The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), Aliyu Abbati Abdulhameed, has told Pulse that allegations that he runs a corrupt organisation, is intrinsically nepotistic and that he has been undermining the agriculture value chain by not loaning money to farmers, are a tissue of lies.
Launched in 2011 and incorporated in 2013 by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), NIRSAL was set up to be a dynamic, holistic USD500 million public-private initiative which will catalyse the flow of finance and investments into fixed agricultural value chains.
However, highly placed sources in Abuja tell Pulse that the organisation has been so badly run in recent times on Hameed’s watch.
On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, protesters holding aloft banners and placards inscribed with messages like: “Government should stop the stealing of farmers money by NIRSAL,” "NIRSAL is killing farmers,” “Anchor Borrowers program is a lie,” besieged NIRSAL’s head office on Plot 1581 Tigris crescent in the upscale Maitama area of Abuja, while calling for Hameed’s head or sack.
The protest was the culmination of groundswell dissent against Hameed’s perceived mismanagement of the finances of NIRSAL, staff of the outfit who crave anonymity for this story tell Pulse.
One source familiar with the dealings at NIRSAL alleges that the boss “recently acquired two cars: Lexus Jeep and Land Cruiser. He has started using the Lexus Jeep in Abuja but the Land Cruiser is meant to be used in Yola. He actually bought two of them for about N180 million. He bought his previous Land Cruiser at the same time with the EDs (Executive Directors). He controls about 8 SUVs all by himself at the moment.
“He has one SUV in Kano, two in Lagos, two in Adamawa, one in his house in Abuja, his wife uses one and he just bought two bulletproof SUVs now.
“Information reaching us has it that he took money to Edward Adamu (Deputy Governor, CBN) who doubles as the Chairman, Board Audit Committee of NIRSAL and some other key audit committee members on Thursday, but they rejected the money.
“The money was supposed to buy him a soft landing after the Board Audit Committee meeting. The meeting revealed a whole lot of fraud issues that he has perpetrated within the system running into billions of Naira."
CBN's Adamu did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
Alleged N5bn fraud in Jigawa
In December of 2019, Hameed was accused of fraud to the tune of billions of Naira.
The project was a "failed" wheat farm and processing project in Jigawa State that was overseen by one of the aides of the NIRSAL boss, sources disclose.
The project was alleged to cost N5 billion, but no farm or processing equipment were procured for the project, sources allege.
“NIRSAL gave its Credit Risk Guarantee worth 75% on the loan obtained from Keystone Bank while also collateralising the loan with its deposit in the bank for a third party transaction totally against best practices.
“Aliyu (the CEO's first name) used many phoney companies that were barely three months in existence to perpetrate this. Many of such fraudulent practices have been happening in the financial institution since Aliyu took over its management.
“Meanwhile, there is also an ongoing investigation into another N4.3 billion of inflated personnel costs especially on the NIRSAL’s field offices located in each state of the federation and the FCT.
“The field offices staff numbering about 500 have always been paid less than 50% of their monthly pay while the remaining 50% amounting to over N200 million is being siphoned on a monthly basis," another source offered.
The IGP’s daughter
One staff of NIRSAL who also plead anonymity for this story alleges that Hameed handed a plum role in the organisation to the daughter of the Inspector General of Police, Sekina Adamu, “and immediately put her on the plane to Morocco just so she could receive estacodes amounting to hundreds of dollars per day, when staff who have been here aren’t given opportunities to travel. What does a rookie know that she’s now being asked to fly the world because she’s the IGP’s daughter?”
Another highly placed source at NIRSAL tells Pulse that hours after the protest of March 18, an emergency meeting was summoned within the organisation where the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) handed the NIRSAL MD an award. “The award was designed for them to praise him and disassociate themselves from the group that protested. Quite sad what my company has become.”
Staff of NIRSAL also speak of a culture of fear and intimidation at work and how their offices are bugged to ensure that no one is speaking to the press within the facility.
Staff of NIRSAL have also been handed “declaration of allegiance and secrecy forms” which they have to compulsorily fill. “It’s like working for a dictator at NIRSAL now and we come to the office every day, cowering in fear and intimidation.”
