The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development – Chief Audu Ogbeh has described the 2billion naira GES payment bribery allegation contained in an online publication against him, his deputy and the permanent secretary of the ministry as a cruel fabrication, an act of irresponsibility and blatant criminality by dubious agro dealers, whose fictitious invoices he queried and uncovered a 6.5billion naira inflation in claims.
Chief Ogbeh was addressing newsmen on Thursday in Abuja following a recent publication by an online tabloid, alleging that the minister, his minister of state and the permanent secretary of the ministry were involved in a 2billion naira bribery scandal, in the payment of debts owed by the last administration to input suppliers in the Growth Enhancement Scheme – GES programme.
“The GES payment was a debt we inherited from the previous administration. The total debt was 57billion. When we arrived here, the agro dealers said they couldn’t operate because they didn’t have bulk money to carry on with their businesses and so we applied to government and appealed for help to raise some money to pay the debt. The Federal Government gave us 20billion naira to pay part of the debt to agro dealers and fertilizer suppliers. When the money got to the ministry of finance, they decided that they would handle the payments and the accountant general made the payments. The money never got to the agric ministry and we are happy they decided to handle the payment. Even though we earlier met with agro dealers and agreed that they would be paid on pro rata basis, the ministry of finance on the other hand thought otherwise and reasoned that the big producers, manufacturers of fertilizers and the big blenders who were owed such a high profile with many giving notice of closing down be paid off so they can continue in business while they pay the agro dealers a portion of their money pending when more money comes to get their balance. The next thing we saw was a publication on the internet claiming that we had taken 2billion naira. How do you take money that is not under your control?” Chief Ogbeh asked.
Describing the cost of the GES as too heavy for government to bear, the Minister said the arrears that are being paid now was out of sympathy and responsibility towards the agro dealers, adding that: “We had to look for money from our own sources at the federal level to bear the liabilities of states. When we arrived here, we were told the bill for seeds alone was 9billion naira and I said, No, I am a farmer, how could you have supplied seeds worth 9 billion naira? We scrutinized the invoices and we were able to prune the bill down to 2.5 billion naira. I am shocked that these same people who submitted fictitious invoices with over 6 billion naira inflated claims are now smearing my name”.
Decrying the increasing rate of unprofessionalism in the social media, the minister stated: “I have tremendous respect for people freely expressing their views but the culture of irresponsibility and blatant criminality carried on by some online media persons is a cause for worry, because anything can be said about anyone. Tomorrow you can read online that you are an armed robber or a cocaine dealer. People start phoning you, did you read what they wrote about you on social media?”
The minster re-iterated that the Ministry of Agric never saw the GES funds in the first place and so, the question of taking out of it, not to talk of 2billion naira can never arise. “This criminality in the name of social media by persons of low character who hide under the so called platforms has to stop. They are not even bold enough to reveal their names in such write-ups. If you have concrete evidence that someone has done wrong then say it and be prepared to go to court”.
“We did not handle the payments, so there was no question of one kobo being taken by anyone in this ministry. I find it extremely cruel that people will invent tales like this just to smear people’s name. and I find it very depressing that a new generation of young persons would think that making up stories to tarnish people’s image is a profession.”, He added.