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The quest by the Federal Government of Nigeria to diversify the economy through heavy investment in Agriculture may have suffered a serious blow if the painful and sad tale of Abia rice farmers under the Central Bank of Nigeria Anchor Borrowers’ programme in partnership with Nigeria Incentive Based Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural lending (NIRSAL) is anything to go bye.

The anchor borrowers’ Programme (ABP) was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 17, 2015. The intention of the programme is to create a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and small Holder farmers (SHFS) of the required key agricultural commodities.
The programme is structured in a way that it will take care of the provision of input in kind and cash to small holder farmers to boost food production.
Again, the programme is targeted at giving loan to small farmers in group/cooperative(s) cutting across the following:
Cereals; (rice, maize, wheat etc), cotton; Roots and Tubers (cassava, potatoes, yam, ginger etc); Tree crops (oil palm, cocoa, rubber etc) Legumes (soya bean, sesame seed, cowpea etc), Livestock (fish, poultry, ruminants etc).
However, for Rice farmers in Abia State, it has been a tale of woe for the past one year. A document made available to News Mirror and allegedly signed by Dr. M.A. Olaitan, Director, Development Finance Department of Central Bank of Nigeria Central Business District, Abuja indicates that; one Orakus and sons Nigeria Limited, who claimed to have an Ultra Modern Rice mill in Amauba Housing Estate, Avodim, Ubakala Umuahia South LGA Abia State had written a letter to CBN and was subsequently approved as the Anchor for Abia Rice farmers for the 2018 farming season.

The letter by Orakus and Sons was dated April,24, 2018, why the reply came with the speed of light and reads in part thus; ….your letter received on 29th March, 2018 on the above subject refers…
As specified in the letter signed by Dr. Olaitan; in addition to the expression of interest to be an Anchor( Orakus), your other duties include;
*To organise small holder farmers into cooperative(s)/cluster; to select a participating financial institution (PFI) as channel for the disbursement of loan; enroll the farmers on Bank Verification Number (BVN) with account numbers and forward same to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); organize town hall meetings, and arrange the training of the farmers.
It was specified clearly in the CBN guideline that; the loan disbursements are to be made directly to the farmers account within five (5) days it was disbursed by CBN through NIRSAL account.

However, News Mirror, in the course of our investigation for the past two months met six times with Udoka Emmanuel Oraekwute, the CEO of Orakus & Sons Nig. Ltd, from Amauba Housing Estate Avodim, Ubakala Umuahia South, who confirmed to News Mirror crew that all those conditions have been met, as at June, 2018, including the supply of input in November, 2018, just as he confirmed that his company made the supply as well as made available a document of the transaction carried out through his company but said till moment, he has not been paid his N49,236,00. Fourty Nine Million, Two Hundred and Thirty Six Thousand Naira, only since he made the supply on 26th, November, 2018.
Mr. Udoka equally presented a document with names and contact phone numbers of Rice farmers in Abia State and their account numbers, opened in Umuahia Branch of Unity bank but claimed the farmers have had no access to their money over the past one year, even as all the farmers we spoke with, alleged that they got credit alerts but that the bank did not allow them access to their money only for them to get debit alerts few weeks later, confirming that the cash deposits have also left their accounts twice without their knowledge.
News Mirror approached the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Umuahia branch and met Mr. Camilus Ogbuagu, the Development Finance Manager, Umuahia branch of CBN, who also happen to be the leader of the Project Management Team (PMT), saddled with the responsibility of monitoring the Anchor Borrower programme.

He confirmed all the narratives of Mr. Oraekwute, and also told to News Mirror that all the criteria for the loan to the rice farmers were met and the money subsequently disturbed to NIRSAL account, a firm that happen to be the link between the farmers and CBN.
News Mirror made several efforts to meet with Mr. Isaac Anosike, the Nirsal Head in Umuahia but was bluntly rebuffed by him.
News Mirror called the Unity Bank, Umuahia branch and also Unity Bank headquarters but the responses we got were not convincing but will be made public.

The questions begging for answers are:
1. What happened to the money of rice farmers deposited at Unity Bank Umuahia branch for the past one year as Abia Rice farmers we interviewed all had
tale of sorrows?
2. Was input supplied to Abia Rice farmers, who supplied the input and did it get to the rice farmers?
3. Was the supplier paid for the input alleged supplied even as the whole money was paid into NIRSAL account by the Central Bank of Nigeria months before the supply as confirmed by Mr. Ogbuagu?
4. Did Abia Farmers plant rice during the 2018 farming season?
5. Why did Police, DSS and EFCC invite officials of NIRSAL and Central Bank of Nigeria?

Keep a date with us as we take you into the biggest agricultural scam in history.

Note: If the story is real, you must have read it from NEWS MIRROR.

By Prince Clinton Uba

October 17, 2019

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