From Okwe Obi, Abuja
Series of unpleasant events like the upsurge in herders and farmers’ impasse, which led to killings and burning of cattle and farmlands, mostly in the North and South East, sacking of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, and the building of a N30 million ‘Friday Mosque,’ took the centre stage in 2021.
Dissatisfaction rented the air when the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development awarded a contract for the construction of a ‘Friday Mosque’ in Borno State, at the cost of N30 million.
The leaked memo was signed by the Deputy Director, Procurement, Musa Musa, on behalf of the then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono.
Dated December 10, 2020, with a Ref No: FMA/PROC/AHS/SIP/2020/7742/1, the leaked memo was entitled: “Award of Contract for the Construction of ‘Friday Mosque”
It read: “I am directed to inform you that the ministerial Tender Board at its 7th meeting held on December 7, 2020 approved the award of contract for the construction of ‘Friday Mosque’ to your company at the total contract sum of N30,000,000 (thirty million naira) only, inclusive of VAT, with a completion period of eight weeks, with effect from the date of this letter.
“You are, therefore, required to indicate in writing within three (3) days of receipt of this offer, your acceptance to the office of the Director of Procurement, FMARD, Abuja, or otherwise, the offer will be considered lapsed.
“Thereafter, you are to liaise with the Director of Animal Husbandry Services for adequate supervision of the contract and the Director, Legal Services, for signing of the Contract Agreement.
“Please, note that the contract is not transferable and the cost is fixed, firm and request for price variation will not be entertained. It is expected that the contract will be executed in strict compliance with the BOQ/Specifications and in line with relevant clauses in the Bidding Document and Contract Agreement.”
The directives did not go down well with plethora of civil society organisations, as they condemned and demanded the resignation of Nanono.
Championing the move was the National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko, who argued that the minister breached the law. For the sake of fairness, Onwubiko further requested the construction of churches and African shrines accordingly.
He argued that the explanation given by the Director of Information, Theodore Ogazechi, was not only lame but provocative and an insult to Nigerians.
He said, “it is unacceptable to deploy public fund to promote private religious pursuit of some people in a multi-religious and complex chain of nationalities that constitute Nigeria.
“This provocative decision, apart from being discriminatory and offensive to Section 42 (1) of the Constitution, is a gross breach of Section 10 of the Constitution which prohibits the elevation of any religion as the state religion.
“Besides, Section 42 (1) of the Constitution says: ‘A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
“(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject;
“or (b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.”
He continued: “Section 10 of the Nigerian Constitution says: ‘The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion of the Nigerian Constitution.”
He wondered if the Minister of Agriculture was secretly designated by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Minister of Islamic Affairs for him to dip his hands into money belonging to the agricultural sector to promote religious interest of a section of Nigeria.
“It was inexplicable why officials of President Buhari’s administration are proving right the groundswell of allegations that President Buhari’s agenda is to transform Nigeria into an Islamic State.
“We are by this public notice, demanding from the Minister of Agriculture, that he approves about N30 million each into two places for the building of a church to be used by displaced farmers in Benue State and a befitting shrine for use by African traditionalists who are farmers in any part of Southern Nigeria deemed appropriate by the farmers.
“We are giving the minister a week to approve the funds to build a church and a shrine or we will mobilise Christian farmers and farmers who are African traditionalists to file a suit against this obviously unconstitutional and discriminatory policy,” he had said.
While the dust was at the verge of settling, President Buhari fired Nanono alongside the Minister of Power, Sale Mamman.
President Buhari, through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said, “a few cabinet changes, marking the beginning of a continuous process, have been approved. Ministers leaving the cabinet: Mohammed Sabo Nanono, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Sale Mamman, Minister of Power.
“Today effectively marks their last participation in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) deliberations and I wish them the best in all future endeavours.”
Mohammad Mahmood Abubarkar, who assumed duty as the new minister eight days after he was redeployed from the Ministry of Environment, goofed when he claimed that Nigeria was leading in maize, rice and cassava production, as pundits parried his claim.
Abubakar, at a maiden edition of the National Agribusiness Stakeholders and Investment Summit in Abuja, added that the country’s agricultural sector accounted for 24.14 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“It is remarkable that in the past three years, Nigeria has taken a leading role globally in cassava, yam, maize, palm oil and rice production. We are currently the largest producer of rice in Africa with a production level of over nine million metric tonnes from 2019.
