Article written by Kikiowo Ileowo
In his controversial style of using social media, Reno Omokri– the Special Assistant to the President on new media on Thursday, the 3rd of January 2013 took to the platform to further explain the President’s much belated New Year gift to Nigerians as revealed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Basking in the euphoria of a similar gift to Nigerians on the 1st of January 2012 through the removal of fuel subsidy that lead to a week of national protest, President Jonathan this time around unleashed his 2013 gift on the Nigerians with a policy for the purchase of 10million cell phones valued at about N60billion to 10 million rural farmers.
In his message on twitter, Reno Omokri said “One of the aim of this administration is for Nigeria to be self sufficient in food production”, adding that “The FIRST priority of a people is FOOD SECURITY. One way to ensure food security is by ensuring that farmers are informed of best practices”. Continuing, he said “…to ensure that they plant, irrigate and harvest at the right time, SMSs are being sent to our farmers by agric experts at the ministry”.
He further added that “For those who have an objective mind, 60billion divided by 10million farmers gives you a unit cost of 6000 Naira per phone.”
Now let’s begin by asking where Mr. Jonathan got the 10million Nigerian Farmers? This is a joke intended for April 1st.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s population as at 2011 stood at 164,385,656. The same Bureau in 2010 released the report of a research it carried out with the title “The Labour Force Report” with an highlight of the population of employed and unemployed Nigerians as well as the age grade they belonged to. The report shows that persons Aged 0–-14 years constituted 39.6% of the total population of Nigeria, those aged, between 15–-64 (the economically active population), constituted 56.3%, while those aged 65 years and above constituted 2%. The report went on to state that of the 92,384,738 who are economically active, 67,256,090 of them are in the labour force out of which 51,181,884 are employed, and 16,074,205 are unemployed.
The question Mr. Reno and his principal needs to answer is where exactly are the 10million farmers? Are they from the army of the unemployed 16,074,295 or from the already employed 51,181,884. If their answer is the former, what exactly are they producing that Nigeria has not become a hub of everything food?
Now, understand that a large portion of food production in Nigeria is done through mechanized farming which makes use of less manual labour. The ‘farmers’ Mr. president wants to provide handset for are subsistent farmers who produce what they mostly consume in their homes. I have a garden at the back of my house, does that qualify me as a recipient of the ‘Jona-phone’?
I see no reason why the president in conjunction with his minister of Agriculture would insult the collective intelligence of Nigerians by playing to the gallery with a noble idea that has revolutionised countries like Uganda, Kenya and India. Giving telephones out as part of a 2015 campaign strategy is just plain unintelligent.
Now, let’s say we accept the president’s assertion to be true, then, the cost of purchasing each handset is simply bogus and outrageous. First of all, no one would dare deal with a supplier in this type of contract. Speaking at Ijebu North East on Wednesday, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture declared that the Ministry will deal directly with the manufacturers of the handset in China and the United States. What she failed to tell us was if there was a bidding process involved in selecting the manufacturer to the extent that it has determined what country to buy them from?
Having seen the mounting opposition to the proposed illegal purchase of the mobile telephone handset, the Minister of Agriculture hurriedly released a press statement, stating among other lies that Agriculture employs 70% of the population, but if we go through the figures of the report earlier analysed, we would see that the Agriculture sector only employs 14million Nigerians representing 30% of the total 50M employed for that year.
By the way, there are more noble ideas we can channel resources too. The road needed by the farmers to transport their goods to the market is non-existent. The much needed power required to preserve their produce is non-existent. Questions are how is the purchase of handset going to impact the government’s aim of food security? Can the subsistent farmers, majority of whom are illiterates, read and understand the text message that would be sent to them?
If I understand the Minister of Agriculture correctly, the aim of buying the phones is to make use of it as a means of communication with the farmers, but the rural farmers already have phones if the tweet by Reno is anything to go by. Reno had tweeted that “to cut fraud in the fertilizer distribution system a voucher system was introduced whereby farmers get their voucher to access frtiliser via SMS”. What this means is that the ministry has already started communicating with the farmers through SMS. Now let’s ask, who bought the phones the farmers has been using to receive sms vouchers for fertilizers? If the farmers already have phones, why does the government want to provide 10million more phones for them?
As a professional in the field, one would expect that the Minister should understand that there are alternatives i.e. Agricultural Extension Programmes…’train the trainers’, where people who understand the various languages of the farmers would deal directly with them in the dissemination of information. That on its own is a noble way of creating employment and still achieving the aim of educating the farmers.
The idea of importing phones from other countries is nothing short of exporting thousands of jobs and income to those economies, whereas, we could create those jobs here to add to our national GDP growth.
Though the minister has denied any knowledge of N60 billion budgeted for such spurious project. It should interest you to note that the telephone handset jamboree was not included in the 2013 budget which we woud consider in a moment.
A variant of the phone used in Kenya is a low-end phone, which would cost N2,000 at the computer village in Ikeja, Lagos. Dealing directly with the manufacturer will cut the unit cost to at least N1,500 totaling a wholesome of N15 billion (i.e. N1500 x 10 million pieces).
Sundry cost which includes Freight, Insurance, Duty, TLC Charges, CISS, VAT, Clearing Agents, Local Transport, Demurrage, Storage and Rents would cost close to another N2 billion (bear in mind that most of this cost would not be paid by the government) but I won’t bore you with the calculation.
Adding another N1 billion as profit for sub-contractors and other unforeseen expense, the purchase is thus estimated at around N18 billion.
If a total of N18 billion is more than enough for a project, you can be rest assured that the N60 billion tag is a fraud and another way by the Jonathan administration to ‘create food’ for the boys. The extra N42 billion excess will be looted and misappropriated.
It is insincerity of the highest order for the government to use a noble idea as a means of fleecing the people.
The last questions I want the honourable Minister to answer are how are we going pay back the loans proposed for the execution of this project? Is this how best we can make use of the fund? Who are the sponsors? The press statement he released has done nothing but raise more suspicion. According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s budget, nothing of such is budgeted for in 2013 or are we looking at another withdrawal from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fund repayment or will it be budgeted as debt for future generation?
We the people need to know how a Ministry with a total budget of N81 billion for year 2013 plans to execute this project. Ministry of Agriculture Recurrent expenditure for this year is N32.9 billion with N29.8 billion going into personnel cost and another N3.09 billion going into overhead cost. The capital allocation for 2013 for the Ministry of Agriculture is N48.7 billion. I think expending a fund that equals 80% of the total budget of a ministry on a single project sounds scrupulous.
We must understand that N60 billion is no small money, it’s almost the total of Capital Allocation for Ministry of Education, just N5 billion greater than the Capital Allocation for Health, 10% lower than the Capital Allocation for Power and half of the Capital Allocation for Ministry of Works which is a very critical sector of the economy.
N60 billion is greater than N52.3 billion which is the total budget for Ministry of Transport. N60 billion is no small money as it can do a lot.