Rice Mill:  It is 15000 Jobs, Stupid! Dr Ibrahim Dooba

In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign team coined the sticky campaign message: it is the economy, stupid.

“It was simple and it was self-effacing,” James Carville, one of the leaders of the campaign explained. “I was trying to say, ‘Let’s don’t be too clever here, don’t come down here thinking we’re too smart. Let’s just remember the basics.’”

Remembering the basics.  That is the mind-set with which we’ve been trying to get the Niger State Government to treat the issue of Badeggi Rice Mill, since the time of the PDP.  The message is simple.  Reviving the mill has the potential to generate 15,000 jobs in the nearest future.

When I was in government, it’s the message I was singing to any official concerned or anyone who would listen to me.  From the governor to the secretary to the state government (SSG), including the bosses at the Niger State Development Company.  The SSG suffered more from my constant reminder: “Let’s keep our eye on the 15,000 jobs sir,” I told him.

The reminder, or the fight for what is right, as I prefer to call it, didn’t start now.  Nor was I the one who started it.  Muhammad Alibaba did.  And when he told me about it and I finished reading the documents he gave me, I joined the struggle.  Although we know some managers of the company leasing Badeggi Rice Mill, we didn’t do it for them.  We did it for the people of Niger State, keeping in mind the 15,000 jobs.

After the overall boss (Umar Mutallab) of Deanshanger, the company leasing the mill, read my columns in Daily Trust directed at the Chief Servant, he asked his people: “How did he know so much about our company?”

Because we discussed this with the governor during the campaigns, and above all because Gov Bello has in-depth knowledge of the issue and also wanted the Badeggi Rice Mill to be revived, he directed the SSG to organize the board meeting about three months ago. As usual, the governor’s directive was largely ignored.  But if we continue like this, nothing would be done for the people in the three years we have left.  I feel issues like this one should be treated urgently.  Forget the technicalities.  Think of the 15,000 jobs and that would easily push you to a resolution.

The worst thing that can happen is for the government to say that it has given the mill to the company leasing it.  But that is even preferable than keeping the place locked for a decade.  The logic is simple, if it is producing, it would engage our youths.  If it is not, no one benefits.

Therefore, this is another reminder to the Niger State Government to pluck this low hanging fruit.  It is also an admonition to the officials of the government to implement the governor’s directives ASAP.

Like I mentioned above, in November 2014, I wrote a two-part article calling the attention of the governor of Niger State at that time to do whatever is necessary to activate the plant.  Here are excerpts:

At issue is the state owned Baddegi Rice Mill near Bida, a factory with the capacity to generate 5000 immediate jobs and the potential to create thousands more.  Everything in the mill is ready: machines installed, local and expatriate partners recruited, farmers to feed the mill have also been identified and the scope of the next phase of expansion established.

Except that they need one board meeting to give them the legal teeth to start operation, but the Chief Servant’s government would not call for the meeting.

(They want the state to use the meeting to correct some anomalies in the agreement, such as including them on the board and for the agreement to be between the Badeggi Rice Mill and Deanshanger.  Not between the state government and Deanshanger as it is now.  I think this is a simple problem to resolve if know our priorities.)

Here are the facts of the case.

Between 2009 and 2010 the state government entered into an arrangement with Deanshanger, of which Umar Muttalab is the chairman, to operate the mill.  As of this moment, the company has spent approximately 750 million naira on equipment and installations.  The mill has been ready for operation since 2011, I was told.

The company has already organized an out-grower scheme of farmers to feed the mill. About 4000 (120 cooperatives of) farmers would benefit, it also plans to employ 120 workers directly and 900 indirectly.  It convinced the First Bank to open a branch in the village to service the mill and the farmers.  Deanshanger has also identified a piece of land near the old mill to open two additional ones.  Accordingly, in July 2009, it took N1.2 billion loan from the Bank of Industry (BOI) to execute the projects; Niger state government however, does not permit the old one to operate let alone grant the title deeds for expansion.

Let’s assume the two additional mills would each equal the capacity of the old one.  And we know that the old one purposes to provide 5000 jobs; the three mills together would generate 15,000 jobs.  Now what would prevent any state government to facilitate the speedy operation of such projects?
Is it money?  In the arrangement, the state government is not expected to spend one kobo.  Is it a scope issue, i.e. would the mill benefit only a small section of the state?  No.  The mill would keep farmers in seven local governments busy.

What is it then?  That question leaves many people scratching their heads.  I met an old acquaintance of the governor, who like the governor, is a PhD.  “Puzzling as it is,” Dr. Wali said, “I’ll not cast any judgment on this matter.  There must be something hidden that prevents the state government from proceeding – of which we don’t know.”

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