The Devil is in the Weevil

A few days ago, Leadership News reported that Ireland returned 5 containers of beans exported from Nigeria. Ostensibly, this was because the shipment had as much weevil as beans or something to that effect. We all ate beany weevils in boarding house – and “weeviled” beans when we got back home on holidays. It was arguably protein augmentation. The problem is the  good folks of Ireland don’t like beany weevils. The accompanying headlines across the Nigerian blogosphere were rib-tickling to say the least; one went as far as to proclaim it a national embarrassment. I’ll say – “koo dan” (cool down, with a Waffi accent), it is not a national embarrassment, unless of course you choose to make it one. It is a blow to the pocket of the exporter, but national embarrassment it wasn’t.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Mr. Heineken Lokpobiri obviously felt it was a national disgrace and dude left his office in Abuja and made his way to pick some beans in Tin Can Port. Apparently dismayed when faced with enough weevils to colonise an insectarium, he instantly made a policy pronouncement – “hence forth, for any agro-product to leave the country, it has to be certified by the Quarantine Service”. So my friends in the Nigeria Plant Quarantine Services (NPQS) have ministerial blessings to become the Bean Picking, Review, Inspection and Coordination Kaisers (Bean PRICKs). Brilliant, init? Nah. This is a classic instance of how ill-thought out policies fail to solve any problem. It is also how we create more problems, in addition to existing ones.

The shipment was not returned because it was not inspected. This may sound counterintuitive, but it is true. It was returned because there were weevils in the beans. It is that simple. The problem is the presence of weevils in beans not the absence of Bean Pricks. So why did the minister not choose to solve this problem? I would win the Lottery tonight if I knew the answer to that. My guess however is that this is keeping in line with our spirit of “anyhowness”. It is often easier to make a show of solving a problem than to actually solve it. Somewhere on earth, there is an exporter who exports raw agricultural produce to the EU without being rejected. I will bet there is someone who exports beans successfully without the “national embarrassment” of rejection. Why don’t we find out how it is done? No, we don’t do things that way in Nigeria. Who has time to find out how to grow, harvest and pack beans without weevils? That will be a colossal waste of ministerial resources.

So Mr. Lokpobiri, having failed to solve the problem, goes on in grand Nigerian style to create another problem. We now have a new raft of jobsworths who will become another constrictive kink in the flow of goods at the ports. Of course, Bean Pricks don’t work for free – never mind their salaries. Depending on how “weevilish” a container of beans may be, Bean Pricks will demand some settlement. I can imagine a settlement tariff chart that says,

  1. a) No weevils – N20k /container.
  2. b) Weevil eggs – N40k/container
  3. c) Full blown weevils – N60k/container
  4. d) No inspection – N100k/container
  5. e) No settlement – Container confiscated

Pretty soon, you’ll start seeing Facebook spam advertising the sale of confiscated bean at Apapa Port.

Mr. Lokpobiri has done his job and gone back to Abuja. Meanwhile, the weevils live on in the beans; and the devil in the weevil.