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Payment to Contractors: Two Ministers, Audu Ogbe, Senator Lokpobiri Named In N2bn Bribery Scandal

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The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe and the

Minister of State in the ministry, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, have been

named in a N2 billion bribery scandal. This is coming  in spite of the

anti-corruption posture of the President Mohammadu Buhari-led Federal

Government. uncovered a bribery scheme by the two ministers

concerning  a recent part-payment  of  N15 billion to contractors owed by

the ministry. The contractors executed projects under the fertilizer

subsidy programme, Growth  Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS), introduced

by the administration of  former President Goodluck Jonathan in order to

enhance farmers’ access to subsidised fertilizer.

The amount is part of a N56 billion debt owed the contractors by the

Federal  and state governments participating in the programme but the

ministry is in charge of payments to contractors.
All participating states gave an Irrevocable Standing Order (ISO) for

their portion (25%) of the Subsidy amount to be deducted directly from

their statutory monthly allocation from the federation account as due. The

Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development (FMARD), as the agency

in charge of the administration of the program has the responsibility of

coordinating, managing and effecting the payment of the subsidy to all

participating inputs supplier companies.
The Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS) is a Federal government

initiative aimed at subsidising the costs of major agricultural inputs,

such as fertiliser and seedlings for farmers, yam tubers and yam

plantation, yam tubers and yam plantation based on the GESS policy, the

federal and state governments equally contribute the balance of 50 per

cent being the approved subsidy amount for onward payment to participating

inputs (fertilizer) suppliers.
The Farm Inputs Suppliers Association of Nigeria (FUISAN ), is the

association that made the programme successful.
But following the release of N350 billion by government for the payment of

contractors owed by government as contained in the 2016 budget, the

Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development was allocated funds

including N15 billion to effect the part-payment to over 50 contractors

owed by the ministry.
Following the release of the money to the ministry, the two ministers

called a meeting of all the contractors owed by the ministry in Abuja. At

the meeting, Chief Ogbeh confirmed the release of some funds to the

ministry including N15 billion being part-payment for work done by the

contractors, most of which were carried out in 2014.

The contractors were assured that payment would be made in such a way to

cover all the contractors owed by the ministry pending the release of more

funds by government. The ministers assured the contractors that they would

be paid on “pro-rata” basis. But to the chagrin of the contractors, the

ministry expended the N15 billion on only three contractors, one of which

was Notore Chemicals PLC, a fertilizer and agro-allied company linked to

Chief James Ibori who is currently serving jail time in U.K for

corruption. investigations showed that the payment was a product of

a decision to deduct N2 billion from source and concentrate the payment on

only three contractors, who were part of the deal. The three contractors

were paid N13 billion leaving in the lurch the rest of the contractors,

who were earlier promised payment on pro-rata basis.

A group, Society for Good Governance (SGG), is therefore asking the

Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Crimes Commission (ICPC)

to investigate the payment.
“We are, by this petition, asking the ICPC to carry out a comprehensive

investigation into the payment to determine why the ministers and the

permanent secretary reneged on the earlier arrangement to pay all the

contractors who have been owed for many years now and decided to pay only

three contractors.
“We urge you to look into the deal between the two ministers, the

permanent secretary and the three contractors that resulted in the payment

of N13 billion to them. What happened to the remaining N2 billion. Why

renege on the payment of the other contractors?”, the group queried.

A source familiar with the development told that the

decision to pay only three contractors a whooping N15 billion was curious

after the minister had promised to expend the part-payment on all the

contractors involved.
“The question on everybody’s lip is why pay only three contractors after

the agreement  that all the contractors would be captured . These are

people who collected bank loans to execute these projects. The initial

amount borrowed has not been paid and they are not  even talking about the

interest that has gone out of the roof after many years”, the source said.

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