We’ve got to question this democracy

The drive for an egalitarian society will remain abstract if attention is not paid to details within the system.  Building a democracy in a complex heterogeneous state as Nigeria requires intense attention to details.

Our greatest undoing for years to come will be related to basic democratic values and how they are applied. It questions our ethics and values as individuals or as a people. The rule of law is conspicuously missing from our democratic system. Man is bound to err and the devil is bound to manifest, but onus lies on the state to respond adequately with the rule of law.

A society cannot discuss or determine cases of violations without being first governed by the rule of law. According to Lauren Oliver, human beings in their natural state are unpredictable, erratic, and unhappy. It is only once their animal instincts are controlled that they can be responsible, dependable, and content.

The debate within the Nigerian polity is subtly being eroded by the ‘don’t hate’ or opposition syndrome. The ruling party (PDP) and its goons are subtly using social media to pass a message that is quickly gaining momentum. Their argument is that one must not abuse the government because it is wrong, anyone who attacks the PDP must surely like the opposition party. By and large, the opposition parties are eventually as guilty as the PDP when it comes to abuse of power or office, so by default the ruling party should get more flak than the opposition political parties.

Since 1999, the PDP has had majority reign across the nation – from the Presidency to the Senate, House of Representatives and state governors. The party must understand that its firm grip and control of the Nigerian state will generate criticism in as much proportion. Should any political party act as stupidly as we have seen in the past, without the people retaining the right to let them know how stupid they have been?

Many recent events in the country are, to put bluntly, on the borderline between sheer stupidity and foolishness with no regard for the rule of law. For unfortunate but obvious reasons, majority of the citizenry will not bother to question the political parties. Has the PDP or any of the opposition parties proved itself to be different in a positive way?

There are several instances and different scenarios depicting abuse of power or office.

March 2012, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, two term governor of Lagos state and the national leader of the opposition party- ACN, turned 60. All roads led to Lagos state, where a carnival-like party was held. To ACN stalwarts, Asiwaju deserved to be honored; after all, he ensured the party regained its stronghold of the southwest and hence buttered their bread. Solely a private affair between a political party and its supporters, questions were raised on how the carnival-like party was funded.

PDP and other opposition parties making use of the press implied that the events must have cost over N1billion.  Being accountable to no one but themselves, the event was massively spectacular in the midst of abject poverty; the masses were placated with packed food handouts. One pertinent observation was the deployment of Lagos State resources during the celebration and the question arises regarding abuse of power by the incumbent governor in deploying state resources to celebrate with the leader of his political party.

The ACN was quick to defend itself by claiming that the PDP and its other perceived enemies were out to score cheap political points against them in Lagos. They were in a celebratory mood and were not breaking any law as such but did not try to disprove the fact that state resources were deployed. Did other states under ACN leadership also contribute to this party from their state coffers?

Did the ACN Senators and members of the House of Representatives (who still refuse to declare their earnings) contribute towards this grand celebration?

A lot of questions were left unanswered but it was very obvious that Lagos state resources amongst others were deployed to facilitate the party. Even if not via cash contributions as alluded by the press, but manpower and state facilities were used.

Did Lagos state generate any revenue from the use of the state stadium? Should state resources be deployed for the benefit of a private citizen and other personal events? No.  If Asiwaju paid for the cost of this party from his private coffers, one must ask how much he was worth before and after attaining public office.

Last week the ruling People’s Democratic Party decided to host its Board of Trustee (BOT) elections inside the presidential villa, Abuja. While the internal democracy of all political parties is pivotal to our budding democracy and party structure, it should also be of interest to all citizens. How these political parties conduct their internal affairs is not too far from the way they govern the nation when elected, a maize plant won’t yield cassava when it is harvest time.

On the roll call of the political big wigs who attended the elections, was Chief Olabode George, one time National Vice-Chairman PDP South West, former Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority and an ex-convict. No surprise there; the PDP has proven time and again to be a shameless party with no morals and values. What kind of message is the ruling party passing to the nation when ex-convicts are part and parcel of its Board of Trustees? Someone in the PDP needs to check again what a board of trustee means.

It is expected that the president will only use the presidency for the sole purpose and duty which he signed up to; this does not need to be a written law as we do not expect to be governed by morons. The president may receive all citizens and political parties including the PDP, who so wish to be granted audience at the presidential villa in line with his primary assignment as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But, the election of the PDP BoT chairman is purely a party affair, which should be held at a private venue or at party quarters, and not at the expense of the state. Subjecting the state especially the presidency and its instruments to the use of one political party’s pleasure is a dangerous precedence which must not be condoned.

The presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not owned by the PDP even though the president is a member of the PDP; he has no right to subject the presidency to be used for PDP party affairs. From the local government to the federal government, it is not unusual to find political office holders spending state budget on sycophancy.

