Misplaced priority – The Nation

  • Agric ministry has no business building mosque for people displaced by Boko Haram

It is not surprising that a large number of Nigerians have expressed shock at the revelation that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has approved the sum of N30 million for the construction of a mosque in Borno State. When the memo containing the terms of the contract award was leaked and published in the media, hundreds of Nigerians took to the social media in particular to express their fierce opposition to what was seen as a misplaced priority and gross misapplication of resources. The contract, which has been reportedly approved by the Ministerial Tenders Board, was awarded to El-Shukur Multi-Buz Nigeria Ltd. A statement by the ministry’s directorate of information trying to clarify the issue only drew more flak from infuriated Nigerians.

According to the ministry, the award of the contract was informed by the need to build a worship centre for livestock farmers who were displaced by Boko Haram insurgents but have now been resettled in Ngaranam/Mata Local Government Area of Borno State. In its words, “The construction of the mosque was a special request from the community through the Borno State government to avoid moving too far from the settlement area for prayers and also to ensure their safety and minimize their contact with the insurgents”. The ministry stressed further that “Apart from the mosque, other common facilities provided for the livestock farmers include solar-powered boreholes with overhead tanks and drinking troughs for their cattle and small ruminants, water harvesting structures, milk collection centre, resettlement abode as well as other infrastructure to properly settle and rehabilitate the displaced livestock farmers”.

We find inexplicable the kind of arbitrariness and manifest unfairness that characterised the ministry’s decision in this regard. For one, there are thousands of displaced persons located in scores of Internally Displaced Persons’ Camps (IDPs), particularly in the epicenters of terrorism, kidnapping, banditry and herdsmen/farmers clashes in the north. How then did the ministry arrive at the decision to single out one community for the construction of a worship centre and the provision of other infrastructural facilities? Again, is the construction of a worship centre not beyond the functional jurisdiction of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development?

Although some may see the N30 million involved in this contract award as not amounting to a substantial amount, after all, such a view cannot be justified given the dire economic straits in which the country finds itself at this time. Within the context of the alarm raised by economic experts at the steadily growing rate of Nigeria’s borrowing and indebtedness under the current administration, it is disheartening that a ministry would award and seek to justify the expenditure of even a kobo on a mosque project that does not fall within its sphere of responsibility.

This, of course, raises fresh questions about the incongruities in our federal practice in Nigeria. This contract award creates the impression that there is too much money in the kitty of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and it does not know what to do with it. Yet, this is a country where the vast majority of our peasant farmers continue to utilise outdated techniques and implements, thus needing substantially more investment to raise their productivity.

Indeed, many are wont to ask what a Federal Ministry of Agriculture exists for when the Federal Government has no land for farming. In the same vein, for instance, we have a burdensome Federal Ministry of Housing when the Federal Government has to go through the state governments to obtain land for the construction of houses.

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s misplaced priority in this instance suggests that there is too much money at the centre, thus reinforcing the justification of calls for the devolution of greater powers, responsibilities and resources to the sub-national units of government. We call on the ministry to rescind this decision urgently, cancel the contract award and divert the money to more useful and productive purposes that fall within its area of competence.

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