he Federal Ministry of Agriculture is reported to have earmarked a whopping sum of N60bn for the purchase of about 10 million GSM phones to be distributed to farmers all over the country. This measure is said to be in furtherance of the determination of the current administration to turnaround the hitherto dwindling fortunes of the agricultural sector. It is trite, and in the same vein, safe to assert that for the first time in the post-military life of our country, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is being superintended by a World Class Nigerian scholar in the person of Dr. Adewunmi Adesina. However, what really bothers one at this latest report is how the same ministry headed by this outstanding Nigerian, would be reported as associated with a rather kindergarten policy of this nature. One therefore can only suspect that whoever sold this whole “GSM phone handout” must definitely have something else up his sleeves.
As always, this new policy no matter how hard the Ministry of Agriculture may be shopping for a way now to repair the situation, just leaves Nigerians wondering again where this sort of thing is coming from, so much so that when one gets to hear the amount involved, the whole matter is made worse. Sadly, as much as one does labour to understand the workings of the minds of those in government as to the hows and whys of very incredible policies of this nature, the inventors of the said policies always seem to care less about the incredulity of their plans and would simply respond by flinging one lame idea at the people, an idea which when eventually evaluated would turn out being a million miles far away from the realm of logic.
In the light of this, I have again and again tried to turn over this GSM phone handout thing in my mind, and the more I do, the more nauseating the effort, eventually leading one to wonder if this thing (and the others that our government has continuously dumped on our table) can ever be the product of a thorough intelligent thought-process, a sound contest of ideas, or sincere and patriotic service. Are we to say that this is the best the technocrats in the Ministry of Agriculture can come up with in the 21st Century where groundbreaking ideas daily contest amongst themselves to win the attention of an enlightened world, or do we just excuse them as simply a part of the Nigerian majority already burdened by the near-total collapse of infrastructure in every sector, so much so that this collapsed state of infrastructure can only sustain shallow policies of this nature as against long-lasting institutional reforms?
One must then poignantly ask, though it be a rhetorical question, if the purchase and distribution of GSM phones to hundreds of farmers spread across the length and breadth of a country so large as Nigeria is the most critical and challenging of issues bedevilling the Nigerian agricultural sector at the moment? Your guess is as good as mine. Running on the heels of the above, it is convenient to say that one does not need the wisdom of Solomon or the prophetic insight of Isaiah to be led in the direction of the myriad of issues that have since rendered the agricultural sector beggarly, issues such as lack of easy access to land for farming, absence of reliable and corruption-free financial institutions to empower farmers acquire the required modern machinery for mechanised and commercial farming that is usually the backbone of every nation, lack of easy access to requisite technology and agro-chemical support-structure for sustained annual and perennial farming as well as animal husbandry, absence of a good road infrastructure supported by an efficient train system to transport large quantities of farm produce to ready markets in the commercial centres and for onward export abroad, lack of easy access to low-interest yielding loans from banks to support farm business growth and development, galloping inflation and an unstable economy that continuously makes local farm export unable to compete favourably in the international market, and so on. The above and many more, represent the ever-contending issues that has seen our agricultural sector to where it is today, when ordinarily it should be our second highest earner of foreign exchange after crude oil.
It is the considered view of this writer that the solution to the above does not lie in a cosmetic approach anchored on buying and distributing GSM phones to rural farmers, rather that which should be called solution lies in the questions soon to follow. What has happened to our very many Faculties of Agriculture, which today only exist in form but definitely not in substance? They, unfortunately, simply occupy space without the required funding and facilities to power them to produce 21st Century-driven ideas and innovations that have taken the foreign universities that our leaders all troop to for advice and intellectual salvation to where they are today. What has also happened to the other and equally many agricultural research institutes annexed to our universities, which ordinarily were established years back with billions of naira, to serve as centres of excellence in terms of scientific researches and agricultural revolution, but which today have all being run aground by decades of serious underfunding and neglect? What has happened to the research section of the very many government agricultural agencies that at a time used to have the best of hands, even some trained in some of the best institutions in the world? What has happened to the many university farms spread all over the country once equipped with some of the best farm implements, that if well run would have just being enough to feed the states in which they are located and even beyond? Sadly, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture can hardly provide cogent answers to these painful questions.
It is thus an insult upon injury to the Nigerian people when news of this nature journeys near their hearing that close to N60bn is again going to be wasted on another needless exercise. But can anyone of us still be surprised, in a country where government is known for buying books for primary school pupils instead of empowering their parents by creating jobs, why won’t the same government also think of buying phones for farmers? Maybe tomorrow, we would again be jolted from our sleep with the news that the Federal Government has set aside another N30bn to help recharge these farmers phones, so that they can get current updates.
Suffice to say that it’s only around here that government’s policies continue to run as a stream of unending of jokes, rather than as matters of national importance. This writer thus submits that though it is rather elementary, but then it is instructive at this juncture to remind the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture that Nigerian farmers need not be given fish as handouts from the government, rather government’s focus should frontally be to teach them on how best to fish. If only the Faculties of Agriculture in all our federal universities will get just half of this N60bn, they would achieve in one year what these 10 million China phones will not achieve in 10 years.
•Adegbite, Esq., a lawyer, wrote in from Kubwa, Abuja, via [email protected]
This article was originally published in the Punch