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Pitfalls new agric, power ministers should avoid

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[FILES] Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono. Photo: TWITTER/NANONOSABO


Two years and a few days after President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated them alongside 41 other cabinet members, in 2019, the Minister of Agriculture & Rural Development, Mr. Sabo Nanono and his counterpart in the Ministry of Power, Saleh Mamman, got the short end of the stick for gross underperformance.

According to the government, the minor cabinet reshuffle was executed after an “independent and critical self-review…helped to identify and strengthen weak areas, close gaps, build cohesion and synergy in governance, manage the economy and improve the delivery of public goods to Nigerians.”

The duo’s replacement by the erstwhile Minister of Environment, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, and the former Minister of State, Works & Housing, Mr. Abubakar D. Aliyu, in that order, therefore opens a new vista for the administration that has grossly failed to deliver in the two critical areas.

Among other things, economic diversification, and job creation, which cannot be achieved without these two ministries being up and running.

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In the build-up to the 2015 election, all through his electioneering, as well as in the wake of his electoral victory, Buhari in his three-point agenda reiterated his government’s resolve to fight corruption, insecurity and unemployment. With worsening insecurity being witnessed across the country, and the sack of the two ministers, which ministries are critical to employment generation and economic diversification, the Buhari-led government may have tacitly admitted failure to deliver on its expectations.

With time clearly running out of the administration, and its ability to deliver on the much-talked about three-point agenda, analysts and stakeholders in the agriculture sector are calling on the new minister of agriculture to adopt a business attitude towards agriculture, which is key to the economy in terms of food and raw materials for agro-allied industries, revisit agricultural initiatives of the Goodluck Jonathan-led government and adopt working policies without political, ethnic or religious biases, facilitate dry season farming, as well as encourage agricultural research institutes to come up with technologies that would increase farmers’ productivity.

In the power sector, many do not see Aliyu as the messiah given the enormous responsibility he is faced with, having taken over at a time when trust in the sector is very low, even as it is battling financial viability crisis, and abysmal service delivery.
NANONO’s disengagement came as a big relief to farmers and other critical stakeholders, who have, at various times, expressed concerns over his display of “gross incompetence” in handling issues of national importance as they relate to agriculture. 

Insisting that the ministry never had it so bad, they accused the minister of working at cross purposes, making it impossible for the ministry to fulfill its mandate of being the poster agency of government in its quest for economic diversification, with emphasis on job creation and food security.

Before the 75-year-old was kicked out of office, he constantly swam unbothered while many issues remain unresolved. They include issues surrounding the renewal of the National Agricultural Policy; convening of National Council on Agriculture and Rural Development; interference with activities of non-governmental organisations (like the All Farmers Association of Nigeria), misinformation regarding the allocation of funds for important activities like pest control, corruption allegations, and giving false information to the public on mechanisation among others.

In addition, while most stakeholders carpet the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) interventions in the sector for failure to optimally contribute to food security, they maintain that the interventions were far more effective than the ones spearheaded by the ministry under Nanono, majority of which failed woefully in alleviating farmers’ challenges.

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One of the programmes that failed under Nanono is the Agriculture for Food and Job Plan (AFJP), a component of the Nigeria Economic and Sustainability Plan to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on farmers and the economy.

The 12-month programme, which kicked-off in August 2020 was supposed to create 10 million jobs, provide five million poor farmers with input for the 2021 wet season farming, but one year down the lane, farmers are yet to receive any support service.

Not only this, enumerators that went across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory to register farmers, as well as take the geographical coordinates are yet to receive their money.

According to a petition from AFAN, signed by the Assistant National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Salisu Mukhtar, the general impression that the mandate of the FMARD was taken over by so many institutions is the direct result of the ineffectiveness of the former minister, who they claim was only on seat twice weekly.

He said: “The President is very passionate about agriculture as everyone knows, but it is very clear that the continued stay in office of the minister was detrimental to all the gains made so far. It is sad to note that farmers buy fertiliser at an exorbitant price in the market, including paying N9, 500 for PFI 20:10:10, which has been sold N5, 500 in the last five years, without any move by the FMARD to provide succour to the farmers.”