Hameed defends himself
In an hour-long conversation with Pulse, Hameed says most of the allegations he’s had to deal with in recent times are borne of ignorance of how NIRSAL works and why it was set up.
“NIRSAL is supposed to be a guarantee agency. We don’t give one Kobo out. We issue paper, guaranteeing you the banker so that if anything happens to your money, you come back to us. But of course as a risk company, we ensure that event doesn’t happen.
“Because if we don’t monitor in the field and events happen and we keep paying...that means CBN paying, then what is the purpose of the existence of the organisation?” he begins.
“What is so confusing to the public is when you tell people that NIRSAL does not touch one Kobo from the government. Go to the national assembly, there has never been an appropriation for NIRSAL to spend. And we are not designed to spend money.
“In fact,we don't even have the money to spend. We are designed to issue guarantees to bankers and investors against that capital.
"NIRSAL building belongs to CBN. All our offices are run from CBN branches nationwide. The reason this is so is that we reduce the burden on our little earnings so that we can pay staff salaries and keep servicing farmers when they borrow money.
“CBN is the Chairman of the board and provides oversight. That means the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, is board chairman of NIRSAL.
"The approval for NIRSAL was done by former President Goodluck Jonathan. But we took off under President Muhammadu Buhari. That means it was under Buhari that we were established or incorporated.
“In the beginning, I rented a bungalow in Maitama, used my own money and friends to pay for this and that. Sometimes when I didn’t have money to pay for diesel for the generator, I had to borrow money. We operated from this bungalow for six months until the first board meeting. We built this organisation from zero with not more than seven staff at the initial stage," he adds.
Praise for Emefiele
Hameed also reserves plenty of praise for the CBN Governor, for his kind words and support.
“I don’t cease to praise my boss, Gov Emefiele. This is one CBN Governor that doesn’t act like CBN Governor.
“CBN Governors are supposed to be quiet, mind themselves with inflation, monetary policy, financial instability, exchange rates. But Emefiele? He’s made his lifetime ambition to use the CBN system to do more developmental financing in agriculture.
“Nothing keeps Emefiele awake than what to do with rice farmers, palm oil and so on.You know this. We work with the policies designed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. If there’s one organisation that deserves the highest national productivity merit award, it’s NIRSAL. We add value, we train farmers and we put bankers to work.
“They allege that I have put the entire capital of CBN in my pocket. Imagine that here I am, I go to CBN, and I do wizardry on them to approve so I can carry? Like CBN says ‘go inside, carry N72.5bn and go?’
“We do quarterly board meetings without fail. Every single thing I do in this place is controlled by the board. It’s their money, I’m just a servant.
“Everything we do at NIRSAL is for the public good. Over the span of its existence so far, NIRSAL has facilitated N100 billion into the agricultural sector. Honestly, Nigerians need to be proud of this baby and not try to bring it down with patently false allegations.”
On the March 18 protest, Hameed says the protesters were hired for peanuts and didn’t even know why they were at his office.
“The people who came to protest, we asked them, do you know NIRSAL, they said they don’t know. They said NIRSAL is supposed to give us government money. The protesters were sponsored. They didn’t even know what we do here. They said they were paid N1,000 to carry the placards.
“My board has not indicted me, my board continues to shower praises on me.
“There’s a huge campaign of calumny against me and this organisation. Don’t forget that the agricultural agenda of the presidency and the central bank is rubbing a lot of people the wrong way. Like the importers of tomatoes, the importers of palm oil and the rest are very angry and unhappy.
“They ask; 'why should the CBN not give foreign exchange? Why should Emefiele be rigging this revolution?' Emefiele never forgets where he comes from in Agbor. How he grew up. How he suffered to go through school. You see him as CBN Governor on TV, but believe me, this man is a different person altogether. He is so full of humility and love.
“He tells me that Aliyu, if you think you are getting attacked one time, multiply that by a hundred in terms of what I get.
“Emefiele’s heart is clear. I learn humility from Emefiele. Some people think my job is a political appointment so they attack me. Somebody told me that ‘you think this honeymoon will continue? Your baptism is coming.’
