunde Badmus, is a man of many parts. The Asiwaju Musulumi of Yorubaland is a former National President of the Poultry Association of Nigeria and acted as the Vice-Chairman of the Covid-19 Relief Committee in Osun State. In this interview with GBENGA ADERANTI, he x-rays the nation’s economic condition, particularly as it concerns farming, and paints an ugly picture in respect of food security. He also relives his experience as one of the private entrepreneurs who recorded massive losses in the looting and vandalization that followed the recent EndSARS protests.
RIGHT now the economy is in a shambles. With petrol selling as high as N170 per litre the dollar exchanging for close to N500, a lot of people believe that the nation’s economy is in a shambles. What do you think is the way out?
Well, the way out is for us to go back to the farm. The other thing we should do is to develop our technology. Those are the two things that can revive our economy right now. Technology is everything. For example, the way I’m speaking now is made possible by technology. Most of the technologies we depend on in Nigeria were invented from outside. They are not Nigerian technology per se, hence a lot of money is going out through that way. So, it is not only food; we need to embark on technology to save us a lot of money.
You can see that part of the technology in some homes now is the solar system. At least about 70-80 per cent solar system is available locally. Technology is very key. It can save us a lot of money because nowadays, 95 per cent operation of high class level is through technology. The banking and other operations you can talk about is through technology, and whatever money we are spending on this goes to other countries as foreign exchange.
The other one is how to feed ourselves. Today, I cannot say any particular thing we have achieved in agriculture as far as I am concerned. But if we can do agriculture the way it should be done, it will be better for us all.
People are blaming some of the problems right now on the after effect on the EndSARS protests. Do you share this sentiment too?
Like the ones in Lagos, our commercial nerve centre, and also the one in Abuja. In Abuja, there were no attacks on private properties. Abuja was well protected. But in Lagos, it was a free for all. Hoodlums were targeting individuals who have contributed to the growth of the economy. People who set up their legitimate businesses and employed people to come and work there, why targeting them?
Like bankers would say, if one is too politically exposed, then he is prone to this type of danger. It is very devastating. Some of us lost a lot. One has been keeping it to one’s self, and you know that this is a country where you have to bear your cross. Help hardly comes from anywhere. The traditional help one would receive overwhelmingly is the normal homage. When something like this happens in Nigeria, you see a lot of people coming to pay homage. It is unlike the advanced countries where even when you produce agricultural products at a loss, they will pay the farmer so that he can continue his business. But here, you are on your own.
In most of the things, infrastructure for instance, everybody who invests in business knows what he has to go through. Even for water, which is very common abroad, you have to sink a borehole. And for power, you have to buy a generator. At the end of the day, you have multiple agencies coming to collect one bill or the other. The tax man will come, the environmental people will come. You have to attend to about 10 different agencies every month. And they are not coming with solutions; they are coming to add to one’s problems. So, setting up a business here is very difficult. Unfortunately, I don’t know how we go about it. We are used to theories. You would hear that government has spent billions of naira on this and that. Find out what becomes of that in three or four months’ time.
In business, we talk about targets and achievements. Look at how much government has been releasing on one project or the other. What has become of such projects? The media is not helping matters. If government says we have allocated millions of naira somewhere, you should be able to find out where the money has gone to and what are the benefits of that? Let them come out with the statistics on what they achieved with it. We are fortunate to have this President (Buhari). When this government was coming in, we knew everybody had to sit up because he is a no-nonsense man.
Unfortunately, the President alone cannot do it. But the fear that Buhari is the president makes people to sit right. He is a man that when he gives you power, you should be able to perform well. The economy, I don’t know where we are driving to. It is almost N500 to a dollar. I can’t imagine what next year would be. There is uncertainty upon uncertainty. The economic power is not there for the people, even if they are producing. The leadership or the advisers have to take urgent steps to do something about the economy.
The reality on ground is that some of the people that hijacked the EndSARS protests are university graduates. They spend most of their time sitting by the computer while in our time we spent our time productively.
Conservatively, how much did you lose to the protests? If you were to be the economic development minister, what would you be telling the President right now?
