e-WALLET, ANOTHER INITIATIVE MEANT FOR SHREDDING!
ADEOLU C. ALUPOGUN-IRAN
Tales of thrilling moments of the Nigerian nation are hardly a scarce commodity to come by, if you ever had the opportunity to share time with the older men. I can say without fear of contradiction you will be rooted to your seat and perhaps, later left with a headache. This is inevitable because the extent of decadence in the country is beyond comprehension. What you see and are told were two extreme contradictions, though hard to believe, are very true. The foresight of Lugard and the early nationalists were dragged into the mud by unbridled spending and lack of strategic planning by the nation’s succeeding leaders after the discovery of oil at Oloibiri in 1956. Nigeria before the discovery of oil was a state sustained primarily by agriculture, interestingly a major agricultural produce exporter; today agriculture as we have been bullied to believe is a cardinal priority of government but the disparity in output cannot be justified with the government’s blueprint. If agricultural development is as important to the Jonathan government as he claims, how then would he justify the over one trillion naira spent on food importation annually?
The Federal Government on the track of reviving agriculture has introduced e-wallet system, which is an electronic platform introduced by the government to facilitate the distribution of fertilizer and seedlings to farmers and also eradicate the bureaucratic bottleneck to ensure that farmers access these products. From intent e-wallet seems a beautiful system but has the government forgotten that most of the farmers are basically illiterate persons, who can neither read nor write. How does Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina expect a rural farmer to read a text message notifying him of fertilizer allocation, where there are no communication networks?
In adopting the policy, the government failed to give consideration to the fact that most of the farmers who live in rural areas are illiterate and as such could not operate mobile phones. Seventy-five per cent of farmers in Nigeria are rural people and a good number of these people reside in communities that have no communication network. Also, epileptic power supply in the country is another challenge that might impede the use of mobile phones to access farm input. Farmers won’t be able to charge their phones due to lack of electricity. To adopt the use of mobile phones to access farm input means that farmers’ mobile phones must be very effective but in circumstances where there is a prolonged power outage, charging phones for readily receiving the alerts, becomes impossible. This could create a tendency for government officials to take advantage of the farmers and the farm input may not get to the intended destinations.
It is obvious our challenge has never been the lack of brilliant ideas but of what use are they when there are poor mechanisms for implementation. Nigeria has a poor history of successful executions of policies in agriculture; as a matter of fact, many government policies turned out colossal failures. No government in the post-Nigerian civil war ever gave agriculture a prime place in term of annual budgetary allocation, how shameful! Agriculture has suffered from years of mismanagement, inconsistent and poorly conceived government policies, neglect and the lack of basic infrastructure. Governments over the years have been paying lip-service to agricultural development; to them results have been achieved because they have given Nigerians something (or jingle) to talk about; we all know, without any sign of disrespect that Nigerians are also talk-shops.
Overtime, fertilizer distributions by government has been superfluously hyped as if that was everything a Nigerian farmer or agricultural sustainability in the country needs.
In 1976 the whole nation was bamboozled by the military government under Gen. Obasanjo (rtd) to believe Operation Feed the Nation will bring back agriculture to its feet in this country. However, pundits have observed that our leaders initiate brilliant policies but often fail to plant those visions into the minds of people who could ensure that such visions or policies succeed beyond their terms. Sustainability entails persistence and consistence of our focus, energy, resources and most essentially our intellectual prowess towards growth.
At every four years there must be a major policy summersault, partly because the initiator had left and the new man on board must inject something to show he is working. There has not been a government that felt the need to continue the programme of his predecessor for sustainability sake. How can we ever attain sustainable growth and development? Did we at any point ask ourselves why past policies fail? Why is it impossible for Nigerian government to learn from history? Why do we always put the cart before the horse? The best form of learning is the one that has other people’s experiences as its source, but there has been flagrant disregard for precedents by our leaders. Every government policy on agriculture has just one denominator common to them all -failure. The prevailing factors responsible for them all are lack of proper research, utter disregard for genuine advice, perhaps, cancer of vision and deep-seated corruption. Like Prof. Oyewusi Ibidapo Obe once said: “…Corruption is just too real! Before you could only read about it in the dailies, but now you can touch it like a person.”
The claim of the Hon. Minister that this system will tame corrupt practices that encumber distribution of fertilizer does not hold water; technology has not been proven free of manipulation by unscrupulous elements in the society. This initiative is elitist in all ramifications; perhaps, only time will tell. Of course, I do know this is 21st Century where technology calls the shot, but how many workshops or seminars did the Federal Ministry of Agriculture organize to sensitize and gather informed opinions before e-Wallet system was introduced to the farmers?
In a society where the government is sane and responsible, no government policy with the direct participation of the people will be introduced without the people actively involved. Unfortunately, we live in a country where masses’ opinions are inconsequential; where people’s hair could be cut without their expressed permissions. A government that could allocate a meager two per cent of the national annual budget as against 10-15 per cent of African Union recommended standard cannot be said to have agriculture as a cardinal point. The e-Wallet contract is nothing but the sheer confirmation of the largesse of the present administration in awarding contracts.
Transportation is very critical to agriculture without which produce from the farm remains at the farm. It is not surprising the paths to most farms are not accessible by vehicles; by implication getting fertilizer and other farm supplements to them should be a near impossibility. Nigerians think it is only refineries that need revamping for optimal productivity. Those feeder roads too beg for attention.
In the past two decades, agricultural production and productivity remain on the decline despite government acclaimed distribution of fertilizer annually. Isn’t it mediocre to celebrate any success the initiative might have recorded in the space of four months? Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, an erudite scholar with his reservoir of knowledge, came to the market place armed with a gong to say e-Wallet is 70 per cent successful, an act appalling in itself. The Hon. Minister should make public the data upon which his submission was predicated.
Apparently, Nigerian government’s lack of probity has given rise to more impunity in the agro-chemical distribution in the country. Agricultural sector is a silent bedrock of deep-seated corruption in this nation. For e-Wallet to be successful there must be a mechanism to ensure the people who subscribe to it are genuine farmers and not profiteering middlemen as it was the case with previous exercises. Contemporary ideas like the e-Wallet must be test run and developed in few states to assess its viability. Adequate awareness and vigorous education of the rural farmers must be ensured with the process devoid of bottlenecks as much as possible. Operation Feed the Nation, Shagari’s Green Revolution had come and gone, probably e-Wallet system is just another agro-chemical initiative soon to be confined to the dustbin of history.