By Okwe Obi
Fresh facts have emerged as possible reasons President Muhammadu Buhari fired the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, while quoting President Buhari, had stated that, “A few cabinet changes, marking the beginning of a continuous process, have been approved. Ministers leaving the cabinet: Mohammed Sabo Nanono, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Engr. Sale Mamman, Minister of Power.”
“Today effectively marks their last participation in the Federal Executive Council deliberations and I wish them the best in all future endeavours.”
Nanono’s appointment in 2016 was greeted with so much expectations based on his antecedent as a banker and an accomplished farmer. In fact, investors in the sector had hoped that his administration would address the plethora of challenges confronting the sector, especially food insufficiency, farmers-herders’ clashes, post-harvest losses and the unending battle between two factions of the All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN).
However, the goodwill began to sag when he started by declaring that there was no hunger in the country, adding that the outcry of famine was laughable, even when the citizens were going through economic austerity.
“I think we are producing enough to feed ourselves. I think there is no hunger in Nigeria; there could be inconveniences. When people talk about hunger in this government, I just laugh.
“In this country, it is fairly cheap to buy food,” he had stated.
Under his watch, the issue of RUGA was reintroduced in Borno, Gombe, Niger and Nasarawa states, under the National Livestock Transformation Programme, despite widespread condemnation.
Moreover, the ministry became a protest ground as different contractors took turns to vent their spleen and lambasted him for dealing with fake contractors. Some of the contractors, under the aegis of Concerned Unpaid 2018 Contractors, staged a protest over unpaid liabilities by the ministry valued at N17 billion.
They blocked the main entrance, carrying placards with various inscriptions like: ‘PMB sack Sabo Nanono’, ‘Agric Ministry pay us now’, and ‘PMB, our legacy projects helped your election victory.’
The chairpersons of the group, Chidi Kanu and Onwuora Cyril, claimed that the ministry had refused to pay them because they refused to give out 10 to 15 per cent kickbacks to key officers of the ministry. They also alleged that Nanono and the then permanent secretary, Abdulkadir Mu’azu, connived to divert the money earmarked for them to pay illegal contractors who executed projects without due process.
“The permanent secretary decided to institute a racket of his own in a bid to make the most of a seemingly bad situation, since he was going to retire soon. The racketeers were, therefore, to collect between 10 per cent and 15 per cent from willing contractors desirous of getting their payments, they stated.
Meanwhile, the director of information, Theodore Ogaziechi, in a statement, claimed that Nanono and Mua’zu inherited the contracts from the previous administration.
According to him, “The ministersand permanent secretary inherited these liabilities and is in the process of compiling and verifying all outstanding contract liabilities.
“While this process is on-going, the ministry is appealing for the patience, understanding and cooperation of the contractors to enable it complete this process and forward the outcome to Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning for further action.”
Regardless, the contractors did not budge as they kept on disrupting government activities, until some security agents were deployed to quell the tension.
In addition, AFAN had accused the the Kano-born farmer of planning to sell substandard farm inputs that had been warehoused for more that three years to farmers at a subsidised rate.
AFAN’s president, Arc. Kabir Ibrahim, in his petition, claimed that farmers were directed to pay money into an account with a third-generation bank.
According to him, “It has come to our notice that the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and one Faruk Rabiu Mudi are colluding to defraud Nigerian farmers by sending letters itemizing some inputs for sale at reduced prices to be paid for in account: All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) 5100311797 maintained at Heritage Bank.
“The account is fraudulently operated in an obscure and unsuspecting bank as can be seen.
“The items purportedly to be launched by the Honourable Minister of Agriculture along with three other ministers are substandard and have been in the warehouses in Keffi and Mando since 2017.
“You will recall that, in 2019, we were asked to buy some of them but nobody came forward to do so because they were expensive and substandard.
“Today, they are subsidized by 75 per cent and still unpopular and, therefore, still unsold.
