By Emmanuel Onwubiko
It has therefore come to my notice that the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), an institution that is playing a key role in the transformation of Nigerian agriculture has been the subject of a vicious and sustained campaign of calumny over the past two years.
This campaign which has intensified in the last six months is being executed by faceless elements who hide behind compromised social media platforms to thro8w mud at the organization.
They have also tried to instigate the security agencies through baseless unsubstantiated reports based on unproven allegations which they have sponsored in the social media.
The allegations have ranged from mismanagement of funds by its current leadership to claims of discrimination and favoritism.
Significantly, despite the media campaign and reports made to the security agencies, no evidence of impropriety has been found.
We, the coalition of civil Society organisations are very concerned about the ongoing campaign against NIRSAL for the following reasons:
First, the efforts to distract and even disable NIRSAL is not in the interest of the nation because the institution’s mandate is central to the focus on agriculture by the Buhari administration, the sector that is the number one employer of labour and lynchpin of the nation’s plans for a post-oil future.
Second, there is clear evidence NIRSAL is doing justice to its mandate. It is an established fact that the institution has facilitated about N110 billion from the financial sector into agriculture. In the process, it has contributed to the creation of millions of jobs and the improvement of the lives of smallholder farmers across the country.
Third, NIRSAL is adding significant value in other areas, notably agricultural insurance where it is working with partners to create and popularize innovative insurance packages that will reduce the risks faced by Nigerian farmers and help them to benefit more from their toil.
Fourthly and related to the above, the institution is making brisk progress with its AgroGeoCorps scheme which is projected to create about 16,000 farmer-cooperatives on 4 million hectares of farmland, enrol about 8 million farmers across Nigeria.
My self and other civil rights activists had investigated these wishy washy allegations and found them to be politically tainted and motivated aimed at destroying the key essence of the current administration which is focused towards using agricultural as the stepping stone for aggressive employment opportunities for the young school leavers and graduates who would be assisted with working funds to mechanize their commercial farming activities.
In a near three hours-long conversation with openly done with the civil society community and the media in which I attended accidentally, the MD Aliyu Hameed said most of the allegations made against his person in recent times were as a result of ignorance of how NIRSAL works and why it was set up.
“NIRSAL is supposed to be a guarantee agency. We don’t give one Kobo out. We issue paper, guaranteeing you the banker so that if anything happens to your money, you come back to us. But of course as a risk company, we ensure that event doesn’t happen.
“Because if we don’t monitor in the field and events happen and we keep paying…that means CBN paying, then what is the purpose of the existence of the organisation?” he begins.
“What is so confusing to the public is when you tell people that NIRSAL does not touch one Kobo from the government. Go to the national assembly, there has never been an appropriation for NIRSAL to spend. And we are not designed to spend money.
CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Usman and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
“In fact,we don’t even have the money to spend. We are designed to issue guarantees to bankers and investors against that capital.
“NIRSAL building belongs to CBN. All our offices are run from CBN branches nationwide. The reason this is so is that we reduce the burden on our little earnings so that we can pay staff salaries and keep servicing farmers when they borrow money.
“CBN is the Chairman of the board and provides oversight. That means the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, is board chairman of NIRSAL.
“The approval for NIRSAL was done by former President Goodluck Jonathan. But we took off under President Muhammadu Buhari. That means it was under Buhari that we were established or incorporated.
“In the beginning, I rented a bungalow in Maitama, used my own money and friends to pay for this and that. Sometimes when I didn’t have money to pay for diesel for the generator, I had to borrow money. We operated from this bungalow for six months until the first board meeting. We built this organisation from zero with not more than seven staff at the initial stage,” he adds.
Hameed also reserves plenty of praise for the CBN Governor, for his kind words and support.
“I don’t cease to praise my boss, Gov Emefiele. This is one CBN Governor that doesn’t act like CBN Governor.
“CBN Governors are supposed to be quiet, mind themselves with inflation, monetary policy, financial instability, exchange rates. But Emefiele? He’s made his lifetime ambition to use the CBN system to do more developmental financing in agriculture.
“Nothing keeps Emefiele awake than what to do with rice farmers, palm oil and so on.You know this. We work with the policies designed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. If there’s one organisation that deserves the highest national productivity merit award, it’s NIRSAL. We add value, we train farmers and we put bankers to work.
“They allege that I have put the entire capital of CBN in my pocket. Imagine that here I am, I go to CBN, and I do wizardry on them to approve so I can carry? Like CBN says ‘go inside, carry N72.5bn and go?’
“We do quarterly board meetings without fail. Every single thing I do in this place is controlled by the board. It’s their money, I’m just a servant.
“Everything we do at NIRSAL is for the public good. Over the span of its existence so far, NIRSAL has facilitated N100 billion into the agricultural sector. Honestly, Nigerians need to be proud of this baby and not try to bring it down with patently false allegations.”
On the March 18 protest, Hameed says the protesters were hired for peanuts and didn’t even know why they were at his office.
“The people who came to protest, we asked them, do you know NIRSAL, they said they don’t know. They said NIRSAL is supposed to give us government money. The protesters were sponsored. They didn’t even know what we do here. They said they were paid N1,000 to carry the placards.
“My board has not indicted me, my board continues to shower praises on me.
NIRSAL was incorporated under Jonathan (L) but took off under Buhari (R) (Presidency)
NIRSAL was incorporated under Jonathan (L) but took off under Buhari (R) (Presidency)
“There’s a huge campaign of calumny against me and this organisation. Don’t forget that the agricultural agenda of the presidency and the central bank is rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. Like the importers of tomatoes, the importers of palm oil and the rest are very angry and unhappy.