“The Federal Government is investing in the development of additional 10 large scale integrated rice mills across the country. Their combined minimum capacity is 320MT per day, which, when completed, will enhance Nigeria’s self-sufficiency in rice production.”
Both the President of All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Kabir Ibrahim, and HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, disagreed with the minister, adding that Nigerians were complaining of high cost of food items, especially yam.
While Ibrahim contended that most regions do not prioritise cassava consumption, Onwubiko, cautioned him against churning out unverifiable statistics.
Kabir said: “I do not think we are the largest producers because even yam tubers are now costly. I am sure you do too. But the question of being the largest is not important. We are talking about the population of Nigeria of about 200 million finding a lot of trouble feeding the population.
“So many people are complaining now about food prices. We should not be talking about being the best in cassava because, in so many regions, it is not a staple. If you take cassava to my village now, the people would only boil or roast it and cannot even make any other thing with it. They only process it into garri so that they can take it with sugar and groundnut or kulikuli. So, let us worry about Nigeria making more investments now to attain food sufficiency.”
Onwubiko added that, “with all due respect, the Minister of Agriculture seems to be very overzealous with his job. He is actually much more interested in reeling out unverified and unverifiable and non-existent statistics about farming activities in Nigeria, than doing his work, which is to look at ways and means that farmers all over the country can be protected from attacks from different non-state actors.
“The problem farmers have in a lot of farming communities across the country borders much on insecurity. The minister had not even thought of partnering with relevant government officials at both the national and sub-national levels to propose and to implement workable measures to completely eliminate the violence unleashed on farmers, especially by suspected herders.
“And in the Northeast, the farmers have a lot of issues with the Boko Haram terrorists. Even in the South, farmers are not even safe from attacks carried out against them by herders. So, I think the Minister of Agriculture should be interested in promoting agricultural growth by way of sensitising Nigerians on why farmers should not be attacked.
“The implications of the constant violent attacks on farmers is that very soon Nigerians will starve because we will not have enough agricultural produce to sustain the large population we have in Nigeria. So, the minister telling us that we are the largest producers of yam or whatever does not tally with the reality on ground.
“A lot of Nigerians do not have the financial wherewithal to feed their families three times a day. The cost of foodstuff in the market has skyrocketed due to the rising state of insecurity all over the country. In some parts of the Northwest – Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara – and so many other places, farmers cannot go to farm and harvest their crops if they do not pay heavy ransoms or taxes to armed militia or what the government calls armed bandits.
“In Southern Kaduna, which is one of the most agriculturally rich areas in terms of land resources, farmers cannot go to the farms because they are being consistently attacked by herdsmen.
“Zongo Kataf has been over run by herdsmen. You talk about the issue of lack of capital for farmers to expand their farming operations from mere subsistent farming to a more commercial oriented mechanised farming. That is where you have the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and financial institutions that have credit facilities and grants that are supposed to be given to farmers to encourage them to get modern tools and to buy fertiliser, are not transparently dispensed.
“A lot of farmers have not benefitted. Those who have benefitted are actually people who are portfolio farmers. The real farmers are in the villages and they are not feeling the impact of the various intervention measures.”
Also, the order given by Governor Rotimi Akerodolu of Ondo State that herders should vacate grazing reserves in the state and the signing into law of the Anti-Open Grazing Bill, generated ripples.
According to Akerodolu, the move was in line with the resolution of the Southern Governors’ Forum “at its last meeting in Lagos where September 1st was set as the deadline for governors in southern Nigeria to sign the Anti-Open Grazing Bill into law.”
He added: “This is worthwhile and a very laudable development aimed at stemming needless instances of skirmishes, conflicts as well as infractions on the enviably peaceful disposition of the good people of Ondo State.
“It is very pertinent to aver and indeed, reiterate that the law shall rather engender a more cordial, mutually benefiting relationship among residents of the state irrespective of ethnicity, religion or creed. For emphasis, no particular group of persons is the target.”
Expectedly, the gesture did not sit well with the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubarkar Malami, and other Northern elite who lampooned his decision.