Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) was last year upgraded from a department under the Ministry of Agriculture, to a fully fledged agency with the former Coordinating Director, Dr. Vincent Isegbe appointed as the first director general. In this interview with JOHN OBA, the DG says the agency has been further empowered to discharge its mandate
Congratulations on your elevation as the first Director General of NAQS, how do you feel?
All I can say is to give God the glory. God’s time is the best that is all I will say. As you know, government has their processes of doing some of these things. First of all like the Quarantine act, it has to be by ministerial nomination, which will be forwarded for the approval of His Excellency. The extant rule that establishes Quarantine was follows and the president considered it fit and then gave his approval. I went through the normal process. I went through the normal screening and interviews and it the end of the day approval was given.
So, I want to use this opportunity to say thank you to the President and all the other officers involved, such as the secretary to the government of the federation, my immediate boss the minister of agriculture and rural development Chief Audu Ogbeh and everyone who contributed to this.
This upgrade places more responsibilities on you and the agency, what are we expecting?
Yes, you should be looking forward to more work, more work, more work. That is what it is. It is a big responsibility but I thank God for the staff we have here. They are very energetic, and are very experienced hands. We also thank God for the young ones that are coming in; everybody is contributing his or her own quota so that things are done properly. Hitherto, there were some departments that were not seen as good departments, but if they are core departments that needs to be strengthened, we will strengthen them, just like we have restructured planning and research which we now renamed Planning, Research and Development department. That will meet our needs because we are focusing on highlighting and showcasing unconventional agricultural produce. The ones that are there but are not usually on our staple lists and they earn good money and we can even substitute it for petrol. For instance, look at honey, how much is a litre of fuel, and how much is a litre of honey? It is N4000, then a mile of it is N800 or N1000. Let’s take the average of N4000, so why would you not highlight such a product that can earn us more and all we are saying is petrol. We have the land, and farmers who are ready to do it, but the important thing is that we need a little bit of skills and minimal technology.
Do you think your upgrade will affect your clamour to be part of the team at the ports?
I will say yes and no, depending on what we are talking about. The Act has given us some level of independence. We can work faster now, and notify my principals. Hitherto, I need to get clearance from them before I move but even then, most of my principals understand the peculiarity of Quarantine, so most times they don’t even border so much, but now, my fluidity of speed is enhanced. I can do a lot of things now move faster and definitely when such things happens in government, they give what we call take off grant, and we use that to solidify and reorganised staff, open up more stations where there is none.
Like in airports, we’ve been on this matter since 2013, we made a formal request and it stopped there. We contacted the Nigeria Immigration Service and they said they six border posts and they notified us, but we couldn’t make provision for staff there. On the agricultural commodities, states that we were hitherto not present, through the export certification policy that we put in place, we identified such states and moved promptly into such areas, like the Nsukka yellow pepper. The colour is attractive and it has a little bit of spices, and people can use it for their culinary dishes. So we have our own culinary herbs that we use, some for pepper soup, some for good health and we have lots of Nigerians in diaspora and other races are beginning to enjoy our delicacies. So we want to introduce this to them gradually and if they like it, more people will be use it for their cuisines in their restaurants and before you know it, we will begin to have ships load of orders. You know tiger but is being exported into China, Vietnam etc, and God has given us the grace to have good weather to produce, because we are in the tropical equatorial/ Sudan vegetation. So there is hardly anything we cannot grow in Nigeria. We can grow arable crops in the sahel-sudan area, if is typical forest crops, we have the forest and those that grow on temperate weather, we have the plateaus, that is the Obudu and Mambilla plateaus, apples can be grown in such areas. We have good Irish potatoes for industrial production. We have these things, and if they are not showcase, our farmers will not benefit from it. Now we have two processing plants in Kaduna state, doing chips. Now they are making ugu, pepper, onions, into cubes like maggi for bachelors or people with small families. This is being done in Nigeria now. More farmers will be engaged in farming these commodities, and more jobs will be created.
What is the current position of things with respect to the exportation of yam?
As we speak now, people are still exporting yam. What we were saying is that there should be Quarantine supervision. The market here is different from the one in the US or UK. Our family size here averagely is large, between six and eight, overseas is four averagely and when in the high side, five. So they would want to pick on tuber and eat here but there, one tuner is too much for them so they need small a size about 2 kilos while here we need a bigger sized tuber. Secondly, the head must not have multiple sprouts, because those multiple sprouts may grow here but as they are growing they are sapping the nutrients. So we want tuber that has only one sprout, but in the local markets, who cares; all they do is buy the yam and make use of it immediately. Secondly, we don’t want the tuber that is damage or has scares, smooth skin, small size that can be about 15, 16 in a carton. These are the small things we consider.
Are there modalities in place to ensure exporters are sensitised on getting phitosanitary certificate?
We have embarked on sensitisation using various medium because even exporters don’t know anything about the certification. But people are beginning to know; even you can’t send a message through the airline without the certificate. But gradually people are getting to know about it. So we are going to do more of sensitisation.
In terms of revenue generation, what is your target this year?
Well, we don’t generate funds. What is approved for us since 1959 by the World Bank and the federal government, it is called user fees. It is understood that Quarantine is supposed to prevent diseases from affecting crops, animal and human. These three means are mediums for carrying pathogens across the borders. So as Quarantine, we are not a revenue generating agency. What we do is that, the inspection of certificate that we carry out, is done at the expense of the owner, so we just charge the owner minimally to be able to secure his produces so that it would not be diseased. It is not going to affect our own finances neither are we going to burden them with ours. This is a general policy of Quarantine worldwide. So we protect ourselves and others. Whatever we charge as certification bill, the government obliged us to remit 25 per cent to the federation account.
Do you have the capacity to man the border posts?
Yes, we cannot have enough, no country have enough, not even enough money but we are developing. We have a big lab in Lagos and another one in Port Harcourt and Ibadan, so we cannot have too many labs because it’s a testing labs, chemical expires with time and it take specialist to handle the equipment, so what we do is to establish plants health clinics like the Family Healthcare Centre so that if there is any outbreak, they are the ones that will provide the first aid. They would collect the samples and transfer it to the headquarters immediate. If they cannot, it is their duty to use the ICT facilities they have there to contact the nearest zonal offices. And if the zonal office does not have a lab, they know what to do. So far we have six of such clinics now and we plan to add six more this year.