Chief Audu Ogbeh , minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, has disclosed how he, two weeks ago, foiled an attempt by an agro-dealer to defraud the Federal Government of N600 million.
Ogbeh said this at an interaction with newsmen after he inaugurated a working group on the integration of Universities of Agriculture with the ministry, in Abuja, at the weekend.
The minister reiterated that the fight against corruption has not been easy and added that the unnamed contractor involved in supplying input to farmers, under the Federal Government’s Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Scheme, connived with some staff of the ministry and inflated invoices for the supply of fish fingerlings and other input.
“Two weeks ago, somebody submitted invoices to us under the GES arrangement; and asked for N600 million on fish fingerlings and so on. When I saw it, I said ‘no, this is too much.’ So, we went into very thorough investigations and he settled for N15 million, from N600 million.”
The minister regretted that some Nigerians were bent on retaining the old order of running government business, and added that “there are people in the system willing to defend it.
“So, things happen. In spite of what we are trying to say, people are still insistent that this is their chance to make a kill.”
Ogbeh also agreed that sharp practices are still prevalent in fertiliser production and distribution chain, but expressed optimism that President Muhammadu Buhari’s arrangement with the Moroccan Government, for the supply of phosphate, will make the product more affordable and accessible and disclosed further that government is reaching out to the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), in a bid to check product diversion, while efforts are also on to keep the price of the commodity at below N6, 000 per bag.
“In the GES scheme, there was a person who was carrying fertiliser from here and selling in Cameroun, generating invoices and coming back to claim money. We are trying to get hold of NARTO, to appeal to them; it’s very difficult to check trailer drivers. The last time we sent food to the North East, some fifty-something trucks were stolen.
“Even in the face of this trouble, people still stole trucks; one of them has been with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The commission has seized all his property.
“There was a time they delivered bags of sharp sand to one state government and they are still in the warehouse there and they got paid.
“Let me say something to you; the degree of rottenness in our society is not limited to government only,” the minister added.
It was learnt that the GES, an innovative initiative of the immediate past administration had been a cesspit. The present administration inherited over N60b debt owed agro-dealers through the scheme and has paid N20b.