The move by the present administration to make the agricultural sector its main focus against the backdrop of dwindling oil revenue appears to have suffered a setback as fresh revelations have shown a drastic reduction in the 2016 budgetary allocation for the sector by the National Assembly.
Besides the ministry’s initial N40.918 billion budget proposal that was reduced to N31.618 billion by the National Assembly, the lawmakers allegedly also inserted fresh 386 projects worth N12.6 billion.
A member of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, who spoke to journalists in Abuja, expressed worry about the development while vowing to invoke necessary channels to ensure a probe is instituted to unravel how those fresh projects were inserted without the knowledge of the entire membership of the committee.
‘’We are happy that the Speaker hinted that the issue of the budget will be revisited this week; but what some of us want is the understanding of Nigerians on this matter.
‘’The issue of this controversial budget has to be carefully done this time around because some persons who think they were smarter had already led the entire parliament into collision with the executive and indeed Nigerians.
‘’They have done this by inserting projects without the knowledge of others, either in the appropriation or relevant sectoral committees, and presenting same as the collective decision of the house or the entire parliament.
‘’To the best of my knowledge, as a member of both the appropriation and agriculture committees in the House of Representatives, I do know that we reduced the ministry’s N40.9 billion proposal by about N9.3 billion.
‘’But the surprise here is that while a decision was not taken where to infuse the reduced sum, some of us were surprised to see that so many projects were passed on to the president for assent which he declined.
‘’The implication is that if the president did not insist on details, most National Assembly members would not have had the opportunity to know what went behind them.
‘’For instance, in the Agric sector which I am conversant with, a total of 386 projects unknown to many of us were inserted, and totalled about N12.6 billion. Out of this, while N5.3 billion of the main ministry’s budget is taken away, about N7.2 billion is infused into almost 40 agencies and parastatals of the agric ministry.
‘’We agree that we reduced the budget, but who infused this bogus sums to the projects without the knowledge of others, is the question here. So, I am poised to raise the issue when we meet because it is betrayal in many angles.
‘’This is more so that looking at the N7.2 billion infused in the agencies, only a paltry sum of N2.3bn is allocated to the south while the remaining N4.3bn is allocated to the north. The most annoying thing is in those areas where those who inserted the projects have interests, the cost of projects is nothing less than N100 million.
‘’That is how to know who had interest in where and what, because from the look of things, how does it make sense that Federal Cooperative College, Ibadan, will get N40m, that of Oji River will be given N7m and that of Kaduna got N270m,’’ the lawmaker alleged.
A document sighted by our correspondent from which the lawmaker gave a graphic account of the breakdown shows that about three projects unconnected with the agric sector were in the group of the allegedly infused ones. They include erosion control in Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State, Kwadon, and Garin Alhaji at the cost of N200 million, N100 million and N45 million respectively.
Others include provision of 58 boreholes for 29 unnamed rural communities and an additional 50 for another unknown 50 rural communities in the sum of N175 million and N150.4 million respectively.
Similarly, of the N90 million allocated to the Cocoa Research Institute in Ibadan, various sums are allocated to the following seven sub heads: provision of rubber seeds and seedling in Igbotako, Okitipupa (N5m), training and empowerment of youths in poultry farming in Oluyole, Ibadan (N20m) and provision of cassava processing plant in Etsako east local government area of Edo State (N10m).
Of the four sub heads under the Rubber Research Institute, Benin, two areas are equally outside the focus of rubber. These are training and empowerment of youth and women in fish farming in Ndokwa, Delta State, and the fabrication, installation of cassava processing machines in Own west local government area of Edo at N10m and N20m respectively.
Also, the sum of N1 billion was allocated to two projects in Kwara south, the senatorial district of the Senate president, Dr Bukola Saraki. They are for the construction of rural roads for the sum of N700 million as well as empowerment of women and youth in agricultural products for another sum of N300 million.
The other projects discovered to have been inserted with no clear-cut purposes include N5.3bn for the main ministry; Federal College of Produce Inspection and Stored Products in Kano – N550.6m; Agric Research and Management Institute in Ilorin – N225m; National Centre for Agric Mechanisation in Ilorin – N422.4m; National Cereal Research Institute, Badeggi – N257.5m.
Others are National Veterinary Research Institute, Vom, in Plateau State – N35m; National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike in Abia State – N484m; National Institute for Oil Palm Research, Benin City – N177.8; National Agric Research Institute, Zaria – N243.3m; National Animal Product Research Institute, Zaria – N345.5m; National Horticulture Research Institute, Ibadan – N62m.
Also in the list is Cocoa Research Institute, Ibadan – N90m; Institute of Agric Research and Training, Ibadan – N18m; Rubber Research Institute, Benin – N70m; National Institute for Fresh Water Fish, New Bussa, Niger State – N205m; National Agric Extension and Research Liaison Services, Zaria – N60m; Veterinary Council of Nigeria – N26.2m, among numerous other institutes and colleges under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.