Insurance firms refused to pay for cassava farms destroyed by herdsmen — Segun Adewunmi
Businessman, writer and National President of the Nigeria Cassava Growers Association, Segun Adewunmi, speaks with TOFARATI IGE about agriculture, business and his calling as a pastor
What are some of the memorable experiences you can recall of your childhood?
I had to stay with my uncle because my father died when I was four years old. My uncle was a prophet in a white garment church and he was often transferred from one place to the other. As a result of that, I attended several elementary schools. After my elementary education, I couldn’t proceed to secondary school for several years because of lack of sponsorship. I eventually attended post-elementary school for three years and I did some correspondence courses in accounting after that. In those days, we used to have rapid result colleges where they trained you for exams.
Can you recall some of the schools you attended?
Some of the schools I attended were St. Bernadette, Ayede Ekiti; Ansar-ud-Deen Primary School, Iperu-Remo, Ogun State; Baku Memorial Primary School, Ibadan, among others.
What were your childhood ambitions?
I wanted to become a successful businessman and have a good life.
How would you describe the experience while putting yourself through school?
I was driven by my ambition and I thank God that I had the willpower to follow through with it. Even while doing the correspondence courses, I was working. I worked at the United Bank for Africa and I worked as a teacher and at several other places.
How did you start your career after completing the correspondence courses?
I was lucky that everywhere I went, God gave me success. After completing the courses, I worked at Mufasa Hospital in Zaria, Kaduna State. I worked as an accountant/secretary there. I was both the accountant and administrator of the hospital. I left there in 1981.
Did you undergo any special training to qualify as an accountant?
Yes, I did the ACCA (which was what we had in those days instead of ICAN) and I got to the last stage but I was unable to get ‘chartered’ until I left.
What would you describe as your breakthrough moment in your career?
I have two careers as a businessman who is involved in agriculture, and as a pastor. As far as I’m concerned, my breakthrough was being able to get all that I desired in all areas of life through the power of prayers.
I view life as an egg race. You have to carry the eggs in your hand and run the race to the end. However, because it is not comfortable to do that, a lot of people drop their eggs so they can acquire positions and other things. I realised this as a businessman and I knew that it was quite difficult to be a Christian and succeed in business. However, if you combine prayer and the knowledge of God, you would succeed. You may not have all that you want but you would prosper in your ways. I believe that the essence of life is to affect your environment positively and I try to do my best.
Which was the first business activity that you engaged in?
As a youth, I was attracted to show business. I had a hotel and a disco centre where people came to dance and have fun. After that, I got involved in buying and selling. I was also into furniture business. Even though I didn’t learn how to make it, I was supplying specialised furniture to churches and other places.
Later, I felt challenged about how people in other nations were prospering in agriculture and we were struggling here in Nigeria. That was why I decided to go into agriculture and I started planting cassava. During my first year, I sustained a lot of losses because I didn’t have the proper experience. Later on, the Ondo State Government got to know about the farms we were operating and they called me. I was then made the head of the cassava farmers in the state. From there, I went to the Nigeria Cassava Growers Association and I was made the chairman of a committee. I made them understand that many of the projects did not have targets and I redesigned them. I left the association in 2006 and in 2012., members of the association approached me and requested me to take over the leadership of the association. It took me a long time before I could agree but within three years, we were able to make a lot of giant strides.
Why did it take you a long time to agree to lead the association?
I had become a pastor then and I was worried about how the appointment would affect church activities. It actually affected my position as the General Overseer of the church but I prayed about it. I considered it a humanitarian project to be able to affect the lives of people positively by virtue of my leadership of the association.
How would you describe the experience of leading the association?
Sadly, most associations like this are peopled by members who believe that it is an avenue to get easy money. Most of them are not actually interested in the good of the community. Many people in Nigeria today do not believe in work; they just want to make easy money. Many people would collect loans and grants and not pay back, and that’s not too good. When I was elected, I tried to make people know that they could make money through honest means. I am grateful to God that there have been successes.
Cassava alone can sustain the economy of Nigeria beyond what oil is providing. Cassava can generate much more than N3tn for this country annually. Through cassava, you can get things like ethanol, industrial starch, glucose syrup, sweeteners used in the beverage industry, and many other things. Even if cassava is planted all over Nigeria, it would not be enough to meet the ethanol demand of the world. Meanwhile, we import 97 per cent of Nigeria’s ethanol needs. We are trying to call the attention of the government to these things.
What factors do you think are militating against cassava growing in the country despite the huge benefits attached to it?
All we need is an enabling environment. For instance, cassava is more expensive in Nigeria than in any other country in the world; even though we grow more cassava than any other nation in the world. As a result of this, we cannot compete in the international market because of the price. Cassava go esfor about N50,000 per tonne in the international market. However, the cost of production of a tonne in Nigeria is about N100,000. The price disparity is because we still practise crude agricultural techniques in Nigeria. Some states in Nigeria don’t have up to five serviceable tractors. Meanwhile, in South Africa and some other African countries, an average farmer has about five tractors on his farm.
Another discouragement is that cassava usually has gluts every three years when prices crash. Meanwhile, these are things that the government can regulate by building processing factories. I’m sure the government is aware of this and it is working on it but things have to be speeded up so that cassava can take its rightful place.
How did you get involved in cassava farming?
I was driven by passion and in my first year in the business, I cultivated over a thousand hectares in several places. I was challenged by the fact that many people were farming cassava successfully in other parts of the world. At a time, there was a glut and nobody bought cassava again. I then decided to start a garri factory and the Federal Government patronised my product. I think clerics should not only preach; they should also act.
We no longer seem to hear anything about cassava bread. Why is that?
When the idea of cassava bread was mooted, extra 15 per cent import duty was added to wheat to encourage the production of cassava bread. However, despite all that was done, we weren’t able to achieve much success with it. The last time the government really said anything about it was five years ago. Last year though, the minister of agriculture made a pronouncement and the Senate organised a public hearing on how the project can start again. Even in some countries that started after Nigeria, 20 per cent of their bread is made from cassava, while Nigeria is yet to achieve 0.1 per cent. The irony is that cassava bread is better than white wheat bread.
Have you had any experience with herdsmen on your farms and how do you deal with them?
Yes, I have had that experience. Apart from my personal experience, members of the NCGA have also reported their experiences to me. Actually, we insured our farms and we thought that the insurance would cover the losses we incurred when the herdsmen came rampaging. However, the insurance companies told us that what we experienced was malicious damage which was not covered by our policy. A lot of farmers cannot go to their farms because of these herdsmen attacks. When you even request the police to follow you to the farm, they rarely agree to do that.
When did you become a pastor?
I would say that I was called from the womb because the Bible says before we were formed, God already knew us. I come from a church background; so, there have always been traits of a calling on me. There was also a prophecy when I was young that I would become a minister of God. However, juvenile delinquency took over at some point, but I started a prayer centre in 1989 and that has metamorphosed into my church, House of Prayer Ministries today.
How do you manage your time between church, business and the family?
God has been my strength. There is no gainsaying that the business has affected the church a bit but I’m thinking of concentrating fully on the church now.
You are also a writer. How many books have you published?
I have actually published about 10 books. My focus is on spiritual enlightenment and I have written books on dreams and other spiritual issues. Some of the books include Dream Related Problems, Prayer Book, Spiritual Warfare for Believers, among others.
How do you relax?
I watch television, read books and also browse the social media.
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