The expanded meeting convened by the Federal Government to look at security situation in Nigeria has kicked off in the Presidential Villa with President Goodluck Jonathan presiding.
The meeting which has a fuller house as against what happened a week before, has many of the governors from the opposition parties present.
The President of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Nigeria and the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, as well as the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor are also attending the meeting.
Twenty-four governors are in attendance while the governors of Jigawa, Imo, Oyo, Rivers, Kano, Ogun, Plateau, Edo and Yobe are being represented by their deputies.
The security chiefs in attendance are; the Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Inspector-General of Police, the Comptrollers-General of Customs and Immigration, Corp Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps and the Commandant-General of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp.
The Interior Minister, Mr. Abba Moro, Minister of Defence, General Aliyu Gusau, the Minister of Police Affairs, Mr. Abduljelil Adesiyan, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Viola Onwuleri, Agriculture Minister, Akinwunmi Adeshina and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, are also present.
The expanded National Security Council meeting was summoned by President Jonathan following the bombing in Nyanya, Abuja and the abduction of over one hundred female students from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina on Tuesday vehemently and unequivocally stated that “nothing is more important than food”.
The minister said this while addressing participants at the 19th Nigeria Economic Summit, holding in Abuja, with a live broadcast on Nigeria’s Multiple award-winning Television Station, Channels Television.
He noted that “a nation that does not feed itself, but becomes a threat to its own sovereign existence” warning that “growing our own food, processing what we produce, becoming competitive in export markets and creating jobs across all our economy are crucial for national security”
This warning comes after the Director General of the National Economic Summit Group (NESG), Mr Frank Nweke Jnr warned earlier of the impending threat to national security posed by the importation of food into the country.
Adeshina berated the over-dependence on oil warning that “diamonds may last forever but oil does not last forever”.
“The future trajectory of earnings from crude oil does not look good” warning that other countries have found “shale oil and shale gas”.
He noted that Nigeria must free itself from over dependence on crude oil and shift its attention to agriculture “the sector where we have the greatest potential to achieve this and this is the time”.
With only 40 per cent of 84 million hectares of arable land being cultivated, 263 billion cubic metre of water, two of the largest rivers in Africa, cheap labour to support agriculture, the minister insisted that “Nigeria has immense agricultural potential”.
He further maintained that the jaw-dropping 167 million population “makes us a huge market, we must not be the market for others” adding that “we must grow our own food, we must feed ourselves, we must create markets locally for our own farmers”.
He said his ministry, through the Rapid Transformation of the Agricultural Value Chains has embarked on a major transformation of the agricultural sector to unlock the potential of agriculture and drive the economy.
The Minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adeshina has affirmed that despite the criticisms trailing the proposed purchase of cell phones for farmers in the country, the ministry would not go back on its decision.
He maintained that the policy would not only enhance the performance of Nigerian farmers but also transform the agricultural sector.
The Minister disclosed this while addressing newsmen on Monday in Abuja. He noted that the government would not commit itself to direct purchase of cell phones for farmers but would only subsidise the phones through a partnership that would involve telephone service operators, Ministry of Communications Technology and other stakeholders.
He disclosed that reason being that the purchase of cell phones for farmers is tied to the distribution of fertilizers directly to the farmers without the involvement of third parties who had allegedly been ripping them off.
He said, “Government policy must always be based on evidence and well analysed data. We carried out an analysis of our GES work based on a large sample of 426,000 farmers from various local government areas in 13 states.
“We found that 71 percent of farmers sampled did not have cell phones. This shows that many of our farmers in rural areas are quite poor and are excluded from the benefits of the mobile phone revolution going on in Nigeria.
“These farmers cannot access the GES scheme without cellphones and we must find a way to include them. They must not be left behind.”
Mr Adeshina said that the Ministry planned to make phones available to farmers on a gradual basis, stressing that government would not be involved in direct purchase of the phones.
“Of course, we cannot get 10 million phones to all farmers who do not have phones this year. Our plan is a gradual scale up. We intend to get about 2 million phones to farmers who do not have phones this year”.
“How will these phones be paid for and how will they be distributed? We ended four decades of corruption in the fertilizer and seed sector by ending direct procurement and distribution of these inputs by the government.
“We also ended the ineffective and corrupt direct procurement and distribution of tractors by government. It will therefore be inconsistent for government to now start direct procurement and distribution of phones.
“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.
“The Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Communications Technology are partnering together to implement this policy,” he emphasised. Asked who will be eligible to benefit from the scheme, the minister said “we intend to use the GES scheme to distribute these phones. To be entitled to a phone, farmers must be registered on the e-wallet platform. Paper vouchers will be issued to farmers who do not have 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 fertilizer and seeds at subsidized rates.
“Phones will be sold directly to farmers by local mobile phone service providers. The government simply subsidizes the cost of the phone directly to the farmer.
