Friday, May 19, 2023

Anchor Borrowers’ Fraud (2)

    Yusuf Yila, Director, Development Finance Department, CBN

This is the second in my article series to narrate a tortuous three-year journey and five applications that unveiled the fraud in the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). If you have read the first article, you will quickly grasp this continuation of the harrowing tale of how a cabal in the CBN sabotaged President Muhammadu Buhari’s rice revolution and defied the edicts to make it a success.

Our third application for the Wet Season Maize was submitted at the CBN on February 22, 2021. Because of our sore experience with the Rice Champion, who unjustly blacklisted Comerel Farms, we had to use another company for the Saminaka project. Any person who evaded the CBN Governor’s orders emanating from His Eminence’s intercession in this and any other case must be acting on the strength of the unknown. Therefore, Wallmark Multi-Concepts Limited was the company presented for the maize farming programme in Saminaka. The team was Comerel’s, the one that worked on the ill-fated Sokoto Wet Season Rice project, but with the addition of two experts: one was the Manager of the farm of a former governor of Kaduna State; the other a consultant of repute with World Bank agricultural projects in Nigeria. 

We established an elaborate project and quickly became the go-to company for all farmers in Saminaka and its environs, one of the largest maize-producing areas in Nigeria. More than ten thousand genuine, verifiable farmers enlisted with us. On April 8, 2021, after making its due diligence part in the project, our Participating Financial Institution (PFI) wrote a letter to the Director of the Development Finance Department of the CBN to inform him concerning Wallmark’s application and the Bank’s readiness “to partner with” us “for the disbursement of the funds under” the ABP. 

“As an integral part of our due diligence responsibility as a PFI”, affirms the letter, “we have visited the customer’s farmland to confirm suitability for farming the chosen commodity. Also confirmed is the customer’s access to the farmland and receipt of acceptable title documents of the property pledged as collateral for the loan.” This meant again that our capacity was never questionable. On its part, the CBN visited our farms and facilities for independent inspection on several occasions. It corroborated the PFI on our capacity. The application was approved, or so we were made to believe. 

Before the approval, we had finished the distribution of inputs to the farmers, planting had been completed, and post-planting exercises were already in top gear, with every phase of the exercise recorded on video and sent to the CBN. When the inspection team came again on July 19, 2021, its members marvelled at how we unprecedentedly deployed satellite technology to work wonders. Our new technology was built on satellite data (NDVI) for spatial analyses and Geographic Information System (GIS). Doing it the modern innovative way will enable us to map field data, monitor the farms remotely, and provide valuable information to relevant stakeholders with utmost transparency. In essence, the CBN can monitor our farms and developments from anywhere. With the aid of television monitors, drones were also used to survey the entire length and breadth of our farms. The ArcGIS dashboard with details of farmers and a real-time map of 8,000 hectares of farms (at the time) was shown to the team.

The CBN team has never seen anything like this. They were certain their superiors would jump at the technology for the apparent need. The CBN would later request that we grant them access to the Wallmark Dashboard. We gave a brief explanation of the technology and further details of the dashboard instead since there was no date for the disbursement of the funds applied.

“The Wallmark Monitoring Dashboard is an application of geospatial intelligence for precision agriculture – newly deployed by the company for more than fifteen thousand hectares of maize farms under its 2021 wet season farming in Saminaka. The one-stop agro dashboard provides data for accurate, informed decisions while delivering intuitive and interactive data visualisations that give real-time farm information, up-to-date soil and risk analysis, spatial yield calculation and other location-based analytics that help make insightful decisions, visualise trends, monitor farm status, and provide valuable information,” reads the brief about the technology that can end significant frauds in the ABP. Needless to guess why the company introducing it must be persecuted.

On April 21, 2021, our PFI wrote the CBN to release the funds. “Our customer, Wallmark Multi Concepts Limited”, read the letter, “have (sic) requested for a facility under the Prime Anchor Window of the ABP. The facility will be used to cultivate Maize on 10,000 hectares of land in Kaduna State using the Economics of Production (EOP) amount of N227,203 per hectare.

“We, therefore, request for the release of N2,272,030,100,00 (Two Billion, Two Hundred and Seventy-Two Million, Thirty Thousand One Hundred Naira Only) for on-lending to Wallmark Multi Concepts Limited.”

The CBN summoned all anchors in 2021 Wet Season farming to an emergency meeting on Monday, August 2, 2021, at its headquarters in Abuja. Even though the meeting was for those anchors whose funds were released, the CBN invited some of those who were yet to have the funds, mentioning Wallmark specifically, to attend. At the meeting, our PFI gave a complimentary account of our performance which was not news to the CBN since its team was there several times. There, we learnt that the approval given was for 5,000 hectares as against the 10,000 applied for (without any reason, indeed not based on capacity) and that the funds have been disbursed to the PFI. Really? We were made to understand that ‘the PFI bears the Credit Risk and therefore must ensure that Wallmark satisfies the Bank’s Assessment Criteria (as if that was not done before the PFI called for the release of the funds months earlier) before the CBN approved funds were disbursed. The CBN appeared to pressure the PFI to expedite action and make all pending disbursements before mid-August 2021.

No disbursement of funds was made to Wallmark.

We were summoned to another meeting at the CBN on Tuesday, September 21, 2021, in a letter signed by the Director of the Development Finance Department himself. During the meeting, where we gave every detail of the current situation in the farms in Saminaka with the audiovisual presentation, the DFO rated our operations highly and gave valuable advice on recovery strategy, the number of Extension Agents (EAs), insurance, warehouses and the need for a software for farm operations for monitoring purposes. We thanked him for his advice and clarified that further delay in releasing the funds would severely affect our recovery efforts. He said our funds would be ready “any moment” and that we should keep the pressure on the PFI.

Friday, May 12, 2023


So now that you have committed yourself to the rule of Fortune, you must acquiesce in her ways. If you are trying to stop her wheel from turning, you are, of all men, the most obtuse.

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.