“A small number of these items were illegally given to Faruk Rabiu Mudi and cohorts free of charge and he is fraudulently trying to sell them to unsuspecting farmers.
“The Honourable Minister of Agriculture, in cahoots with Faruk Rabiu Mudi, is seeking to perpetuate a charade of input distribution on October 15, 2020, to create some semblance of World Food Day, an event annually carried out back-to-back with the Annual Agric Show.”
Ibrahim at a time had vowed to sue Nanono for “carrying out these proven inequities by dealing with Faruk Rabiu Mudi as a bona fide representative of AFAN fraudulently”.
“It is ‘sub-judice’ for the HMA to refer to Faruk Rabiu Mudi as AFAN president, since there is a matter pending.”
When contacted, the ministry’s director of information, Ogaziechi, did not respond to calls, text and WhatsApp messages.
A few months before his removal, he was enmeshed in another scandal when a letter dated December 10, 2020, with a Ref No: FMA/PROC/AHS/SIP/2020/7742/1, entitled: ‘Award of Contract for the Construction of Friday Mosque’ was leaked.
The letter read: “I am directed to inform you that the Ministerial Tender Board at its seventh meeting held on the 7th December, 2020, approved the award of contract for the construction of Friday Mosque to your company at the total contract sum of N30,000,000,00 (Thirsty Million Naira) only, inclusive of VAT, with a completion period of eight weeks, with effect from the date of this letter.
“You are, therefore, required to indicate in writing with three days of receipt of this offer your acceptance to the office of the Director of Procurement, FMARD, Abuja, or otherwise the offer will be considered lapsed.
“Thereafter, you are to liaise with the Director of (Animal Husbandry Services) for adequate supervision of the contract and the Director (Legal Services) for signing of the contract agreement.
“Please, note that the contract is not transferable and the cost is fixed, firm and request for price variation will not be entertained.
“It is expected that the contract will be executed in strict compliance with the BOQ/specifications and in line with relevant clauses in the bidding document and contract agreement.”
Ogazechi noted that “the memo is authentic and appropriate in all ramifications. It is original and was issued by the ministry for the construction of a worship centre for a community of livestock farmers who were sacked and displaced in Borno State by Boko Haram insurgents and are being resettled in Ngarannam/Mafa local government, Borno State.”
He claimed that “apart from the mosque, other common facilities provided for the livestock farmers in the community include solar-powered boreholes with overhead tanks and drinking troughs for their cattle and small ruminants, water harvesting structures, milk collection centre, resettlement abode, as well as other infrastructure to properly settle and rehabilitate the displaced livestock farmers.
“The construction of the mosque was a special request from the community through the Borno State government to avoid moving too far from the settlement areas for prayers and also to ensure their safety and contact with the insurgents.
“The memo is an official document and it is available for public scrutiny and review. It is, therefore, unfortunate for anyone to presume that the memo leaked.”
As if that was not enough, information leaked alleging that Nanono had spent millions of naira to refurbish his office and the conference room when the ministry’s headquarters, acquired for over N7 billion, was in a sorry state.
When Daily Sun contacted the information director, Ogazechi, for comments, he neither confirmed nor debunked the allegations but threatened to sue any reporter who would write anything on the matter.
“You can go ahead and write whatever you like. But you will meet us in court,” he had said.
Meanwhile, AFAN has congratulated the new minister of agriculture and rural development, Mohammad Abubakar.
“AFAN wishes the newly appointed Honorable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, the former Honorable Minister of Environment, every success in the new job.
“The Buhari administration is committed to achieving food security within the shortest possible time, that’s why the change was found to be necessary.
“All Nigerian farmers assure you of full cooperation and pray to Allah to guide you in your new assignment.
“We are willing to work assiduously to feed the 200,000,000 people of Nigeria sustainably and thereby make your job worthwhile,” AFAN’s national president, Kabir Ibrahim, announced in a statement.