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How Agric ministry made N3.08BN suspicious payments to personal accounts

In a series of disbursements between September and December last year, a total of N3.08 billion was paid into the private accounts of 42 staffers of the ministry of agriculture, according to PREMIUM TIMES.

The payments were reported by the open treasury portal (OTP), the federal government’s transparency portal it launched last year to ensure fiscal discipline among MDAs.

Premium Times reported that several fund disbursements by the nation’s agriculture headquarters were done through duplicated payments, some for similar purposes to some staffers.

Duplicitous payments

Of the amount paid within the last quarter of 2019 by the agriculture ministry, Zainab Bala and Mohammed Lawan received the largest share. They respectively received N255.35 million and N246.3 million in total.

N81.3 million of Mr Lawan’s share, according to the OTP, was paid to him in advance to organize the 44th meeting of the National Council on Agriculture and Rural Development slated for Jos from 22nd to 27th March this year. The payments should have been wired directly to suppliers and service providers, and it remains unclear while such a huge sum was made to pass through the personal account of a staff member.

On the other hand, Ms Bala was paid in two tranches, first N125 million and then N130 million each to be used for the same purpose: which is for the “preliminary operational commencement of the newly established Federal University of Agriculture, Zuru, Kebbi State.”

The same month, and for the same purpose as Ms Bala’s, the duo of Aisha Ahmed and Dipnap Nandom Stephen respectively received N100 million and N145 million. This is N500 million all targeted to execute a single job.

Also, both Abdulrahman Ibrahim (who was paid N171.4 million in the entire four months) and Ndakotsu Amina (who received N174.29 million in all) were each paid N20.69 million twice in the same month for the same purpose: “for the training of two batches of chefs by the national centre for women development.”

Later in December, Ms Amina was again paid another N28 million as estacodes. Similarly, she and Ijaoba Musilimat Olamide were respectively paid N75 million and N99 million “for the immediate needs and requirements of regional and state offices.”

Likewise, Onuh Ojo Salome to whose account a total of N120.2 million was credited within four months, and Anyaele Charles Ogbonnaya who got N107 million in the same span, each got N50 million to monitor capital projects of the ministry.

The same month, Ms Salome was paid another N55 million for the “training of cocoa farmers and establishment of seed gardens in 10 cocoa producing states.”

In the same vein, Ahmed Aribo Hussein was paid N126.1 million within four months. Of that amount, N50 million, records on the OTP showed, was for the execution of staff training that took place in January this year.

In all, Ajunwa Tochukwu Godwin chalked off N132.1 million from the ministry’s chequebook in four months. On December 20 of last year, N60 million of that amount was paid in three tranches as “duty tour allowance and expenses to conduct phase 2 life programme identification, stakeholders engagement, need assessment, advocacy and sensitization in 12 states.”

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Meanwhile, as estacode to enable the minister of agriculture to “accompany President (Muhammadu Buhari) to Russia,” Ebebi Georgina Sadia was paid N6.4 million. That is a slight fraction of the N172.1 million she was paid within the four months under review. Mr Buhari had travelled to Sochi, Russia, on October 21, 2019, for the Russia-Africa Economic Forum which held between October 23 and 25, 2019.

The president returned to Nigeria on October 25. The highest amount of estacode payable to the highest placed civil servants – permanent secretaries – is $600 per day. Assuming Ms Ebebi is a permanent secretary, she is only entitled to $3000 estacode for the five-day trip. That is about N1.1million, at N381 to a dollar. Why the agric ministry paid her N6.4 million remained unclear.

PREMIUM TIMES asked the ministry, through a Freedom of Information request for an explanation on the series of suspicious payments made by the ministry and as observed on the OTP but it is yet to respond despite acknowledging receipt of our letter on October 28.

Financial infractions

By the provision of chapter 7, section 713 of Nigeria’s civil service financial regulation, the ministry of agriculture breaches the law that bars MDAs from making payments into private accounts, especially of its staff.

The above section says under no condition should personal money be paid into the government’s bank account “nor shall any public money be paid into a private bank account.”

“An officer who pays public money into a private account is deemed to have done so with a fraudulent intention,” the section reads.

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