Why the Nigerian Agric-minister was sacked by the President

On August 21, 2019, Sabo Nanono, the now former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, assumed duty at the ministry of agriculture after a shoddy ratification procedure at the Senate ministerial screening session.

Mr Nanono was asked by the senators to “take a bow and go” because of his affiliation with some lawmakers, under the claim of having wide experience and deep knowledge of the sector even when he studied Business Administration as an undergraduate.

Based on this, many Nigerians were robbed of knowing Mr Nanono’s blueprint for the country’s agricultural sector.

On assumption at the ministry where he addressed reporters at that time, rather than sharing his plans for the sector, Mr Nanono said hunger in Nigeria “cannot be compared to what is obtained in other countries,” and that efforts should be made by the Nigerian government to assist other countries in food supply.

“There is no hunger in Nigeria compared to what I saw in India in 1973. What we need is to get our acts together and develop the sector,” he said.

President Muhammadu Buhari [PHOTO CREDIT: @MuhammaduBuhari]

Prior to his appointment, President Muhammadu Buhari on August 20, 2019, had ordered the partial closure of the country’s land borders to curb smuggling and as well boost local production of agricultural commodities.

The borders were reopened more than a year later amid the exponential spike in the prices of food, increased calls for reopening of the borders and the imminent takeoff of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement in January this year.

While the rise in the prices of significant staple foods still subsist, the country’s agricultural sector has witnessed little or no improvement under the watch of Mr Nanono before his sack.

The sack

President Buhari on Wednesday announced the sack of Mr Nanono and his counterpart in the power ministry, Saleh Mamman.

Femi Adesina, a presidential spokesperson who confirmed the development in a statement, said the sack of the ministers was sequel to a minor cabinet reshuffle after an ‘independent and critical self-review,’ that helped to identify ‘weak areas’ under this government.

Femi Adesina, the spokesperson to President Muhammadu Buhari

Mr Adesina, said: “the 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.”

“In the same vein, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, Minister of Environment, was redeployed to assume office as the Minister of Agriculture & Rural Development, while Engr. Abubakar D. Aliyu, Minister of State, Works & Housing will now be the Minister of Power,” Mr Adesina wrote.

The sack of the two ministers is coming two years and few days after they were inaugurated by the president in 2019 alongside 41 of their colleagues.

The two ministers became the first set of ministers to be sacked by the president since he assumed office in 2015. His first set of ministers served out his first term.

“Agric ministry under Nanono’s watch in brief”

Upon resumption, the former minister who hails from Kano expressed high hopes of moving Nigeria’s agricultural sector forward. This, he said, would require the commitment of all, in order to leave his mark in the annals of the country’s history.

While receiving briefings from agricultural research agencies, Mr Nanono promised to revamp the agricultural research institutes across the country to promote sectoral growth and food security in the country.ADVERTISEMENT

“I want to be very serious with the research institutes, so that they will research on improved seeds that will be suitable to our environment, as the institutes are the engine of growth in the sector,” he was quoted to have said.

Known for his mantra and affinity for commercial agriculture implementation in Nigeria, the former minister had promised to create over 300,000 jobs via this means, in the bid to mitigate the high level of unemployment in the country.

On his return to Nigeria from Hungary, he commissioned the Hungarian Demonstration plot established at the headquarters of the National Agricultural Seed Council, on October 17 last year.

The 0.4 hectare land commissioned was used to demonstrate the effect of the Hungarian agric invention called Water Retainer (an organic soil conditioner) which involves two Hungarian hybrid maize varieties and two tomato varieties.

With the cooperation of the National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), and supervision of the Hungarian Agricultural Innovation Centre (NAIK), the official trials of the tomato varieties were to commence this year.

More so, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the agriculture ministry flagged off a soft loan scheme with the hope of boosting food crop production and agricultural mechanisation.

This involved the distribution of more than 10,000 tractors, fertilisers, chemicals and seedlings to farmers in the 774 LGAs in Nigeria.

Fertiliser bags used to illustrate the story.

“What we need is that the beneficiaries must be genuine farmers and natives of the participating local councils,” Mr Nanono said at the time.

