Pressure mounts on rice farmers as CBN massive loan repayment deadline nears

In this report, our correspondents investigate what has become of the over N1.7trn Central Bank of Nigeria-disbursed Anchor Borrower’s Loan given to supposed rice farmers across the country

Nothing depicts affluence within the vicinity, except for a handful of cars parked in the unkempt environment only fit for the breeding of reptiles. Relics of farming implements, inputs and tractors abound. There is nothing to suggest that the house, which is an office to over 72,000 farmers, was involved in a multi-million naira project to promote rice farming to feed the nation.

Welcome to No 7, Mwahavul Road, Farin-Gida, Mando, the Kaduna office of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, where Alhaji Muhammad Numbu, the Dan Galadima Sanga, presided as the state chairman of the once powerful association.

Most of its members are now making frantic efforts to repay loans obtained from the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor-Borrower Programme established to promote rice farming in the country by the administration of ex-President Muhammadu Buhari.

The project is currently being dodged by controversies, which compelled President Bola Tinubu to give a presidential order for the recovery of the loan, which amounted to a whooping N549.5bn, more than half a trillion naira.

The loans, as collected by the 10 northern states, are: Kaduna State -N139.9bn; Niger State – N61.8bn; Kano State -N58.2bn; and Sokoto State -N49.3bn.

Others are Jigawa State -N48.1bn; Kebbi State -N42.6bn; Katsina (Buhari’s state) -N5bn; Borno State -N36.5bn; Gombe State -N36.1bn and Zamfara State -N34.5bn.

It was following this report that the President ordered the CBN to immediately recover all loans given out under the Anchor Borrowers Programme for the rice revolution in Northern Nigeria during the eight years of the Buhari administration.

The report also provided facts on why the suspended CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele’s tenure at the apex bank was renewed. The loans were allegedly dished out to both real and political farmers.

 Loan repayment stalled

Numbu highlighted three reasons for the delay in the repayment of the loans – insecurity, the COVID-19 pandemic and Buhari’s re-election campaign in 2019.

According to him, security challenges in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Kaduna, Kano and Katsina states among others, impacted negatively on the ability of farmers to repay the loans.

Interestingly, Numbu disclosed to Saturday PUNCH that the last government deceived rice farmers into voting for Buhari for a second term in 2019 by “telling us that the loan” is free.

This situation, he added, made farmers relax in the repayment of the loan, pointing out that it was after the 2019 presidential election that the CBN came out to inform the farmers that “the loan wasn’t free” and that “we must look for the money and payback.”

He said, “On this issue of loan repayment, there were a lot of challenges after we started the programme in 2017. In 2018, there was a serious flood all over the country and most farmers experienced heavy losses. It was a serious disaster.

“Then, when we came back to 2019, we pleaded with the farmers, but they were not able to pay back the loan. We now agreed that we should plead with the CBN for another loan to enable the farmers to cultivate rice and pay back the two loans.

“When we were about to go for recovery, the 2019 election campaign came and the former President (Buhari) wanted to return to office. The farmers were made to believe that the loan was free and that Buhari said it was given for free. Because of the election, Buhari said we should relax and then, we relaxed. After Buhari won that election, they said we should go and pay the loan.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a ban on the importation of rice by the President; the rice we produced then was what Nigerians ate during the COVID-19 lockdown. We fed Nigerians because as of that time, the country wasn’t importing rice.

“Insecurity occasioned by the activities of Boko Haram is another factor that affected the payment of the loan. It was a serious challenge to us because some of our members lost their lives on the farm, while others were kidnapped on their farms. Some farmers cultivated rice but couldn’t go for the harvesting because of insecurity. A lot of things happened and these farmers couldn’t repay loans. Since then, the Anchor-Borrowers’ Programme stopped.”

However, following presidential directives to clamp down on the ABP loan defaulters, the RIFAN chairman warned the 72,000 rice farmers in the state to brace up for repayment.

He added, “What’s happening now is that there are directives by the DSS that the loan must be repaid and we just ended a meeting with all the stakeholders in anchor-borrowers in Kaduna State that the loan must be paid back.

