Nigerian fruits: why are the days gone? – Part 2
Then there is the whole business of plant medicine and pharmaceuticals, which I have dealt with in an earlier piece.
Counting and measuring products, yield per hectare or setting production targets are principles that should govern our outlook and policy on agriculture. It is then we can really measure how well we are doing, not through the photo opportunity we now have or through the vague claims of agricultural success like saving US$ million from the importation of rice – a claim that cannot be proved.
The sizes of crops – plantains, agbalumo are getting smaller mainly perhaps because they are over-harvested. We need even so, to grow smaller and sweeter varieties of pineapples for export. The pawpaws we produce are too big, we need to grow smaller and sweeter varieties that one family in Europe can eat at a sitting.
Improving breeds and yields, for example the colour of oranges and other fruits can be improved for packaging. In the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) campaign during which many companies went into agriculture, cotton, bananas and lost heavily, the support structure was temporary and inadequate, planting new fruits crops should be encouraged. We still seem to be food gatherers, like our ancestors. Our ube (African pear), plum, and others are not planted and cultivated; they are mainly growing wild. There are no orange and plum plantations; even kola nuts plantations; no new trees planted – gestation periods are largely long and schemes have to be established to sustain farmers during the gestation period.
Cocoa, palm trees, rubber trees – where government has not planted, has nothing new. The old plantations of UAC for palm trees are taken by over PZ, or the land has been sold to Arabs and Chinese. The devastation of our timber and rubber plantations continues unabated: inconsistencies are in play. The vast holdings of AT and P in Delta have not been replaced: only pillaged. The normal rules of timber harvesting were not followed: usually companies are expected to plant five trees for everyone cut. That has not happened.
The perennial wastages – tomatoes, mangoes etc. are again with us. The only exception was the mangoes in Mambila Plateau planted by Admiral Nyako.
Oil and the destruction of the ecosystem and rural economy in the Niger Delta, periwinkle, cockies (ngolo), clams, and oysters and other crustaceans are in serious danger of disappearance.
What propels most Nigerians to the United States (U.S.) is the belief in the possibilities of achieving anything they can within their potentialities. These possibilities also are all in Nigeria here. There are numerous stories of grass to riches in Nigeria.
Alon Metzger is to-day the billionaire owner of MEGA PLAZA. He came to Nigeria with nothing and lived and sold CDs in an 18-foot container. The Chaguoris were born in Port Harcourt in unremarkable circumstances and conditions. Port Harcourt, Lagos, Ibadan, Jos, Kano, Calabar were the homes of many Lebanese and Syrians (“Koras”) who turned Nigeria into their homes. They sold textiles, had mechanical workshops, electronics shops, cinemas, restaurants, and so on. They became unbelievably successful and incredibly wealthy.
The founder of the Chellarams Empire came here with an umbrella and a cardboard suitcase. They grew and branched into almost all mercantile businesses and factories. They started water bottling (Swan) almost at the same time as the Chagouris started Ragolis and flour mills. The Chellarams, with their cousins, the Bhojsons and friends, Aswanis went into farming – growing corn and making cornflakes, assembling motor cycles, supermarkets, fast foods, textile manufacturers, soft drink factories, airlines, distribution of cars and machinery and chemicals and a host of other business. The Melwanis were a business octopus. The Elias brothers came with nothing and set up factories making towels (NITOL TOWELS at Iganmu and Port Harcourt); Khalil went into transport, soft drink factories etc. Leventis, Mandilas, Kalaberis, Thomopolus, Spiropolous (i.e. the Greeks) built car plants, motor outlets, timber, wholesale exporters of rubber, etc. Monselli was a small architect in Mushin and grew into the giant of TV, radio, construction, food and a billionaire.
Nigerians who had their own stories of successes from nothing included Ojukwus, Chidieberes, Odutolas, (Ogbeni Oja), the Brodericks, Ilodibes, Adejumos, Akinkugbes, etc. Obande grew to be one of the richest men in Enugu and started as a supplier of food to prisons. Ojukwu Transport and Industries were well known. Kalu was the stock fish king in Nigeria. On the luxury transport routes the grass to wealth entrepreneurs dominated and still dominate – and have diversified – to hotels, breweries, etc., the Young Shall Grow (Rockview). Ibetos expanded to cement manufacturing from transport. Agbowu, Agofure, God is Good, transport are household names. Inyang Ete from Akwa Ibom; the mega billionaires of Globe Motors (Anumudu) and Coscharis (Maduka). It is tedious to go on – but one thing runs through their biographies, they all started dirt poor.
These developments have continued in case people think that the rich ones were lucky or rich by historical accident. It is not their wealth that is being celebrated: rather their indomitable spirit of never say die, never give up. The parents of Elda and Bruno came from Italy with nothing. But Elda’s restless spirit pushes her for new things. She has gone into fishing, restaurants, wholesale wine importation, plans for tourism, environmental survival, etc. The other day I found her and her daughter Jenny, selling in a vegetable market they have just opened. Jumai, a young woman married at 17. After having three children she found that that world was insufficient to hold her spirit. She went to university, finished and now has a string of successful restaurants for business lunches, introducing Shangalinku type restaurants in the middle of Lagos: The same can be said of Juvenick restaurants. I believe the owner of SLOT has told his story as well as the computer manufacturer who introduced Nigerian languages keyboards.
Lagos has two types of landlords – those who own the largely swamp lands now reclaimed, known as Lekki, Jakande, Shogunle, Osapa, etc. The state having developed the infrastructure following the foresight of the owners of HFP, fabulous wealth has come to Lagosians and their families. They have Roll Royces as many as 4 or 5, and other luxury cars. There are landlords and loan sharks who are ready to deprive the unwary and even foolish of their money. There are many fake land owners who sell a piece of land to as many unwary buyers as possible. There are others who have organised themselves as “omooniles” – some genuine, others parasitic – these have similar organisations in Port Harcourt, Warri, Sapele, Asaba, Abuja who arm-twist people into parting with their money under false pretences. Others harass genuine buyers or owners, blackmail house owners, etc. But these are not the people I am asking Nigerians to emulate.
Opportunities abound for new businesses in technologies, communications and successes abound in agriculture, in industries, in new enterprises and of course in oil and solid minerals. These opportunities are waiting to be exploited.
• Dr. Cole is former Nigeria Ambassador to Brazil.
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