Investigation: How CSOs uncovered N795.2m financial inadequacy in 2018 Ondo Agric budget

Investigation: How CSOs uncovered N795.2m financial inadequacy in 2018 Ondo Agric budget

Editor's note: Agriculture is undoubtedly one of the critical sectors upon which the federal government relies on to revive Nigeria's economy. But, despite the campaigns by the government that people should go back to farm, there seems to be disconnect between words and actions.

In this investigation by regional reporter in Ondo state, Damilare Moriyeke, it was revealed how civil society organisations (CSOs) in Ondo state uncovered financial inadequacies estimated to the tune of N795, 268,000 in the 2018 agriculture budget passed to law by the state government five months ago.

Aside the natural disasters militating against agricultural revolution in the country, there are other man-made factors that are causing stunted growth in the sector, making economic diversification, as pursued by federal government, extremely difficult.

Most states of the federation identified agriculture as the sector that can provide the bail out economically from the crunching effects of recession, making recourse to the opportunities and potentials it availed the nation before the discovery of oil.

In a bid to actualize the vision, the Ondo state governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, signed a total budget of N181,424,540,283 into law on February 6, 2018, earmarking N78,587,675,486.07 for recurrent expenditure and N80,928,985,234 for capital expenditure, the highest of its kind in the state.

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But the Justice, Development and Peace Centre (JDPC), Ondo state chapter, decried financial inadequacies estimated to the tune of N795, 268,000 in the 2018 agriculture budget passed to law by the state government five months ago.

While analysing Ondo state 2018 agriculture budget, alongside other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Akure, the JDPC chairman, Public Finance in Agriculture for Budget Committee (PFA), Chief Pius Akomolafe, revealed some irregularities in the budget.

Akomolafe noted that N5, 039,148,434,96 was allocated for agric spending and this represented 2.77 per cent of the total budget, identifying it as a huge disconnect between the commitment made by the governor and the content of the budget.

Whereas, the appropriation bill of N172, 268,000 was first presented to the state House of Assembly in December 2017, but it was jerked up to N181.4b two months after.

He added that N4,151,285,000 is allocated to capital expenditure representing 82.56% of the total agric budget, while N842, 613, 434.98 is earmarked for recurrent expenditure, representing 16.72 per cent of the agric budget.

"This sum, however, is not sufficient to meet the annual growth target of 6 per cent of the Maputo commitment and the allocation of 10 per cent of state's budget on agricultural activities.

"Considering the rate of inflation, 12.42%, the purchasing power of the 2018 agriculture budget is worth N3, 303, 781, 535.36," he said, describing it as the highest in recent times in comparison to allocation from 2014 to 2016, which were 2.57%, 1.66% and 1.10% respectively.

"The implication of this trend reveals an actual decrease in consideration given to improving agricultural growth and it will not be out of place to suggest that agricultural productivity has stunted and will be stunted."

Though the organisation admitted that the increase of the capital expenditure over recurrent is a welcome development, it lamented that "over N795,268,000 for capital projects are not clear, they are not location specific. This is however not the best for accountability and transparency."

JDPC identified some administrative, bloated overheads, unclear and wasteful allocations; among which is N500,000 earmarked to purchase Sony radio, one standing fan (KDK), one Sony DVD playback and 36 inches LCD television under Code 01010000061213.

"With the increase in pressing need begging for attention, this amount committed to this project can be scaled down," he said, exposing N162,500,000 earmarked to raise 2.5 million cocoa seedlings at the three senatorial districts under Code 01010000390201.

Akomolafe kicked that N81,000,000 was budgeted to raise 500,000 oil palm seedlings at the three senatorial districts and another N18, 500, 000 for 250,000 cashew seedlings at the three senatorial districts under Codes 01010000390202 and 01010000390211 respectively.

He decried that N250, 000 is budgeted for provision of hand dug wells with pumping machines and reticulation systems under code 01010000390213, saying "these items and many more do not have specific location for implementation."

While the sum of N10, 000,000 is for training of women and youth farmers in primary production, processing and marketing under Code 01010000410103.

"There is no specification as regards the product they will be trained on, the item is open ended, which shouldn't be," the PFA chairman said, revealing that over 14 projects were without location in the 2018 budget.

Among other inadequacies, the CSOs lamented that the 2018 budget was hurriedly passed and signed into law, stating that call-for-circular should start by July and all stakeholders must be adequately represented.

They raised concerns on women and youths in agriculture, agriculture finance, farm inputs, extension services, research and development, Climate Change and Sustainable Agriculture (CRSA) and other support to small scale agriculture.

The state government, however, was lauded for budgeting an increased amount of N120, 000,000 for procurement of fertilizers, but appealed that the money should be released on time and products delivered in the interest of smallholder women farmers and youths.

"On the other hand, the amount allocated for the procurement of agro-input declined from N80, 000,000 to N40, 000, 000, which is not a sound way to improve productivity."

On the spot assessment to some of the agricultural projects by showed that there is much to be desired, and the agric budget does not reflect as most of the sites are in reckless abandonment and suffering utter neglect.

The state chairman of Small Holders Women Farmers Network (SHOWFAN), Bukola Oyediji, accused the ministry of some sharp practices in matters relating to farmers in the state, especially women.

According to her, "the agro-products, credit facilities and other grants for farmers are shared among the directors and their cronies who do not have farms. The only farmers that benefit all these are in the cities, fake farmers; without extending it to the rural areas."

Oyediji, who said there was no inclusiveness and women friendly policy in the budget, disclosed that government buy agro-products without consulting the farmers hence taking bad decisions as well.

She added that the network, which has overtime 350 women farmers, are tired of being small holder farmers since creation over seven years ago, declaring that government policies are restricting them from growing to commercial level.

While the executive director of Kommuniti in Action (KI), Olusola Adeosun, said the budget performance has been very poor, alleging that the government intentionally shirked away from monitoring and evaluation due to the upscale corruption in the budget.

Adeosun accused government officials of keeping away necessary documents from the farmers whenever they make demands, recounting the nonchalant attitudes shown to them.

The CSOs urged the state government to develop a strategy that will translate the Malabo commitments into action, insisting that purchase of agro-input should follow the state procurement law for the sake of accountability and transparency.

"This is to avoid the purchase of commodities close to its expiration date and those that do not meet international standard.

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"We emphasize again that allocating 10% of the state budget for agricultural activities will not only benefit smallholder women farmers, but will also increase revenue of the state, improve life expectancy and overall improvement in the well-being status of residents."

Several attempts to reach the special assistant to the governor on agriculture, Pastor Akin Olotu and the chief press secretary to the governor, Segun Ajiboye, were to no avail.

The governor's aides refused to reply the text messages sent to them and also declined the calls made to their lines for follow-up.

Meanwhile, had previously reported that the Rotimi Akeredolu-led administration in Ondo state was accused by the state chapter of the Mega Party of Nigeria (MPN), of not making any significant impact since assuming office 16 months ago.

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