“We have the records here with us and on-demand, we will give them out to them (security operatives). Whosoever refuses to pay will have himself to blame.

“I pray that our farmers in Kaduna will pay their loans themselves and not in the custody of the DSS or the police. In Kaduna, we have about 72,000 farmers that benefitted.”

Numbu told our correspondent that the association had recovered a reasonable amount of the loan from its members.

“I don’t want to let the world know (how much) yet. We are still reconciling with Unity Bank Plc and state officers because the recoveries were paid into various Unity Bank accounts, which we must reconcile to ascertain the level of payment. I am sure our farmers will pay back the loans,” he said.

 Borno beneficiaries refuse repayment

As other states adduced various reasons for non-compliance with the loan repayment directives, beneficiaries of the scheme in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, are simply not paying.

The Federal Government disbursed N36.5bn through the CBN to beneficiaries in the state since the inception of the programme.

“We admit that this amount was disbursed to us, but the rate and pace of repayment have been very discouraging,” a spokesman for the beneficiaries in the state, Abiso Kabir, told Saturday PUNCH on the telephone.

Kabir, a former chairman of the Rice Farmers Association in the state, however, said there was justification for the delay.

“First, you should know that the fear of Boko Haram insurgents ambushing and slaughtering farmers, which is still rampant, scared a large population of farmers away from the fields,” he said.

The former RIFAN chairman also cited natural disasters, especially devastating floods and drought.

“When Alau Dam (in Konduga LGA) is opened, there is serious flooding, which washes away the entire farm and all crops. So, how do you expect farmers to grow the crops with which they would repay the loan?” he asked.

Besides, Kabir complained, “Many farmers also sell the implements and inputs given to them as part of the loans; they divert the money for other things; in this case, they are not even prepared to repay the loans.”

 Zamfara farmers blame insecurity

In Zamafara State, the story appears to be the same as in other parts of the region.

The farmers claimed that banditry was a major impediment to the repayment of the ABP loan, adding that they were forced into the city after abandoning their farms.

A beneficiary of the loan from Dansadua, a bandit enclave in the state, Abubakar Sani, said, “Majority of us (rice farmers) left our communities where our farms are due to the fear of bandits and kidnappers.

“As I speak to you, today due to this insecurity, farmers cannot grow half of the food they used to grow in the past, which is responsible for non-repayment of the loans.”

On his part, RIFAN Secretary in Zamfara State, Alhaji Sanusi Mohammed, lamented that his members could not pay up the loan which runs into billions of naira as a result of insecurity.

“As I am talking to you now, more than 80 per cent of those who got the loan under the programme have defaulted, as such, we are not participating in the programme this year,” Mohammed said.

Gombe ‘political farmers’ default

In Gombe State, findings by Saturday PUNCH showed that most of the beneficiaries of the loan were cronies and allies of politicians.

A member of RIFAN in the state, Malata Falke, said this made it difficult for beneficiaries of the loan to pay back.

He said, “That’s exactly the problem. I was involved when they distributed 5.5 hectares to their people; at the end of the day, they claimed that the first record was burnt and they wanted to involve me to trace all beneficiaries of the latter against the former.

“It was then the problem started. They never target farmers for the anchor borrowers, but their fellow businessmen, which makes recovery a problem.”

On her part, the Programme Officer of Hope Foundation for the Lonely, Ballin James, decried the involvement of those he described as “political farmers,” lamenting the continued disparity in disbursement of facilities.

As a result of this, she argued that the beneficiaries didn’t seem rife to repay the loan because they assumed it was their share of the ‘national cake’.

“Majority of the beneficiaries of the loan are not actual farmers and these same people had to pay some unofficial amount to access it, so they’re now treating it as ‘our share of the national cake’. So, the failure to repay,” she said.

Speaking with Saturday PUNCH in Gombe, the state capital, a youth leader and farmer, Khalid Ahmed-Kumo, said the programme lacked an approach to reach genuine farmers, noting that at the “beginning, the project was good but lacked a genuine approach that would ensure only real farmers benefit from it,” adding that the “aims of the programme were defeated considering a lot of compromises and lack of adequate implementation like how some phases of the programme were neglected.”

