Obaje Omobolaji David is the President, Farmers Empowerment Association (FEA) in Abuja, in this interview with JOHN OBA, he laments the rate at which civil servants from the FCTA agric secretariat and other agencies frustrate proper implementation of government policies on agriculture for FCT farmers.
What is your analysis of the achievement of FCT farmers this year?
I will want to thank God for where we are now, it would have been worth, but we have at least further. Preparation started in January, and our farmers came all out because we mobilised them, using jungles, in Hausa, Gbaji, and in pigin English on radio and the social media to increase awareness on farming activities in the FCT. The farmer really came out and showed interest in the programmes put forward by the government because of the trust they have in the current administration. Because many believed that this administration will not tolerate fraud and will do all that would benefit farmers. We were able to registered 6,756 farmers in the FCT alone to participate in farming this year. They all got their land and began preparation because part of the requirement was that we should open bank account both as Cooperatives and individuals. And we all opened account with Sterling through an agent on rural cooperative society and some still opened account with BOA as part of efforts to meet all the requirement.
And under FADAMA my people still opened another account with FCMB, to ensure that we are ready. By and large, we thank God for the season, it has come and almost gone, but we cannot say we are appreciative of the government, no, not at all, because we are sadden that they wasted our resources. We cleared land, did tractorisation of the land but till date, no one paid us what we spent, even the bank did not give us any money. Central Bank of Nigeria, through it Anchor Borrowers Programmes came up with several reasons why they could not give FCT farmers fund. The farmers are disappointed! We wrote to the Minister of the FCT that as farmers we will want to participate, the Minister constituted a committee headed by Mr Abdullahi Salami, a director from the FCTA agric Secretariat. Mind you, that was another motivation for farmers, but along the line the minister withdrew his interest without notifying the farmers, forgetting that many farmers pparticipated in the programme because of his involvement. That further compounded the farmers problem, and the person he appointed as the chairman of the committee became fraudulent putting his selfish interest above the interest of farmers. Though that has been a perennial problem in the agric sector. This is where you see the Civil servants, directors, deputy directors take advantage of the peasant farmers, collecting money from them yearly with promises that are not fulfilled. Just like what happened with the Anchor Borrowers Programmes, where over 6000 farmers came together, got their lands, plloughed it with no financial support anywhere. At the end of the day the loan promised the farmers under the programme were not given. So farmer became to sad.
Are you saying the farmers did all these without government support?
We have not received a dim from the government. I am challenging them to tell us if they helped any farmers in FCT. Both federal and the FCT did nothing to help FCT farmers this year. The fertilizer and other farm input they brought to farmers at subsidies rate, were shared between the directors.
You mean farmers did not get any of these supports?
Yes, farmers did not get them (farm inputs), the pumping machines and others things FCT administration shared which was the only intervention brought, did not get to the farmers. The Civil Servant shared it between themselves, and later sold it to farmers at a higher price, their record can be checked. Though not at the market price but higher than what the government intended to given to farmers. And this is because the Minister is not interested in farming. He doesn’t share the same vision as the president on agriculture. We wrote to the Minister but there was no response.
It means FCT farmers had serious challenges this farming season?
Serious challenges! It started from land hiring, because getting land in Abuja is not easy, some farmers spent N100,000, N200,000 to hire land alone, they cleared it, cultivated it, as we are talking now, we are still owing the tractor companies, at the end no support came. And because we just had to plant something, we had to collect soybeans seed worth N24 million on credit after we signed an agreement with some companies. We didn’t want to waste the whole year, so we had to do something. We also got fertilizer from another company; be paid after harvest.
You alleged chairman of the Anchor Borrowers Programmes committee defrauded the farmers, can you explain further?
To us, the chairman of the Committee is representing the minister, therefore there was no reason to doubt him. So, when we got to him, the first condition he gave us was that, all the farmers must open account with any of the three banks, Sterling bank, Stanbic IBTC bank, and the BOA, but he made it clear that stanbic IBTC bank was not forthcoming, and that out of the remaining two we should open account Sterling bank since they have agents that go round the villages to capture farmers instead of them coming individually to the bank but that this was to be at a cost. That was how Mr Salami brought in Mr Saliu Masha, whom he introduced to us as the manager of the bank. During the meeting he said each farmer will open an account with minimum balance of N2000 while each of the cooperatives will open another account with N6000. He asked us to take care of the logistics of the agents which was agreed for N6000. For the period he worked with us we paid him that amoint.
These were aside the fact that, we took care of their accommodation, feedings three times a day any time he followed us to the farm. Yet the money that was meant to be deposited in the Cooperatives’ accoint were not deposited, instead it was converted to personal use.
Our finding later revealed that the same Mr Salami, who is a deputy director in the FCTA agric secretarial is the owner of the agency we had been dealing with, and we had paid about N15 million to him. When asked, he said he used the money to profile the farmers. That is, just to write our names? Mind you, we were the ones that did the typing of names, land measurement, land mapping for our farms. The training of the farmers on rice was done by GIZ through Onis rice Bids. Ours was to paid for the accommodation of the trainers, provided halls in all the area councils we went to.
Did you met with him to address the issue?
We met with him and he claimed we are after his job, and that if he losses his job, he will use the N15 million as his pension.
What other steps has the association taken to get back its money?
We have gone to the police command and police in their usual character want each farmers to be coming from villages to show their cards that they actually have money in the account. And we said it is not possible for a farmer to leave Gawuh village, spend N3000 to town and N3000 back just to shown a card. When we were collecting the money, we went down to the village and when the money was being remitted to the bank, it was done collectively? At times, we paid N200,000, N500,000, N700,000, N1.7 million, why would the police be asking for individual identification?
