More details emerged Monday on how the Federal Government is going to execute its controversial phone-for- farmer scheme with a disclosure by Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, that government would only bear part of the cost for the acquisition of mobile phones by the beneficiaries.
Under the scheme, the farmers are to acquire the mobile phones through network operators in their locality, the minister said in a statement in Abuja.
Adesina also denied that the government was contemplating spending N60 billion to buy the mobile phones for the farmers as reported by the media.
Rather, he said what the government was planning was to give vouchers to farmers who will benefit from the policy, which they would present to the network operators they are buying the phones for.
The Federal Government has been under criticism since the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Ibukun Odusote, was quoted as saying that the government was planning to buy 10 million telephone handsets worth about N60 billion from China and the United States for distribution to rural farmers.
But in a clarification Monday, Adesina said the government would not spend any money on procuring the mobile phones or would it give contracts for its supply, adding that the type of phone that would be purchased and the mode of its distribution are yet to be determined.
According to him, the government is planning to distribute two million mobile phones to farmers this year, stressing that the government will not directly procure the mobile phones for distribution to the farmers.
He explained that no contract for the purchase would be given to any contractor as the Ministries of Agriculture and Communications Technology are collaborating on how to make the mobile phones available to the farmers.
"There will be no direct procurement of phones by the Federal Government. We are also not going to give anyone contracts to import phones from China or anywhere else. Let me also state loud and clear: there is no N60 billion anywhere to be used to buy cell phones.
"The Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Communications Technology are partnering together to implement this policy. We intend to use the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) to distribute these phones," the minister said.
According to him, to benefit from the scheme, a farmer must be registered on the e-wallet platform and this will entitle him to receive a paper voucher that will be given to farmers without phones.
"The government will provide a subsidy to the farmer through the voucher to buy the phone. The farmer takes the voucher to the local mobile phone operator and pays the balance, which is the difference between the value of the voucher and the cost of the phone. Once a farmer buys a phone and a SIM card, his new phone number will be updated on the e-wallet database and he will be able to receive his e-wallet voucher, which will entitle him to purchase fertiliser and seeds at subsidised rates.
"Phones will be sold directly to farmers by local mobile phone service providers. The government simply subsidises the cost of the phone directly to the farmer. Government will work with interested mobile phone service companies to achieve its goal. We intend to start by first targeting farmers who live in areas where there is network coverage already but who do not have phones.
"We will then encourage phone companies to increase their coverage and as they do, we will target farmers in those areas. By so doing phone companies will have the incentive to expand to rural areas because our programme will assure them of customers in those new areas," Adesina added.
The minister, who gave a detailed background of his global experience in helping other countries like Kenya and Malawi to develop their agricultural sector, said he would not be distracted by criticisms by political farmers who were part of the sleaze that was perpetrated in the last four decades before the advent of the incumbent administration.
"I will not be distracted. We will rebuild the broken walls of Nigeria's agriculture and unlock wealth and opportunities for our farmers. For those calling for my crucifixion, let me say that when Jesus was before Pilate, they had accused him falsely. Pilate, after listening to his case, found no cause for condemning him. Nonetheless, should anyone still want me crucified, let me say this, along my faith: "I am crucified with Christ already. Nevertheless, I live and the life that I live, I live by the grace of the son of God, who died for me.
"I have stolen no man's silver, nor demanded any man's gold, and will continue to drive bold innovation and reforms to fully modernise and transform the agricultural sector. That is my remit from the president and that is exactly what we will do, as I continue to serve my nation with the highest level of vision, passion, personal integrity and dedication," he stated.
Earlier, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, had said there was a tendency to politicise everything in the country.
He said the Ministry of Agriculture is one of the star ministries in the Jonathan administration as it has tackled corruption in the distribution of fertiliser, tractors and other agro-allied products.