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RUGA: Agric Minister, Wastes N13bn on Phantom Contracts

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Why President Buhari Should Re-appoint Ogbeh In His Cabinet
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Nanono vows to trace missing funds

By Mathew Dadiya, Abuja 

Confusion and uneasy calm now pervades the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, following revelations that the N13 billion fund released by the Federal Government for the take-off of the now suspended and controversial RUGA scheme may have disappeared from the coffers of the Ministry.

Accusing fingers are, however, being pointed at the immediate past minister of agriculture and rural development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, a former permanent Secretary of the ministry and former director of livestock department, all of whom held sway at the Ministry at the time the fund was released.

Investigations by DAILY ASSET revealed that the N13 billion earmarked for the implementation of grazing settlements  pilot schemes in 12 states of the Federation mostly affected by the herders-farmers crisis was released in October 2018, to the Ministry.

A  source at the Ministry told DAILY ASSET  that the fund was approved by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, at the twilight of President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term.

Our source said that the Ministry based it’s request  on an existing  N200 billion earlier  approved by the National Economic Council during the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.

It was learnt that after  receiving the fund, the Ministry was said to have approved contracts for the RUGA settlement and payments were made to some of the contractors.

The contractors were, however, shocked to find out that land was not earmarked  in some of  the selected states for the pilot scheme of the RUGA settlements.

In Benue State for instance, Ogbeh was alleged to have sold his private lands to the scheme in the Benue South Senatorial District. The contractor was mobilised to site but did nothing other than erection of a  project sign post.

Ogbeh’s efforts to acquire additional lands and transfer to the scheme were said to have been met with stiff resistance from members of the community, who claimed the land in question belonged to a deceased person.

Investigations further revealed that the contracts were not  approved by the Federal Executive Council as required under the Public Procurement Act.

Opposition by the public to the RUGA policy, led to it’s suspension by the Federal government.

In spite of the suspension, the mobilisation paid to the contractors has yet to be refunded, just as the job has not been executed, our source maintained.

Investigations revealed that the entire Fund has disappeared from the coffers of the Ministry, raising fears that some highly placed officials at the helm of affairs at the Ministry may have made away with the money.

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry was said to have left on transfer to another Ministry and the Director of Livestocks resigned,  while the Minister also left the cabinet at the end of the first tenure of the Buhari administration. 

The new minister of agriculture and rural development, Mr Sabo Nanono told DAILY ASSET in an interview that he has no details about the  N13 billion because he was still receiving briefs from the ministry, assuring that he would find out how that money was spent.

Nanono said, “I have not even come to that. I am just barely two weeks in the ministry and I am still receiving briefings. So I don’t know anything about it.” 

When asked if he will investigate how the fund was spent, the minister said, “Yes, of course! I will get to the root of it.”

Ogbeh had in the last four years in office as minister of agriculture and rural development made several efforts at introducing programmes aimed at addressing the herders-farmers crisis such as Cattle Colony, Grazing Reserves, Ranches and the most controversial Ruga programme but none was successful.

Recall that President Buhari had in May 2019,  approved the RUGA programme barely a week to the end of his first term.

The then Minister of Agriculture, Ogbeh, despite explanations by the presidency that the Ruga was not meant for cattle herders, but other animals breeders could be settled in the RUGA settlements with provision of necessary and adequate basic amenities such as schools, hospitals, road networks, vet clinics, markets and manufacturing entities that will process and add value to meats and animal products, it was totally rejected.

Sokoto, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Kogi, Taraba, Katsina, Plateau, Kebbi, Zamfara and Niger states have indicated interest in developing the Ruga programme despite its suspension. 

Benue State had initially been listed as an interested pilot state, but Governor Samuel Ortom publicly denounced RUGA settlements after the Federal Government appeared to ignore its objections and tried to implement the plan in the state.

However, last week, the federal government came up with the  National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) which it explained was quite distinct from the RUGA scheme.