We should learn from other democracies and adopt what will work for us. President Obama of the USA gets a free ride on Air Force One only when he is on official trips, official trips being defined as any act involving the official duty of the president including explaining and garnering support for his policies. This also includes official state visits to other countries. It costs $179,750 per hour to maintain Air Force One; this includes fuelling, maintenance of pilot and crew as well as other operational costs.

When Obama embarks on private or political party trips, it is not as him being the president but the de facto leader of his political party and he must therefore foot part of the bills for the trip. On such trips, President Obama must refund the cost of food, accommodation and travel.  He also refunds the equivalent airfare him and his aides would have paid if they used a commercial airline. They will be some grey areas when he makes official and political trips across the country and this is promptly addressed; the underlining principle is that the president cannot deploy state resources to meet the needs/demands of his political party or associates.

In recent times, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, was seen making use of a budget airline on a getaway with his wife to celebrate her birthday. Nigeria is not as rich as the US or the UK using GDP indicators as a baseline. It is mind boggling why we have a political system fraught with greed and a lack of accountability and our political office holders live a life of opulence and impunity.

One wonders to what use the presidential jets in Nigeria have been subjected to. Pictures of ex-militants riding one have surfaced in the past. Relatives and acquaintances of the president must be having a jolly free ride on the state bill. When asked about the high budget of running the presidency, our president defended his position by asking us if we have been to Ethiopia to witness presidential banquets.

These are issues we tend to overlook which in turn build the confidence of our politicians to remain unaccountable to the citizens. We are the ones responsible for giving life and meaning to our democracy; we are the ones to enshrine our values and ethics in building Nigeria. Such values must include curtailing the excesses of elected political office holders.  It is not by divination that the nations which respect the will of their people are more prosperous, more stable and more successful; it is the basic requirement for a sustainable democracy.

This piece was first published in The Scoop

 

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Of cleavages and party formation

Every society is built upon structures shaped by its history, and these structures influence the political evolution of each society. There is no society without a cleavage/divide along regional or religious belief, no matter how homogenous it may appear.  Careful analysis of the cleavage structure explains how movements, solidarities/alliances and collective interests are moulded into systems which in turn shape the formation of political parties. Multi-ethnicity and diverse religions in a heterogeneous society such as Nigeria have been instrumental in shaping its political cleavage.

Historically, Nigeria’s political mobilisation was triggered by groups and networks with strong ethnic and regional identity. The founding fathers played along this line to build their base and control the electorate without taking into cognizance, the long term implications in the event of conflicts.

Despite having English as the official language of Nigeria, ethno-linguistic groups stayed in the background directing the affairs of the state. The social relationship between citizens and these ethno-linguistic groups has been both positive and negative. Negative outcomes are easy to spot from the history of Nigeria; the intriguing mix of politicking and ethnic identity woven around religion coupled with the post-election violence from the first republic.

However, some schools of thought believe that political cleavage can create stability and competition in the polity in relation to electoral behaviour. The challenge in the case of Nigeria is deciding the dependent variables upon which political cleavages have been constructed. Is it solely via ethnicity and religion?

The territorial/cultural dimension of political cleavages are dominated by local opposition, regional groups, ethnic minorities opposed to the dominating national elites or groups which govern the state from the centre. When not properly channelled, they create barriers to the process of nation building and in the event of fallout with the centre over their rights; they turn around to wage internal wars against the state, calling for secession.

The pogrom of the Igbos in 1966 which led to a civil war was not without territorial cleavages, and the Nigerian government controlled by dominant ethnic elites remains complicit in the events leading up to the war. Across the country there are still several groups prone to promote territorial cleavages because they are opposed to the way the country is being run.

The debate at this level is centred on structuring the nation from the territorial perspective. The national dimension of the cleavage is dominated by typical conflict over allocation of resources, producing alliances that cut across territories within the nation. The focus is on national building and the emergence of a new state that will cater for the rights and collective aspiration of all people. The present Nigerian state controlled by elites with unquestioned access to the treasury, ensure that they continue to promote all forms of representation through national quota policies.

The effects are movements and protests against the direction of any regime in Nigeria. People are motivated by different interests along networks and groups which begin to build political alliances, oppositions and a paradigm shift.

“To gain any detailed understanding of the process of mobilization and alignment within any single nation, we clearly need information not just about turnout and the division of votes but about the timing of the formation of local party organizations” (Lipset S.M. & Rokan S. 1967).

The process of transformation contains information about how the process and terms related to expression of rights and representations and the tradition of decision making in the polity continue to influence emerging party systems. The emergence of political parties is pivotal to the type of cleavage within the system. These cleavages disappear to be replaced by political parties, but the interests or ideology of individuals’ remains with them. The developing electoral system sets a high threshold of entry barrier for upcoming parties; the established parties hold on to their advantage- the costs, payoffs, alliances and coalitions determine the threshold of representation across the nation. How this works out is connected to pre-existing conditions of hostility and trust in the cleavages that emerged as political parties.

