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Institutions and the attack dogs

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It has, therefore, come to my notice that the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), an institution that is playing a key role in the transformation of Nigerian agriculture has been the subject of a vicious and sustained campaign of calumny over the past two years. 

This campaign which has intensified in the last six months is being executed by faceless elements who hide behind compromised social media platforms to throw mud at the organization. They have also tried to instigate the security agencies through baseless unsubstantiated reports based on unproven allegations which they have sponsored in the social media.

The allegations have ranged from mismanagement of funds by its current leadership to claims of discrimination and favouritism. Significantly, despite the media campaign and reports made to the security agencies, no evidence of impropriety has been found. We, the coalition of civil society organisations are very concerned about the ongoing campaign against NIRSAL for the following reasons: First, the efforts to distract and even disable NIRSAL is not in the interest of the nation because the institution’s mandate is central to the focus on agriculture by the Buhari administration, the sector that is the number one employer of labour and lynchpin of the nation’s plans for a post-oil future.

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Second, there is clear evidence NIRSAL is doing justice to its mandate. It is an established fact that the institution has facilitated about N110 billion from the financial sector into agriculture. In the process, it has contributed to the creation of millions of jobs and the improvement of the lives of smallholder farmers across the country.
 
Third, NIRSAL is adding significant value in other areas, notably agricultural insurance where it is working with partners to create and popularize innovative insurance packages that will reduce the risks faced by Nigerian farmers and help them to benefit more from their toil.

Fourthly and related to the above, the institution is making brisk progress with its AgroGeoCorps scheme which is projected to create about 16,000 farmer-cooperatives on 4 million hectares of farmland, enrol about 8 million farmers across Nigeria. 

Myself and other civil rights activists had investigated these wishy-washy allegations and found them to be politically tainted and motivated aimed at destroying the key essence of the current administration which is focused towards using agricultural as the stepping stone for aggressive employment opportunities for the young school leavers and graduates who would be assisted with working funds to mechanize their commercial farming activities. In a near three hours-long conversation openly done with the civil society community and the media in which I attended accidentally, the MD Aliyu Hameed said most of the allegations made against his person in recent times were as a result of ignorance of how NIRSAL works and why it was set up.

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He stated: “NIRSAL is supposed to be a guarantee agency. We don’t give one Kobo out. We issue paper, guaranteeing you the banker so that if anything happens to your money, you come back to us. But of course as a risk company, we ensure that event doesn’t happen.

“Because if we don’t monitor in the field and events happen and we keep paying…that means CBN paying, then what is the purpose of the existence of the organisation?” he begins. “What is so confusing to the public is when you tell people that NIRSAL does not touch one Kobo from the government. Go to the national assembly, there has never been an appropriation for NIRSAL to spend. And we are not designed to spend money.

He said: “In fact, we don’t even have the money to spend. We are designed to issue guarantees to bankers and investors against that capital. “NIRSAL building belongs to CBN. All our offices are run from CBN branches nationwide. The reason this is so is that we reduce the burden on our little earnings so that we can pay staff salaries and keep servicing farmers when they borrow money. “CBN is the Chairman of the board and provides oversight. That means the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, is board chairman of NIRSAL. Hear him: “The approval for NIRSAL was done by former President Goodluck Jonathan. But we took off under President Muhammadu Buhari. That means it was under Buhari that we were established or incorporated.

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“In the beginning, I rented a bungalow in Maitama, used my own money and friends to pay for this and that. Sometimes when I didn’t have money to pay for diesel for the generator, I had to borrow money. We operated from this bungalow for six months until the first board meeting. We built this organisation from zero with not more than seven staff at the initial stage,” he adds. The MD poured encomiums on the CBN Governor, for his kind words and support. “I don’t cease to praise my boss, Gov Emefiele. This is one CBN Governor that doesn’t act like CBN Governor. “CBN Governors are supposed to be quiet, mind themselves with inflation, monetary policy, financial instability, exchange rates. But Emefiele? He’s made his lifetime ambition to use the CBN system to do more developmental financing in agriculture. “Nothing keeps Emefiele awake than what to do with rice farmers, palm oil and so on. You know this. We work with the policies designed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. If there’s one organisation that deserves the highest national productivity merit award, it’s NIRSAL. We add value, we train farmers and we put bankers to work.

He spoke further: “They allege that I have put the entire capital of CBN in my pocket. Imagine that here I am, I go to CBN, and I do wizardry on them to approve so I can carry? Like CBN says ‘go inside, carry N72.5bn and go?’ “We do quarterly board meetings without fail. Every single thing I do in this place is controlled by the board. It’s their money, I’m just a servant. “Everything we do at NIRSAL is for the public good. Over the span of its existence so far, NIRSAL has facilitated N100 billion into the agricultural sector. Honestly, Nigerians need to be proud of this baby and not try to bring it down with patently false allegations.” On the March 18 protest, Hameed says the protesters were hired for peanuts and didn’t even know why they were at his office.

“The people who came to protest, we asked them, do you know NIRSAL, they said they don’t know. They said NIRSAL is supposed to give us government money. The protesters were sponsored. They didn’t even know what we do here. They said they were paid N1,000 to carry the placards. “My board has not indicted me, my board continues to shower praises on me.

To be continued tomorrow.

Onwubiko is the head of the human rights writers association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

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