Wednesday 29th December 2021: The Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation has queried the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for spending a total sum of N3.809bn on the suspended Rural Grazing Area scheme without a presidential approval or National Assembly appropriation.
The query 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 OAuGF had queried expenditures totaling N60,795,898,225.84 by the ministry.
The Acting Auditor-General of the Federation, Adolphus Aghughu, presented the report 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 had 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 OAuGF, the ministry, in violation of the presidential directive suspending the scheme, allegedly initiated and paid out N3.433bn without due process.
The query read in part, “Ninety-five (95) payment vouchers were raised and paid from RUGA Intervention Fund between 1st August, 2019, and13th September, 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 said, “The action is regretted and is also being investigated.”
The office, however, blamed the two expenditures on weaknesses in the internal control system at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The Auditor-General consequently 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.