The All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) has described as wasteful the plan by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to acquire 10 million telephone handsets for rural farmers.
In a statement issued yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Emma Eneukwu, the party said there are so many problems confronting agriculture in Nigeria, including lack of mechanisation, lack of storage facilities, lack of access to farm inputs by rural farmers and poor funding.
"We find it difficult to situate lack of communication gadgets in this matrix; and also considering that handsets are now as cheap as ever in the retail markets, with Smart phones even getting cheaper by the day, it is mindboggling that the government could contrive and arrogate top priority importance to these gadgets in its development agenda, " he said.
The party wondered what the Federal Government was doing about the 5,000 farmlands in many states of the Federation that had been washed away last year by flood.
It also expressed worry over the non-functional drip irrigation infrastructure in the North.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rura Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, had dismissed insinuations on the wasteful nature of the project, saying it would be "supported through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Communications Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, with the Ministry of Women Affairs."
According to the minister the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) will support this initiative in conjunction with existing mobile operators in Nigeria through a public-private partnership.
However, the ANPP said, "considering the strategic importance of agriculture and rural development to our great nation, and the fact that the 2013 national budget for agriculture is just about N81.41 billion; such project as the acquisition of 10million mobile phones for farmers is profligate at best, and corrupt at worst".
"It is a manifest portrayal of a government lacking in ideas, and therefore groping for logical means to look busy. As a party we had earlier pointed out that the low allocation to the country's agricultural sector in the 2013 Appropriation Bill effectively puts a question mark on the Federal Government's readiness to tackle food security in the land. We now wonder how it would benefit the country that almost all the funds apportioned for agriculture this year would be used to buy handsets for farmers.
"The ANPP therefore condemns this proposed project. There are myriads of other sub-sectors calling for urgent intervention, even if the monies or telephones are raining down from donors and pseudo Santa Claus. In fact, there is no free lunch anywhere; if the money is tagged as free, Nigerian people always have a way of paying back, even with interests, " he said.