The Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agriculture Lending (NIRSAL) met with embittered southwest farmers’ cooperative, Hope Concept Investment Cooperatives and Credit Union, last week where they sought for a truce over the protracted withholding of the N342 million approved by the apex bank for the cooperative under the Anchors Borrowers Programme (ABP).
The farmers who had been frustrated by the antics of NIRSAL over the disbursement had began last week briefing their lawyers over an impending court action where they plan to seek for damages over NIRSAL’s actions that had cost them losses and an assured off taker for their produce, who has now backed away.
business a.m. learnt at the weekend that NIRSAL, which had gone to town last week in a frenzy of media advertising alleging that it would not bow to what it called fake farmers without farmers in veiled reference to the southwest farmers cooperatives who had protested with placards in Lagos in the week, eventually met with aggrieved farmers and appealed to it to stop its press war.
Officials from the CBN also visited the farmers from Abuja and took time to further inspect and confirm the farmers activities and their farms, reassuring them that the matter would be settled and that they should prepare their claims which NIRSAL would pay.
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The claims would be based on lost time and opportunities that they have missed as a result of the foot dragging by NIRSAL to make the funds already approved and released by the CBN to the farmers to meet land preparation and wet season farming for maize for which an off taker was on standby committed to pay them for their harvest. The claims would also include accrual of interest since the fund was released to the custody of NIRSAL.
business a.m. reliably gathered that the CBN was not happy with the way the NIRSAL had handled the matter especially the way they had gone beyond their mandate in assuming roles in the ABP scheme that was essentially that of the CBN.
Sources close to the situation told business a.m. that the farmers’ cooperative is working to put together its claims through its lawyers, even though NIRSAL officials had suggested to the cooperative not to involve lawyers but rather “to just make their claims on their letterhead,” a situation seen as NIRSAL wanting to add another twist to last week’s reassuring mission to Lagos by the CBN and NIRSAL itself.
A key actor in the matter said during the visit NIRSAL and CBN officials were again taken round the farms owned by members of the cooperative to further debunk the allegation NIRSAL circulated through the media briefing that it was a bogus group.
The answer to when the funds will actually be released to thes farmers is still vague and the impression is that the approach is just another antic of feigning to be ready to address their issues, while cleverly diverting their agitation from court action to another round of endless anticipation.
The development followed the farmers angst and a threat to sue NIRSAL to court over the damages incurred from its refusal to completely disburse the funds and major alterations it had introduced to the terms of agreement.
After a press briefing the cooperative held to relay their grievances to media, NIRSAL’s reaction was to claim that they were non-genuine farmers who failed credit checks. NIRSAL and the farmers’ cooperative have been wrestling since late July when the CBN approved the loan.
The deterioration of the situation led to a series of events such as the withdrawal of the original off-taker, Flour Mills Nigeria plc and the consequent increase in burden of loan repayment.
After fulfilling the necessary criteria to access the loan, NIRSAL kept dragging its feet on payment, dashing the hopes of farmers who were already braced up for the farming season.
Access to financing is a major challenge confronting wider participation in Nigeria’s agriculture sector, and for this reason, the government, through the CBN, devoted about N1billion to agricultural financing. The CBN appears to be playing its role, but the disposition of NIRSAL, especially towards southwest farmers, has been raising questions as to whether the criteria for access are hinged on merit or political/ethnic affiliation.