The Nigerian government would not even wait for Nigerians to settle into the New Year before unleashing yet another scandalous news. “As part of its efforts to modernise agriculture, the Federal Government has said it has concluded arrangements to empower 10 million farmers in the rural areas across the country with cell phones. The distribution of the cell phones worth about N60bn to the benefiting rural farmers is expected to commence by the end of the first quarter of this year.”(Punch Newspapers) The government in its wisdom believes the most fundamental needs of rural farmers are cell phones. I worked with farmers last year and not one of them mentioned the word "phone" as a want let alone a need that'd require the Federal Government to spend over $382 billion (N60 billion) to meet.
The farmers are more troubled by consistent government policies that remain inconsistent. The farmers are never clear as to what is banned or what has been taken off the list of prohibitions for export. Asked how best to know what their needs are, they said anyone who cares to visit their farms would readily know their needs. It was easy to see upon visits to the farms that the farmers would be fine to thrive on their own if they had a ready source of water, good roads and for government to allow them export their farm produce where they so wish to do same. They also identified storage issues as a fundamental challenge. There are cases where some 60 per cent of produce are wasted because of the non availability of storage facilities. Many of the farmers have formed themselves into cooperatives to acquire these facilities.
The Nigerian government in its own wisdom thinks cell phones are the reason Nigeria is not able to feed itself. Add to the fact that some 11 years as a dominant cell phone market in the world, Nigeria is yet make its own phones or at least have a major assembly for same. The same government intends to buy some 35 aircrafts to distribute to local airlines for their private businesses. How many Nigerians can afford flight services? Again and again we see that the question is not whether we have enough to make things happen for ourselves in Nigeria but simply a question of priorities and waste.
It is obvious that some connected persons want the phone contract and it was just a question of the best excuse to share the money. Otherwise, why would a sensible government out of all the challenges I listed above consider the purchase of phones as the solution to food production in Nigeria? The tragedy of government is that while it poses as Santa Claus pretending to distribute wealth to the masses, it is in effect by its sheer acts and decisions helping poverty to thrive.
Cell phones for N60 billion to 10 million farmers? Who does that? A sensible government or one that needs to feed its cronies? The answer is not far fetched.
If the government does not know what to use N60 billion for we might as well use it to print more campaign posters for the President. At this rate of his government's continued display of incompetence he'd need to print more of those dustbin posters already littering the Federal Capital Territory despite elections still well over two years away.
We are used to many lows under the Goodluck Jonathan administration but this ranks as a major addition to his collection. Farmers don't need your phones. They just need you to get your inhibiting policies off the way. If they ever need government support it'd be to attract loans and not the provision of some dingy phones. Let them visit the farms and let us see if the farmers will mention phones as part of their top 10 needs. I know they won’t because I have done same. This is just a case of a government looking to spend money by all means possible as long as it is not for something that counts for genuine growth and development. These ones have perfected the act of doing the wrong things right.
Japheth J Omojuwa is the Editor African Liberty