In response to the outrage caused by the RUGA settlements, Vice President Osinbajo, who chairs NEC, has publicly dismissed claims that the plan was associated the with NLTP.

“On the National Livestock Transformation Plan, 13 States are already in the process of implementation of a plan to transform the livestock production system in Nigeria along market-oriented value chain while ensuring an atmosphere of peace and justice. 

“The States are Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Kogi, Kwara, Ondo, and Edo.”

NLTP is a N100 billion initiative that champions ranching as the way forward for cattle rearing in the country.

The plan, presented by the National Economic Council (NEC) in June 2018, recommends that cattle herders are expected to be registered with cooperatives for the purpose of the ranching scheme.

The funding of the plan from the federal government and state governments is expected to last for the first three years in the pilot phase for a total of N70 billion, while private sector interests and investments between the third and tenth year is expected to be in excess of N100 billion.

Meanwhile, DAILY ASSET has noted that the Federal Government has allocated  N3.2bn in the 2019 budget for the development of national grazing reserves, promotion and development of beef production as well as other livestock programmes.

The amount is contained in the 2019 budget, which was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on May 28.

Specifically, the amount is contained in the  budget of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. A breakdown of the amount showed that  N2.4bn was specifically allocated to the development of national grazing reserves.

The federal ministry of agriculture 2019 budget also indicated that budget showed that  N212 million

was allocated to the promotion and development of beef production.

Also, a provision of N380m was made for motorised boreholes in Kano grazing reserves by the Federal Government.

Another N139 million was allocated for training of youths in the installation and maintenance of solar-powered street lights to livestock and other farms while N60 million was budgeted as agricultural grants for women and youths in  livestock farming.

About N8.5 million was proposed for the development of pastures in grazing reserves in the 2019 fiscal period.

Agriculture

Epe LG Empowers 200 Farmers to Boost Food Production

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Ms Surah Animashaun, the Chairperson, Epe Local Government, has empowered 200 farmers with cash and other agricultural inputs to boost food production in the area.

Animashaun distributed the agricultural inputs to the beneficiaries at the council secretariat in Epe on Thursday in Lagos.

She said the initiative was aimed at supporting farmers in order to boost food production in the various communities of the council.

Animashaun said the farmers who benefitted from the gesture are expected to be considerate in their price fixing after harvest to ensure the affordability of food for all Nigerians.

“With the economic situation now and the support being giving to you, farmers should be reasonable in fixing prices after harvest to ensure that ordinary Nigerians source food at a more convenient price nationwide.

“We are here to give you support for your farming activities today, we expect that you reciprocate tomorrow by selling at a more affordable price to the people tomorrow,’’ she said.

Animashaun explained that each of the benefiting farmers received N50,000 and essential grains such as maize and sorghum.

She said the council would continue to support the farmers for them to be strong in farming activities.

Animashaun also used the medium to highlight her administration’s ongoing efforts in the extension of palliatives to other sectors of the economy.

She urged the communities in the area to maintain harmony, love, hospitality, and compassion, particularly in the face of the present economic challenges.

Also speaking, Mr Sikiru Owolomoshe, the Vice Chairman of the council, urged the farmers to take advantage of the gesture to improve their activities in order to encourage others.

Mr Olayinka Kazeem, the Secretary of Epe Farmers and a beneficiary, expressed gratitude to the council chairperson and her management.

“This is the first time we are witnessing this kind of programme and it is coming at a critical period when many states are facing food shortage,’’ he said.

He assured that the beneficiaries would do their best to ensure the objective was achieved.

Mr Ahmed Surakat, the Public Relations Officer of Lagos State Fishermen Cooperative Association, and Mrs Kafilat Animashahun beneficiaries, extended their gratitude to the council chairman for her unwavering support to farmers.

