Ogbeh ‘distorted’ our conversation on rice importation, says Thai ambassador

Wattana Kunwongse, Thailand’s ambassador to Nigeria, has dismissed remarks attributed to Audu Ogbeh, Minister of Agriculture, that Thailand’s rice exports fell drastically as a result of Nigeria’s increased rice production.

At a meeting of the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) and the Fertiliser Producers and Suppliers of Nigeria (FEPSAN) on Friday, Ogbeh was reported by NAN as saying that seven major rice mills in Thailand had collapsed because Nigeria no longer imported rice from the country.

“Two weeks ago, the Ambassador of Thailand came to my office and said to me that we have really ‘dealt’ with them,” Ogbeh was quoted as saying.

“But I asked what we did wrong and he said unemployment in Thailand was one of the lowest in the world, 1.2 per cent; it had gone up to four per cent because seven giant rice mills had shut down because Nigeria’s import had fallen by 95 per cent on rice alone.”

However, Kunwogse said Ogbeh’s comments were misleading, a misrepresentation of his actual conversation with him.

“The report is not only misleading but a distortion of the actual conversation between myself and the honourable Minister of Agriculture at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on 30th January 2018,” Kunwogse wrote, adding that their conversation “was nothing short of positivity and optimism on both sides”.

The Ambassador noted that during their discussion, he “praised President Buhari’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), the essence of which is the endeavour to move the country to a self-sufficiency and export-oriented economy”.

“At the same meeting, the honourable minister and I had reached the conclusion that I, as Ambassador of Thailand to Nigeria, will be working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to establish a platform to discuss our mutual benefits in the form of MOU on Agricultural Cooperation and by forming a bilateral Working Committee toward that end.

“Thailand stands ready to work closely with the Nigerian Government in the field of technological transfer and agricultural machineries.

“Thailand’s rice export to the world in 2017 (January-December 2017) reached 11.48 million tons equalising to $5.1 billion (USD), a 15.54 percent increase compared to previous years, which is one of the highest figures on the history Thailand’s rice exportation. There is no proof of any shutdown of Thailand’s major rice mills.”

    Kunwogse, however, added that he looks forward to continuing a smooth working relationship with Ogbeh, whom he described as “a great man of integrity who has been working so hard to help Nigeria achieve the goal of self-sustainability in food and agriculture”.

    When contacted, Olukayode Adeleye, Special Adviser to Ogbeh on media and publicity, said he would have “to crosscheck facts”.

    In February 2017, Garba Shehu, media aide to President Muhammadu Buhari, said that Nigeria had risen to the second highest producer of rice in the world.

    But that assertion was false, as a fact check by Premium Times later revealed.

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