The Federal Ministry of Agriculture has been asked to explain spending a total sum of N3.809bn on the suspended Rural Grazing Area scheme without a presidential approval or National Assembly appropriation.
The Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation that the queried the spending totaling N60, 795,898,225.84, said it is part of the eight audit queries issued against the ministry in the ‘Auditor-General for the Federation’s Annual Report on Non-Compliance/Internal Control Weaknesses Issues in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria for the Year Ended 31st December, 2019.’
The Acting Auditor-General of the Federation, Adolphus Aghughu, presented a report and details of the queries to the Clerk to the National Assembly, Ojo Amos, on September 15, 2021, while the Senate and House Committees on Public Accounts commenced investigation into the queries.
The Federal Government introduced the RUGA scheme in May 2019 but was forced to suspend it in the July of the same year due to the wide criticisms that trailed it.
According to the report, the ministry, in violation of the presidential directive suspending the scheme, allegedly initiated and paid out N3.433bn without due process.
The report read in part, “Ninety-five (95) payment vouchers were raised and paid from RUGA Intervention Fund, between August 1, 2019, and September13, 2019, totaling N3, 433,984,692.66, and the above payments were initiated and paid without due process after the Presidential directive suspending the RUGA project.”
“The ministry also paid out an additional N375, 785,893.75 to some individuals and corporate organisations from the RUGA Intervention Fund through 13 payment vouchers without approval, according to the Auditor-General.
According to the report, the payments include N202.7m and N160m paid for transportation and other expenses in support of victims of banditry in Zamfara State, and advance payment meant for sensitisation and advocacy visits to the Governor of the state, respectively.
The report quoted the ministry’s management to have blamed the two expenditures on weaknesses in the internal control system at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development noting that “The action is regretted and is also being investigated.”
The report also indicted the ministry over extra-budgetary spending of about N48.425bn on contractual liabilities, adding that despite a budgetary release of N98,044,134,611, representing 99.07 per cent of its 2018 capital allocation, the ministry did not take necessary actions to pay eligible contractors, which led to an outstanding contract liability of N48.425bn.
Meanwhile, the Auditor-General has recommended that the withdrawals from the RUGA Intervention Fund be refunded to the Federal Government’s coffers as they were in breach of the extant laws and the financial regulations of the country.