By Israel Ohia
The Federal Government Agricultural Growth Enhancement Support Scheme, GES, is at the moment allegedly enmeshed in massive fraud.
In a petition signed by one Abubakar Madugu on behalf of ‘Be The Change Organization’, it said “Cellulant Nigeria Limited is a Mobile Money company contracted by the federal ministry of agriculture and rural development to disburse farm inputs/implements to registered farmers across the country in line with the subsidy regime on agriculture of the federal government via the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES).”
The petition which was addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, said; “Cellulant is supposed to liaise with the selected agro-dealers nationwide to make the products available for distribution to farmers but Cellulant through one Mr. Gbenga Owolabi with phone number: 08099307222 who is the head of Cellulant Abuja office connive with some officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and collect a bribe of #65,000 from each of the selected agro-dealers and any agro-dealer who refuses to pay the said amount is delisted from the selected agro-dealers list.
It is pertinent to know that most of the federal and state Directors of Ministry of Agriculture are owners of most of the agro-dealers which makes it easier for the fraud to be perpetrated without any hindrance. Most of the agro-dealers are meant to pay the #65,000 to a bank account provided by Mr. Gbenga Owolabi, the head of Cellulant office in Abuja.”
The petition dated “6th February, 2017 reads in parts: “The agro-dealers mostly also increase/inflate figures of inputs given to farmers in order to recoup back their monies which they used in paying bribes to Cellulant and Federal Ministry of Agriculture and State Ministry of Agriculture officials. The inflated input figures are recorded by the agro-dealers and submitted to Cellulant and Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Federal Government end up paying for the inflated input figures.
Most of the Directors of Fertilizer Input Supply Department of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Abuja and also state Directors of Fertilizer Input Supply Department of State Ministries of Agriculture are involved in the fraud.”
The petition titled PETITION FOR THE INVESTIGATION OF MASSIVE FRAUD IN THE GROWTH ENHANCEMENT SUPPORT SCHEME (GES) OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT INVOLVING FEDERAL MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT AND CELLULANT NIGERIA LIMITED further stated that the; “The agro-dealers mostly also increase/inflate figures of inputs given to farmers in order to recoup back their monies which they used in paying bribes to Cellulant and Federal Ministry of Agriculture and State Ministry of Agriculture officials. The inflated input figures are recorded by the agro-dealers and submitted to Cellulant and Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Federal Government end up paying for the inflated input figures.
“Most of the Directors of Fertilizer Input Supply Department of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Abuja and also state Directors of Fertilizer Input Supply Department of State Ministry of Agriculture are involved in the fraud.”
More so, the petition went further to state that; “There is also a case of validation card/farmer ID which is to be given to farmers free of charge but Cellulant in connivance with the agro-dealers and some staff of Federal Ministry of Agriculture and state ministries of Agriculture charge #200 for the cards.
In fact, they usually charge #100 for the cards and later on increased the fee to #200 and no evidence of payment of such monies is given to the farmers. Protesting such injustice/fraud amounts to denial of inputs as the protesting farmer details will not be checked/entered talk more of allowing the said farmer to collect his/her inputs. Even fresh registration is not free as every farmer who wants to register at the redemption center is meant to pay #200 for the validation card/farmer ID if not he won’t be registered. So it is a case of you must pay #200 for the card which is meant to be free either to register or collect your inputs or nothing for you.
“Some of the agro-dealers culpable are AT&S, Hulhude and HaskenNoma. Hulhude covers Niger state, FCT, Kaduna and some northern states while HaskenNoma covers Kano state and some northern states too and then AT&S covers Benue state. Even the agro-dealers who initially declined later on had to co-operate in order not to be de-listed and denied the contract of supplying inputs to the farmers due to the threat from Mr. GbengaOwolabi of Cellulant Nigeria Limited Abuja office. This can be verified by the agro-dealers association of Nigeria.
It is pertinent to note that Cellulant Nigeria Limited has been under investigation by EFCC for some level of fraud perpetrated under Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES) during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan so it is highly surprising and disappointing that the same Cellulant was awarded the contract to carry out the same assignment again by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.”
In the same petition, a farmer from Niger State narrated below his experience, in a letter he sent to President MuhammaduBuhari he said; “It is evident from the pictures I saw that you are having a wonderful vacation. I hope you read this in good health.
“I want to sincerely appreciate your effort in trying to lead Nigeria to food sufficiency. This I know sir, because I was part of those that applied for the CBN anchor borrowers program. I wasn’t a beneficiary but I saw how many benefited. I am also aware that under your government, farming is becoming a profitable venture. It is no longer an occupation for the villagers. This has become evident in the sense that people are already struggling to acquire pieces of land for farming. I was privileged to become a registered farmer under your administration.
“Last year, I got registered under the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES) of the Federal Government. I thought it was one of those dubious programs of the government as it used to be with previous administrations and as such i never took it seriously. I didn’t know what it was even called then and had forgotten about it when on 6th January 2017; I received a message informing me that I have entered the register for wet season farming under GES.
I was further informed that with the sum of #17,750, I was to be given 1x bag of NPK(50kg), 1x bag urea (50kg), 1x bag maize seedling (20kg), 1x bag organic fertilizer (50kg), 2x insecticides (2 litres), 2x herbicides (2 litres), 2x micronutrients (2 litres). I was surprised that somehow, what I thought earlier was not the case.
Your Excellency sir, I went to the redemption center on the 24th January, 2017, to claim my items and discovered that the Nigerian corruption agenda is very much alive and well.”
The petition read thus; “Baba Sir, Nigerians are so much into the business of corruption that no matter the effort to fight it or stop it, they will always find a way.