The nation builders and existing political party with footholds over the control of the machinery of the state will be challenged by opposition parties; the option will be to seek an alliance on fronts related to the pre-existing cleavage, either religious/ideological or economic  interests. With this comes suffrage for individuals and an emerging pattern in votes. Some parties will remain territorial parties because of their strength in the region of dominance. Several countries have been able to provide alternative party systems for the electorate to make choices at the poll and as such the development and evolution of this alternative is very crucial to the assessment of disruptions created by cleavages.

Citizens of a country must therefore pay more attention to political party formation and how the parties work to gain power by creating political cleavages. What we want as a nation should determine the choice we make, should these cleavages be built solely on ethnicity and religion for the purpose of power or along constructive ideologies which are in the best interest of the country?  The call for restructuring the nation cannot be overlooked; Nigeria’s party system of 2012 reflects the cleavage structures of the 1960s till date.

This piece was  first published in The Scoop

#OccupyNigeria was here

It’s been one year since Nigerians in their rarest of moments braved the odds to protest everything they felt was wrong with the Nigerian state.

President Jonathan in his usual habit of annoying Nigerians decided that the only appropriate gift for the country to celebrate the New Year was a fuel pump price increase on January 1, 2012. The turnout of Nigerians in staging those protests did have its impact on the government of the day. #OccupyNigeria visited and it occupied.

A few commentators continue to argue that it was a futile exercise. The movement had neither leadership nor representative at the bargaining table and thus it failed.

Others argue that a single movement does not expressly liberate a country; it’s a means to an end and therefore the road to glory is rather long.

And others would easily compare it with the Arab spring. Were Nigerians really ready for the Arab Spring type of protests, the unending ritual of protesting ignited by Friday prayers? What is the similarity between the North African countries and Nigeria?

About 90% of Egyptians, for instance, are Muslims and they speak one official language – Arabic. In contrast, Nigeria is a heterogeneous country where no single ethnic group represents 50% of the population and is divided along religious lines. From history, the Nigerian state continues to struggle with its internal diversity when it comes to collective actions in an effort to determine what is in the best interest of the state.

The principal actors and organizations behind the #OcupyNigeria protests faced a dilemma from day one. Despite the leverage they had, which was that the pump price affected every Nigerian, there was still the challenge of hoping that Nigerians would not turn on each other and go from being allies to enemies.

How was the protest going to march against Jonathan for leading a corrupt government without inducing uncontrolled sentiments?

Tunde Bakare was a candidate in the 2011 presidential elections, and it was easy to see his involvement in the protests as a way to get into office or hit back at the Presidency. Was this an opposition by the major ethnic groups against the first President from a minority ethnic group? Was Lagos state- the commercial capital of the country being used to score political points in the hands of the opposition party?

Some supporters of the protest also saw calls for the government to step down as too extreme. It was quite obvious that the joint forces behind #OccupyNigeria had the challenge of playing down their differences for a collective goal yet the issue of defining this goal was never broached.

What was the priority of the protests? To reverse the status quo on the price of petrol or to get corrupt officials tried in the court of law and jailed? Will the resignation of key ministers in the present regime be a fruitful demand? The lists of demands were endless.

The EiE coalition was the first to table a set of demands that were never adopted by any consensus thereafter. It is easy to forget that the announcement of the President to increase the pump price on New Year’s day was unexpected and what happened thereafter including the #OccupyNigeria movement was spontaneous.

The three basic questions of social movement theory come to play in these scenarios:

First, why should Nigerians not act collectively in the face of many reasons to, and why should they not march? This is the dilemma that pulled the fatigue on the protesters by the Friday when a break in the protests was announced. In the face of many reasons including basic survival and the need to feed their families, the protesters questioned why they should remain active.

Secondly, what did Nigerians see when they joined the movement? Was this an anti-establishment quest or one to put a smile on President Jonathan’s political opponents? Was it a march to liberate this generation by Nigerians for Nigerians?

Thirdly, what were the expected concrete outcomes of this collective action in joining the protests? Did people join the #occupyNigeria protest with a clear understanding of what they were meant to achieve? Unlike the Arab Spring, the expected outcome was clear- Hosni Mubarak had to go, Gadhafi had to go, and for this same reason, Syria is still locked in internal crisis till date because Assad must go. I doubt if that was the aim of the #OccupyNigeria movement but the government claimed it was orchestrated to overthrow the present regime.

Without defined leadership, the collective interests and good of the movement was in jeopardy. Unlike in small groups where such interests can be closely monitored and shared, a growing number of people came with its own challenges.

The onus of convincing the followers that their participation is worthwhile lies on the shoulder of the leaders. In the Nigerian parlance, the discussion goes thus “Abeg I no wan die ooo”, “Shey na you be defender of the universe” “abeg wey dem pickin” etc.

Yet the proportion of citizens who went  on to participate in these protests is a critical measure of its relative success as movements usually have no defined membership but are formed on public grounds. Such is the rare bonding that happened in Ojota- the coming together of different classes of people in the same society.

