Sunday, 19 May 2013
Adesina’s Cellphones-For-Farmers Gimmick By Abdullahi M. Gulloma
On Monday, January 14, 2014, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina addressed State House correspondents on the controversy trailing the plans by the federal government to buy phones for farmers. Some pundits estimated that the mobile phones would cost the government a whopping N60 billion.
Dr. Adesina told State House correspondents that such amount was never earmarked by government for such project, stressing that the type of mobile phones that would be purchased and the mode of its distribution was yet to be determined.
I consider the minister’s statements on the whole cellphones brouhaha incoherent and laughable, and it is obvious that he is playing politics with the Nigerian farmers. First, he accepted the fact that government would indeed purchase the said mobile phones, but deliberately decided not to give details about the cost of the mobile phones, the purchaser, the targeted farmers and where they would be purchased from. This confirms the fears being expressed by Nigerians that something is fishy about the exercise.
The minister also made some passive statements. He said “there will be no direct procurement of phones by the federal government,” adding that “we are also not going to give anyone contracts to import phones from China or anywhere else.” So, who will do the procurement and how? Where would the phones come from? Do we manufacture phones in Ontisha, Nnewi, Aba, Lagos or Kano?
The minister also alluded to the fact that “the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Communications Technology are partnering together to implement this policy. We intend to use the GES scheme to distribute these phones,” adding that the “phones will be sold directly to farmers by local mobile phone service providers. The government simply subsidises the cost of the phone directly to the farmer.” Now, what is the minister trying to say here? How do you sell or subsidise what you don’t have the intention of procuring?
I really don’t know why Dr. Adesina decided to insult the intelligence of Nigerians on a petty thing like mobile phone. I also do not know why the minister decided to contradict his principal, President Goodluck Jonathan; in a year the president promised Nigerians more action and less talk. Yes! Dr Adesina actually contradicts his boss on the cellphone issue, meaning that he is not even abreast with what is happening in his ministry.
In his 2013 Budget presentation, Jonathan told the joint session of the National Assembly that “the Ministry of Agriculture, for example, will work with the Ministry of Communication Technology to ensure that 5 million women farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs receive mobile phones to be able to access information about agro-inputs through an e-wallet scheme.” But, Dr. Adesina said government targets about two million farmers for mobile phones distribution this year. When was the number reduced from five to about two million? Who reduced this presidential figure?
Beyond the uncoordinated lies about the figure and the cost of the project, I am not sure that the priority of Nigerian farmers is to own a cellphone. I think what the farmers need is access to funds in order to improve their farming capacity and feeder roads to transport their produce to the needed markets, power and storage facilities to preserve their produce etc.
This is simply because almost any average farmer in Nigeria can afford to buy cellphone that can at least receive and send text message. So, no average Nigerian farmer needs government’s intervention to buy phones.
And so, the challenge is for the Ministry of Agriculture to engage in a valuable project that can add value to the lives of the real farmers. The starting point, in my view, is to ensure that the Nigerian farmers have unlimited access to government loans to improve their businesses.