“I discovered Baba that we had to buy a validation card for #200 before we could claim our items. I later came to understand that the card was supposed to be free. But like I have said, corruption must always find its way.
“Baba Sir, it didn’t stop there O. Instead of the #17,750 I was told in the SMS, I was told I was to pay #19,000 as against the #17,750. As an ordinary Nigerian that had no voice, I gave the said amount of #19,000 with no receipt issued. There was also no receipt issued for the #200 they collected for the validation card/farmer ID.
“As if that wasn’t enough, the items were incomplete. The herbicides went missing and so did the insecticides.
“Although, I was given rice seedling (which I actually preferred) in place of maize and an additional NPK in place of the unavailable organic fertilizer, when I got home Baba, I discovered that one of the micronutrients had expired on 27th January, 2017.
“I am writing this with the hope that the social media carries it to you. Baba, the Nigerian thief never gets tired. Baba, if this gets to you, I am hoping you will ask questions.
“Who does the extra #1,250 go to? Who does the #200 go to? What happened to the herbicides and insecticides? Who supplied the expired micronutrients?”
Writing further he said; “I was made to pay more and got even less than what you gave me. I know it is not your fault, but Sir, if par-chance you hear or read this, let the perpetrators be dealt with. Your sincerity has spoken for you and is still speaking for you Baba. I know you love us and will never ever allow us to be cheated even abroad talk more of in our dear country Nigeria. And, it is with that conviction that I write this letter hoping that it will get to you Baba.
“I have attached some pictures to substantiate my complaints and which will also serve as evidence. Even pictures of the Officers at the redemption center in Niger state during the period are hereby attached.”
“In fact, on Tuesday 31st January, 2017, unregistered farmers were waiting to register and registered farmers (my brother inclusive) also waited to collect their inputs but they didn’t show up only for those present to be told that they went for sensitization and will resume distribution the next day but they were nowhere to be found throughout that week and I tend to ask; are the remaining farmers’ inputs developing wings since they are not available to distribute the inputs?
“Once again Baba, I wish to thank you for the support your government is giving to farmers. I look forward to seeing you back stronger than you left us. Ameen”
The petitioner continuing his write up and said, “Sir, it is pertinent that I bring to your notice that Cellulant Nigeria Limited was sometimes placed on investigation by EFCC on fraud which has to do with the same Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES) during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan whereby registered farmers’ numbers were inflated and inputs diverted and end up not reaching farmers.
“So sir, I make bold to say that Cellulant Nigeria Limited is not worthy to have been re-awarded such contract by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development even though I learnt that the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in person of Chief Audu Ogbe OFR was never aware of such as all the information on past fraud by Cellulant Nigeria Limited was shrouded in secrecy and hidden from him by most of the beneficiary staff of the Ministry hence the reason why he renewed their contract.
“Sir, with the above narrative, I wish to bring to your notice the fraud happening in the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES) involving Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in collaboration with Cellulant Nigeria Limited and the selected agro-dealers and it cuts across board as it is happening across all the states of the Federation.”
Meanwhile in related development, the Federal Government of Nigeria has been called upon to prevail on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to remove middlemen in her Anchor Borrowers Loan Programme to farmers just as middlemen are impediments to the renewed determination of government to empower farmers for improved productivity as well as attainment of food sufficiency and security in the country.
The call was made by Mr. John Ihesinaulo, President, United Ufuoma Fish Farmers
Association, Ekpan, Uvwie Local Government Area, Delta State while speaking with the Urhobo Voice, he disclosed that the activities of middlemen in the Anchor Borrowers Loan was disservice to farmers as it does them no good.
Mr. Ihesinaulo further disclosed that no matter how good agricultural policy or intentions of government may be, the realization of the policy may be far from realization as the engagement of agents/middlemen who now demand huge sums of money before farmers could benefit is frustrating good intentions of the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to Mr. Ihesinaulo, “Federal Government has taken the right step by asking people to go into farming as it would help in food sufficiency drive of government. But government should take a step further to empower existing farmers. Paper policy will not take us anywhere but going down the grassroots to identify existing farmers for empowerment, to me is the best thing that will yield the desired result. We are aware of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Anchor Borrowers Loan but we are being frustrated out of the programme by middlemen who demand for huge sums of money all in the name of trying to help us secure the loan. Of what essence is the loan if it is out of the reach of those it is meant to serve. Contractors are asking for too much from us. You can’t give individual money and ask the group to pay collectively.”
He added, “having said that, I want to use this medium to call on the federal government to prevail on Central Bank of Nigeria to jettison the idea of middlemen as they are doing more harm than good.
“Government is empowering contractors not farmers. Contractors are asking for too much. I must tell you that the programme is not feasible. It will be more favourable to government if they pass through the cooperatives and deal directly with them.”
The President of Ufuoma Fish Farmers Association, a model in the sub West African region with over 600 farmers operating in a cluster in Ekpan, Uvwie Local Government Area of Delta State said that his association is capable of meeting 70% of protein needs of Deltans if given the desired support.
He noted that farming creates employment for teeming unemployed Nigerians thereby depopulating the already saturated labour market just as he advised Nigerians who are still waiting for unavailable white collar jobs to have a rethink and capitalize on government’s call to go into agriculture.
Mr. Ihesinaulo then called on the state governments to compliment what the federal government is currently doing to support agriculture, he appealed to governments at all levels to back their policies with action as Nigeria has the best policies on paper but poor implementation.
He expressed gratitude to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State for mediating in the crisis between his association and Ekpan youths, assuring that they will do everything possible to keep their own side of the memorandum of understanding entered recently with the host community.