 “The programme aims to ensure that farmers are funded and equipped from the farm clearing stage to the harvest period which includes the provision of different stages of loans that include monetary, equipment and inputs. But only a little equipment and inputs are provided to the farmers without considering the monetary part that will cover farming, farm clearing, planting, labour and harvest,” Ahmed-Kumo added.

Ministry blames failure on lack of inclusion

 Meanwhile, a Director in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Baba Gabriel, blamed the failure of the project on the nation’s apex bank for not involving state offices of the ministry in its disbursement.

Gabriel told Saturday PUNCH that some members were picked to represent the FMARD office in Gombe but were later sidelined, which culminated in the shoddy performance of the process.

“Anchor Borrowers is not domiciled in our ministry. It’s not domiciled with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, they are in direct contact with CBN. So, how will I report on it?” he asked.

When asked whether or not there were attempts for FMARD to help CBN in the recovery process, he said, “There are some of our staff members that were incorporated in the process. Since nobody contacted us for the loan disbursement, nobody reported to me. Some of the programmes are expected to be with us (FMARD), but they sidelined us. Everyone went directly and collected without documentation and they can’t report officially.”

Efforts made to reach the Coordinator of CBN RIFAN Special Project, Abubakar Mohammed, on the level of compliance proved abortive as texts and calls were unanswered.

Also, an official of CBN, who facilitated Gombe disbursement Abdullah Babaisah, when contacted declined to give insights into the performance of the scheme and its recovery process in the state.

“I can’t give you details of the programme. If you want information, meet our Corporate Communications team on Anchor Borrowers,” Babaisah added.

 Substantial amount of N5bn repaid in Katsina

While the stories are the same in other parts of the north, Katsina, being the home of the former president, was different as according to The PUNCH, of the N5bn disbursed to farmers in the state, a substantial payment was made by beneficiaries of the loan.

“My members have made substantial payment but I will give you details when I return to Katsina,” Chairman,

Katsina State Chapter of RIFAN, Shuaibu Wakili, said.

Investigation revealed that no fewer than 48 RIFAN members benefitted from the scheme which was aimed at boosting rice production and by extension, food security in Nigeria.

Findings further showed that while some members had offset the loans which were not disclosed, some had not as a result of circumstances that were beyond them, such as insecurity, flooding and drought.

This led no fewer than 60 per cent of farmers across the 34 local government areas of the state to have lost over 1.7 million metric tonnes of grains including rice as a result of drought orchestrated by climate change in 2021.

The Special Adviser to the immediate past Governor Governor Aminu Masari on Agriculture, Dr. Abba Abdullahi, who disclosed this, revealed that 500,000 hectares of farms were also affected by the drought the same year.

He explained that sorghum, millet, cow beans, rice, soybean and maize were worst affected in the southern part of the state, while maize and rice were mostly among the crops that were affected in the central and northern zones of the state.

Abdullahi said 20 per cent of the farmers in Daura, Kaita, Mashi and Dutsi Local Government Areas lost 70 per cent of what they planted, mostly millet and sorghum, while others lost about 40 to 90 per cent of their crops due to the shortage of rainfall.

According to him, based on the data that was collated from the field by the state Ministry of Agriculture, 60 per cent of the farmers across the 34 local governments experienced one crop loss or the other.

He said, “Farmers lost 158,000 metric tonnes of sorghum, 761,000 metric tonnes of millet, cow beans, 200,000 metric tonnes; rice 92,000 metric tonnes; soybean, 105,000 metric tonnes; and maize, 137,000 metric tonnes, among others.

“In all, there was a total loss of 1,754,000 grains in the 2021 wet season cropping due to drought across the 34 local government areas of the state.”

The Katsina branch of the CBN referred all inquiries on the Anchor Borrowers Scheme to its headquarters in Abuja.

“Please, it is only the headquarters that can attend to your enquiries,” a receptionist at the branch replied to the form filled out to see the Branch Controller.

