By Peter Duru, Makurdi
The National Association of Nigerian Traders, NANTS, has embarked on the sensitization of Benue traders and farmers on the need to vote the right candidates and also safeguard their votes in the forthcoming 2019 general elections.
The leadership of the organization led by its President, Barr. Ken Ukaoha who in company of traders and farmers, some carrying placards which read, “our votes are in our pockets”, it is now our turn through the PVC”, “our vote is our power, don’t sell it”, undertook advocacy visits in a motorcade through major streets and markets in the state capital.
Ukaoha and his team used the occasion to also distribute to the Benue traders and farmers two key instruments from the association including the ‘Farmers Manifesto and The Traders Charter of Demands’ from politicians which was recently presented to the public in Abuja.
Addressing the gatherings Ukaoha said “It is important to note that today’s event is a collective and proactive attempt at reactivating good governance by rekindling competition among political actors for the benefit of the masses.
“As the 2019 general elections approach, we cannot but recall that there have been too many promises, and several disappointments from politicians who promise to build heaven on our earth just to attract our votes and quickly change their phone numbers as soon as they are voted into office.
“It is now abundantly clear to us through our survey that the traders and farmers constitute over 75 percent of the real electorates, making the constituencies the largest voting population in Nigeria.
“While the elites of the society are always stock before their Television sets or reading newspapers on every election day waiting for the declaration of results, it is the poor traders and farmers who always queue under the rain or sunshine to register for Voters Card or to vote.
“These are the same constituents whose children cannot afford three square meals per day. These are the same constituents whose children cannot afford good schools since the politicians have almost destroyed what is left of public schools and sent their own children abroad to study.
“These are the same constituents who have watched helplessly as the politicians have used public money to build private schools that even the brightest of traders and farmers children cannot access due to exorbitant costs.
“These are the same constituents whose children are strategically made to wallow in illiteracy and ignorance only to be used to perpetuate or face the horrible scotches of electoral violence; yes, the children of traders and farmers are good enough to die while children of politicians are studying abroad.
“We are gradually coming back to our senses to ask, why have the promises not been fulfilled. Promises of 24-hour power supply to help the optimal performance of our businesses, yet we are getting blind with the fumes of carbon monoxide from generators while our ear drums are blocking with the noise of generators since 1999.
“Promises of free education at all levels, yet the schools are almost oscillating from one strike action to the other destabilizing the academic calendar and education of our wards.
“Promises of good roads, yet we cannot bring our harvested products from farm-gate to the markets. Promises of good health, yet our hospitals have literarily turned to death zones where human beings are at the mercies of Doctors and Nurses who also run their private hospitals while no drugs are found on the shelves of public hospitals’ pharmacies.
“Promises of transportation system that works while mass transport vehicles are packed in various places depreciating and unrepaired and commuters trek under the rain and sunshine as if they are practicing for Olympic Games on daily basis.
“Promises, promises and promises from politicians without a clear ideology and Manifesto; politicians whose stock in trade is to decamp and move from one party to another all in the selfish bid to service their own stomach and leave us unattended and to continuously wallow in the cold.
“Interestingly, we have come to take solace in the wise proverb of ‘Eneke the bird’ in Chinua Achebe’s writing, that since men have learnt to shoot without missing, we have also learnt to fly without perching.
“We have finally realized that power belongs to the people, and we are indeed the people. We have therefore come together through a painstaking and concerted process to develop for ourselves two strong negotiating Instruments ‘the Farmers Manifesto and the Traders Charter of Demands.
“Let me therefore announce to you all that the era of vote buying is closing up. Our eyes are Open, we would no longer sell our votes and future for N10,000 for politicians to enjoy our collective wealth for four years while we lavish in penury and poverty.
“We are tired of bags of rice, salt and wrapper in exchange for our future and the future of our children. With our PVCS in one hands and our instruments on the other hand, it is now time for politicians to make commitments and sign for us on what they will deliver within their four years tenure and we shall vote and hold them accountable to their signature.
“No more bogus promises. Commit and sign, and be voted. Redeem your promise and be voted for another term. This is the game!
“Let me reiterate that we have realized that in the era of such bogus, and empty promises that do not have written commitments make it impossible for citizens to hold political parties and their candidates accountable to implementing parties’ Manifestos.
“Therefore, as agents of change, we have articulated our challenges, our needs, interests and priorities into demands that are in these instruments I presenting to you today. It is the signature of commitment of every politician that canvasses and needs our votes that would turn the table to their favour.
“For emphasis, the launch of the Farmers Manifesto and the Traders Charter of Demands presents campaign opportunity for political flag bearers and candidates to meet with grassroots farmers’ leaders and traders to commit their signature to guarantee securing their votes.
“Let us make it clear that the essence of this process is not to support any particular candidate or give preference to any but to secure our demands and make political gladiators more responsive and accountable to us the electorates.
“Permit me to repeat that this concept is designed to effectively practicalize the foundation of democracy and bring effect to the meaning that ‘power belongs to the people‘.
