James Emejo in Abuja
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, yesterday denied allegations that he received N2 billion from the N20 billion recently released to agro-dealers by the federal government.
He told journalists at a briefing in Abuja that neither he nor his Minister of State, Heineken Lokpobiri, as well as the Permanent Secretary, Shehu Ahmed, had anything to do with the funds meant for agro dealers.
An online publication had reported the diversion of N2 billion from the money meant for agro-dealers by the trio.
Ogbeh further held that part of the N20 billion released by government was used to settle big producers, manufacturers of fertilizer and big blenders that were owed high profile debt by government.
He said: “This was a debt which we inherited from the previous administration. The total debt was N37 billion and when we arrived, agro-dealers said they could not operate because they did not have enough money to carry on their business.
“And so we applied to government and pleaded with them to see what they could do to give us some money to pay this debt. They gave us N20 billion to pay the debt profile we had on ground then of a total of N67 billion out of which N37 billion belonged to the agro-dealers and fertilizer suppliers.
“When the money got to the ministry of finance, we met with the ministry of finance and they decided that they will handle the payment so they handled the payment. The money never got to this ministry. I want you to note that point and we were happy that they decided to do so because it took the burden of trying to manage this kind of money off us.
According to him: “Now we had met with the agro-dealers and said to them that we will ….the payment. The minister of finance on the other hand said look, the big producers, the manufacturers of fertilizer, the big blenders were owed such a high profile that many of them had given notice that they will close down and it is they who make the production before many of the agro-dealers buy off them to supply.
“So they decided to pay off the big dealers so that they can continue in business and pay the agro dealers a portion of their money pending when more come for them to get their balance. The next thing we saw three days ago on the internet is that we have taken N2 billion out of them money. How do you take money that is not even under your control?
“The money was in the hands of the ministry of finance. The office of the Accountant General of the Federation did the payment and then somebody write some stuff of how the Buhari anti-corruption fight is a charade.
How his ministers, myself and my Deputy and the Permanent Secretary have stolen N2 billion from a fund which we never saw?”
He further contended that the ministry never handled the money, adding that the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) made payments to the agro-dealers not the ministry as alleged by the online medium.