Earlier, the President of the Epe Farmers Union, Mrs Aminat Shabi, lauded Animashaun for the comprehensive support to other agricultural value chain such as fish farmers and livestock producers.(NAN)

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Agriculture

Food Security Achievable Through RAAMP, Says National Coordinator 

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By Tony Obiechina, Abuja 

The Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Project (RAAMP) has been described as an appropriate and very effective means of realising food sufficiency and security across the country.

The National Coordinator of RAAMP, Engr Aminu Bodinga Mohammed who made the assertion  during the 7th Joint World Bank and French Development Agency Implementation Support Mission of RAAMP at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, pointing out that most urban centers derive their supply of food from farms, which are located at the rural communities.

His words: “the primary objective of RAAMP is to improve rural roads and trading infrastructure through to boost food production.

Therefore the successful implementation of this project could go a long way towards guaranteeing food sufficiency and security across the country”.

He solicited for concerted efforts by all stakeholders to ensure an all-round success of the project.

Aminu noted that the mission was to evaluate the current implementation status, milestones as well as challenges faced by the 19  states participating in the project and announced that arrangements had reached an advanced stage for the commencement of civil works on agro-logistics centers (ALCs) latest by September, 2024 with 23 major contracts that would be awarded across the states.

ALCs refer to market hubs that have been prioritised for transformation to ultra-modern standards at various locations across the country , notably in rural communities to empower and enhance the livelihoods of the people.

Also speaking, the Task Team Leader of the World Bank,  Mr. Rakeesh Tripathi hinted that a scale-up was being mooted for the project but emphasized that only states which must have  established and operationalised the Rural Access Road Agency (RARA) and State Road Fund (SRF), backed up with the required standing on counterpart funds would be eligible to access the scale-up funds. 

He therefore advised all states to take advantage of the mission and get the needed support to tackle every challenge facing their State Project Implementation Unit (SPIU), adding that all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory would be encouraged to embrace the scale-up project.

Highpoints of the exercise were presentations by the State Project Coordinators of the respective participating states, question and answer sessions, comments and observations, among other inputs by the stakeholders.

The Task Team Leader of the French Development Agency, AFD; Consultants from the World Bank; the Federal Project Management Unit, FPMU as well as State Project Implementation Units, SPIUs of RAAMP also attended the mission.

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Agriculture

NCP Approves Repositioning of Agriculture Bank

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By Tony Obiechina, Abuja 

The National Council on Privatisation (NCP) has given its nod to the recommendations aimed at repositioning the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) to ensure food security for Nigerians.

Chaired by the Vice President, Sen. Kashim Shettima, the NCP approved the recommendations from the committee on BOA during its second meeting of 2024 held on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, at the Presidential Villa Abuja.

In his address at the meeting, the Vice President emphasized the importance of optimizing BOA as part of the administration’s agenda to provide food security for the nation.

He urged the committee to engage professionals with integrity to manage the process effectively.

Presenting the committee’s report, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mr. Wale Edun, who is also the Vice-chairman of the NCP, highlighted the decision to reposition BOA for efficiency and effectiveness. He expressed confidence that the recommendations would guide the Council in revitalizing the Bank of Agriculture and positioning it globally.

One of the Key recommendations includes upgrading the Bank’s ICT infrastructure to automate processes and ensure accountability.

Recall that in 2023, an 8-member inter-ministerial team was set up by the NCP to review the state of affairs at BOA, given its critical role in agriculture and the administration’s commitment to food security. 

Additionally, in 2016, the NCP approved collaboration between the Bureau of Public Enterprises and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, along with the Federal Ministry of Finance, to restructure and recapitalize BOA.

According to a statement by BPE Head of Public Communications, Amina Tukur Othman on Friday, the BOA, formerly known as Nigeria Agricultural Cooperative and Rural Development Bank, waa established in 1992. 

It is owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), with the Ministry of Finance Incorporated (MOFI) holding 60% and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) holding 40%. The Bank is supervised by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (FMAFS).

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