FARMERS and agriculture experts have faulted Nigeria’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development for spending N30 million public funds on the construction of a mosque in Borno State.
A memo dated December 10, 2020, with ref. No. FMA/PROC/AHS/SIP/2020/7742/1 containing the award of the contract to El- Shakur went viral on the social media on Thursday.
In response to the viral memo, the ministry’s Director of Information Theodore Ogaziechi, in a statement, confirmed that the contract was awarded to the firm for N30 million.
Ogaziechi said the mosque was constructed for a community of livestock farmers displaced by Boko Haram insurgents and were being resettled in Ngarannam/Mafa Local Government Area of Borno.
Despite the existence of a Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, the Agriculture Ministry expended N30 million on constructing a mosque for a community while watching food production dwindle in the country.
Reacting to the report, an agricultural expert Celestine Okeke said for a long time, there had never been a priority for the Ministry of Agriculture.
He said the action of the ministry stemmed from its lack of a national policy on agriculture for more than one year.
“The question is whether they should even put money into it at all, but then the ministry has no policy. The last policy expired in 2020 and from then till now, there is no policy to guide their affairs,” Okeke said.
He noted that the construction of a mosque with N30 million showed that the current leadership of the ministry had lost its focus.
“The new policy would guide their priorities, without that the ministry should not be existing. The policy is meant to provide a guideline, but in the absence of that, there is nothing for them to do. Do not be afraid that tomorrow, they might start constructing a hostel,” Okeke further noted.
On the issue of diversification, Okeke said that there was no diversification happening in Nigeria outside of the Anchor Borrowers Scheme.
He noted that the Anchor Borrowers Scheme was a direct intervention, but the policy should be a condition for other things to happen.
He said there was really no diversification in the generation of funds in Nigeria, adding that if there were, the country would be cutting down on the cost of import.
The National Secretary of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) Yunusa Halidu also faulted the action of the ministry, saying it was a misplaced priority.
Halidu said over the years, the association had tried to drive development in agriculture through the government but it had not yielded results and they were now looking towards the private sector.
He further noted that the Anchor Borrowers Scheme had also not been successful in developing the agricultural sector.
“Even the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, people take loans and there is nothing to show for it. People take loans and they don’t return it, because they think it is national cake,” Halidu said.
On the challenges in the agricultural sector, Halidu said farmers were battling insecurity, high cost of mechanised tools, fertiliser, among others.
A farmer in Ekiti State Shadiya Sodimu, who also spoke with The ICIR, said construction of the mosque was one of the reasons farmers did not feel the impact of government interventions advertised on television.
Sodimu said the government claimed it was spending a huge amount of money on agriculture but the farmers were not feeling the impact.
” A lot of the time, the government has said it is spending much on agriculture, but what are they spending it on? On mosque? How does that help us, we still go to farm with hoes and cutlass, I have never got a fertiliser from the government,” Sodimu lamented.
In 2020, women farmers, under the aegis of Small-Scale Women Farmers Organization in Nigeria (SWOFON), had retired their cutlasses and hoes, demanding a gender-friendly and mechanised way to farming.