Tale of two ministers

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When former Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Adamu Bello took on the incumbent of the same seat, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, many Nigerians expressed shock. Shock in the sense that many people believe that the Adesina’s approach to making people to see agriculture as business in one of the best things that has happened to Nigerians under the Dr Goodluck Jonathan Presidency.

Since his appointment some three years ago, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture under him has achieved tremendous results, particularly with the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) which not only seeks to make agriculture big and profitable business, but also seeks to launch Nigeria back onto the path of food sufficiency.

On the other hand, Bello handled the same portfolio between 2001 and 2007, a period of about six years. Since both have occupied the same seat, and the former is now accusing the incumbent, it is only apposite to view the achievement of both so that Nigerians could at least draw their own conclusions on which of them had served the country better.

Nigeria’s endowment of 263 billion cubic metres of water, a bulk of which comes from two of the largest rivers in Africa, represents a great agricultural benefit. Nigeria’s population is estimated at 167 million people, and the number keeps growing. This undoubtedly provides a huge challenge as well as opportunity when considered against the backdrop of feeding the teeming population. Growing our own food to feed ourselves is a task that requires urgency, and production for export is highly desirable.

To do these, it is important to harness the enormous human and natural resources that abound all over the country. Of the 84 million hectares of arable land in Nigeria, only 40 per cent is presently cultivated. Nigeria’s immense agricultural potential is a great asset for the nation in particular and Africa in general, with promises for food security when fully harnessed.

The market potential for our agricultural produce remains under-utilized. While there is a huge market opportunity on the international space, creating markets locally for our own farmers remains a task yet to be done. Nigeria’s large pool of cheap labour is available to support agricultural intensification while also offering a huge market for agricultural produce. But this must not be a market for others or a dumping ground for indiscriminate importers.

In order that achieve all these, Adewunmi  with his ATA have been trying to unlock the potential of agriculture to drive the economy with  a rapid transformation of key agricultural value chains – from the farm to the table.  It started in 2011 when 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.

The Media Aide to the Minister, Dr Kayode Oyeleye said:  “We are working to create ecosystems in which small, medium, and large-scale farming systems not only co-exist but also flourish. We are focusing on creating value added products from staple crops – through an aggressive import substitution programme and other policy reforms to accelerate food production and agricultural resilience”.

The Ministry under Dr Adesina have engaged a teeming population of Nigerian youths and stimulate their interest in agriculture. They are called “Nagroprenuers”. According to Oyeleye, “President Jonathan, in 2013, unveiled the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP) to create a new generation of young commercial farmers and agriculture entrepreneurs. This will develop a total of 760,000 ‘Nagropreneurs’ within five years. Today, young graduates and bankers are leaving the banks and heading for agriculture. The new millionaires of Nigeria will be in agriculture. It is a new dawn!!”

Also, Staple Crops Processing Zones (SCPZ), new agricultural infrastructure-enabled zones that are being developed to attract agribusiness investors into rural areas is in place.They are to address the infrastructure challenges and constraints of the agro-processing industry, drive social and economic impacts, offer a superior operating environment for downstream players as well as create a new platform for private sector investment in agriculture. Food manufacturing companies are being attracted to establish within these zones, bringing them closer to farmers and areas of high food production.

To improve financial access for farmers, we have taken bold steps. The Central Bank of Nigeria and Federal Ministry of Agriculture jointly established a risk-sharing facility, the Nigerian Incentive-based Risk Sharing for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) – that reduces the risk on bank lending to agribusiness and farmers.

Banks are lending to agriculture today in Nigeria than ever before. Agricultural lending as a share of total bank lending rose from 0.7 per cent to 5 percent within two years. Bank lending to seed companies and small agricultural input retailers rose from zero in 2011, to $ 10 million in 2012 and $53 million in 2013. Bank lending to fertilizer companies rose from $ 100 million in 2012 to $ 500 million in 2013. It is remarkable that the default rate has been zero percent over the past two years.

These reforms are not only improving the prospects for Nigerian farmers, they are also capturing the attention of external investors. Over the past 24 months,  $4 billion have been attracted in executed private sector letters of commitment to invest in our agricultural sector. The country also received significant financial backing from the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the International Fund for Agriculture Development, the UK Department for International Development, United States Agency for International Development, United Nations Development Programme, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

The backbone of any agricultural revolution is access of farmers to modern agricultural inputs, especially fertilisers and seeds. Under ATA, four decades of government’s direct purchase and distribution of fertilisers, which was riddled with corruption and massive rent seeking have been replaced. 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.

