Agric ministry spent N18b on bush clearing – Reps

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THE House of Representatives has commenced an investigation to unravel how the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) spent a whooping N18.9 billion on bush clearing across the country in 2020.

The said contract was awarded to several companies during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Chairman of the House on Public Account Committee (PAC) Wole Oke disclosed this at an investigative hearing in Abuja yesterday.

Oke stated that the House was interested in finding out the location and significance of the projects executed with the N18.9 billion, which include land preparations and restoring soil plant laboratories.

He also disclosed that the committee had invited the ministry and the companies involved.

The invited firms were, however, conspicuously absent at the hearing without any reason for their non-appearance.

“During the lockdown of the country as a result of COVID-19, some companies took contracts worth about N18 billion for bush clearing from the federal ministry of agriculture, for land preparation, rehabilitation of soil plant lab and others. We cannot shave their heads in their absence,” he said.

“We have invited them to come and give us their side by responding to the issues and showing us the places they are supposed to have cleared. They have to take us to the land they cleared.

“We have invited the ministry of agriculture, and they have made a submission. But some of our members whose constituencies these projects were supposed to be domiciled doubted the existence of these projects, and for fair hearing, we have invited the companies that got the contract for them to come and tell this committee where and when the jobs were executed.”

When contacted on Wednesday, the spokesperson of the ministry, Joel Oruche, told The ICIR that he had no information on the said contracts.

He, however, promised to provide a response as soon as he had more information.

The ministry of agriculture is not new to scandals. In 2021, the ministry attracted public condemnation after it approved N30 million of public funds for constructing a mosque in Borno State.

A leaked memo dated December 10, 2020, with Ref. No. FMA/PROC/AHS/SIP/2020/7742/1, signed by Musa Musa, the deputy director of procurement in the ministry on behalf of the minister, showed the contract was awarded to El-Shukhur Multi-Buz Nig. Ltd.

The ministry said the Ministerial Tenders Board had approved the contract.