In a similar manner, the FMARD initiated the mechanisation hubs in 650 local governments to support the farming communities.

“The mechanisation hubs which will be stocked with modern farming equipment, like tractors, power tiller, and harvesters among others, will also serve as centres for training the farmers on modern farming techniques,” the minister noted.

Eventually, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved a loan facility of $1.2 billion to finance the mechanisation of agriculture in the country.

Moreover, to enhance farmers’ access to agricultural financing in the country, the federal government earmarked N600 billion for the sector.

While the COVID-19 lockdown measures imposed by the Nigerian government took a toll on agricultural activities and food systems, the government launched the Agriculture for Food and Job Plan, a component of the Nigeria Economic and Sustainability Plan (NESP), to cushion the impacts of the pandemic on the farmers and the economy.

Also, upon the commencement of last year’s planting season, the National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC) certified 81,000 metric tons of seeds across the country, so as to enable farmers’ easy access to viable and high yielding inputs at affordable prices.

In addition, President Buhari directed Mr Nanono and other key players of the sector to join the already existing 12-member Presidential Task Force for COVID-19.

The minister later flagged off the distribution of agricultural inputs to Nigerian farmers across the country.

This, he said, was aimed at boosting agricultural production in the country and averting food scarcity in 2021.

Some of the inputs distributed to the smallholder farmers include varieties of rice, maize, and wheat seeds including cocoa and palm seedlings, among others.

Agric contribution to GDP

Despite the investment in the sector before and during Mr Nanono’s reign at the ministry, available data shows that agriculture has grown at the weakest rate under the Buhari administration than any other government since the return of democracy in 1999.

An analysis of the country’s gross domestic products by Statisense, a data analysis platform, showed that the sector grew at an average of 15 per cent in the past five years of this government.

When compared with past administrations, the sector grew by 133 per cent under the Obasanjo administration; 19.1 per cent under President Musa Yar’adua’s short tenure and 22.2 per cent under Mr Jonathan’s government.

However, in terms of the agricultural sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product(GDP), the Buhari administration has so far done better than only the Jonathan administration, based on an analysis by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.

Data evaluated by PTCIJ shows that the sector contributed an average of 27.5 per cent under President Obasanjo, 25.6 per cent under President Yar’adua, 21.75 per cent under President Jonathan and 21.90 per cent under President Buhari.

“Expired policy”

With the expiration of the Agricultural Promotion Policy last December, Nigeria currently does not have any officially communicated agricultural policy under Mr Nanono.

Even when it is glaring that Nigeria’s agriculture sector has the potential to reduce unemployment rate in the country, there is no clear evidence that the minister fulfilled his promise of creating sufficient jobs through the agriculture mechanisation initiative, and many more initiatives as promised.

While it is clear that the APP policy document which lapsed last year has not fulfilled its purpose, a big proportion of foods consumed in Nigeria are still imported, without any significant foreign exchange earnings being made from agriculture.

Speaking about the performance of the former minister when contacted, Simon Irtwange, the national president of the Association of Yam Farmers, Processors, and Marketers, said he believed Mr Nanono had a good intention for the agriculture sector, but that the implementation of his directives were faulty.

“If you don’t have a way of making sure that your directives are being implemented, the non implementation of your approved instructions will surely manifest in your performance,” the professor said.

‘Corruption’

A series christened “Authority Stealing” which exposed illicit transactions flows across ministries and their MDAs, it was discovered that between September and December last year, a total of N3.08 billion was paid into the private accounts of 42 staffers of the Ministry of Agriculture under Mr Nanono.

PREMIUM TIMES observed that several fund disbursements by the nation’s agriculture headquarters were done through duplicated payments, some for similar purposes to some staffers.

Meanwhile, despite the continuous claims of subsiding of farm inputs for easy access by Nigerian farmers in different zones of the country by the federal government, many smallholder farmers still lament lack of access to inputs and subventions.

Also, there seems to be no distinct database for Nigerian farmers that can serve as a guide to initiate policies that can effectively and efficiently drive sustainable agricultural practices.

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