Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius
The Constitution of Philosophy
You read it correctly – Anchor Borrowers’ Fraud, a deliberate alteration of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP). The aim is to chronicle a tortuous three-year journey and five applications on this fraud that I undertook through agricultural companies in which I have an interest.
Let me state from the onset that I am prepared to subject myself to questioning in case the EFCC, ICPC or any anti-graft agency finds, in what this piece contains, reasons for further details.
This is not an invented story. Documents and transaction notifications from our banks support the bulk of the points you are about to read.
If you do not see the second part or any subsequent edition of this write-up, know that those concerned have found a means to prevent me from writing and publishing it.
I will avoid mentioning names of people or institutions other than the CBN, its Governor and President Muhammad Buhari, whom I had the privilege of meeting three times on this matter. I have much respect for His Excellency, the President. No other Nigerian leader has done the least of what he hoped to achieve in agriculture. But the people he entrusted with this task have repeatedly betrayed his trust and have not told him the truth. I will revert to this in greater detail.
During one of our Umrah operations in Saudi Arabia, one of my pilgrims introduced me to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) Anchors Borrowers’ Programme (ABP). He was a two-time beneficiary of the programme and, thus, a farmer of ample experience. His suggestion was helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the floating of a new company – COMEREL FARMS LIMITED. To his credit, this pilgrim served as a quasi-consultant. He guided us every step of the way, from creating Comerel Farms to opening an agric-account with our Participating Financial Institution (PFI) and a successful application submitted to the CBN on January 20, 2020, for Wet Season Rice.
We submitted two title documents belonging to our directors, resident in Lagos, to satisfy the Bank’s condition of collateral for the ABP, which will cover the amount applied for the loan. One of the properties was valued at Four Hundred Million Naira Only (N400,000,000.00), and the other was valued at One Billion Four Hundred Million Naira Only (N1,400,000,000.00).
Comerel Farms fulfilled all conditions, land preparations, engagement of farmers, securing and distributing farm inputs (seed, fertiliser, chemicals), and planting. After a thorough investigation and inspection of our farms in Sokoto, the CBN approved our application and disbursed to our Bank the sum of N1,725,680,000,00 (One Billion Seven Hundred And Twenty-five Million Six Hundred And Eighty Thousand Naira Only) in favour of Comerel Farms. (We still possess the transaction notification of this amount in Comerel Farms’ account). Unfortunately, the Bank placed a lien on the account, so we could only access the funds once the Bank did its due diligence in the Land Registry, Lagos, on the papers of the properties submitted as collateral. But the EndSARS protests lingered for a long time and degenerated into violent riots that stalled the entire process. Meanwhile, since farming activities cannot be halted once commenced, we had to continue whether or not we could access the funds.
The Bank finished the authentication process at the Land Registry in Lagos after the EndSARS riots when Comerel Farms was harvesting its rice in Sokoto. I was summoned to a meeting at the Bank where the then Head of Agric Sales and Value Chain called the Rice Champion at the CBN and put him on speakerphone. He said Comerel Farms should surrender its paddy (rice) to the CBN at N160,000 per ton when a ton was selling at N220,000 in Sokoto. I said if we had used the CBN’s funds in planting the rice, we would have given it without question. However, since other people were involved, input suppliers and myriad creditors, forcing us to sell far below the market price as a condition of the CBN loan was unfair. The Rice Champion said Comerel Farms was acting irrationally and thus sabotaging the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari to bring down the price of rice. Therefore, Comerel Farms was blacklisted as a company and would no longer be allowed to participate in the ABP. Blacklisting of an anchor can occur when there is a case of diversion of funds in as much as the ABP’s Guidelines stipulate in Chapter Six under INFRACTIONS AND SANCTIONS. We had no access to the funds. Thus, we did not divert any. But we were blacklisted regardless.
The Champion further said that the money sent in favour of Comerel Farms would be repatriated to the CBN as unutilised funds. And true to his word, on November 24, 2020, our PFI (the Bank) wrote to inform us to “recall that the sum of N1,725,680,000,00 (One Billion Seven Hundred And Twenty-five Million Six Hundred And Eighty Thousand Naira Only) was disbursed to the Bank for on-lending to COMEREL FARMS LIMITED.
“COMEREL FARMS LIMITED proceeded with the land preparation and planting whilst working to provide the required collateral for a complete credit approval. This was not achieved before the commencement of the harvest season.”
Because of bureaucratic inertia coupled with the EndSARS uprising, as mentioned earlier, we had to find means of completing the farming and harvest without the CBN’s funds.
“The CBN however” continued the letter, “engaged your company to submit paddy as a form of repayment while the unutilised funds would be rolled over to the dry season farming. There was no agreement in this regard hence CBN has recalled the unutilised funds.”
How could the unutilised funds be rolled over when nothing was given in the first place?
“In compliance with the request to repatriate unutilised funds,” the letter further stated, “we have repatriated the sum of N1,725,680,000,00 ….”
I was left no option but to report this case to our Ameerul Mu’mineen, (The Commander of the Faithful), who, after listening, made his independent enquiries and graciously intervened, and, behold, within days, Comerel Farms was removed from the blacklisting of the CBN. The Governor instructed us to put in a fresh application for the Dry Season Rice. We did. Approval was given for the new application. We are still waiting for the disbursement of the funds three years on. Nothing. Even though repeated order has been given for the release of the funds from the Director, Development Finance Department of the CBN. Those people who unjustly blacklisted Comerel Farms are so obdurate and brazen in defying the Governor’s instruction and His Eminence’s intervention without compunction or fear of any consequences.
Our third application to the CBN was in 2021 for Wet Season Maize in Saminaka, Kaduna State. Between this application to the CBN and the fifth on the same agricultural commodity (maise), we had a series of visits by inspectors of the apex bank to our farms and meetings at both the Kaduna office and the headquarters in Abuja. The CBN expects an anchor who applies, for instance, for 2000 or more hectares of farmland to commence work in the fields as if the funds have been disbursed. This means exposure to heavy debts from input suppliers and farm mechanisation outfits. It does not make any financial sense to make applicants spend funds they do not have before their applications are approved. When the funds fail to come, as is typically the case with this fraud called ABP, the creditors make life unbearable for the applicants as the terms of the debts are tied to the mirage in the desert of the CBN.