The recent contemplation by the minister of Agriculture, Mr. Akinwumi Adesina, to spend 60 billion naira to buy “cell” phones for about 10 million Nigerian peasant farmers has riled many Nigerians. The objections and shock of Nigerians are understandable. Why? I think Nigerians are shocked probably because Dr. Adesina is a technocrat in government. Is the shock of Nigerians misplaced? Yes and No. No, because as rational humans, we tend to, without qualification, associate technocracy in governance with efficiency. Yes the objections are misplaced because we instantly but wrongly associate technocracy in governance with morality.
In the Nigerian situation we even add some “class” and “foreign touch” to it by importing them from the Diaspora! Just do a name check of President Jonathan’s cabinet and you will see the “technocratic” and “Diaspora” configuration I am talking about!
Given such “Diaspora” touch, it seems the false analogy is: If other diasporas-Jewish, European, Asian etc-help their countries to develop, why can’t Nigerian Diaspora do the same! But populating a cabinet with “technocrats” with “Diaspora” touch without the moral law to perform is a classic example of borrowing “ideas” from other nations while leaving out the environment – especially the moral environment with which other nations build their countries. This is why we are yet to see the added value to governance of our technocrats- both Diaspora and home! The immorality of our middle class and political and ruling class is so anti-science they believe fishes will live outside water!
Unfortunately, technocrats-whether home or Diaspora- are not moral agents in governance who normatively will evoke sanction on themselves if and when they offend public ethics long before society’s sanctions. So under an immoral condition, they are well prepared to serve the interests of members of their own class-the immoral Nigerian middle, political and ruling class.
We do not need to go too far to show this. The issue is that there is a point at which public ethics and morality trump technocracy in governance. The point is not whether the technocrats know their field or not. Of course most of them do. But while the latter is a professional issue, the former is an ethical issue, which stands at the core of governance in modern and civilized societies. Public ethics is everything and everything in governance. It is that threshold between “being civilized and modern” and “being uncivilized and being of pre-stone age.”
Apply this to the phoney “s”ell phones, which the Nigerian state intends to buy for Nigerian farmers. No one will doubt the technical need and relevance of effective communication in the 21st century. So no one will doubt the relevance of a phone as a technical tool of communication. But the questions are: how does the owning of mobile phones by Nigerian peasant farmers enhance productivity? Second if hypothetically speaking mobile phones enhance productivity, should Nigerian state be the one buying mobile phones for each Nigerian peasant farmer?
In this regard, one must introspect. In the 70s and 80s, with other patriotic then-young Nigerians we ran vast large scale farms side by side working and toiling with Nigerian peasant farmers for the good of our society. So on the basis of that experience as young public intellectuals and professionals who looked the challenges of our people straight in the face and who dirtied their hands in the nitty gritty of the daily sojourning, ploughing and toiling of Nigerian peasant farmers on the farms, with due respect to the office of the minister of agriculture a mobile phone or “s”ell phone for each Nigerian farmer is the least of the priorities of the Nigerian peasant farmer in the 21st century.
Rather, the major problem of Nigerian peasant farmers and Nigerian agricultural production is the social, political, economic and natural disempowerment and the aging of the primary labour –the peasantry-in that sector. “S”ell phones will not solve such fundamental problem of crisis proportion. Nigerian farm labour, the peasant farmers are aging, we are not growing younger farmers, and those who are still standing though with bent, crooked and aging backs and waists do not have control over the means of production, nature and marketing. Hence, they are alienated from the same land they love to work with. You do not need big grammar or some exotic “Diaspora” technocrat to know this.
If Mr. Adesina is seriously looking into how to take Nigerian agriculture into the 21st century, it is not too difficult to seek out highly regarded and respected Nigerians who work honestly with Nigerian peasant farmers and who are best placed to advise the minister for agriculture. If Mr. Adesina will not throw away their views just as Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and President Jonathan have thrown away the Ribadu Oil Panel report, I will suggest two Nigerians with decent sense of public ethics who will not ask the minster for a kobo on the help they will render.
Names of two Nigerians- who I apologize to upfront for putting on the spot for the public good of our society- ring immediate bell. One is the highly respected former Governor of Kaduna state-Mr. Balarabe Musa. One of our public heroes and no armchair critic, Mr. Balarabe Musa, is a grassroots farmer who moved from the farm gate to being governor and back to the farm gate to toil with our farmers. Another is a professor of medicine, a highly regarded neuro-scientist who I learn advises the Osun state governor on agriculture. The gentle man I am talking about is Dr. Seinde Arigbede. An unsung genius, (who deliberately avoids the public), Mr. Seinde Arigbede is a farmer who has quietly toiled and worked with Nigerian farmers for more than 30 years. He lives a private and quiet life in Osun state. Our minster of agriculture, Mr. Adesina must go after these highly moral men and call on their rich knowledge if we are serious about transforming our agricultural sector and helping our country.
Mr. Adesina should please put politics aside (for they are not looking for jobs) and contact Mr. Balarabe Musa through the Kaduna state governor and Mr. Arigbede through the Osun state governor.
May I say that I last saw these gentlemen more than 20 years ago. So our suggestion is completely ethical and free of pecuniary consideration. If the agriculture minister ever needs frank and honest advice on how and where to take Nigerian farming, food production and agriculture to in the 21st century and beyond, I will advise him very strongly to contact these gentlemen, farmers associations, and seek out other honest and highly moral grassroots farming Nigerians who are embedded with Nigerian farmers for honest advice. He does not need to go outside Nigeria. The people and ideas that will make Nigeria work are right there within the borders of our dear country. What he needs to do is to put ethics first and remove politics and economic calculations.
But as it is and without doing this, Mr. Adesina’s mobile phone project looks more like a “S”ell Phone Project for Project 2015- a devious 2015 elections campaign strategy. In other words since the campaign has started, all that needs to be done is to give 10 million peasant farmers 10 million “S”ell phones now with pomp and pageantry and ask for a pay back in 2015 because a good turn deserves another. But this is an immoral act for these Greek gifts do not define a 21st century Nigerian agricultural sector. They do not touch the fundamental needs of Nigerian peasant farmers and the future of food production in Nigeria. On the contrary, we need to begin to make Nigeria work by putting ethics first. “S”ell phones will sell Nigeria once again and perpetuate the mediocrity and immorality in the land.
Adeolu Ademoyo, firstname.lastname@example.org, Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
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