The disquiet that followed the recent query issued to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology Dr. Umar Bello, is gradually thinning out as further information reveals that the queried Permanent Secretary was actually on a mission to sanitize the Agric Ministry.
A top Agric Ministry official who would not want his name in print confided in Economic Confidential that the embattled Bello during his tenure, stabilized the accounting processes and contract management procedures, apart from instituting roll-over budgetary process for ongoing projects in the ministry.
He further told this paper that almost over 30 years of the Ministry of Agriculture in Abuja, most of the offices were still scattered in various rented apartments and structures, stressing that the policy thrust of the Buhari administration is to minimize wastages which eventually influenced the resolve to get permanent structures.
Investigation further showed that as an interim measure to curtail wastages and cut costs on rents, department were moved to buildings belonging to Bank of Agriculture (BOA), Nigeria Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC) and some FADAMA structures to save government from incurring expenses.
Meanwhile on the alleged N7 billion spent in buying an uncompleted building for the ministry, Economic Confidential gathered from the top ministry official that the contract has been awarded by the ministry to complete the building but the award letters were not released by the current Permanent Secretary for reasons yet unknown.
Search also revealed that contrary to allegations that the erstwhile permanent secretary was invited to the anti-graft agency for questioning, only the Director of Finance and Accounts with his Procurement counterpart visited the agency to clear the air on allegations against them.
Some staff of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development who spoke to Economic Confidential on conditions of anonymity noted that due process which had hitherto prevailed in contract procedures has been jettisoned as contracts are no more advertised and bided for in comparison to the time past.
Our Source also disclosed that currently some activities in the Agric Ministry involved virements as letters on awards of contracts where neither signed nor released to the respective contractors. Instead funds are allegedly diverted and vire to other projects in unbudgeted localities that were never part of the appropriation, neither advertised nor bided for.
Efforts to reach both the former and current permanent secretaries in the Ministry of Agriculture to state their own side of the stories proved abortive as phone calls were neither replied nor returned as at the time of filing this report.
The former Permanent secretary of Agriculture Dr Umar Bello from Tambuwal Sokoto State is currently the Perm Sec at Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, while the current Permanent Secretary of Agric, Dr Abdulkadir Mu’azu from Zaria, Kaduna State was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mines and Steel. He had earlier served in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development for three months.
Meanwhile, in a recent response to allegations of financial recklessness levelled against Mohammed Umar Bello which was leaked to the press, the Science and Technology Permanent Secretary said the Minister of Agriculture, and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the purchase of the building.
In his reply dated May 14, he said all the financial transactions made while at the ministry of agriculture followed due process
“While denying in totality all the allegations, I hereby forward my representations and response to all the false allegations contained in the query,” the permanent secretary said.
“I am constrained to give details of the transactions I approved to set the record straight and clear my name. I will like state the following that all transactions at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development were approved through Administrative process and principles as traditioned in the conduct of government business.
“That FMARD run a rolling budget year in year out as most projects are been captured as ongoing; that all contracts/procurement and payments at the FMARD followed due process.
“There are procedures for contracts/procurement and payments handled by various departments in all government agencies, FMARD inclusive.
“That my tenure as Permanent Secretary at FMARD commenced from 10th January, 2019 to 18th December, 2019 and hence cannot be held responsible or liable for actions prior to 10th January, 2019.
“I state that contractors were dully paid. The allegation of contractors not been paid is totally false. All contractors whose contract was captured in the 2018 budgetary allocation were paid in accordance to budgetary releases.
“However, contractors whose contracts are ongoing were rolled over as ongoing. Rollover capital projects are not new in contract management.
“I will state that due process was followed to the latter in the purchase of the said building. After submission of the recommendation to the Hon. Minister of Agriculture; He approved that Council Memo be made to that effect.
“We then sent the Memo to the Secretary to Government of the Federation who then scheduled it for Federal Executive Council Approval. Consequently, the Federal Executive Council approved the purchase of the building.”