PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari should urgently respond to the distress call of cocoa farmers over allegations of supply of "fake" farm inputs by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.
The farmers had raised the issue with Professor Yemi Osinbajo when he was Acting President. But apart from referring the matter to the Office of the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Audu Ogbeh, nothing more was heard about it, hence their decision to write the President way back in November 2017.
The farmers lamented: "The procured inputs, particularly the fungicides, had destroyed our cocoa trees and farms".
Apparently, this was not the first time it was happening because according to them: "We want Mr. President to realise that most of the inputs procured in the past like jute bags, solo sprayer pumps, fungicides and insecticides were rejected by the cocoa farmers as a result of (their) low standard, while those farmers that used (some of them) regretted their action because of the negative impact on their cocoa farms".
This is a highly shocking and embarrassing development. Coming from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture which has enjoyed a positive outlook in sustaining the giant strides that were set by the previous government of President Goodluck Jonathan, especially in the areas of rice and cassava production, we are tempted to agree with the farmers that there could be a deliberate effort to sabotage cocoa cultivation in Nigeria.
The Minister of Agriculture, Ogbeh, has since responded to the issue by pledging to "immediately meet with those affected, take samples of the fungicides, investigate the source of supply, find the supplier and compel him or her to account for the damage".
We find this response highly reactive, which should not be the case. It amounts to medicine after death. It is the duty of the Ministry to ensure that the quality of inputs supplied to farmers is above reproach.
If farmers can no longer trust the quality of inputs supplied by their own government, then no one can be safe. Such a government must be snoozing on its responsibilities while toiling farmers labour in vain.
This is definitely an issue the anti-graft and security agencies must swing into action to investigate because it touches on economic sabotage and in fact, national security.
We call on the National Assembly Committees on Agriculture and Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes to conduct a comprehensive probe and a public hearing to enable Nigerians see those who are working against efforts to recharge the non-oil revenue economy of the nation.
Above all, we call on the Federal Government to severely sanction those behind this outrage and adequately compensate the farmers for their losses. We want a strong example to be made of the culprits to demonstrate our zero tolerance to economic saboteurs.