“Nigerians deserve good governance, economic growth and sustainable development. All these cannot be achieved and good governance cannot be supplied by politicians without adequate demand from the people.
“‘Food on the table’ and not handout with empty promises is one essential and in fact fundamental, basic requirement of the average Nigerian citizen.
“Therefore, the protection and enablement of the means of livelihoods for farmer and traders is jealously guarded without compromise. This is exactly what we have come to secure for our members, the Nigerian citizens and the economic future of our nation. We are not asking for so much, neither are we being selfish.
“For instance, for the traders we are only specifically asking for: Immediate design and provision of a coherent, predictable and inward-looking trade policy to help in the smooth running of the economy.
“Investigation of all illegal seizure of traders goods by agencies of government in line with commitment to the fight against corruption.
“Capacity building targeted at the traders to meet up with the demands of the 21st century trading environment.
“Harmonization of taxes and charges meted on traders to curb multiple taxation and economic distortions.
“Policy space for the inclusion of traders and their needs/interests at all levels and tiers of government.
“Membership of Boards of trade-related Agencies and parastatals. Transparency in the allocation of shops and stalls in the markets. Proper reallocation to traders in cases of lawful demolition of markets or shops.
“Adequate security and insurance of markets as a buffer in cases of fire incidents and other natural disasters.
“Transparency in the disbursement of SMEs related loans and funding mechanisms.
“Adequate and improvement in trade/market infrastructure and facilities in our markets- construction of roads, water, electricity, sanitation, etc.
“Engagement in export trade to dynamize export orientation for made in Nigeria products.
“Protection of domestic retail markets. Involvement of traders in the management of markets across the country.”
Continuing, he said, “gor the farmers, we only ask for: Increase in budgetary allocation to agriculture.Dedication of at least 60 percent of agriculture funding to the small-scale farmers (SSFS).
“Creating policy space for the involvement of SSFs, especially the marginalized groups particularly, women should be given special consideration in any new agriculture policy and sustainable economic development and investment plans; given the central role of women in agricultural production in most African countries in general, and in Nigeria in particular.
“Institutionalizing actions that make SSFs benefit from all social capital schemes of government.
“Establishment of Small Scale Agric development Agency to carter for the needs of farmers.
“Revitalization of Agric extension service. Sustainability of intervention schemes/initiatives such as the GESS and ABS. Guaranteed access to land for farmers through the review of the Land Use Act. Blueprint and action plan for the support of SSFs.
“Roadmap for the resolution of herdsmen-farmers crises. Improvement in rural agric infrastructure. Reduction of the importation of foreign foods so as to allow for market access for our domestic produce.
“Creation of a functional one-stop input centers for farmers. Establishment of staple crops processing zones. Addressing the problem of insecurity scaring and inhibiting farmers from entering their farms.
“You can all agree with me that we have asked for an extra-ordinary. Our demands are very selfless, cheap and doable. Moreover, these demands look towards the overall best interest of our collective desire to pull our nation out of the doldrums of poverty and unemployment. We therefore call on all well-meaning Nigerians to support our call and the political class to redirect their vision with clean signatures of commitment to move Nigeria forward in the right direction.
“The view of the farmers and traders is that they have been continuously short-changed over the years by politicians who only remember them when their votes are needed. For emphasis, the idea behind the documents is to highlight the needs of the traders and farmers, for the endorsement of the political class and candidates of various political parties that may seek their votes.
“The two documents are veritable tools for advocacy for inclusion in policy and programmes targeted at agriculture and trade sectors in order to sustain livelihoods and improve the economic status of the electorates.
“With this, we have provided our members with the opportunity to meet with representatives of political parties and for such parties and individuals to publicize their campaign messages to the farmers and the traders, and essentially, sign on to endorse or make commitments to addressing the issues articulated in the documents,
“Let me conclude by commending the present administration for laying the platform for peaceful elections, and continue to request politicians to give peace a chance and maintain issue-based politicking void of distractive and offensive languages.
“We raise our thumbs us for lNEC, and ask the umpire not to relent in her quest to give Nigeria a free and fair election into various offices come 2019. We also call on the media to remain advocates of these demand instruments and continue to canvass for economic emancipation of our dear country.”
In her speech, the Coordinator, Small Scale Farmers Network in Benue state, Mrs. Janet Adejo, said, “today, we the Small Scale Farmers in Nigeria, Benue state represented, decided to carry out the rally to sensitize our farmers and traders because we are the people who stay in the sun to cast votes and after which we are discarded.
“Our able President from NANTS came and presented our manifesto to us all which is happening all over Nigeria and not in Benue state alone because we are carrying out the rally across the country.
“We are sensitizing the farmers and traders on the need that they should not sell their votes but vote for the right candidates that would protect their interests.
“What we are talking about is that if they are given money to vote for a particular candidate who will spend four years in office and after that would not take care of your needs as a people we must reject it.
“Today we have presented our manifesto to our people which we are presenting to the political class to secure the assurances that the interest of the farmers and traders will be adequately protected by the political office seekers in the country.”