In Bayelsa, farmers allege that a N3billion loan facility has disappeared into private pockets but the government insists that each farmer got the stipulated N50,000. Daily Trust reports on the controversy.
The alleged diversion of a N3 billion agricultural loan obtained by the Bayelsa State government from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is raising concerns among farmers and other stakeholders in the state.
Governor Douye Diri, upon assumption of office in February last year, received the total sum of N3 billion in two tranches of N1.5 billion each from the CBN as a loan facility for farmers in the state.
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The immediate past governor of the state, Senator Henry Seriake Dickson, was said to have applied for the loan in 2019.
The state government claims the money was distributed to farmers across the state, with each of them collecting N50, 000 for bush clearing. Many farmers in the rural communities of the state denied accessing the loan.
Recently, a loyalist of former governor Dickson and an ex-general manager of Radio Bayelsa, Mr Idumange John, accused the Governor Diri-led administration of diverting the N3 billion agric loan to the pockets of politicians, saying that it’s too early for the administration to “defraud Bayelsans.”
He alleged that the money was shared with politicians, with some close to the governor receiving N40 million each for so-called bush clearing.
Idumange, who is also a chieftain of the PDP in the state, said, “Sometime in 2019, the immediate past administration applied to the Central Bank of Nigeria for a N3 billion agricultural loan. The Governor Douye Diri administration received the loan. The first tranche of N1.5 billion was paid in March 2020 to the administration. The money was squandered.”
“The last tranche of the loan, N1.5 billion, was paid in February 2021 via Access Bank Plc. A paltry sum of the money is what the administration is using to clear some hectares of land. I am sure the commissioner of agriculture was not aware.
“Plans have been concluded by the government to give N50, 000 to selected farmers in the state. It is too early for the prosperity administration to defraud Bayelsans, and then shift the blame to the immediate past administration.
“So far, we have documented 17 cases of fraud. When we get 25 clear cases of fraud, EFCC and the law courts will handle the matter.
“Bayelsans should not be duped in the interest of a tiny cabal of power holders. Anyone who challenges me on the agricultural loan issue will appear in court in 14 days. All documents of payment of the agricultural loan are at my disposal.
“The N3 billion is a loan that will be paid back by the Bayelsa State government yet it was squandered. The genuine farmers are optimistic that money will come their way to do farm work, but you can see how Bayelsans are being treated,” he said.
Already, some farmers in the state have denied collecting the said N50,000 interest-free loan, insisting that politicians just shared the money with their allies, whom they described as ‘portfolio farmers.’
Chairman of the Nigerian Cassava Growers Association, Bayelsa State chapter, Mr Emmanuel Egbo, said cassava growers in the state only enjoyed a loan from the Anchor Borrowers Scheme of the federal government but did not know anything about the Bayelsa State CBN loan for farmers.
He said: “Any loan we have gotten is from the federal government, the recent one is this Anchor Borrower’s Programme by the Central Bank of Nigeria. We have not gotten any loans from the state.
“My association is not even aware of any loan. It is just recently that we heard it over the radio. We have not got any loan from this state government, like what they called ‘Diri boost’. They didn’t also include my members because they said we are already in the Anchor Borrowers Programme, but they forget that it’s a state affair.”
Also speaking, the state chairman of the Nigerian Maize Producers and Growers Association, Mr Tams Singabele, said, “None of my members got the loan. I don’t know why they didn’t give it to us.”
A yam farmer in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of the state, who spoke to Daily Trust on condition of anonymity, said there was a time they were even begging the government to assist them in farming yam that could feed the whole of Bayelsa and some neighbouring states, but the government was not disposed to the idea.
He said the revelation that the government even borrowed N3 billion for agriculture purposes but could not channel it to what it was meant for showed that the state government is not ready to invest in agriculture.
He said: “Around the bank of the River Nun, our citizens are planting yam and making good yield; even last year when pests attacked our crops, we appealed to the government to assist us, but nothing was done about it.
“If the government can channel N3 billion into farming, there is no way we will not make huge gains in rice, yam, cassava, plantain and fish, etc. But corruption will not allow good things to be done.
“Just look at the Bayelsa terrain, we are supposed to be the major producer and exporter of fish, plantain, and the rest, but the government is not supporting farmers.”
A farmer in Yenagoa, who identified himself as Mr Abel Eradiri, said he heard about the CBN loan for the first time when it was alleged that the money had been diverted.
The Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Chief David Alagoa, dismissed claims that the N3 billion loan was diverted by the state government, describing the allegation as false, baseless, and childish.
He said the loan is directly supervised and disbursed by the CBN through a commercial bank and not by the state government.
He also said all the benefitting farmers have been allocated land and also received the sum of N50, 000 for land preparation for planting.
According to him, some of the farmers, including fish farmers, have received inputs through the system for their ponds.
“7000 bags of fertilizers, cassava stems and other inputs are in various communities from the second tranche of the loan.
“This loan disbursement is through the banks to individual accounts of the farmers. CBN took this approach probably because of previous experience across the country. The disbursement here in Bayelsa is so transparent,” he said.
The CBN team from Yenagoa branch, which visited the governor on Monday, assured that the said N3 billion loan was not diverted.
The leader of the team, Mr Stanley Oruyeighe said, “There are no issues with the N3 billion agricultural loan. The first tranche of N1.5 billion is meant for infrastructure and that includes land clearing. No contract of N40 million was paid to anyone.”