“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. Cell phones in the hands of our farmers will do more than deliver government subsidized inputs.
“It will provide them access to market price information. They will be able to bargain better and save themselves from the middlemen who currently exploit them by paying them very low prices for their produce.
“Cellphones in the hands of our farmers will allow us to reach farmers with extension information such as what crops to plant, when to plant and other agronomic practices that will help them improve their productivity.
“It will allow farmers to better deal with shocks such as drought and floods in real time. Simple alerts to farmers’ phones can help them avoid catastrophes while saving lives.
“Majority of our farmers are excluded from financial services. 78.8 percent of Nigeria’s rural population are unbanked according to the report by Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access, EFInA. The cost of reaching them in rural areas is high for financial institutions.
“No bank can afford to build branches in every little village. Cellphones provide financial institutions with a low cost and efficient way of providing financial services to our farmers. The use of cellphones to provide financial services in rural areas is not new. It is already being used in several African countries.”
The minister said despite the wide criticisms on his plans for the farmers, he would not be deterred in his determination to transform the agricultural sector, stressing that “as a Minister, I cannot use hype to guide policies. I must use evidence to guide policies. When the floods occurred, there was panic in the land.
“Some derided our efforts and said Nigeria would have famine; that there would be massive food shortage; and there would be food riots. Those who wanted to import food and get waivers from government sponsored such media hypes. I was not moved.
“We used modern technology to guide our decision. Using remote sensing and satellite imagery, we mapped out the extent of the flood and determined that no more than 1.17 percent of our total cultivated area was affected by the floods. Our detractors wanted the world to believe the opposite, that food crisis was imminent. They were wrong. Today, five months after the floods, we do not have a food crisis.
“The same way these detractors have misled the public about the relevance of cellphones in Nigerian agriculture. They do not know that we are already using cellphones to distribute fertilizer and seeds to even mitigate the impact of the flood. We are already using cellphones to reach 232,000 farmers for rice production in the dry season, each getting three bags, across 10 states of the north east, North West and north central regions.
Speaking further the minister claimed that: “To reach farmers affected by the flood, we are also using cellphones through the growth enhancement support. We are reaching 98,000 farmers affected by floods across the country with two bags of fertilizers per farmer, plus one bag of agrolyser micronutrient to replace some of the soil micronutrients that have been washed away by the flood. Such is the power of cellphones revolutionizing agriculture today in Nigeria.
“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,” Mr Adeshina said.
The Federal Government has signed a $74 million loan with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to boost cassava and rice production in the country.
President of the organization, Dr. Kanayo Nwanze said that the programme is expected to improve the value chain of rice and cassava production in six states of the federation targeted at reducing unemployment and improving household income, at the signing ceremony in Abuja,.
Present at the ceremony were the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and her counterpart from the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina.
The Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stated that the federal, state and local government will provide a counterpart fund of $31 million to be paid for a period of six years.
Okonjo-Iweala said the IFAD credit would be beneficial to the country as it would help create jobs and help the country to be self-sufficient in food production.
She said the agreement comprised an IFAD credit of $74m, which would attract zero interest rate and a repayment period of 40 years, as well as a grant of $0.5m.
The minister explained that the credit was on soft terms, adding that the three tiers of government would provide counterpart contribution to the tune of $31.2m.
Okonjo-Iweala said, “We are signing this credit to underscore the importance of IFAD’s commitment to the development of agriculture in this country, and it also demonstrates that our relationship with IFAD is yielding benefits to this country.
“The IFAD partnership development programme, which is what we are kicking off today, is valued at $105.2m and comprises of an IFAD credit of $74m and a grant of $0.5m.”
She added, “The credit is on soft terms and the Federal Government, states and local councils will provide counterpart contribution to the tune of $31.2m. This project will be implemented over a period of six years and there is no doubt that it will be a strong contributor to the very important plan for the agriculture sector.
“The IFAD credit is one of the most beneficial because there is no interest, only 0.75 per cent commitment charge and 40 years’ repayment period; and so, it is really a very great credit for the country to access.”
Also speaking at the event, Adesina said the funding would be used to boost rice and cassava production in six states.
The project, he noted, would cover 40,000 households in Anambra, Ebonyi, Ogun, Niger, Benue and Taraba states.
“IFAD is working very closely with us and they are supporting us in rice and cassava production. The programme will target 40,000 households in six states and it will help us to strengthen the agriculture value chain, improve market infrastructure, particularly feeder roads between the production centres and the markets, and enhance productivity of farmers,” he said.
Nwanze said the organisation had financed nine projects valued at $229m.
He said Nigeria was currently receiving 40 per cent of the total loans given to West and Central African countries.
“Funding for this project was approved in April this year. We have financed a total of nine projects valued at $229m, and currently, Nigeria receives about 40 per cent of total loans to West and Central Africa, comprising of 21 countries, and this shows how important Nigeria is to the continent,” Nwanze said.