Prince Adekunle Adebayo Ayoola, an agricbusiness entrepreneur and expert in collaborative trade speaks with Bankole Taiwo on the sidelines of the just concluded two-day Nigeria Diaspora Investment Summit held at Abuja and virtually. He declared among other things that Nigeria can fight off forex scarcity, unemployment among her plethora of challenges with adequate investment in agric sector.
As a participant-speaker in the just concluded two days Nigeria Diaspora Investment Summit, of what value is the summit to the nation?
The impact of Nigerians living abroad back home can not be overemphasized. One other way through which several Nigerians make their earnings, I mean get money and other things to support themselves is from support from their loved ones in diaspora which could be Poland, United Kingdom, USA, France, etc. Those who have family members, friends, associates among others in diaspora from time to time receive some kind of monetary support from these people abroad and which indirectly has also prooved so helpful to the economy back home. In term of remittances back home, Nigeria is ranked number eight, it only confirms that Nigerians in diaspora are in a way supporting greatly their people back home and of course this trickle down to the economy. For instance, according to World Bank’s reports, in 2019, Nigerians in diaspora remitted over $23bn home and in 2020 it was $16bn, the shortfall was due to the Covid-19 pandemic. So while latching on this opportunity, it pleases the federal government through Nigeria in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) to open up further engagement with Nigerians in diaspora with this summit whereby opportunities that could further be explored to boost Nigeria’s foreign earnings are examined. Some of us in the time past have fallen into wrong hands and lost our hard earnings because we want to do business back home but the interfacing being provided by the government through such summit like this organised by NIDCOM has helped to reduce this risk. With the establishment of NIDCOM has also come the push for Nigerians in diaspora to be able to vote back home and the bill I think has just passed second reading. It means that if we are supporting the economy back home with our remittances and other businesses that we do, we should also have a say in electing those our leaders who help in managing these collective wealth. Forum like this summit has gingered many Nigerians in diaspora to begin to attract foreign direct investment into the country and even to their home state. It’s really a good move to reposition the country and strengthen its capacity to generate more forex
You actually spoke on maximising the potentials in agricbusiness to boost our foreign earnings, can you please talk more on this?
Yes, because that’s what I have been doing with my Afro-Euro Investment. In developed country of the world, farmers are the rich ones but back home, they are majorly the poorest of the poor and it is simply because they are being ripped off by middle men. Our position is that rather than selling their farm produce to the middle men as just only raw materials who only manage to give them peanut, they should learn to add value to it, process it before disposing it off. For instance if you are a maize farmer, you just don’t pack your maize into silos and send it like that abroad, you can process the maize, remove the chaff and then package it before sending it abroad. It can then be use as raw materials for animals feeds or any other thing people may want to use it for. Another thing I also made mention here is technology transfer. Some of us have farms over there and we have also seen how farming is being done with the aid of technology, so we too in Nigeria must embrace technology to develop this abandoned sector. It’s a gold mine that is more profitable than oil, Nigeria must go back to agriculture to fix challenges of poverty, continuous rise in food prices and receive substantial earnings in forex.
What is your charge to the government on this?
My charge is even to our youths to let them understand that agriculture is not the job of the old persons or the illiterates, but what they should embrace because of its viability and profitability. The government is also providing some bit of assistance here and there which they can equally leverage on in the agricbusiness. I have it on good record that government is partnering with Indian and Brazilian tractor manufacturers to bring in tractors for the farmers, this is a good step towards the right direction. I also have a farm back home at Ijebu Ode but whenever we want to do harrowing we have to come to Ikenne to get tractors, this is certainly not good enough. Each local government should have tractors that the farmers can use. In fact, the local government should be allowed to own development of the agriculture in the country because that is where we have the farmers and the land. This is the reason why local government autonomy should be pursued with all seriousness and should be allowed if we are serious in the country. The local government should be so empowered to drive the agricultural development being the closest to the people. As at today, policies on developing this sector come from Abuja, the seat of the federal government that is way, way far to our local farmers who live at the grassroots, really, something needs to be done here.
How can the country get its fair share of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)?
