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RUGA: Agric Minister, Wastes N13bn on Phantom Contracts

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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

Nigeria will Soon Witness Food Sufficiency, Price Reduction – NACGRAB

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The National Centre For Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), says Nigeria will soon witness sufficiency and price reduction in food commodities.

The NACGRAB Acting Director, Dr Anthony Okere, stated this at the end of a 2023 Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting on Seed For Resilience (SFR) organised by NACGRAB in collaboration with Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust) in Ibadan.

He said SFR came into existence in 2021 to improve the efficiency of NACGRAB genebank and enhance the use of conserved genepool by farmers and other users of genetic resources in Nigeria.

Okere said the project had exposed the diversity of sorghum, cowpea and other crops to farmers and other users in Nigeria in order to mitigate the effects of climate change and boost farmers’ productivity and ensure food and nutrition security in Nigeria.

He said that the project was successful, based on feedbacks from farmers and other users that the good quality seeds planted this season yielded well in multiples, compared to year 2022.

“Farmers now feeling free to come to NACGRAB genebank to demand more diversity of materials that could help them to get higher production which in turn would lead to food sufficiency and price reduction in Nigeria soon.

“There are availability of quality seeds in NACGRAB genebank that farmers can plant and generate good yield due to success of this project.

” Various farmers can now dwell in more crops instead of one or two crops; this project has made it possible for farmers to plant diversity of quality seeds and generate good yields which in turn will lead to food and nutrition security in Nigeria,” Okere said.

Dr Olabisi Alamu, the Activity Team Leader, User engagement of the project, said that NACGRAB and other stakeholders had been engaging with farmers about the project in the past three years.

Alamu said that farmers in Oyo, Niger and Kano states had been exposed to diversity of seeds of cowpea, sorghum accessions and other seeds conserved in the genebank.

He said that most farmers now had access to the seeds and were now using them to enhance production, increase their yields and income generation.

” In all the three states, we have 49 cluster groups; the Seed for Resilience (SFR) project has impacted over 1,000 farmers over the past three years.

“Some of them have been adopting it as a result of good quality, traits, early maturity varieties, high yields among others,” Alamu said.

The team leader said that some of the farmers had also multiplied the seeds they selected in year 2023 and as well disseminated it to other farmers, to enhance the use of the materials in the genebank.

The Oyo State Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr Abass Adewumi, said the project had exposed them to a lot of things they needed to know and apply on their farms for crops to germinate well.

Adewumi said that the research project had also exposed them to know suitable seeds for planting in certain environment which could give better yields, to maximise profit and shun the old ways of planting seeds. (NAN)

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Agriculture

ActionAid Frowns at Allocation of N1bn for Purchase of Agricultural Fund’s Office Building 

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ActionAid Nigeria (AAN) has raised concern over the allocation of N1. 2 billion for the purchase of office building for the National Agricultural Development Fund (NADF) operation in the proposed 2024 national agricultural budget.

The organisation also frowned at the allocation of N70 million for the purchase of office furniture, partitioning and fittings in the capital budget after the provision of budget line of N27.

5 million for office rent and maintenance of office building.

Mr Azubike Nwokoye, Programme Manager, Food and Agriculture AAN, said this while speaking with newsmen on Wednesday in Abuja.

Nwokoye described the allocation of N10 million for residential quarters in the recurrent expenditure as worrisome.

He says “NADF is going to be an additional fund to the agricultural sector that will mitigate the challenges of low releases, lack of releases and untimely releases.

“The fund is meant to put in more funding for agricultural sector in key areas where there are urgent need and where gaps exist. “

Nwokoye emphasised that should a new building and furniture be provided in  year one, maintenance should not be required as these were fixed assets that required no maintenance in one to three years.

The programme manager, who further pointed out the allocation of N450 million for the purchase of operational vehicles, queried the kind of vehicles and the number required for the NADF.

He says “this is not necessary. A brand new operational staff bus cost about N30 to N50 million and the fund cannot use more than three of such buses aside very few executive cars”.

Nwokoye commended President Bola Tinubu for the provision of the take-off grant for the NADF.

“We pushed over the years for the creation of a separate fund to support agricultural development in the country as our budget cycle and limited funding cannot cater for the needs in the sector.

” The 2024  budget, allocated to the NADF a total sum of N102.5 billion out of the toral agriculture sector budget of N362 billion.

“This is 28 per cent of the overall sector budget for agricultural financing. Of the total N102. 5 billion of NADF, N150 million  or 0.1  per cent is for personnel salary, N350 million overhead (0.1 per cent) and N102 billion capital expenditure  (99.5 per cent), “he said.

The manager recommended that N100 billion allocation for capital expenditure for NADF should be targeted towards achieving the commitments of the president’s state of emergency on the food security situation in the country.

He, therefore, suggested that the fund should focus on extension services, access to credit, women and youth in agriculture, appropriate labour-saving technologies and inputs.

According to him, the fund should as well focus on post-harvest losses reduction supports in the area of processing and storage facilities, trainings, market access, irrigation, Climate Resilient and Sustainable Agriculture (CRSA). (NAN)

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Food Security: Zulum Unveils 7 Pilot Irrigation Schemes

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Gov. Babagana Zulum of Borno, on Wednesday, said that his administration has initiated seven pilot irrigation schemes to boost agricultural productivity and enhance food security.

Zulum stated this at the inauguration of the Mafa Irrigation Scheme in Mafa Local Government Area of the state.

He said the irrigation scheme would be established at Gajibo; Jafi, Baga, Logumani, Damasak and Dadin Kowa communities in Dikwa, Kwaya Kusar, Kukawa, Ngala, Mobbar, Bayo and Mafa LGAs.

The governor said the initiative would enable the state to key into the President Bola Tinubu’s “Renewed Hope Agenda” to enhance food security in the county.

“The establishment of the Mafa rrigation scheme has started, we have so far identified a number of farmers and provided them with agricultural inputs.

“We intend to engage at least 10 per cent of the communities, especially in the dry season farming.

“Our focus is to drive into President Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda, we will engage in wheat farming among other valuable crops.

“Most importantly, we want to see how we can improve the livelihoods of members of the communities.” he said.

The governor also inspected facilities including a fully solar-powered free-flow deep aquifer borehole with 30-litre per second discharge capacity and 2.4 million litres capacity earth dam.

According to him, the project is aim at addressing shortage of potable water in the town. (NAN)

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