Well, economic development is not restricted to one ministry; it is a combination of various ministries. Agriculture will be there, aviation will be there, communication will be there. Indeed, all aspects of life will be represented. It is these people that will gather together and bring out a policy. Earlier, I mentioned two areas—agriculture and technology. With agriculture, you feed yourself and you also produce raw materials for the industries. For instance, the raw materials required in the textile and garment industry include cotton and starch. The only thing that I know is affecting us now, particularly we that are in the agric sector, is that the Indians and other foreigners have taken over the poultry sector that was opened up for Nigerians. Today, there are some foreign companies in Nigeria that are mopping up all the soya beans and maize that are produced in the country. They export them to Senegal and import them to Nigeria as soya meal.
Again, they have now devised another means whereby they say they now sell soya beans back to Europe for them to earn foreign exchange. They are doing thatpurposely to make sure that we go back and we begin to import chickens to Nigeria. They are mopping up all the raw materials now, and they are using Nigeria’s money, which is part of the money the Central Bank of Nigeria earmarked for agriculture. Go to these foreign companies, they would bring their dollars as collateral, and you know the banks in Nigeria depend on collateral. When they use this as collateral, they borrow money and begin to trade with our own money while they earn interest on their own dollar.
After they have set up some infrastructure, they will use it as collateral, reducing their dollar capital base. This is what they are doing right now. They want us to go back to importing chickens, which is very alarming. They are mopping up every seed Nigeria is producing.
The right thing for the Federal Government to do is to ban the exportation of our maize and soya beans. It is very urgent. Otherwise, they will ruin poultry business in Nigeria. If not that the dollar has gone up, it is cheaper to produce chickens locally. They want to create artificial scarcity because by the time they take our beans out to process and they bring it back, it is going to be more expensive and the foreign chickens will be cheaper. The poultry industry in Nigeria is collapsing now. The soya beans which ought to have been sold between N140 and N160 per ton now sold for N250, and you cannot even get to buy.
Let us go back to the looting that took place during the EndSARS protests. How do you think government should go about the rebuilding process for people like you who had their facilities damaged or looted?
It all depends on the purse of the government. In Osun State, for instance, the governor is struggling to pay the salaries of staff with what comes in. That is very important. This is a national problem. If this is a national problem, there has to be a national solution to it. But to say you expect much from the state, as I said, the state is struggling to pay salaries, and to get money to pay us, it could be difficult. But I’m sure that apart from the warehouse in Ede, we were the only major industry that was affected. More than 4,000 of them cameto the farm to loot, destroy and vandalise our machines. It is very devastating and we should not be quantifying what we lost on the pages of newspapers. What I did was to do a write up itemising the things that were affected. We only resumed production a few days ago and we are operating at 5 per cent capacity now. We have placed orders for some of the vandalised machines. It is not something you can attach a figure to.
I later met with some of these genuine EndSARS coordinators. We all reviewed things together and they promised that this type of incident will not happen in the state again. They also told me that there are certain steps to be taken by government to prevent future occurrences. We are in harmony now but the bottom line is that they want a stable economy where they will be able to contribute their own quotas. Some of them left higher institutions many years ago and they don’t have anything doing.
They are to come back to me with a template on what they think government should do and if it is acceptable to government. There must be a dialogue. We once got to a stage in this country where we were exporting chickens. But today, it would be difficult because they have sent some foreigners to come and destroy poultry business in Nigeria. They do this with the connivance of some Nigerians who front for these foreigners. These foreigners are not contributing anything to the economy, they are draining us. During the time I was the president of the poultry association, I made sure we stabilized. We could produce our day-old chicks. We could produce our feeds. We could produce virtually everything by ourselves. But today, foreigners have taken over, and it is not because they have what they are producing but to create room for chicken to come into Nigeria.
The question many people areasking is why they would attack your farm which has created jobs for many in the state?
You know, most times, a protest is a spontaneous thing. Somebody will just say let us go to so and so place and everybody will join. Like the WhatsApp group we have been able to get now, we found that one of the ladies that applied for employment in our organisation and was not offered one ignited the whole thing. They created a platform where they were giving themselves information on where and where to go to. When the genuine EndSARS people came, they had respect for me and the farm. They realised what I have been able to do for the community.
