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Opinion: N60b Phones: The questions Mr Reno
Omokri and His Principals Must Answer
By Kikiowo Ileowo
Monday, Jan 07, 2013
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In his controversial style of using social media, Reno Omokri- the
Special Assistant to the President on new media on Thursday, the
3rd of January 2013 took to the platform to further explain the
President's much belated New Year gift to Nigerians as revealed by
the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Basking in the euphoria of a similar gift to Nigerians on the 1st of
January 2012 through the removal of fuel subsidy that lead to a
week of national protest, President Jonathan this time around
unleashed his 2013 gift on the Nigerians with a policy for the
purchase of 10million cell phones valued at about N60billion to 10
million rural farmers.
In his message on twitter, Reno Omokri said “One of the aim of this
administration is for Nigeria to be self sufficient in food production”,
adding that “The FIRST priority of a people is FOOD SECURITY.
One way to ensure food security is by ensuring that farmers are
informed of best practices”. Continuing, he said “...to ensure that
they plant, irrigate and harvest at the right time, SMSs are being
sent to our farmers by agric experts at the ministry”.
He further added that “For those who have an objective mind,
60billion divided by 10million farmers gives you a unit cost of 6000
Naira per phone.”
Now let's begin by asking where Mr. Jonathan got the 10million
Nigerian Farmers? This is a joke intended for April 1st.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s population
as at 2011 stood at 164,385,656. The same Bureau in 2010
released the report of a research it carried out with the title "The
Labour Force Report" with an highlight of the population of
employed and unemployed Nigerians as well as the age grade they
belonged to. The report shows that persons Aged 0--‐14 years
constituted 39.6% of the total population of Nigeria, those aged,
between 15--‐64 (the economically active population), constituted
56.3%, while those aged 65 years and above constituted 2%. The
report went on to state that of the 92,384,738 who are economically
active, 67,256,090 of them are in the labour force out of which
51,181,884 are employed, and 16,074,205 are unemployed.
The question Mr. Reno and his principal needs to answer is where
exactly are the 10million farmers? Are they from the army of the
unemployed 16,074,295 or from the already employed 51,181,884.
If their answer is the former, what exactly are they producing that
Nigeria has not become a hub of everything food?
Now, understand that a large portion of food production in Nigeria is
done through mechanized farming which makes use of less manual
labour. The ‘farmers’ Mr. president wants to provide handset for are
subsistent farmers who produce what they mostly consume in their
homes. I have a garden at the back of my house, does that qualify
me as a recipient of the ‘Jona-phone’?
I see no reason why the president in conjunction with his minister of
Agriculture would insult the collective intelligence of Nigerians by
playing to the gallery with a noble idea that has revolutionised
countries like Uganda, Kenya and India. Giving telephones out as
part of a 2015 campaign strategy is just plain unintelligent.
Now, let's say we accept the president’s assertion to be true, then,
the cost of purchasing each handset is simply bogus and
outrageous. First of all, no one would dare deal with a supplier in
this type of contract. Speaking at Ijebu North East on Wednesday,
the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture declared that
the Ministry will deal directly with the manufacturers of the handset
in China and the United States. What she failed to tell us was if
there was a bidding process involved in selecting the manufacturer
to the extent that it has determined what country to buy them from?
Having seen the mounting opposition to the proposed illegal
purchase of the mobile telephone handset, the Minister of
Agriculture hurriedly released a press statement, stating among
other lies that Agriculture employs 70% of the population, but if we
go through the figures of the report earlier analysed, we would see
that the Agriculture sector only employs 14million Nigerians
representing 30% of the total 50M employed for that year.
By the way, there are more noble ideas we can channel resources
too. The road needed by the farmers to transport their goods to the
market is non-existent. The much needed power required to
preserve their produce is non-existent. Questions are how is the
purchase of handset going to impact the government’s aim of food
security? Can the subsistent farmers, majority of whom are
illiterates, read and understand the text message that would be sent
If I understand the Minister of Agriculture correctly, the aim of
buying the phones is to make use of it as a means of
communication with the farmers, but the rural farmers already have
phones if the tweet by Reno is anything to go by. Reno had tweeted
that “to cut fraud in the fertilizer distribution system a voucher
system was introduced whereby farmers get their voucher to access
frtiliser via SMS”. What this means is that the ministry has already
started communicating with the farmers through SMS. Now let's ask,
who bought the phones the farmers has been using to receive sms
vouchers for fertilizers? If the farmers already have phones, why
does the government want to provide 10million more phones for
As a professional in the field, one would expect that the Minister
should understand that there are alternatives i.e. Agricultural
Extension Programmes…'train the trainers', where people who
understand the various languages of the farmers would deal directly
with them in the dissemination of information. That on its own is a
noble way of creating employment and still achieving the aim of
educating the farmers.
The idea of importing phones from other countries is nothing short
of exporting thousands of jobs and income to those economies,
whereas, we could create those jobs here to add to our national
Though the minister has denied any knowledge of N60 billion
budgeted for such spurious project. It should interest you to note
that the telephone handset jamboree was not included in the 2013
budget which we woud consider in a moment.
A variant of the phone used in Kenya is a low-end phone, which
would cost N2,000 at the computer village in Ikeja, Lagos. Dealing
directly with the manufacturer will cut the unit cost to at least N1,500
totaling a wholesome of N15 billion (i.e. N1500 x 10 million pieces).
Sundry cost which includes Freight, Insurance, Duty, TLC Charges,
CISS, VAT, Clearing Agents, Local Transport, Demurrage, Storage
and Rents would cost close to another N2 billion (bear in mind that
most of this cost would not be paid by the government) but I won’t
bore you with the calculation.
Adding another N1 billion as profit for sub-contractors and other
unforeseen expense, the purchase is thus estimated at around N18
If a total of N18 billion is more than enough for a project, you can be
rest assured that the N60 billion tag is a fraud and another way by
the Jonathan administration to ‘create food’ for the boys. The extra
N42 billion excess will be looted and misappropriated.
It is insincerity of the highest order for the government to use a
noble idea as a means of fleecing the people.
The last questions I want the honourable Minister to answer are how
are we going pay back the loans proposed for the execution of this
project? Is this how best we can make use of the fund? Who are the
sponsors? The press statement he released has done nothing but
raise more suspicion. According to the Ministry of Agriculture's
budget, nothing of such is budgeted for in 2013 or are we looking at
another withdrawal from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fund
repayment or will it be budgeted as debt for future generation?
We the people need to know how a Ministry with a total budget of
N81 billion for year 2013 plans to execute this project. Ministry of
Agriculture Recurrent expenditure for this year is N32.9 billion with
N29.8 billion going into personnel cost and another N3.09 billion
going into overhead cost. The capital allocation for 2013 for the
Ministry of Agriculture is N48.7 billion. I think expending a fund that
equals 80% of the total budget of a ministry on a single project
We must understand that N60 billion is no small money, it’s almost
the total of Capital Allocation for Ministry of Education, just N5 billion
greater than the Capital Allocation for Health, 10% lower than the
Capital Allocation for Power and half of the Capital Allocation for
Ministry of Works which is a very critical sector of the economy.
N60 billion is greater than N52.3 billion which is the total budget for
Ministry of Transport. N60 billion is no small money as it can do a lot.
I am @ileowo4ever on twitter