One of the protesters at the #OccupyNigeria protest confessed that it was his first time of being surrounded by street boys smoking weed without the fear of being harmed or molested. This confirms Karl Marx’s position on collective action by people of different classes; it will only happen when their social class is in fully developed contradiction with its antagonists.

According to Sidney Tarrow, social movements are formed when ordinary citizens respond to opportunities that lower costs of calling for collective action over a long period of time. If nothing is gained, it reveals potential allies and shows where the elites and the government are vulnerable.

For those who judge #OccupyNigeria further with a significant regime change, do take note that regime change is never feasible unless the state agency with the monopoly of violence remains neutral, withdraws its support from the regime or there is a division within its ranks. From Tunisia to Egypt, Libya and now Syria, the position of the army has influenced the outcome of the protests.

In fact significant change and momentum in ousting the regime can be linked to the position of the army at every point in time. A regime change if necessitated by the #OccupyNigeria protests would never see the light of the day unless the Nigerian Army took sides with them or remained neutral until they gathered the momentum to overrun the state with the protests. It is for such reasons that the President in a shameless manner and with disregard for the right of the citizens to protest deployed the army onto the streets of Lagos against unarmed protesters in order to quell the momentum and maintain his status quo. Still, I am not implying that the ultimate interest of #OccupyNigeria was regime change.

The role of stakeholders during the era of #occupyNigeria protests can always be re-examined, from organized labour, who in their usual tradition succumbed to the whims and caprices of the government, the media which played the role of both friend and adversary and the many who sold their conscience for a pot of porridge. To the religious organizations who either stood by or opposed the movement, the private equity and interests who wanted to maintain the status quo, the lesson is all upon us.

One cannot take away the level of publicity and awareness achieved by the movement from civic consciousness, for once even though it did not last forever, a spectrum of Nigerians from all works of life forgot their defined differences to support a move that they believed in. How many hours of civic education would be required to achieve the desired results?

While the same cannot be said of the efforts of the government in reducing corruption, 2012 has been a revealing year about what transpired in Nigeria between 2007 and 2011, right under our noses. More citizens have become interested in the affairs of the state. It is indeed a period in our contemporary history that will remain with us forever, in the hope that if the spirit is ever awakened, Nigerians will once again fight for Nigeria. The die was cast this time last year, #OccupyNigeria was here and the verdict is out, you only have to follow your expectations beyond the movement.

As we remember the #OccupyNigeria events, let us not forget those who paid the ultimate price with their lives. May their souls rest in peace.

This piece was  first published in The Scoop Continue reading

Re: Press Release by Minister of Agriculture

More than often we are left at the mercy of someone who knows somebody that in turn knows somebody, to find out what our government agencies are up to. The Minister of Agriculture- Mr. Akinwumi Adesina has recently reacted to the public outcry on the issue of mobile phones and the 10 million farmers via an online link, confirming my fears that a ministry spearheading this e-revolution for farmers does not have its own website or public domain with contact details.  I hope the ministry will soon deem it fit to pinch out N100, 000 from its proposed N48billion capital expenditure in its 2013 budget.

Once the press release was out, a lot of people assumed the government was no longer buying mobile phones for the farmers; they probably read only the first paragraph and nodded along.

This should have been a private email to the Minister of Agriculture but one can’t afford courier serves in the absence of an email and direct online access to the ‘transformation’ ministry. I would also advice that next time; the ministry should ensure that the SA to the Presidency desist from representing its interests on social media specifically Twitter, as this will only yield catastrophic results.

This is a paragraph-by-paragraph reaction to the press statement which will possibly spurn an increased interest in what the Ministry is really up to.

 

 

Minister of Agriculture

My attention has been drawn to the issue of 60 Billion Naira to be spent on phones for farmers, reported in some media sites and papers. The information is absolutely incorrect. My Permanent Secretary was totally misquoted out of context. There is no 60 Billion Naira for phones anywhere. As a responsible Minister, who takes public accountabilty and probity very seriously, there is absolutely no way in the world that I will even contemplate or approve such expenditure. All our focus as Government is on creating jobs in Nigeria, not exporting jobs elsewhere.

The opening paragraph is very emphatic: N60billion Naira will not be spent on phones for farmers. Such expenditure can’t be approved by the minister because he finds it unrealistic in this world and because he is responsible and accountable. He states that the transformation agenda is to create jobs in Nigeria yet my understanding of this opening statement however contradicts the body of the press release.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Reaching farmers through phones:

The policy the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is promoting is to get mobile phones to farmers, as part of its agricultural transformation agenda, to connect farmers to information, expand their access to markets, improve their access to savings and loans, and help them adapt to climate change dynamics that affect them and their livelihoods. We are also rapidly modernizing agriculture, and have moved away from agriculture as a development program to agriculture as a business, so we must modernize and use new tools to reach our farmers

In the second paragraph the ministry explains what reaching farmers through mobile phones is all about and the advantages are clearly spelt out. Who would not want our farmers to join the 21st century agricultural best practices? The agricultural transformation agenda seeks to change the direction of farming in Nigeria. And the minister confirms that the ministry is promoting a policy to get mobile phones to farmers. Can there really be smoke without a fire in all this? The Permanent Secretary definitely did not just cook up a statement on 10 million phones for 10 million farmers and this paragraph confirms that the ministry has at least a proposal on its table as regards this. What needs to be clarified is the funding and direction.