The list of other sins, which qualified Nanono for sack included the construction of a mosque for displaced herdsmen, while another petition emanating from the farmers’ body alleged that Nanono allegedly expended N2.7b on farmers’ data capture without involving the real stakeholders when he could have successfully done it via the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), with $433m Identity Management grant from the World Bank.

“He claimed there are no seeds in Nigeria and he did many things inimical to the seed system by violating the provisions of the Seed Act-2019. He lied about the country’s mechanisation drive that 60, 000 tractors will be made available through the $1.1b Brazil loan arrangement.

“He spent billions in fighting imaginary pest and locusts and Quelea birds. He spent more time in his native Kano than Abuja or other parts of the country where he is supposed to be frequent as the minister. These infractions were sufficient for Mr. President to relieve him of the responsibilities of the office of a minister of agriculture, to avert disaster,” the petition read in part.

THE National President of All Farmers Progressive Association, Ogbo Joseph Douglas, who confirmed the allegations, claimed that out of the intervention to farmers, only 20 per cent got to them, while the remaining 80 per cent ends up in private pockets.

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The President of AFAN, Kabir Ibrahim, stressed the need for President Buhari to do all within his powers to ensure that the nation achieves food security.
 
“According to him, the current administration has taken very far reaching initiatives to make agriculture work in Nigeria, and it must be commended, but the obvious threat factor to the attainment of food sufficiency, include probity, competence and knowing what to do in the management of the entire food system, and this calls for reinvigorating it by appointing capable and competent hands with integrity.”

THE Director of Press, FMARD, Theodore Orji told The Guardian that he was not aware of the allegations against Nanono. He, however, advised that such question should be directed to the Presidency “because it’s their right to hire and fire anyone.”
WITH a bed-ridden power sector, Aliyu faces a tough litmus test as he strives to upturn the woeful performance of his predecessor, and not to betray the confidence reposed in him by Buhari.

Among the age-long challenges that Aliyu must face headlong in the power sector, which have kept Nigerians in perpetual darkness leading to a bleeding economy are financial crisis, policy somersaults, failing infrastructure, regulatory weakness, political interference, gas shortage, and subsidy payment. They have all contributed to bogging down the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).

Shortly after being appointed, Mamman ordered the suspension of the then Managing Director of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), Damilola Ogunbiyi and asked for the immediate stepping down of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), Marilyn Amobi.

The development created tension, and the Buhari-led administration, reversed the decision shortly after the announcement. Generally, Mamman’s tenure was characterised by cluelessness, especially in the areas of policy and regulatory issues. His reorganisation agenda also led to the sack of the then Managing Director of Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Muhammed Gur.

The former Chairman of Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Sam Amadi, who okayed Mamman’s sack said that the new minister “needs to quickly up the trust quotient, reshape expectations, and engender commitment by the stakeholder, especially new and old investors. He has to restore regulatory independence and improve policy guidance in the sector. He also has to improve on sector communication as well.”

AN energy expert, Prof. Wunmi Iledare, stated that the new minister must not only reinvent, but must avoid interference with NERC within the context of electricity tariff and institutional capture. “Perhaps if he wants to make a lasting impact and footprints, then he can begin a policy review for Electric Power Act,” Iledare said.

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FOR the President of Nigeria Consumer Protection Network, Mr. Kunle Olubiyo, there was the need for the new minister to continue from where Fashola stopped, especially in the provision of leadership that would drive the sector.

According to him, he must align with Presidential Power Initiatives; Power Sector Recovery Programme; consolidate on Federal Government efforts in closing the huge metering gaps, and reduction of liquidity gap, while being open to working with stakeholders.

Olubiyo added that the Eligible Customer Regulatory Framework requires a rejig and enforcement, adding that the unbundling of the Transmission Company of Nigeria into Commercial, Technical and Operational entities remained sacrosanct.

THE Convener of Power Up Nigeria, Adetayo Adegbemle, said there was an urgent need for policy direction for the power sector, as well as the need for the government to start seeing results from investment in the sector.

Adetayo said with policy direction, sanctions should be enforced duly, especially with the sector being perceived to be hijacked. “The new Minister should also consider bringing back the industry stakeholders engagement meeting that was known under the Babatunde Fashola period,” he said.

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