Then we left them and went to EFCC, but we are preparing to write the IG on the matter. At the EFCC, they said they are doing their job, that we can not teach them how to do their jobs, that we should be patient they would call us. But we agreed in our last meeting that we can not continue to wait for them. We have written to Sterling bank severally, but there is no reply, so we have written to Berekete human right radio.
Do you sense any connivance between Mr. Salami and the bank?
Yes, they are working together. There is connivance. That is why we decided to write to Brekete family, human right radio. And we are going to play the audio recordings of our meetings as evidence. In an era the government is talking about food sufficiency, some civil servants are working to frustrate it.
Did you experience the same thing with FADAMA?
FADAMA III additional financing is another problem. We received a call from FADAMA that they wanted us to participate in their programme and we agreed. Then we had a meeting with them, and agreed that we will be bringing the input suppliers, that they should not impose input suppliers on farmers, but they would be aware of the prices of the inputs. But the mistake we made was that, we did not write any MoU with them. If we had done that, by now, we would have been in court. We took them to our farms. Actually, FADAMA was to pay 50% of cost while the farmers would pay the remaining 50% counterpart fund. We discussed with FCMB to get loans for this and they agreed to fund us. Our assumption was that even if the bank charged farmers about 20% interest, the FADAMA 50% will help arguments any short falls. The bank only asked us to give it the number of farmers involved, so they started documentation and processing of the fund. And NIRSAL was prepared eady to stand as guarantor for the farmers. But when it got to implementation, issues came up. We brought in seeds suppliers who agreed to sell at N450 per kg, but they refused that it was too costly. We brought another seed company from Kaduna who was ready to supply at N350, and was ready to give us seed without borrowing from bank. He agreed to collect money after harvest but that the association should sign as guarantors for the farmers. But FADAMA refused because the N350 to them, was too much that they had someone that could sell for us at the rate of N300 and we said OK. Then they directed us to Prof. Aderibigbe, who agreed to supply us the seed for such amount but that we must pay upfront.
Then we started preparation of our farmers and FADAMA was aware how we brought in tractors companies that cleared about 300 hectares across FCT, did the harrowing, dredging, ridge for those that needed ridges. All these were done with the knowledge of FADAMA inspectors. We paid part of our counterpart funds while they also paid some, but when it got to planting, FADAMA brought seed for N700 per kg, instead of the N300 they insisted on initially. FADAMA went behind to buy the fertiliser, seed, herbicides and other inputs at exorbitant cost without consulting us. Yet they are aware that it is counterpart funding venture where one party don’t have the right to do anything without the consent of the other parties. The same people that refused our N400, N350, and N300 per kg efforts.
You mean even when those willing to sell less are available?
Yes. Look at the same fertiliser that we have been using ‘Haseach fertilizer’ that goes for N4000, they brought it for N4700. I mean the same company we have been using for years. That made us to say for every products they would be giving to us, there must be renegotiation. We get herbicides in the market for N2000, N1800, but they brought it to us for N2500. We reject the inputs, now they are calling us to come and take the seed for N300 but that other inputs will remain as they are. We are saying if we are going to do business together, it should be on clear terms. If they want to add N500 for themselves, they should let us know, but they mustn’t charge the farmes for that. They can take it from the World bank money, that is their business. The farmers must not be made to pay for this excesses. If they are overbilled they may not be able to pay back the loan after harvesting. So, who breas the loss. Now FADAMA has put us in some difficult situation, because out of the 300 hectares cultivated, less than 70 hectares was planted, the remaining 230 hectares are now laying waste. We now owe the tractor companies. We can’t ask the farmers that did’t plant anything to pay because of lack of inputs. Our target was 1000 hectare under FADAMA. They went behind to beg some farmers with seeds in Gawuh and since these could not pay, another set went back to collect the inputs from them. As we are talking now, some of the facilitator have not been paid for about a year.
Are you talking about the FCT FADAMA or the national FADAMA office?
I am talking about the FCT office!
As it is now, what are your plans for next year?
We learnt a lot from what happened this year. We are not entering into any agreement next year without an MoU. We are looking at reducing our numbers next year and expand to six more states. We will then be operational as national association. In the FCT, we are planning for 1000 farmers for the wet season. We have submitted ticket for 432 farmers under BOA to the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programmes. 342 farmers have been selected for Kogi dry season rice farming and the ticket is already with NIRSAL. We are also expecting that of Kwara state soon. For FCT, we hope to engage 1000 farmers, with 500 going into rice farming while the other 500 will go into soybeans cultivation.
You expectations from the government next year?
We expect those with passion for agric to come in. If possible, they should bring back Akinwumi, the former minister to handle the ministry. We are not saying the current minister is not working, he is not proactive as we expect. We expected more from him. The pace at which he does his rhings is not encouraging. There is the need to start giving best performing states in agriculture award to encourage others to go into it.
What about the government?
We are losing faith in the government. We are not happy with the way the agric sector is being handled. They talk more on the media without commensurate actions on the field. Policies should be in the interest of Nigeria farmers. Farmers have invested so much. The government should emulate the Edo state programme. They should clear a large portion of land like 500 hectares and share it to farmers who will pay back after harvest. It will be better the agencies or CBN deal with associations directly. Give money directly to them, then the association can give out the money to genuine farmers rather than giving banks, because the commercial banks are not passionate about giving loans to the agric sector because of the low interest rates. To them 9% is too low.