Trouble In Agric Ministry, Minister Queries Perm Sec Over Donor Support Funds

Minister of Agriculture

Things are falling apart at the Ministry of Agriculture. President Muhammadu Buhari’s avowed quest to diversify Nigeria’s economy, using Agriculture as a springboard may well be a mirage except something happens. The reason is that the personnel of the ministry are currently at dagger-drawn with Perm Sec, Shehu Ahmed, over allegations of nepotism and flagrant violation of service rules by the latter.

By Sadiq Umar

These are no best of time for Shehu Ahmed, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture. The man who was recently appointed Perm Sec in a controversial circumstance has continued to stir the hornet nest. The ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is considered to be the fulcrum of the change agenda of the Buhari administration. Until his appointment, Dr. Ahmed was a deputy director at the SGF Office, where he was awaiting promotion letter to the position of a director when fortune smiled at him. His elevation in November last year was courtesy the new All Progressive Congress (APC) government at the centre. Ahmed who hailed from the same place as Nigeria’s First Lady Aisha Buhari, wife of the President, suddenly emerged the permanent secretary.

Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture
Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture

No sooner he assumed office than the otherwise silent ministry began to gain public attention. But then, for wrong reasons. In a letter dated March 3, 16 and addressed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Dr. Ahmed was accused of “flagrant violation” in the recent posting of a non-professional to head the department of Animal Production and Husbandry Services. The letter with reference no. ASAN/SGF/001/2016, the Animal Science Association of Nigeria (ASAN) expressed concern “that a non-professional in person of Dr. Egejuru Eze , a Veterinary Surgeon who was the Director of Veterinary Services is being posted to replace Dr. Ademola Moshood Raji, a Professional Registered Animal Scientist and Director, Animal Production and Husbandry Services.” The group pointed out that the posting of Dr. Eze “violates section 4 (2)(1) the provision of the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science Act 2015 as amended. The Act says “the federal director of the Animal Production or Animal Husbandry Services shall be a registered Animal Scientist.” Dr. Egejuru Eze is not a registered animal scientist. The Permanent Secretary was also accused of posting officers outside their professional cadre again in violation of Public Service Rules 020506. The The posting of a Veterinary Doctor whose professional cadre is called “Veterinary Officer” in the federal scheme of service to another professional cadre called “Livestock Officer/Livestock Development Officer” will embarrass Government, as it is against extant public service rules,” ASAN warned. The same issues have been brought before the Head of Service of the Federation and indeed the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh.

Minister of Agriculture
Minister of Agriculture

ASAN in a separate letter to the minister pointed to what it called “serious industrial issues” that affects its members in the Agric ministry. It warned that the dispute “may lead to failure of Government in resolving the on-going fatal clashes between pastoralists and farmers across the country.” Specifically, the group told Ogbeh that the “right personnel to intervene to solve the root cause have been kept in abeyance,” alluding to the exclusion of the right personnel from strategic decision making process of the ministry. The postings were simply based on nepotism,” a source alleged. But then, the association expressed regret over its inability to see the minister having made such attempt thrice and despite that its delegation alongside NIAS on one occasion were made to wait for 8hours. “It is our view that there is a deliberate attempt to block us from meeting with the HMA while the issue rages.”

The minister, in a swift reaction, directed the Permanent Secretary to respond to the complaints. The minister’s directive is contained a query with reference no FMA/HMA/050/11 addressed to the Permanent Secretary. In the query titled “Management of Donor Support Funds/Project, Audu Ogbeh wrote: “It has become necessary for me to draw your attention to some unpleasant developments in the ministry with regard to the management of donor support funds/projects.” The letter alludes to allegation the Perm. Sec. Ahmed embarked on systematic removal and replacement of personnel in juicy parastatals for selfish reasons. “Check it out, you will discover they are places where donor fund in-flow. The minister’s query questions the “arbitrary posting and transfer of officers” and “arbitrariness and misconduct of Executive Directors and other persons in the Institutes dealing with administrative issues without regard to due process. A few examples of these unpleasant developments are instructive,” the minister pointed out.

