Just three days remain before the deadline set by President Bola Tinubu, and federal government agencies, in collaboration with law enforcement authorities, are grappling with the task of recovering billions of naira disbursed to rice farmers as loans since 2018.President Bola Tinubu had granted an extension until Monday, September 18, for the retrieval of these funds,Daily Trust reports.
The ambitious Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) was initiated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to facilitate financial support for increased agricultural production in Nigeria. While there have been successful outcomes in some regions of the country, the program encountered obstacles due to the inability of certain beneficiaries to repay the loans upon maturity. Additionally, there have been allegations of embezzlement by some officials entrusted with disbursing the funds and agricultural inputs.
Reports indicate that the CBN disbursed over N1.1 trillion to ABP beneficiaries since the program’s inception, with only slightly over N546 billion being repaid. President Tinubu’s directive aims to recover over N577 billion from defaulting farmers and officials involved in diverting the funds.
At the program’s inception, numerous rice farmers were enlisted through registered associations and provided loans in the form of inputs, including seeds, agrochemicals, and fertilizers, among others. These farmers were expected to repay the loans at the conclusion of the farming season, either in cash or through paddy rice.
However, recovering these loans from the farmers has posed a significant challenge for the central bank, as all efforts to retrieve the money through their respective associations have yielded limited results.
In a recent attempt to recover the loans, the federal government instructed the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) to take all necessary actions to recoup the funds disbursed during the 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 cropping seasons. RIFAN was directed to collaborate with the Department of State Services (DSS), NSCDC, the police, and other relevant security agencies for this purpose. While RIFAN issued a circular dated August 30, 2023, instructing state chapters to work with security agencies, reports suggest that substantial progress has not been made in recovering the loans from defaulting farmers in the states.
Several factors contribute to the difficulty in recovering these loans. For instance, adverse circumstances, such as floods and the COVID-19 pandemic, affected the ability of farmers to repay their loans. Additionally, issues related to insurance coverage from the National Agricultural Insurance Company (NAIC) have complicated matters, with farmers unable to access compensation despite significant losses due to flooding. Farmers have also reported discrepancies between the value of inputs received and the amount of rice they were expected to repay.
In some cases, the loans may not have been distributed to genuine farmers, and there are allegations of political interference and mismanagement of funds. These issues have led to legal battles between farmers and RIFAN.
Efforts to resolve the situation have escalated to the national level, with a Special Investigator appointed by President Tinubu and a team set to probe alleged irregularities at the CBN and related entities, including the ABP. The investigators are also exploring the possibility of fixed deposits related to the Anchor Borrowers Funds, which may have led to delays in supplying fertilizers and other inputs to farmers.
As the investigation unfolds, heads may roll at the CBN and related institutions, and individuals involved in the fixed deposits racket may face consequences. This development signifies a significant effort to address the challenges and complexities surrounding the recovery of these loans within the ABP.