The cheapest business in Nigeria is pontification. Everybody is an expert and virulent critic even in areas where they have failed to live up to expectation. Those who are known to be failures in their duty posts a while ago are now the worst critics of others who are doing their best to right the wrongs of such predecessors.
This could have been the reason why recently Adamu Bello, a former minister of agriculture in the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, barefacedly went into hypocritical pontification. It is very sad that the likes of Bello are trying, but in vain, to cover their “sins” of yesteryear, deluding themselves in the belief that Nigerians have short memories and can easily forget.
For the avoidance of doubt, those who have followed the performance of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture since the return of the country to civil rule speak in tandem that the sector, generally, has fared better in the last few years under the watch of Akinwunmi Adesina.
The other day, Bello, whose seven-year occupancy of the ministry’s top post was anything but spectacular, said that the agricultural sector under the Transformation Agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had recorded poor performance, and wondered why Adesina should glory in “non-existent” achievements in the area.
Bello appears to have forgotten his past at the ministry. A man that has a baggage on his back, or some “bleating goats” at his backyard, should not open his flanks so wide the way the former minister did. Some years back, while he presided over the ministry, a magazine went public with his alleged indiscretions, particularly as they relate to accountability.
What set off the write-up were allegations of corruption against him by the then Senate Committee on Agriculture, House Committee on Agriculture, a faction of Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), Fertilizer Supply Association of Nigeria, among others.
“The minister is accused of blatant disregard for due process in the award of contracts. A case in point is the N14 billion contract for the supply of fertilizers, which the minister is said to have awarded to his friends and cronies without caring a hoot for civil service procedures. In a petition addressed to President Obasanjo by CFAN, the farmers gave details of how the minister awarded huge tonnes of fertilizers to himself, using three Indian companies as front, while leaving a pittance for indigenous suppliers. The three Indian companies are Fertilizers & Chemicals Limited, Morris Nigeria Limited and Afcott Nigeria Plc,” the magazine alleged.
“In the 2004 wet season, a total of 245,000 metric tonnes of fertilizers contract was awarded by the ministry. The three Indian companies got 62,000 metric tonnes, without recourse to ministerial tenders board, while 84 Nigerian companies were left to scamper over the remaining 183 metric tonnes. The same trend characterised the previous wet season, in 2003,” it further alleged.
There were other alleged acts of indiscretions committed by the former minister in relation to fertilizer distribution and contracts.
For instance, it was alleged that the award process was shrouded in secrecy and destined for the altar of graft from the very beginning. “The tendering process, if it existed, was less than transparent. About 139 companies were said to have signified interest in the 2004 contract worth N14 billion. But there was neither evidence that the contract was advertised, nor was there anything to suggest that a Ministerial Tenders Board ever met on the contracts. The minister was said to have acted as a sole administrator on the contract, leaving his subordinates, including the then minister of state, Bamidele Dada, and other top officers of the Agriculture Ministry in the dark.” Even more worrisome was the allegation that the Indian companies handled the contracts in a shoddy manner.
It is annoying for people to try to stand the truth on its head. Don’t forget that in 2004, under Adamu Bello, there was something interesting about growth rates in agricultural sector. His ‘perfect’ growth rate of 6.50 percent for crop production, 6.50 percent for fisheries, 6.50 percent for livestock and 6.50 percent for forestry should raise eyebrows as this smacks of some form of cosmetic and fuddled growth statistics, an indication of some tinkering somewhere.
“Earlier in the year, Adamu compared his seven years in office with Adesina’s first agriculture year in 2012, relying on National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) alone. In doing so, he was one-sided in his analysis, seeking to confuse Nigerians with manipulative figures,” a commentator noted recently.
Contrary to Bello’s baseless comments, it must be noted that a lot of success has been recorded under Adesina’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA). Under the scheme, the minister and his team are unlocking the potential of agriculture to once again drive the economy. They are doing a rapid transformation of key agricultural value chains – from the farm to the table.
It would be noted that in 2011, President Jonathan launched the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, with the goal of adding an additional 20 million MT of food to the domestic food supply by 2015 and stimulating the creation of 3.5 million jobs along the agricultural value chains. There are also other programmes such as Youths in Agriculture; Staple Crops Processing Zones (SCPZ) and a whole lot of others. New strategies have since been adopted to facilitate fertilizer distribution.
Indeed, the backbone of any agricultural revolution is access of farmers to modern agricultural inputs, especially fertilisers and seeds. Under ATA, the ministry is replacing the four decades of government’s direct purchase and distribution of fertilisers, which was riddled with corruption and massive rent seeking. The middlemen and rent seekers have now been circumvented and farmers now receive their inputs directly through the use of Electronic Wallet (E-Wallet) scheme for farmers, operated through the use of mobile phones.
Within two years, the e-wallet system reached over 8 million farmers, helped to improve the food security of 40 million persons in rural farm households, empowered them and raised their food production. Nigeria is the first country in Africa, and in the world, to develop this system.
It has become very imperative to advise the former minister, Bello, to always strive to acknowledge excellence, no matter where it is found. The culture of “pull-him-down” does not augur well for the country, nay, not at this time!
Nwafor, a public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos