RECENTLY, the Federal Government shocked Nigerians when it announced the setting up a N13.9 billion Pest Control Fund under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The fund was approved by the Federal Executive Council ostensibly to address the control of migratory pests, trans-boundary animal diseases and upgrade of abattoirs. The Agric Minister, Sabo Nanono, announced the approval during the launching of the 2020 Dry Season Control of Trans-boundary or Migratory Pests on June 12 in Kebbi State. Giving a breakdown of the planned expenditure, the Director, Department of Veterinary and Pest Control Services in the ministry, Alabi Olaniran, explained that out of the N13.9 billion announced by the minister, N2.8 billion was for migratory pest control, N9.6 billion for the control of animal and zoonotic diseases, and N1.4 billion for the rehabilitation and upgrade of abattoirs. The N2.8 billion meant for the control of migratory pests, he said, would be disbursed to 12 frontline states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Borno, Yobe, Taraba, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi and Zamfara, adding that the states were chosen because they were likely entry points for migratory pests from other countries.
According to the director, no state in the South was chosen because “we are bounded to the South by the sea or ocean, so nothing comes in from there.’’ As he noted, however, the N9.6 billion earmarked for the control of animal and zoonotic diseases and the N1.4 billion meant for the rehabilitation and upgrading of abattoirs would be disbursed to all states. Apparently anticipating a backlash, the director offered the following alibi: “You know that Nigeria is endowed with very large livestock resources and presently, diseases are affecting the production level of our animals. So, this is the first time, really, that the government is providing intervention for the control of animal diseases. The other intervention is to upgrade abattoirs across the states. You will notice that most of the abattoirs in most states— if you have taken your time to visit some of these abattoirs, they are in very deplorable states. We are trying to see if we can develop a model.”
In serious climes, no government would dare to make this kind of announcement. It is shocking that at a time when the country is heavily cash-strapped as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the government could be frittering away billions of naira under the pretext of fighting migratory pests and renovating slaughterhouses! It seems sufficiently clear that having apparently got away with serial oddities, including spending billions of naira on feeding school children who are not in school, the Muhammadu Buhari administration believes that it can get away with just about anything. To the best of our knowledge, no government, at least since the return to civil rule in 1999, has had the audacity to treat Nigerians in this patently uncivil and derogatory manner.
Pray, just how do you carry out pest control in areas ravaged by insecurity? Is the Federal Government saying that in between the exchange of gunfire by the military and Boko Haram terrorists and bandits in the affected states, it would also be fighting migratory pests? Is there a pest epidemic? And, even more importantly, where are the farmers? It is an open secret that in the states listed by the Federal Government, bandits and terrorists have made farming activities an extremely risky exercise, forcing thousands of farmers out of their homesteads and villages. We say without any fear of contradiction that most farmers cannot even go to farm in the affected states. Instructively, farmers’ associations have condemned the move.
But if the migratory pests project can somehow be rationalised, just how do you explain the promise to renovate abattoirs in states in order to teach them how to build model ones? This, we believe, is just a fairy tale. Pray, when did the states request for model abattoirs? Nigeria is a federation and, as the Federal Government itself acknowledged, building or renovating abattoirs is really meant “for the state governments and local governments.” If so, what is so urgent about abattoirs at this time that the Federal Government wishes to expend scarce public funds on them? To say the least, this is unfortunate, especially given the crying financial needs of different sectors.
In any case, going by the statement of the director, the government is not even sure about its intentions. His words:“We are just trying to see if we can build model standard abattoirs in the states so that the states can see and replicate. So that the meat that comes out of these abattoirs are really fit for human consumption.” Interesting. So this is all about experimentation? If the Federal Government’s statement is anything to go by, the meat being consumed daily across the 36 states of the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is unfit for human consumption, and so it wants Nigerians to consume better and safer meat. But this is not within the purview of its constitutional responsibilities. So why not leave well enough alone?
Given the litany of contradictions surrounding the project, we cannot endorse the N13.9 billion Pest Control Fund. We find its justification suspect and the initial approval unconscionable. This seems to be nothing more than mere excuses to play ping pong with public funds.
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