It was a spectacular sight to behold, as the image appeared on the screen, of a village farmer making an enquiry on the promised free seeds and subsidized fertilizer. By the way, he was attired with an old and archaic hoe by the right shoulder, while a water jug stayed by the left hand, you could easily have mistaken him for a 15th century commoner peer, had Nigeria being a study in class relations of the past era. Actually, the obviously and psychologically tormented farmer who is subject of this essay, was answering a question with a question in one of the local television stations, on whether he had been able to secure the necessary farming production supports, that had been promised by the federal government, as part of its new public/private partnership in the agricultural sector called Nigerian Incentive based Risk Sharing for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL).
The reason for the genuine worry was that it is almost at the end of July, which for a vocation that is almost dependant on a seasonal rainfall, unavailability of the promised agricultural inputs portends a grave danger in loss of time, required for a farmer to plant his or her crops and them getting the proper nourishment of the natural moisture through the perennial torrents of rain droppings. One of the biggest problems affecting most of the poor nations of the world, with Nigeria being a prominent member of the block occupying the lower rungs of international development, is the adoption of wrong policy choices. Which are either proposed by international financial institutions, that do not have clear understanding of the local idiosyncrasies of the countries of application or rather the enabling of organizations and individuals that are having little proximate relationship with a particular sector of the economy, to formulate policies for such a sub-sector that they neither have much knowledge of, nor having tangible understanding of its operating environment.
A classic example is the case of the new and current agricultural policy in Nigeria, a singular initiative of the Central Bank of Nigeria, which clearly exhibits a definite contempt of the mother ministry, going by the fact that from its unveiling by governor of the apex bank himself, to its general funding and operative administration, to its promotional sponsoring in local television stations, the image is that of a baby of the national bank. The new concept is premised on an E-wallet initiative, which enables a local farmer to receive alerts on a mobile phone, about the availability of the best variety of seeds and subsidized fertilizer, with the announcement of its presence in a nearby private agricultural store. Upon reaching the commercial enterprise all that is required of the farmer is the proof of participation in the program, after which he or she signs a voucher of the full sum, while remitting only fifty percent of the cost of the fertilizer. Then the farmer is also expected to get free portion of the highly improved seeds on offer.
In an ideal situation and taken from the realm of mere bureaucratic projection, it could easily be dreamed as a roaring success. However, it is when placed on the pedestal of cold hard reality of implementation, coupled with its insertion into the cataclysmic mix of an unstable operating Nigerian environment, a great and revolutionary agricultural idea crystallizes into an unworkable government policy initiative.
The first challenge being the fundamental necessity of capturing the participating farmers in the program, however as at the present period, only ten percent or less of the eligible beneficiaries of the new initiative, have been duly and properly captured in the agricultural exercise. A fact proclaimed as at last week by the Minister of State for Agriculture, Mallam Bukar Tijani, at a function introducing the new concept in Gusau capital of Zamfara state, where he stated that only a hundred thousand eligible farmers were captured in the state into the new agricultural policy initiative, while on the national level, it is only the sum of a little over three million people, who have been properly registered as deserving membership of the support program.
However in a country having an estimated population of over one hundred and forty million people, with a verified projection of over sixty percent of the citizenry being actively engaged in the agricultural sub-sector, it is neither feasible nor rational for a program to disenfranchise so many of its eligible participants, yet expect to achieve any expectation of success in setting an agenda for the modernization of the Nigerian agricultural system.
Indeed like any initiative in Africa and particularly in the Nigerian nation, it is on the crux of implementation that the country always spectacularly falters, especially when the formulators exhibit such lack of judgment, as to deny the farmer seeds at the eve of the month of August, simply because the necessary paper work for the take-up of the program has not been finished. Despite the many challenges afflicting most of the critical aspects of the new policy, the fact that the aim of its unveiling, which is to proactively tackle corruption in the agricultural sector of the economy, could still be defeated because of the gullible systemic belief in the sacredness of the payment voucher, dispersed in hundreds of remote village in the custody of private entrepreneurs that are answerable only to the gods of profit margin.
The temptation is easily to fraudulently sign-off the vouchers as sold to a hapless farmer, thus collecting the remittance from the government, while at the time hoarding the products for onward transmission to city markets and probable selling at exorbitant commercial rates. Indeed such a scenario has a precedent in the recent times, as both the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Probe, chaired by the controversial Farouk Lawan and the Presidential Technical Committee on Fuel Subsidy Management, under the leadership of Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, have concluded into their report the criminal and conspiratorial complicity of the officials of Petroleum Pricing Management Committee (PPMC), in effecting and perpetuating fraud in the administration of the funds meant for the sustenance of the subsidy regime in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry.
Thus for the personnel of the contemptuously ignored parent ministry of agriculture, the opportunity of fleecing a fund imbued with many hardly to monitor holes is too tempting to pass-by, while for the economic managers of the present administration, who have trumpeted times without number, about their gross aversion to subsidy support mechanisms in governance, being only tools for corruption. The Nigerian Incentive based Risk Sharing for Agricultural Lending and the E-wallet initiative is a similar type avenue where civil servants collaborate with the private sector to defraud the government, albeit at the expense of the poor Nigerian farmer.