Jan 21, 2009

IITA's purported relocation

Guardian Newspapers January 21, 2009

Sir: I read the story "IITA Relieves 50 of Jobs, May Relocate" (The Guardian, Sunday, 18 January, 2009), with apprehension. Although the story carried some denials of any relocation plan, my immediate reaction is to use this medium to send an appeal to President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua to wade into the matter and use his good offices to prevent any relocation plan.

One of the problems facing IITA, it was reported, has to do with paucity of funds, which has forced the organization to embark on massive retrenchment of its staff. The motivation for relocation was not explicitly stated. Whatever it is, it cannot be in Nigeria's interest for the highly resourceful International Institute for Tropical Agriculture to quit the country. IITA has contributed immensely to agricultural development in Nigeria, though its mandate covers many countries in the tropical zone.

Nigeria has been the immediate beneficiary of IITA's research findings and innovations over the years. The institute has developed a series of high-yielding, disease-resistant staple crops like maize and cassava, among others, to make agro-business more lucrative and hasten the journey towards food security in Nigeria.

Its sturdy cassava, for instance, takes only six months to mature. It has developed bio-gas systems for cooking and large scale and efficient palm-oil processor, among several other innovations that Nigerian farmers are enjoying today. Of course, we cannot quantify its contributions to capacity building in terms of best practices in the field of agriculture._

All these aside, it does not send the right signal to the international community, who may not have details of the justification for the planned relocation of IITA, about Nigeria's hospitality and, in fact, seriousness in promoting its status as a regional leader and major player in the global arena. Not at this time when we want a permanent seat in the Security Council. A requirement for that seat is a proven commitment to regional and global leadership.

I, therefore, wish to earnestly and urgently urge President Yar'Adua to get to the root of this relocation story and use Nigeria's diplomatic clout to stop it. If funding is IITA's problem, the president should use his good offices to source funds for the organization locally and externally. If local funding is requested, I shall contribute my quota to it, and I believe there are many public-spirited Nigerians - both individual and corporate - who would gladly do more than I could.

As someone raised in Ibadan, IITA's location, the much I know about IITA is that it is a cost-effective organization, which gives me no worries about security cum utilization of its funds. We must not lose IITA, especially given its capacity to assist us in realizing the goals of agriculture as embedded in the Yar'Adua administration's Seven-Point Agenda.

Femi Meyungbe-Olufunmilade
Okada, Edo State.

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