 

Minister of Agriculture

The Power of information:

Agriculture today is more knowledge-intensive and we will modernize the sector, and get younger (graduate) entrepreneurs into the sector, and we will arm them with modern information systems. Whether small, medium or large farmers they all need information and communication systems. Connecting to supermarkets and international markets require that farmers know and meet stringent consumer-driven grades and standards. In today’s supply chains, the flow of information from buyers to farmers must be instant, to meet rapidly changing demands. Unless farmers have information at their fingertips, they will lose out on market opportunities.

Our goal is to empower every farmer. No farmer will be left behind. We will reach them in their local languages and use mobile phones to trigger an information revolution which will drive an agricultural revolution.

The ministry is bent on getting information across to farmers and younger graduates who are tech savvy by arming them with modern information systems. It is very clear that the ministry believes mobile phones will bring about significant change and that to empower every farmer; they need access to   information at their fingertips. Mobile phones are hoped to therefore replace agricultural extension services and trigger an information revolution.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Why cell phones?

Nigeria has 110 million cellphones, the largest in Africa. But there is a huge divide: the bulk of the phones are in urban areas. The rural areas are heavily excluded. For agriculture, which employs 70% of the population,  that means the farmers are excluded and marginalized. In today’s world, the most powerful tool is a mobile phone. As Minister of Agriculture, I want the entire rural space of Nigeria, and farmers, to be included, not excluded, from advantages of mobile phone revolution.

 

In order to drive home the agenda, the minister employs figures to back up his statements. He states that Nigeria has 110 million cellphones. According to the NCC, there are approximately 110 active mobile lines in Nigeria, what is the difference between 110 million cellphones, 110 million active lines and 110 million subscribers? Is it possible that half of the Nigerian population uses mobile phones? If the population of Nigeria is put moderately at 150million (which is debatable; I doubt our census statistics are without a high margin error) and 85 million Nigerians have active mobile lines, it is possible to have 110 million cellphones. Due to erratic power supply and poor service from service providers, Nigerians are known to have multiple phones and SIM cards. This ensures that they can switch between networks when services are down. The minister alludes that the bulk of these phones are in urban areas and the rural areas are heavily excluded. Take note that the bulk of 85 million subscribers would be about 50 million subscribers. His statement implies that about 50 million subscribers reside in urban areas. The minister goes on to state that agriculture employs 70% of the population i.e. about 105 million Nigerians. I wonder where these 105 million Nigerians employed by the agricultural sector reside: urban or rural areas. What percentage of those employed via agriculture are actually farmers? Of the 70% employed by agriculture, how many of them use mobile phones? If those excluded are farmers and Nigerians residing in rural areas, where does 70% of Nigeria’s population actually reside? The whole idea of what a rural area is may be subject to clarification, the minister’s statistics will never add up. A farm owner cannot be classified along with labourers who work on farms. If this high numbers of Nigerians are engaged in direct farming, what is the clamour on having more young people go into farming? The Ministry should be more concerned about the productivity of the existing farms; the US with 2.2million farms employed approximately 1.2 million workers in 2010. Improved and mechanized farming will not bring about more jobs if we get it right, only subsistence farming can employ millions with lesser productivity.

I spent a few days with a friend who resides in the United Kingdom last summer; he has farms in the Oke Ogun region of Oyo State with local staff strength of 30. He visits Nigerian once a year due to the hectic nature of his schedule in the UK but the few days I spent with him, revealed his management style. He makes an average of 3 calls per day to his farm manager and head of labourers. If individuals who run farms from the diaspora have access to their farms via mobile phones, one should wonder about which farmers the ministry must buy mobile phones for.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Access to input:

First, the mobile phones will be used to scale up the access of farmers to improved seeds and fertilizers to millions of farmers, directly. The federal government succeeded in 2012 in getting seeds and fertilizers to farmers, via the Growth Enhancement Support (GES), which used mobile phones to reach farmers with subsidized inputs. The system ended 40 years of corruption on fertilizers and cut off rent seekers and middlemen who – for decades – have entrenched massive corruption of the fertilizer sector. Government succeeded. The GES system reached over 1.2 million farmers in 120 days in 2012.
We succeeded because we used mobile phones to reach farmers directly and cut off the middle men and those who have cheated farmers for decades. We empowered the poor farmers, with many getting subsidized seeds and fertilizers from government for the first time ever. We brought transparency into what was perhaps the most corrupt system in Nigeria. We ended fertilizer corruption of four decades, in 90 days, because of mobile phone tools we deployed.

