SENATE WADES INTO CRISIS ROCKING FEDERAL MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE
Princess Ekwi Ajide
Following allegations of an alleged fraud of several billions of naira purportedly perpetrated by the erstwhile Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, FMARD, Dr. Mohammed Bello Umar, the Nigeria Senate has resolved to wade into the crisis presently rocking the Ministry.
Though Dr. Umar had denied all the allegations leveled against him, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development said it is going to probe the alleged scam and other activities of the ministry.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, APC Nasarawa West, and his members were said to have decided to carry out thorough investigation into the matter with a view to ascertaining the truth behind it.
According to the committee, the agricultural sector is vital to the present administration as it is currently working towards diversifying the nation’s economy.
Dr. Umar had earlier been queried by the federal government for allegedly buying what it described as an “uncompleted carcass” building for the FMARD for N7 billion.
The Permanent Secretary, who is now in-charge of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, was said to have superintended over the transaction for the building purchase when he was still in the FMARD.
He was also accused of giving out seven deep drilling rigs for boreholes procured at N1.3 billion to some unnamed individuals under “fraudulent arrangements.”
The query, titled: “Allegations of acts of serious misconduct in your former post of Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development: Preliminary letter/query”, dated May 11, 2020 was issued by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan.
According to Yemi-Esan, in the leaked query, with reference number HCSF/PSO/AOD/P.030/5B, she acted on the order of President Muhammadu Buhari who she said had been briefed about the allegations.
Piqued by the development, staff members of the ministry have since been embarking on daily protests against poor welfare package; noting that the alleged disagreement between the Permanent Secretary and Directors in the ministry affected and still affecting their duties.
Similarly, contractors were not left out as they have also been taken to the streets, complaining that contracts done since 2018 have not been paid till date, as they are being harassed by the financial institutions that lent them money.
But an official in the ministry, who pleaded anonymity, said the Permanent Secretary had been cleared of all the allegations against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, claiming that “during Umar’s tenure as Permanent Secretary in Agric, he helped sanitise the ministry.”
Also, in a six-page response, dated May 14, 2020, to the query issued to him; Dr. Umar described all the allegations as “mere concoction based on malice for whatever reason best known to the perpetrators.”
He claimed due process was followed in the purchase of the uncompleted building, explaining that the company forwarded expressions of interest and the building was inspected by the management which agreed to set up a process for acquiring it.