We must fix our insecurity challenge, this challenge of kidnapping, herdsmen, banditry and insurgency must be closely tackled. No business thrives in an an unsafe environment. Anybody who wants to invest in a particular place will want to be sure of his or her security, the government should do a lot more to fight off this nagging insecurity challenge. We must always reinforce the impression that the country is good and safe for people to come around and do business. This again bring us to the issues of community policing, it is time the federal government allow for state police notwithstanding the fear of the possibility of being hijacked the state governors. The country is too big and complex for someone to sit up there in Abuja and be overseeing what is being done in Ogun State security wise, we must decentralise policing. Even the US that we claimed to have patterned our government after runs a decentralised policing system, so, what are we afraid of because this will help us to keep eyes on one another. So community policing is central to resolving our insecurity challenge. We also should fix our infrastructural challenge, the problem of bad roads across the country is worrisome, though, the present administration has been doing a lot in this regard. I only wished subsequent government had done its bit too when it was in power. I really want to commend President Buhari’s government for his noticeable commitment to address the challenges of infrastructural deficit, especially in the area of road and rail. The government too should ensure that our power is stable, the ongoing commitment to ensure that we have stable power supply should be sustained. In other words, the government should keep on working to provide enabling environment. That is however not to say that we are not getting FDI. I still remember a dairy company from Netherlands and another called Haifa having investment in Jigawa, Ogun and in Ekiti too. These are investments facilitated by Nigerians in diaspora in collaboration with their respective state government back home.
You want to say Nigerians in diaspora should do more of this?
Absolutely, yes, rather than fanning embers of discord or compounding our trouble back home, we must rather look for ways to support our people and the government back home to address our challenges. We should use our status and privilege wherever we are as Nigerians in diaspora to facilitate and accelerate the development of our dear nation and not to set it on fire.
What do you do with Afro-Euro Investment?
It is my company and we run chains of stores but the pandemic affected us but we are gradually coming out. We are into agricbusiness, we export and import agricultural produce. We buy from African countries like Uganda, Ghana and even Asia. Ghana is one of our hubs and Nigeria too could be one after signing agreement with Poland government. The private sector, the people in diaspora and the government must always synergise to strengthen the economy.
For instance there is this apps that we have, it is on Google play store and ios, erashidat.com. I just said that erashidat is on google play or ios. We also have this afroeuro.pl
With this apps you can get to buy anything in the Europe, UK, etc and it will be delivered in Nigeria. The second part of this apps is that you can equally upload what you wish to sell there and get buyers. This is another way of creating opportunities for the people to revolutionize the e-commerce.
What should be the take home for the participants at this year summit?
For those of us in diaspora, we have to continue to think and talk Nigeria. The growth and development of our country should be uppermost in our hearts. Yes, we may be having second address but the green-white-green passport made way for wherever we are now, so we must always think of what we can do to strengthen our economy back home, after all, east or west, home is the best.
How can Ogun State being your state benefit from synergy with people in diaspora?
First of all, the state must have a focal person. For instance, Lagos has, likewise Ekiti among others but Ogun doesn’t have yet, at least for the past four years that we have been coming for this summit, I have not seen anyone serving as the focal person for the state. The job of such focal person is to interface with others and attract investment towards his or her State. I just want to use this opportunity to call on our governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun to appoint a focal person for this assignment such that by next year when we have this summit, Ogun will have its stand and can tell the world what it has to offer and equally attract investors. Such focal person should be a diasporan, who is exposed and verse in International trades and collaboration. I wouldn’t mind to help because it’s a familiar turf.
What lessons can Nigeria take away from Poland where you have been for a while?
Patriotism and nation building, We all need to put this country first in all that we do, you must always ask your self, this step that I am about taking, of what benefits is it to my country? Is it adding to its progress or putting the country in the reverse gear. In Poland, I have seen some elections that will make it look like the system will collapse but after the election everyone will come together and put the interest of the country forward.
2023 is almost here, what is your take on the people in diaspora voting during our elections?
Yes, it’s a welcome development and like I said the bill I think is now on second reading. However, I am not too sure the people in diaspora could exercise their franchise during 2023 elections because of data problem. As we speak we don’t even know the number of Nigerians in diaspora. During pandemic, we had serious issues about obtaining Passport as well as registration for National Identification Number (NIN) too. I can tell you that in diaspora, less than five percent of us have the NIN and you can’t even have anything to do with Nigeria such as registration with INEC without having NIN. That is why calls are being made for immigration and those saddled with the NIN registration to decentralise it so that our people can be easily captured and then be on Nigeria’s data. I don’t think people in diaspora can vote in 2023 but by 2027 all must have been set, so, we looks toward voting in 2027 by God’s grace