 

The minster moves on to outline his achievements noting that in 2012, the government through its GES programme ended 40 years of corruption on fertilizers. Kudos to the minister and his team, such a feat is very rare under the transformation agenda of President Jonathan and I hope other sitting duck ministers take a cue from him. In 120 days, the programme reached out to 1.2 million farmers- these figures would need to be further verified.  Did the Ministry promote or by any means facilitate the provision of free mobile phones to any of these 1.2 million farmers? If yes, where were the funds sourced from. If No, does that imply that the 1.2 million farmers could afford their own mobile phones? These questions are every germane as to understanding a scheme that put an end to 40years of fertilizer corruption. It is a transformation agenda that must be properly documented. Who is a farmer? Are we talking about subsistence farmers or has production capacity been used for categorization?

 

Minister of Agriculture

Revolutionary tool:

This is a revolution. Nigeria is the first country in Africa to develop such a system. The system has garnered international acclaim. Other African countries now want to learn from Nigeria. Major donors, including Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, DFID of the UK Government, USAID, World Bank, IFAD and the Africa Development Bank, want to scale up the GES system to other countries.

When the ministry says Nigeria is the first in Africa to develop such a system, what is the minister trying to say? Are we really the first to use mobile technology to connect farmers? Is the ministry familiar with the Grameen Foundation Village Phone project in conjunction with Google and MTN Uganda or similar projects in Kenya and Ethiopia? Of course these other programs come with modifications but the primary objective was to use mobile phones to connect with farmers. With the Google search page and information database being so easily accessible, the ministry should be careful with such misleading statements. It would be interesting to look at these case studies which extend even to India where we have to ask if their government gave out free phones.

 

Minister of Agriculture

How we will operate:

From 2013, government intends to distribute 10 million phones, so we can reach more millions of farmers with the GES scheme for subsidized inputs. We expect to reach at least 5 million farmers in 2013 with GES for access to subsidized inputs. So, farmers who get mobile phones will be registered and we will use their biometric information to reach them with electronic vouchers for seeds and fertilizers.

Alas the minister confirms that the government intends to distribute free phones, the only missing piece in this complex puzzle is the cost of acquiring the phones which he denounced in the first paragraph. There will be a distribution of phones and in 2013 alone, 5 million phones will be up for grabs by farmers and we can now confirm that they will surely get mobile phones.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Second, mobile phones will allow farmers to have financial inclusion, as financial institutions such as commercial banks and microfinance banks will be able to reach them with affordable savings and loans products. The phones will make the financial inclusion of the CBN in rural areas possible.

The mobile phones will allow financial inclusion, quite interesting. Are mobile phones the reason why less than 50% of Nigerians don’t have a bank account?

 

Minister of Agriculture

Third, the phones will make market price information available to farmers nationwide. Farmers lose a lot in marketing their produce. Middle men make all the profits. Farmers end up selling their products at very poor prices. This is because farmers do not have access to market price information. There is asymmetry of market price information. For many farmers their only sources of market price information are the middlemen. Mobile phones will allow us to get market price information to farmers, improve market access and empower farmers. This will allow farmers to have countervailing power in the market place.

Access to market price is very helpful to farmers but the cost of farming differs from region to region. Will farmers in the North increase the cost of Tomatoes just because they have an idea of how much   a basket of tomatoes goes for at Ketu market in Lagos? What is the cost of storage and haulage as regards price input? I am all in for farmers being empowered to make the best out of their sweat but I do not see how middle men will go away when it comes to sales of market produce. What about access to the farms as well as cost of production? The road networks amongst other things which do not fall under the control of the ministry of Agriculture are as important as these mobile phones, that is if they are not even the priority.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Fourth, we will use mobile phones to provide extension information to farmers, as part of our total overhaul of the extension system in the country. With a “Farmer Help Line” it will be possible to connect extension workers, colleges of agriculture, faculties of agriculture, and other experts to provide free extension services to farmers by interactive voice mail. This will include when to plant, what to plant, agronomic practices etc. At the dial of a number, the wealth of knowlege of experts will be connected to the farmers, anywhere they are in Nigeria – free of charge. Such a “Farmer Help Line” system is already in use in Kenya by poor farmers, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Fifth, the phones will allow the dissemination of real time weather information to farmers. It will be possible to alert farmers on drought or floods and reduce vulnerabilities to shocks. In case of the floods we witnessed last year, simple alerts over mobile phones would have saved many lives and helped farmers to know what to do

Great

 

Minister of Agriculture

Finally, the expanded number of phones in rural areas will support the expansion of rural telephony. Presently, the rural areas are not being served well by mobile operators, and are marginalized. With the expansion of mobile phones to millions of farmers, mobile phone operators will expand the number of base stations they have in rural areas. This will reduce the digital and communications exclusion of rural areas, where agriculture is the main source of income and jobs. The cost of calls in rural areas will also decline.

