Crusoe Osagie brings a new perspective to the phone-for-farmer scheme controversy, introducing the claim by Anabel Mobile that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture snatched the idea from the company
A stolen Idea?
In the deafening buzz that has been generated in the media recently over the phone-for-farmer scheme of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for which many have called for the head of the minister Akinwunmi Adesina, the perspective that the idea was stolen has hardly been presented.
For starters, the numerous critics of the policy seem to believe that it is an outrageous idea and a white elephant project, which is not suited for the average Nigerian farmers' felt needs. Although it is likely that these people who have drawn these negative conclusions have either not listened carefully to the minister's plan or they are extremely cynical critics who have been so battered by previous failures of government that they do not think that any project introduced by our leaders can be for the good of the masses.
However, there is a new perspective to all the uproar, which at least reveals that the idea is not totally rejected by everyone who has heard about it. Actually, Anabel Mobile, a certified operator in the Nigerian Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector has not only admitted that the phone-for-farmer scheme is a laudable one, they are infarct, stating that they initiated the project and it was hijacked by the ministry of agriculture.
The Chief Executive Officer of Anabel Mobile, Mr. Nicolas Okoye said the very fact that Adesina has admitted that it is collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Communication is a confession of guilt because Anabel Mobile, it was, that introduced the scheme to the ministry of communication in the first place.
From the Beginning
Presenting various proposals and letters stamped and signed as received, Okoye stressed that it first introduced the idea in the form of a proposal to the ministry of Agriculture and the ministry of communication in the year 2011, presenting an elaborate public private partnership model that would ensure the farmers enjoy strategic agricultural services through the phone project, while also creating thousands of jobs due to the fact that the phones would be manufactured in Nigeria.
Okoye also presented a letter from the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), which assured Anabel of the acceptance of the proposal and the willingness of government to fund its working with Anabel, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Communication.
According the USPF letter sighted by the secretary Abdullahi Maikano, the proposal was to be forwarded to the ministry of Agriculture.
The letter stated "please be assured of our willingness to partner with you to entrench ICT applications for the development of the economy."
Okoye says the most unfortunate aspect of the whole issue is the fact that instead of manufacturing the phones here in Nigeria as Anabel proposed, the phones will now be imported from other countries and therefore the jobs, which Nigerians are in desperate search for will be shipped abroad.
But explaining the details of the scheme, Adesina said government would only bear part of the cost for the acquisition of mobile phones by the beneficiaries.
He stressed that under the scheme, the farmers are to acquire the mobile phones through network operators in their locality.
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 from.
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 recent clarification, Adesina said government would not spend any money on procuring the mobile phones nor 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.
From Adesina's explanation above, it appears that his lack of trust for the contract award process in government may have become Anabel Mobile's undoing in this particular case.
Adesina seems to have identified through his Growth Enhancement Strategy (GES) that corruption in the public sector is largely perpetuated through contract awards and Anabel feels it should have been engaged to carry out this laudable program it initiated. The question is, can they ever find a common ground?