When they (hoodlums) came, we opened the doors for them, explained to them that we had no government palliatives there. The only thing was that I was made the vice chairman of the COVID-19 palliatives in Osun State. But this lady, because she applied here and was not taken, she was on the same WhatsApp platform with those who attacked the farm, and was the one telling them that there were palliatives here.
And you know the okada (commercial motorcycle) riders too were so many in the town. I don’t know what government can do about that. In fact, some of the machinery used in producing okada have been phased out in China because of emission. That is why they brought their plant and start producing in Nigeria. There are too many of them in the country. When these okada people came, they started looting, destroying everything in sight. It was pure looting; not EndSARS protest. That was why the police charged them. Thank God they still showed respect to me. The original EndSARS protesters, after the whole thing, came here to symphatise with me. They apologised for what happened and said it shouldn’t have been me. They said they were never part of the people in the platform that invaded the farm.
I advised them to have meaningful means of living and whatever they wanted; they should articulate them and present them to the government. They promised to do that and they have about 10 points. I promised to be the go between them and government. A former deputy governor of Osun State blamed the attack poverty. Do you share this sentiment?
In their government, I know they created what they called O-BOPS, Osun Broilers Outgrowers Programme Scheme. People were encouraged to go to farm to produce chickens. Their own government invested in feeds. They asked us to invest on day-old chick and the farmer to have a farm. The programme was running perfectly well. That programme was able to attract about 800 farmers. I could remember that every circle, a farmer was making between N250,000 and N2 million, depending on the size of the farm, and they were doing fine. But you know government thing; it does not last forever. They received another proposal from somewhere that they could do better, and that was the end.
They had good programmes. Even the retirees, keyed into the programme. They were so many there because they were making good money from it. The investment was maximum of six to seven weeks and you would have your returns on the investment. We were doing fine, the government was doing fine. These were the kind of things they did at that time. Their own government also did the O-Meal school feeding. The chickens produced were used to feed the school children.
We do not have that type of programme in Osun right now. The new government inherited a lot of debts. The priority is to make sure that the civil servants are paid. This government is now battling with how to pay. I don’t know how he is going to get money for projects. The former government must have been referring to the programmes they did. Today, the civil servants are key to the government. They have to be paid.
You said poultry business is dying. What is the way out?
Poultry business in Nigeria is dying gradually. Farmers are planting maize because they know that the poultry industry in Nigeria can absorb it. The maize is now being mopped up by the Indians and the Lebanese in poultry business. These people were invited under the guise of helping the economy, but they are not helping the economy. They were invited by a northern governor who happened to be one of our future hopefuls. He may not understand the implications of what they are doing. Those people are not here to revive the economy; they are here to destroy it. They are mopping up all the soya beans. In those days, the poultry farmers would have bought their own and the federal government would mop up the excess and put it in a green reserve for the future.
Today, these people have money and they have taken all the money meant for agriculture from the Central Bank, and they are using the money to mop up maize. Every day the price of maize continues to increase, which is good for the farmers. What they have now done to soya beans, which is vital to the production of chicken, is that they now export the beans and process somewhere in Senegal, and then send it back to Nigeria and sell at exorbitant prices. They are doing it purposefully. What they are doing is to make sure that the excess chickens in Brazil are brought to Nigeria. They want to bring chickens from America and everywhere in the world to Cotonou (Benin Republic) and put the lives of our people in danger. The chickens they are bringing, they must have preserved it in formalin, which is cancerous. That is why everybody is being diagnosed with cancer because of what we eat.
The best advice for government is they should make sure they stop the export of soya beans and maize. One of the companies in Nigeria has signed an international agreement with a foreign company to export the whole soya beans we produce in Nigeria; that if it failed to do that, it would pay a penalty. Farmers are not selling to Nigerians again. The poultry business is in danger now and there is a need for the federal government to take an urgent step. The major step up is to ban the export of soya beans and maize. Those people who came as investors are all traders. They will put up giant structure, but under it, they are trading with our agricultural products.