Will the Ministry also build a base station in the rural areas? What will attract what? Will farmers purchasing mobile phones make a telecommunication company build a base station, powered by generators and personal security or will this work the other way round? We must not forget that these 10 million farmers are not even in a specific cluster or zone so, what is the attraction to build base stations in the rural areas? Surely, not simply free phones being used by a number of farmers.  I recall the arrival of GSM service to Nigeria- customers procured mobile phones and SIM cards once the telcos announced they were connecting their cities or towns. In line with the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) approved strategic management plan (2013 – 2017), the agency intends to accelerate mobile phone expansion by subsidizing the costs of deploying base transceiver stations in underserved and unserved communities in Nigeria which the market will not ordinarily reach. It is suffice to say the USPF understands that the expansion of mobile coverage will naturally result in residents of these areas acquiring mobile phones for connectivity.

 

Minister of Agriculture

How will this be financed?

The distribution of the phones will be supported through an MoU signed between the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Communications Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, with the Ministry of Women Affairs. Out of the 10 million phones, 5 million will go to women. The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), which supports expansion of mobile operators into rural areas, through a tax, will support this initiative, in partnership with Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. We intend to work with existing mobile operators in Nigeria through a public-private partnership.

So we finally arrive at the crux of the whole debate- the source of funding for the mobile phones. With the words used so far, I know that when the Nigerian government uses the words promote and distribute they really mean freebies. There is no doubt that the Ministry is actively involved in a policy which seeks to give free phones to farmers though it is not a 2013 budget item for the ministry. Since we have not seen the final 2013 budget hurriedly passed by the National Assembly which I suspect is in agreement between the legislative and the executive, as long as the Senators and Honourables continue to enjoy the secrecy of how much they actually earn in allowances.  The ministry of agricultures’ total allocation in the proposed 2013 budget was N 81,683,474,280, recurrent expenditure stood at N 32,953,474,280 and total capital allocation was N 48,730,000,000. There is no way the ministry would be able to afford 5million phones in 2013.

The partners in this project are listed as the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Communications Technology, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ministry of Women Affairs.  Who exactly is funding the 5 million phones to be distributed in 2013? The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) does not have a provision for buying mobile phones in its listed projects from 2013 to 2017; it will be focused instead on investing in base stations. Should the USPF be coerced into funding these mobile phones? It must be noted that it is a government agency under the NCC and this in turn means the government is actually funding the free phones. If these funds are being made available under the guise of donor funds, aid money or concessional financing/assistance, Nigerians must know that it is another form of debt. “The Ministry intends to work with existing mobile operators” but intent is no confirmation that there is an agreement in this direction to fund the provision of these mobile phones in 2013.

 

Conclusion

  • The Minister denies the cost of the phones to the tune of N60b
  • The Ministry of Agriculture will distribute 5 million phones in 2013 and another 5 million phones subsequently
  • The source of funding for these phones and the actual reasons for it are not clear
  • The Minister and the Ministry are being economical with the truth as regards the funding of these free mobile phones.
  • The total cost of 10 million phones at the end of these project may be more than N60b

 

 

 

Links

Minister’s Press Release

https://www.dropbox.com/s/vosm4tz2lstximm/PRESS%20STATEMENT%20-%20Phones%20For%20Farmers.docx

Nigerian Communication Commission

http://ncc.gov.ng/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=125:art-statistics-subscriber-data&catid=65:cat-web-statistics&Itemid=73

Universal Service Provision Funds

http://uspf.gov.ng/index.htm

Nigeria: The 10 Million Farmers Mobile Phones Fiesta

Another debate has been kicked off with the government announcing a “step in one of its policy”. Because the people feel it is absurd, this development has caused an entire catalogue of arguments to be thrown back and forth. Nigerians see the government as being on another fantasy highway which speaks of everything real but in the long run leads to nothing real or sustainable. It is only expected this grand idea from a government that is corrupt and not in touch with reality, rings resounding bells in the head of the citizenry and no one seems satisfied with whatever the government will ever do. Irrespective of interests and divides, something must prevail which will define how the political office holders justify its intentions of managing the treasury in the best interests of both the state and her citizens. Every good policy and idea must be subjected to stringent scrutiny such that Nigerians can decide if politicians are working in the better interest of the country they have sworn to serve, or for their personal pockets.

A number of vocal and well-known voices have chosen to join the fray in putting the blame on the citizens especially the youths, backed by the theory that whatever is wrong with the government is a reflection of the society. The youths are labelled as being too angry and ignorant of how government works; hence they will attack the government rather than engage it.  Do the citizens need to have solutions to corruption before they voice their opposition to unbridled impunity? What happened to freedom of expression especially on matters concerning the state? The idea of berating the young populace as being ignorant, misinformed and too lazy to acquire information is not a sound argument, for even if it be true that they are guilty as accused, this will not be a crime exclusive to Nigerian youths. I wonder how many young Americans understood in detail what the fiscal cliff hullabaloo was all about save the literal inference that it would result in  people paying either more or less tax.

