By Ikhili Ebalu, Benin. City
A socio-political Organization, Safe Edo Movement, has petitioned the Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, the World Bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over alleged diversion of funds meant to jumpstart agricultural revolution in Edo state.
In the petition signed by its President, Mr. Chris Oshokha Ethuakhor and made available to newsmen, the group said “ever since the year 2018, various interventionist initiatives and policies, backed by funds from Nigeria’s prime economic institution, the Central Bank, and the global World Bank, have been pumped into Edo State. These policies, initiatives, and funds, although channeled towards agriculture, have all gone largely unaccounted for and totally incomplete.
The group said, “of major concerns to us is that loans obtained under the guise of boosting agricultural productivity do not end up in the hands of farmers who are in severe need of support, rather, and sadly too, they go missing or end up in the pockets of private hijackers.
“It is the ambition of this petition to call the attention of the World Bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Federal Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning to this series of unresolved cases pointing towards corruption. We hope that a team of competent investigators made up of Civil Society Organizations, Public Officers, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the misappropriation of loans given to Edo State between 2017 and 2020”.
According to Chris Oshokha, establishing a tentative link to corrupt practices, the method and process of obtaining these loans were shrouded in secrecy, but we have listed some of these initiatives that beg transparency and account and having not enjoyed both, warrants investigation.
“In 2017, the Central Bank of Nigeria gave 2billion Naira loan to Edo State for the production of maize, under the Agripreneur program. The last known and traceable activity with this fund is that the Edo State Government transferred it to SARO Agro Sciences Limited to cultivate and, as well, manage the 5,000 hectares maize farm at SOBE on behalf of the State Government. After this known activity, the whole initiative has disappeared into thin air, and to this date, nothing has been heard of it. We implore the CBN to spearhead a thorough investigation that will inform Nigerians how the fund was spent.
“In 2019, the CBN gave Edo State a loan of an undisclosed amount, urging that the fund be spent in support of the state’s Agripreneur program through the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL). This fund, the CBN conceived, should aid the cultivation of the 5,000 hectares of rice farms in Agenegbode, Warrake, Iguomon, Illushi, and Iguoriakhi.
“However, at the start of the farming season which began July 2019, each farmer was tentatively given the sum of 1.3 million naira which was distributed and held in accounts at Sterling Bank and can only be accessed by NIRSAL.
“Yet, even though this rice was cultivated and later harvested the same year’s October, the farmers are, to date, still to receive their monies lodged in the Sterling Bank accounts. The last probing that was answered had the Edo State Ministry of Agriculture stating that the rice paddings were from Agenegbode to Abakiliki in Ebonyi State for processing because Edo State does not have a rice processing mill (despite all the agricultural investment in the state).
“In the same 2019, the CBN approved the sum of ₦65 Billion naira for the Edo State Oil Palm Program (ESOPP), which would definitely be used to support Ellah Lakes PLC, managed by Mr. Chuka Mordi, who fronted for Governor Godwin Obaseki. Already the Governor has ceded State-owned lands in Igwelaba Community to the company. Yet, this date, no tangible progress has been made on the project, neither is there a public update to that effect.
“In what appears to be a reinforcement of existing progress, in the year 2020, an additional 5 Billion Naira loan was approved by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for the Agripreneur program. This wouldn’t have drawn the ire of the public except that there is no ongoing activity or progress on the said Agripreneur program. This draws curiosity on the seeming bottomlessness of this program that fails provable evidence and refuses completion.
“Having studied the transactions, we are convinced that the records and history of the handling of these funds are not impressive. Put mildly, the continued loan approvals even in the face of obvious misappropriation, amounts to insult of the intelligence of Edo people.
“It is imperative to note that, besides mere speeches given at the impulse of the moment on political occasions, there is still practically nothing to show for loans granted. Edo people are asking why the CBN continues to give loans to Edo State Government, when it is clear that these loans end up in private pockets, except that some vested interests benefit from the mismanagement of these loans, despicably, to the detriment of Edo citizens.
“All of us at the Safe Edo Movement, therefore, by our devotion to the advocacy of the good of the common Edo people, feel obligated to bring the grumblings and dissatisfaction of the people to the notice of the Central Bank Governor, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning. It will serve the utmost purpose of social justice and restoring public confidence in the concerned institutions if, as we requested, you investigate all loans given by the CBN to Edo State Government from 2017 till date, and objectively inform the public of its findings.
“In line with best practices, we strongly recommend that for now, while the investigation lasts, further disbursement of loans to this suspicious state government should be paused. This will ensure that there are no further complications and/or further avenue for enjoying what the government has been indicted and suspected of, which is unmitigated fraud.”