Katsina Commissioner of Agriculture and Livestock Development, Prof. Ahmed Bakori, could not be reached for comments and he has yet to respond to the SMS sent to him on the issue.

 We’re monitoring compliance in Sokoto – Agric Ministry

In Sokoto State, the State Controller of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Shehu Salihu, disclosed that the ministry was closely monitoring the level of compliance on anchor borrowers’ money in the area.

According to him, alongside relevant security agencies, the ministry is monitoring the situation following the presidential directives on the matter.

He, however, revealed that the ministry had no record of disbursement of the loan to farmers in the state

“We are aware of the directive as given by Mr President. It is a known fact that there is a default in the payment hence the directive issued by the President to the security agents in the state.

“Though our office is not involved in the distribution of the loan to the farmers, ours was to play an advisory role but we can assure you that we will work with relevant stakeholders to ensure the money is recovered.

“I am sure you know dry season farming is around the corner, same farmers will need money from the government to cultivate. If this one is not recovered, how will they get another one?”

CBN’s N549.5bn rice revolution scheme jacks up local rice production to 7.8mt

 The leadership of the Kano State chapter of RIFAN dismissed as false the impression that the CBN’s N549.5bn rice revolution programme has failed in the North.

Instead, the state Secretary of RIFAN, Ado Yakasai, insisted that the programme has jacked up Nigeria’s domestic rice production from 2.5 million metric tonnes to 7.8 million metric tonnes, adding that the programme hadn’t failed after all.

On the compliance level of loan repayment, Yakasai confirmed that the state chapter of RIFAN has been able to repay N3bn from its loan portfolio of N12.4bn.

However, he lamented that in the course of the farming season, rice farmers suffered unprecedented losses following the devastating flood which destroyed large acres of rice farms, not only in Kano but in many states in the country.

According to him, the CBN dispatched a representative to Kano, led by one Dr Musa, alongside RIFAN’s National Working Committee, to ascertain the extent of damage caused by a devastating flood.

He said, “Before the rice revolution programme, our domestic rice production was around 2.5 million metric tonnes but with the inception of the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, the output of rice production in Nigeria rose from 2.5 million metric tonnes to about 7.8 million metric tonnes. All the rice is produced in the North.

“You cannot give it a tag that it is a failure but you can only complain of the slow repayment process. Also, you must look around if there are impediments surrounding the repayment process, which of course there are.

“You will discover that there were some lapses that must have caused the delay in the repayment process. But the notion that CBN’s N549.5bn rice revolution failed in the North, I can tell you that we rice farmers in Kano can contest the figures you claimed are worth N58.2 bn loans given by the CBN. I can confirm for RIFAN, Kano chapter, our loan portfolio is between N12.3bn and N12.4bn cumulative for the entire season from 2016 to date (2023).

“For Kano, it is just about N12.4bn loan we obtained. When you look at it critically, you will find out that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, which Nigeria is currently enjoying in the rice revolution programme.

“Since the ban on rice importation by the Buhari administration in 2016, Nigeria has transformed from a rice importer to a top rice producer in Nigeria and Africa and is currently on the verge of becoming a rice exporter.

“At the close of the day, the CBN team acknowledged that there was a devastating flood that destroyed large rice farms. Farmers before the flood paid premiums to insurance brokers for cover through NARDA but unfortunately, after the flooding, NARDA refused to follow the tradition of compensating the farmers when there were incidences of such magnitude despite the payment of premium to Insurance Brokers for cover.

“As I speak with you, the CBN is yet to fulfil its promise to supply the rice farmers with fresh input for replanting, a situation, among others that has affected the rice farmers’ plan of repaying the loans. To date, the rice farmers are still being chased to repay the loans. “

Also, Yakasai, lamented that security challenges in the North were also responsible for the non-compliance level of the loan repayment.

According to him, rice farmers were hampered by the restriction of movement, particularly during the 2019/2020 COVID-19 period, which impacted negatively on their productivity and loan repayment.

He acknowledged that the rice farmers were the beneficiaries of the CBN’s loan toward the rice revolution, which resulted in the stoppage of rice importation and promoted the consumption of locally produced rice.

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