Testing of 5 Million Farmers for Covid-19: Another Needless Initiative from the Federal Government

By Segun Ogunlade

Just when we thought we have had enough of any Federal Government’s perceived plan to help the citizens, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Sabo Nanono said there was a plan to test 5 million farmers in Nigeria for Covid-19. According to the Minister, the plan was “part of Mr President’s mandate for famine inhibiting food production.” Apart from its being a ridiculous plan, it puts a big question mark on the type of intelligence that goes into making such a plan in the first place. Because, this is obviously not a well thought out plan in any way seeing that the country has not even tested up to 500, 000 people in three months.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a Minister would announce such a ridiculous plan for the people. About two months ago, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq announced the Federal Government’s plan to feed primary school pupils nationwide in their homes due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This was the same minister that said 2.6 million vulnerable persons would benefit from the Federal Government cash transfer intervention programme and added that 11 million households identified in 35 states would benefit from the palliative measure. When she was later asked to give an account of those who received the palliatives, she couldn’t do that. Instead, she said the beneficiaries didn’t want to be seen as poor people.

This proposed testing of 5 million farmers is set to toe the same path. When Mr Sabo Nanono made that statement, I am sure his listeners would have applauded him and gave him reassuring confidence that he is on a right track. But he did not disclose how the ministry plan to do that. The Minister would have said that to feel good about himself and to show that the ministry he is heading is working. Apart from that being problematic, there are many things that would make the process difficult.

One, there is no existing database for farmers in the country. No one could tell the number of farmers in farmers the same way it was difficult to tell the number of primary school children the Federal Government said it would feed in their homes back in May. There is no file that contains the farmers name, age, sex, location and type of farming they practice either subsistence or mechanized. Without data, it is impossible to implement this type of plan no matter how magnanimous it seems to be for the farmers. Without data, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will be unable to reach 5 million farmers.

Two, how certain is the Mr Sabo Nanono that some of these farmers have not already been tested in their state? State government have encouraged people to go for testing. Thus, some of the farmers that the Federal Government intends to test could have gone for testing before today. After all, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, did not tell us the occupation of the people that have been tested since February when the index case was recorded. It is fallacious to conclude that there are no farmers among the hundreds of people that have been tested so far.

Three, although he didn’t say how much has been budgeted for this testing, there is no doubt that it will in nine digits. In Lagos State, testing is reported to be done between 40, 000 naira and 50, 000 naira. When Lagos Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi disclosed that, he said the state had so far spent about 800 million naira in carrying out 16, 000 Covid-19 tests. That was two months ago. The number of tests conducted has gone up since then and so has the money spent. If only ten thousand of those farmers are in Lagos State, it means 5 million naira would be spent for testing them. Now imagine testing 5 million farmers nationwide. The Federal Government would have to spend hundreds of millions.

What is more important in this discourse is the relevance of the testing to agriculture in Nigeria. If you ask me, I see no correlation between these and greater food production in the country. The best thing would have been to use the hundreds of millions that would go into the testing to improve agriculture in the country. For example, it could be used to buy fertilizers for the farmers to boost their farm yields, support mechanised farming or add it to the 600 million naira that has already been earmarked to enhance farmers’ access to agricultural financing in the country. Other than these, going ahead to carry out Covid-19 testing for 5 million farmers in the country would be a colossal waste of money and play no part in transforming the country’s agricultural sector.

As it is, the Ministry would go ahead with the testing. But they wouldn’t test up to a million farmers in the country before they stop. When this is done, billions of naira would have gone gulped. Thus, the proposed Covid-19 testing is an avenue for some people to have a share of the national cake. After all, that has been the game since the fight against Covid-19 started in the country. The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development and Sadiya Umar Farouq have spent their millions and they couldn’t account for it. The staffs of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and Mr Daniel Pondei have spent their own 1.32 billion on palliatives and they also couldn’t give a convincing report how that was so within three months. In fact, Mr Pondei fainted doing that. Now, it is the turn of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Mr Sabo Nanono to cash in on the precarious nature of Covid-19 in the country. Like those before them, they would also go unpunished after all was said and little was done. What a country!

By the time this Covid-19 period is over, a lot of money would have been spent unnecessarily and all of us would suffer for it. And when this proposed testing failed like many other initiatives of the government, nobody would be punished for it. It is worse enough that the current Federal Government has a predilection to spend money on initiatives that have nothing to do with social development. The great disservice that the government is doing to all us all is that nobody ever gets punished for these things. The implication of this is that it ridicules the Buhari-led administration that pride itself as an anti-corruption soldier. What we choose to spend money on would determine the level of greatness we would achieve as a country. Obviously, we are going in the wrong direction and the government still feel it is helping us whereas the reverse is the case. If we continue at this rate, we might likely loan the country one day because we have ran out of financial resources to run it. The government should help us all and refrain from spending millions of naira on initiatives that have no lasting solution to any of its country’s problem.

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