First are the series of events which took place in the Veterinary Research Institute of Nigerian, Jos Plateau State between 2013 and now, culminating in the arrest, detention and suspension for two and half years of one Dr. Okwori and Mallam Nasir Mohammed Ambursa. Till now, there is no evidence that the ministry was involved in the administrative process with a view to ensuring that the right decisions were taken on the case. Meanwhile, the officers have been punished and continued to be punished without the observance of due process.

The query to Dr. Ahmed also include the situation in the Cocoa Research Institutes of Nigeria (CRIN) where an executive director returned the salaries of 51 officers and sacked another 90 again without following due process. Third is the case at West African Agricultural Productivity Programmes (WAAPP) where someone who has just returned from service has replaced the national project coordinator. Fourth is the case of Mr. Awosika who was managing the ATAPS l project which began in January this year who has also been removed and replaced.

These developments are already creating panic and doubts in the minds of our donor partners. The minister expressed concern that the issues within the ministry has giving rise to “suspicion and general feeling of instability and inability on the part of the ministry and its agencies” to manage funds.

Unlike any other ministry, the ministry of Agriculture is central to the administration strategic economic diversification plan. The ministry relies heavily on foreign donor to fund its activities, especially the institutes where foreign donation accounts for over 70 percent. Already, the latest crisis within the ministry is gaining the attention of foreign partners. But none of those would make the perm. sec. bulge. Not only did he rebuff the directive of the Head of Service, he also waved aside directives from the minister by simply ignoring the letters. Ahmed’s effrontery is derived from his connection to Mrs Buhari.

At the moment, the matter has duly been brought to the notices of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Federal Civil Service Commission, Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Public Complaint Commission, Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, House Committee on Agriculture, Senate Committee on Agriculture, the Senate President and the Speaker, House of Representatives.

In a statement obtained by News Investigators, ASAN wrote: “The Civil Service Commission and Head of Service have directed an immediate reversal of this anomaly to no avail by the Permanent Secretary who has not hidden his strong relationship with the wife of the President as his cover. While this claim would have been disregarded with ease, all actions of the permanent secretary confirmed his sacredness by his brazen defiance and lack of adherence to procedure.

“This fear is accentuated by the same worry expressed by the Hon. Minister on such other postings in a letter to the permanent Secretary on his actions which have being widely circulated as nepotism and has cast a pall of doubt on the capacity and integrity of the ministry within donor circuit internationally (see appendix 5) even as the transfer of Dr (Mrs) Egejuru, who is the first woman to attain the height as the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) to the Department of Animal Production and Husbandry Services was to pave way for one Dr Gideon Misheila from his clan to become the CVO.

“This problem is brought for the information and attention of the Nigerian public that a single officer, who should be grateful to an administration that appointed him a Permanent Secretary while awaiting his letter as a substantive director (a further credence to his sacred cow posture) should not be allowed to truncate the good efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari in bringing succour to the Nigerian masses in Mr. Presidents change agenda.

“The Association is calling for well meaning Nigerians to intervene in ensuring the reversal of the brazen impunity and anomaly on postings of Professional Directors in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development if the economic diversification agenda through Agricultural renaissance will not be another pipe dream.”

In his recent official visit to China, President Buhari was scheduled to among others, explore the possibility of a deal on Agriculture. Hence, the minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh was expected to attend with a team of technocrat from the ministry. But that never happened. Sources said the Perm. Sec ensured that the money meant for the trip for those directors was not released. Efforts to speak to Dr. Ahmed on the matter ended in futility. He neither respond to our enquiry nor calls.

The situation at the ministry has reached an alarming stage, especially, given it concerns expressed on donor funding. Expectations are high that quick intervention is required. How long it will take, only time will tell.


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