James Emejo in Abuja
Aggrieved contractors wednesday besieged the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, protesting non-payment for projects alleged to have been completed.
The group of contractors laid siege to the main entrance to the minister’s office in a desperate effort to voice their grievances.
The ministry has come under the spotlight from the presidency for its failure to pay eligible contractors, resulting in cumulative outstanding contractual liabilities of N48.42 billion.
Only recently, the erstwhile Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr. Muhammad Bello Umar, was queried by the Head of Service of the Federation, Dr. Folashade Yemi- Esan, over allegations of “acts of serious misconduct” at his former post.
The bulk of the allegations against him bothered on non-payment of contractors among other accusations which he denied, and rather blamed his successor, Dr. Mu’azu Abdulkadir, as well as the current Minister, Ahaji Sabo Nanono, for the issues.
Nevertheless, the protesting contractors, who chanted slogans, including the ‘Minister must go; the permanent secretary must go; pay us our money’, rejected all entreaties from security agents and refused to vacate the entrance, insisting to be addressed by either Nanono or Abdulkadir.
They claimed that the refusal of the ministry to pay the debts has had fatal consequences on their colleagues.
They added that the bank loans they obtained from their creditors to execute the various contracts had accumulated heavy service charges, which is already affecting their state of health.
The contractors further claimed that the projects had been awarded by the ministry since 2018, stressing that they had since been executed without payment by the ministry.
One of the protesters told journalists that: “We are here to take our destiny in our own hands, because since 2018 we were given the contracts we bided for, which we also executed. We have been coming here for payment with the certificate of completion issued to us by the same ministry.
“The ministry, based on whatever consideration, has done selective payments leaving some of us out. We have met with both the minister and the permanent secretary, and nothing has been done. At a point, the permanent secretary promised to pay us, but later refused to pay.
“I have also heard that some of the ministry officials have been demanding percent from some of our colleagues, but as for me, nobody has asked me.”
However, Efforts by THISDAY to get responses from ministry sources proved abortive as at press time.