23 January 2013

Nigeria: Abuja Leper Farmers Allege Denial of Fertilizer

Lepers confined by government at the lepers colony in Yangoji, along Abuja/Lokoja road in Kwali local government of the FCT said the federal government discriminated against them by denying them fertilizer describing the action of government as inhuman and unreasonable.

The lepers, who spoke through their chief, Malam Ali Isa said since the FCT administration stopped them from street begging, they have no other job except farming, adding, "A female officer came here and registered us for the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES) program with a promise that we will be given fertilizer by government.

"We thanked her and even gave her a chicken which she collected and left. Till date, nobody gave us a single bag of fertilizer. Some of us actually got text messages on our phones that we were allocated fertilizer and seeds but could not be redeemed. Someone might have diverted our share.

"The government's programme is useless. We got messages in our handsets, but without anything. We went to them with the message, and everything. They said it was network problem and everything turned out to be a lie.

"Not even a single bag of fertilizer was given to us. Go and publish it in any newspaper, and let he who gave us fertilizer come here and take us to court. Nobody gave us even a bag of fertilizer and we are farmers. Even if a blind man passes by, he will know that we are farmers," he said.

Isah said it was because of the lack of fertilizer that he managed to get only four bags of maize this season, saying some of the people in the colony are farmers but cannot farm because they don't have fingers.

Conducting this reporter round his sugarcane and banana plantation, Malam Isa said if government can help them with an equipment to till the land, they will farm like every other farmer, adding, "Who gives me fertilizer?" He said all the people in the colony were registered for the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme without getting any farm input.

"It was very difficult for me to get a bag of fertilizer for N8,000 this year. It was a local barber (wanzam) that helped me from the consignment he got from some politicians. Here in Kwali local government area, not even a measure of fertilizer was given to us," he said.

In spite of the disappointment from the government, Isa, who is living with his two wives in the colony, said he has not given up on farming, promising to do all he could to enhance his agricultural production as his only reliable source of feeding his family.

Moving around his sugarcane and banana farm, the lepers' chief said he intends to make the shallow wells he had dug around in the farm deeper so as to get water for irrigating the sugarcane, plantain and banana within the farm for self-sufficiency.

He also said he wants to get the farm fenced round to prevent animals from encroaching and destroying his crops, lamenting that he so much relied on government GES program for the fertilizer he needed for his farm believing it was a realistic and dependable program, "I realized very late that it was all gimmick."

But his strong determination at farming is being stalled by the injuries he sustained on his leprous fingers which he said has stopped him from doing most of the things he would be able to do before.

"Getting medicine for such injuries and other ailments that are not related to leprosy in the colony's clinic is difficult as the medicines meant for us are being diverted from the clinic by corrupt officials," he said.

Also commenting, another leper in the colony, Muhammad Adamu Alkali said he couldn't farm because he could not access the agro-inputs promised him by government, adding, "Because we didn't get the fertilizer, I didn't farm last year. That is the only thing we use to feed our family. Since the end of Obasanjo's administration, the handouts they used to give us in the form of help have stopped.

"There is no begging, begging is prohibited. So, which one will you think about. It is the farming that we relied on and other assistance from members of the public willing to render helping hands. We have children whose school fees we must pay. The problems are too many," he said.

Efforts to reach the FCT agric secretariat and the agric department of Kwali local government area council were not successful as officials met in the two offices could not respond to enquiries by this reporter, saying they are civil servants hence they cannot talk to the press.

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