“They ask; ‘why should the CBN not give foreign exchange? Why should Emefiele be rigging this revolution?’ Emefiele never forgets where he comes from in Agbor. How he grew up. How he suffered to go through school. You see him as CBN Governor on TV, but believe me, this man is a different person altogether. He is so full of humility and love.
“He tells me that Aliyu, if you think you are getting attacked one time, multiply that by a hundred in terms of what I get.
Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele speaks during the monthly Monetary Policy Committee meeting in Abuja, Nigeria January 26, 2016. (Reuters)
“Emefiele’s heart is clear. I learn humility from Emefiele. Some people think my job is a political appointment so they attack me. Somebody told me that ‘you think this honeymoon will continue? Your baptism is coming.’
“Without Emefiele, we wouldn’t be where we are as an organisation. The credit should not come to me at all. If people attack me, they are attacking the agricultural policy of this government. People are angry that they are being stopped from importing rice. There are sponsors behind all of these media attacks.
“How can someone write that the MD of NIRSAL has put the entire capital in his pocket and run away?
“They say I have stolen N75 billion or N5.6 billion from a wheat project in Jigawa? They say my son drives a Lamborghini and is spraying millions of dollars on the streets of Dubai…come on!”
Forcing staff to sign non-disclosure forms and dictatorship at NIRSAL
On allegations that he’s forcing his employees to sign secrecy agreements, Hameed says, “when I pay salaries, you’d hear complaints, when I do trainings, people would complain, when I do welfare, just be ready to be receiving information.
“If I sign on this desk for those that did ICAN to go and pay their dues or that the lawyers should go and pay their dues at NBA, I can assure you that the other people that are not lawyers would write to you to say I’m practicing favoritism.
“If every little thing I do here as CEO is subject to second guessing, it’s up to us to figure out what is reasonable or what is not.
“Which organisation, from Zenith bank or any organisation in this world, would allow its IT policy or corporate policy to be breached? So you mean that everything I do here, every board decision, I am supposed to call staff and say please can you take it to the street and share it?
“Is there any organisation that doesn’t have a code of corporate governance and oath of secrecy? Is that not backed by law? Is what we are doing not backed by the laws of corporations in Nigeria and around the world or not? Are there not confidentiality agreements in corporate settings everywhere?
NIRSAL holds session to chart course for agricultural financing (Agro Nigeria)
“All organisations run background checks and certificate checks on incoming staff or criminal records. The oath of secrecy we do here is not about running the organisation, it’s about since your wife or kids go to XYZ schools, their addresses should not be exposed.
“Because, some of our staff are in charge of personal files, some staff are in charge of your salary file. So someone wants to carry our staff file and salary file and staff location number and go and share with kidnappers and killers right?
“If staff are complaining, why is it that when they join, they don’t say they won’t sign the oath of secrecy like any other organisation? Why don’t they leave? And who says as a young organisation, we cannot be improving our regulations and rules as we go along? As we learn?
“There are some things that are reasonable, there are some things that do not make sense. If I don’t do what I am supposed to do as CEO, I may as well resign and go and tell Gov Emefiele that I can’t do this job anymore.
“If any staff meets you with these allegations, ask them why they haven’t resigned and gone to any organisation in the United States or in Nigeria where they don’t sign corporate governance forms. By the way, I am an employee here too, I also signed those forms.”
On allegations that he appointed a daughter of the nation’s police boss in order to ingratiate himself with the IGP and shield himself from interrogation and a possible arrest, Hameed says nothing could be farther from the truth.
“So if your sister, or your son or brother’s son qualifies for a job after an interview and I say come and do a job, he knows risk management, he knows finance, he knows agriculture, so it’s a crime because I know Jude, not to employ that person?
“Forget whether it is IG (Inspector General) or President Buhari or Governor Emefiele or that man on the street.
“The majority of my Technical Assistants are from which ethnic group? Tosin (one of his assistants) is from Osun State. They even wrote that I have a car and driver. Why should MD of NIRSAL have a driver? Or why should my wife have a driver?
“You know, 90 percent of our work is in the bush with farmers, kidnappers and armed robbers. If you guarantee a project, you have to go monitor on the ground so that it doesn’t fail. The board decided to buy bulletproof cars for staff, management and board members when they go on site visits. And they say Aliyu has bought cars….
“Did the board purchase these cars and say ‘Aliyu these are your personal cars, drive them?’ Were the cars bought in my name or there are company assets? They say MD has 11 cars scattered across the country, right? Why can’t they say every bulletproof vehicle, pick-ups, are Aliyu’s? In other words, why did God create me? Because they say why should my children go to school?
“If I leave NIRSAL today, I leave all the assets here for the new MD’s use.
As an activist I hereby pass a vote of confidence of the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL Plc.) which is a US$500million Non-Bank Financial Institution wholly-owned by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) created to Redefine, Dimension, Measure, Re-Price and Share agribusiness-related credit risks in Nigeria.
Established in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) and Nigerian Bankers’ Committee in 2013, NIRSAL’s mandate is to stimulate the flow of affordable finance and investments into the agricultural sector by de-risking the agribusiness finance value chain, fixing agricultural value chains, building long-term capacity, and institutionalizing incentives for agricultural lending through its five (5) strategic pillars, namely: Risk Sharing, Insurance, Technical Assistance, Incentives and Rating.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com, www.thenigerianinsidernews.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com, www.huriwanigeria.com.