Within the European Union, agriculture is heavily subsidized yet it is vaguely known how many young Europeans understand the nitty-gritty of how this works. Another reference can be made on election matters; every country plays along its political divide the electorate can be manipulated on the basis of how information is made available to them. The essence here is not to advocate for a dumb young population but those who think young Nigerians should carry the blame for a failed country based on their ignorance on government policy should be more pro-active in salvaging the nation if they know better. In a country where the Senate and the House of Representatives have refused to make their allowances public despite the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, we have no choice but to question where the interest of the state lies.

This morning social media platforms went agog with news of the government’s intent to spend N60 billion ($380 million) on acquiring mobile phones for farmers. This isn’t a fresh idea as the Federal Ministry of Agriculture had announced this initiative sometime in 2012 during the commencement of its new fertilizer scheme.  The details however remained sketchy- it was not understood how the government planned to provide free phones for farmers and implement it in this scheme. For a government that loans billions of Dollars from the Chinese government and the World Bank to implement projects, preaching about prudent spending would only fall on deaf ears. Corruption is rife in our economic and political system and total debt is on the rise again. We need not debate the advantage of farmers having mobile phones as this has been   established via the positive outcomes of several pilot schemes i.e. Lifelines Soochna Se Samadhan in India – a joint venture between One World, British Telcom (BT) and Cisco. In Uganda the Grameen Foundation in partnership with MTN Uganda and Google developed mobile applications to deliver market information to farmers. http://www.ckw.applab.org/section/about-ckw. No one will win the debate on why and what Nigerian farmers need mobile phones for. What is however debatable is the implementation method our government plans to work with.

The Nigerian government with or without its thinking cap, led by the Minister of Agriculture has decided to adopt best practices from other countries – a laudable idea with a clause; the government plans to spend N60 billion ($380 million) i.e. an average of N6000 ($38) per phone, buying mobile phones for 10 million farmers., But we have to ask- what other things do we not know?  Has the government explored other alternatives of acquiring these gadgets without incurring such an exorbitant bill?  I believe the government is only planning to purchase and distribute these phones without providing free monthly airtime for these farmers.  How then do they expect to keep these lines active to send out information through relevant agencies, monitor the distribution of fertilizer and receive feedback from the farmers? There is virtually no information on partners who have signed up to develop and deploy the apps to be used on these phones. Any right thinking person will know there has to be a plan, but of course our government is not used to carrying its citizens along. I invite you to peruse the website of the ministry of agriculture which intends to run 21st century best practices with farmers and if you happen to find it, do let me know.

The failure of the government to embrace an open access approach to its plans and data will always result in the sort of backlash seen on social media platforms today. Anyone with access to a smartphone would have been relieved to be granted the opportunity to access a brief outlining the plans of the government in this scheme.  When the government talks about farmers, I struggle with the definition for the purpose of clarity- what characteristics and conditions make one a farmer for the purpose of this scheme? Farmers should be defined based on their production capacity. A number of people question if Nigeria truly has 10 million farmers. Are we to believe that the millions of subsistence farmers across the country are the target of this free mobile phone scheme? Is this the group the government is relying on to boost agricultural export and the much touted food sufficiency (I am even yet to come across any country with food sufficiency- did our minister mean food security)? No one is to blame for asking questions and doubting the sincerity of the government as nothing seems clear in this so-called transformation agenda.

Let us for the sake of argument assume that there are 10 million farmers in the database who have been earmarked to get mobile phones. Why did the government not try to facilitate a medium through which   these farmers could acquire mobile phones via the telecom companies we have in the country; an open bid process would have resulted in a fair and mutually beneficial deal.   Are there no such private telecom companies in Nigeria willing to take on 10 million new customers? A simple calculation where 10 million farmers spend N10 a day means that in ten days, they would have spent N1 billion and in one year N365 billion. This should be enough maths to entice a company to provide them free phones on a 3 year contract for starters. A review of the countries where this scheme has been implemented shows that the role of the government is limited to policy and the facilitation of a viable environment for the growth and sustainability of the program. Using Uganda as an example, we see that private investors and foundations were involved. Buying mobile phones for the farmers with the prospect of awarding contracts by the Federal Executive Council via their Wednesday rituals has surely robbed the Minister of Agriculture and his aides of thinking outside the box. I find this idea unsustainable in the long run; will the government keep buying mobile phones and airtime for farmers? Can these farmers even charge the phones to keep them working from their remote locations? Where do the app developers come in?  Has there been any input from the much celebrated tech hubs like Co-Creation Nigeria which is in partnership with budgiT? http://yourbudgit.com/

As our government sets to acquire 30 aircrafts in the days to come, I am quite worried knowing that these policies do not represent a consistent economy policy, be it elements of capitalism or socialism ultimately the government will be unable to account for its investments.

Once again we welcome another transformation agenda that is set to transform pockets and nothing else.