As a non-Yoruba man, most likely our agriculture minister, Audu Innocent Ogbeh, might not have heard the story of how the expression Amoju ti b’ekun Saare je became part of the Yoruba language. As told by my grandmother, Saare was a young man who lived in a village where warriors routinely killed leopards and feeling left out of their heroic acts, he invented an encounter with his own leopard. It turned out, however, that the animal Saare described every now and then was an antelope, as he could not resist adding that the ‘leopard’ had two horns and ate okra.
Paraphrasing it in pidgin, one would call it oversabi a phenomenon whereby one is guilty of embellishment, garnishing truth with falsehood or stretching an issue a bit too far. And for us in a country where we don’t seem to bother too much about what our public officials say before being elected while they end up doing something entirely different in office. One wonders how well we can demand that our political leaders be more accountable when some citizens defend lying in the name of campaign promises as empty words to get elected and not what they actually intended doing while soliciting for votes. With another general election on the horizon, we need to scrutinize more the lies spewed out regularly by some officials of the Buhari government.
Last week, Mr. Ogbeh, who was a minister in 1982 till 1983 after serving as deputy speaker in the Benue State House of Assembly from 1979, told a meeting of the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) and leaders of Fertilizer Producers and Suppliers of Nigeria at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, that the Thailand ambassador to Nigeria accused the Buhari government of being responsible for the closure of “its seven rice mills” in Thailand as rice importation has fallen dramatically under the watch of Mr. Ogbeh as agriculture minister and the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari who, by the way, will be visiting troubled spots in Nigeria eight weeks after trouble erupted in those states. Immediately I heard the minister’s claim, alarms started ringing in my head, as I knew that it was most likely truth stretched too far.
I thought of contacting a former classmate of mine who is Thai and currently on holiday in Bangkok to verify Ogbeh’s claim but the wonderful folks manning the news operations of this newspaper beat me to the story. Good work, guys. What followed is this beautiful report that exposed the lies of a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria –
Remember, Ogbeh said, “Just like two weeks ago, the ambassador of Thailand came to my office and said to me that we have really dealt with them. But I asked what did we do wrong and he said unemployment in Thailand was one of the lowest in the world, 1.2 percent, it has gone up to four percent because seven giant rice mills have shut down because Nigeria’s import has fallen by 95 percent on rice alone.”
While readers are best left to form their conclusion after reading the fact check copy, it is worthy noting that Richard Quest, the overtly dramatic Business Traveller anchor on CNN on Saturday, March 3, focusing on Thai’s hospitality and tourism industry informed us that more and more Thais were relocating back to Thailand to be part of the tourism expansion in the country which is already famous for tourism and so unemployment cannot be on the rise in such a country. We remember Ogbeh’s other foot-in-the-mouth moments like the data on our so-called yam exports which he claimed is the work of the government he is part of and the one that is still fresh, creation of cattle colonies, as a panacea to the herdsmen menace even as his people in his home state, Benue, have been on the receiving end.
As someone who knows two people working with the minister who, from my interactions with them, are diligent and impeccable professionals, one wonders why Ogbeh, who had written five plays with three published, would continue to have issues with facts and fiction. Was he trying too much to please his principal or to let Nigerians think that he is a hardworking minister? Or why did he lie about this Thai episode? Unfortunately, due to diplomatic ethos, the Thai ambassador will not say a word publicly about what is turning out to be a fictional encounter as no one is sure that he ever visited the agricultural minister in the first instance since what was attributed to him are not true. In the race to 2019, many things will be claimed as achievements by this government, it is up to Nigerians, especially journalists, to separate the wheat from the chaff. Dear minister, better luck next time.
Iya Wale at 70
My mother, Grace Oluyemi Fatade, turns 70 on Tuesday, March 6, and this is wishing her a Happy Birthday. To the woman who remains the greatest human influence on me, thanks for the many good things you do and while I have not forgotten those years of caning and ceaseless scolding, I still love you. Aseyisamodun o.