However, in trying to guage the achievement of Adamu Bello in office, it is better to go into the archives and see what the media wrote about him, even while in office. On September 13, 2004, The News magazine carried in its cover a story titled “Swindling the farmers, Adamu Bello, Minister of Agriculture And Rural Development, faces allegations of financial malpractice”. Excerpts:

“If current indices from the FCT are anything to go by, the farmer may well have become a mere pun on a high level chessboard of graft and corrupt practices. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, rather than sit atop sacks of cocoa, pyramids of groundnuts or corn is atop a well laid bed of fertilizer contract scam valued at N14 billion, mismanagement of another eight million dollars meant for Cocoa Rehabilitation Scheme, and a general underbelly tactics in the management of maize, groundnuts and other farm produce;

In a country where corruption walks on two legs, the allegations are awfully familiar, but not without a surprise. Adamu Bello, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, who is at the centre of the alleged fraud, says what he did was in the national interest. He does not miss an opportunity to blow the anti-corruption trumpet handed to him by President Olusegun Obasanjo. The President, in his haste to stem the tide of corruption in the country and instill discipline in public service had added venom to his campaigns by creating first, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission ICPC, headed by retired jurist, Justice Mustapha Akanbi and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, headed by Nuhu Ribadu;

Now, there are allegations of corruption against him. Up in arms against Bello are the Senate Committee on Agriculture, the House Committee on Agriculture, a faction of Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria CFAN and Fertilizer Supply Association of Nigeria, among other interests.

But first the alleged scams. The Minister is accused of blatant disregard for due process in the award of contracts. A case in point is the N14 billion contracts 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 give details of how the Minister awarded huge tons 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. In the 2004 wet season, a total of 245,000 metric tons of fertilizers contract was awarded by the Ministry. The three Indian companies got 62,000 metric tons, without recourse to ministerial tenders board, while 84 Nigerian companies were left to scamper over the remaining 183 metric tons. The same trend characterised the previous wet season, in 2003.

But that is not the only anomaly.The fragmented quantities, awarded to the Nigerian companies, CFAN noted, makes it impossible for its members to import. Here, is how it works. Because of its nature, fertilizer can only be imported in 12,500 tons small shipload or 25,000 metric tons big shipload. Thus, it cannot be imported in smaller bits or along with other merchandise. The 84 Nigerian companies were awarded quantities ranging between 500 tons to 5,000 tons. Two other companies Multi Purpose Resources Nigerian Limited and Tuns International Holdings Limited got 10,000 tons each. Certain that it is impossible for the hamstrung Nigerian Companies to import their wretched offers, the Minister,  CFAN alleged, went ahead to give their contact addresses to the Octopus Indian Companies. In turn, the Indian companies would contact them and arrange to buy up the quantities at a miserable commission. At the end of the day, the entire 245,000 metric tons for the 2004 wet season ended up in the Indian circle.

That was the practice during the dark era, when successive military regimes, took turns to rape the country to a state of coma. For eleven years between 1985 and 1996, a Jewish company, owned by one Mr. Levie, monopolised the importation of fertilizers to the country. The Jew ripped off the country to the tune of billions. And it took the guts of Mallam Adamu Ciroma, former Minister of Finance, to stop the practice. It is the Levie blue print that Bello is alleged to have dusted up nearly one decade after it was consigned to the dust bin. But this time with different characters;

But the award process, it seems, 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 naira. But there is 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 Minister of State and other top officers of the Agriculture Ministry, in the dark.

When TheNEWS called Bamidele Dada, the Minister of State, on phone for comment, he directed the magazine to Bello. He explained that the fertilizer contract was directly under the control of Bello and he alone could speak on the transactions and the CFAN allegations.

Bello himself decided to pass the buck when the magazine met him. He denied the allegation that he acted alone on the fertilizer contract and insisted there was a Tenders Board. He argued that President Obasanjo, and not him, gave the final approval for the contracts. “The contract was advertised and there was an open tender. It was opened to the public and the result of the tender was submitted to Mr. President for approval.” But Bello may also have acted ultravires. For, in his haste to extricate himself, he added that the President considered the 87 contractors too large. “Even the President was not happy that these large number of contractors got the contract. He approved only five companies and F&C, Morris and ACC were part of them.” He claimed that the decision to expand the number of contractors was because of the Tenders Board’s Influence”.

Nigerians can now judge who serves their interest better.

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