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.