“Without Emefiele, we wouldn’t be where we are as an organisation. The credit should not come to me at all. If people attack me, they are attacking the agricultural policy of this government. People are angry that they are being stopped from importing rice. There are sponsors behind all of these media attacks.
“How can someone write that the MD of NIRSAL has put the entire capital in his pocket and run away?
“They say I have stolen N75 billion or N5.6 billion from a wheat project in Jigawa? They say my son drives a Lamborghini and is spraying millions of dollars on the streets of Dubai...come on!”
Forcing staff to sign non-disclosure forms and dictatorship at NIRSAL
On allegations that he’s forcing his employees to sign secrecy agreements, Hameed says, “when I pay salaries, you’d hear complaints, when I do trainings, people would complain, when I do welfare, just be ready to be receiving information.
"If I sign on this desk for those that did ICAN to go and pay their dues or that the lawyers should go and pay their dues at NBA, I can assure you that the other people that are not lawyers would write to you to say I’m practicing favoritism.
“If every little thing I do here as CEO is subject to second guessing, it’s up to us to figure out what is reasonable or what is not.
“Which organisation, from Zenith bank or any organisation in this world, would allow its IT policy or corporate policy to be breached? So you mean that everything I do here, every board decision, I am supposed to call staff and say please can you take it to the street and share it?
“Is there any organisation that doesn’t have a code of corporate governance and oath of secrecy? Is that not backed by law? Is what we are doing not backed by the laws of corporations in Nigeria and around the world or not? Are there not confidentiality agreements in corporate settings everywhere?
“All organisations run background checks and certificate checks on incoming staff or criminal records. The oath of secrecy we do here is not about running the organisation, it’s about since your wife or kids go to XYZ schools, their addresses should not be exposed.
“Because, some of our staff are in charge of personal files, some staff are in charge of your salary file. So someone wants to carry our staff file and salary file and staff location number and go and share with kidnappers and killers right?
“If staff are complaining, why is it that when they join, they don’t say they won’t sign the oath of secrecy like any other organisation? Why don’t they leave? And who says as a young organisation, we cannot be improving our regulations and rules as we go along? As we learn?
“There are some things that are reasonable, there are some things that do not make sense. If I don’t do what I am supposed to do as CEO, I may as well resign and go and tell Gov Emefiele that I can’t do this job anymore.
“If any staff meets you with these allegations, ask them why they haven’t resigned and gone to any organisation in the United States or in Nigeria where they don’t sign corporate governance forms. By the way, I am an employee here too, I also signed those forms.”
On allegations that he appointed a daughter of the nation’s police boss in order to ingratiate himself with the IGP and shield himself from interrogation and a possible arrest, Hameed says nothing could be farther from the truth.
“So if your sister, or your son or brother’s son qualifies for a job after an interview and I say come and do a job, he knows risk management, he knows finance, he knows agriculture, so it’s a crime because I know Jude, not to employ that person?
“Forget whether it is IG (Inspector General) or President Buhari or Governor Emefiele or that man on the street.
“The majority of my Technical Assistants are from which ethnic group? Tosin (one of his assistants) is from Osun State. They even wrote that I have a car and driver. Why should MD of NIRSAL have a driver? Or why should my wife have a driver?
“You know, 90 percent of our work is in the bush with farmers, kidnappers and armed robbers. If you guarantee a project, you have to go monitor on the ground so that it doesn’t fail. The board decided to buy bulletproof cars for staff, management and board members when they go on site visits. And they say Aliyu has bought cars….
“Did the board purchase these cars and say ‘Aliyu these are your personal cars, drive them?’ Were the cars bought in my name or there are company assets? They say MD has 11 cars scattered across the country, right? Why can’t they say every bulletproof vehicle, pick-ups, are Aliyu’s? In other words, why did God create me? Because they say why should my children go to school?
“If I leave NIRSAL today, I leave all the assets here for the new MD’s use.
“They said one of my Technical Assistants has married a foreign wife or a consultant in a company. In fact they told Tosin, ‘shey your wife has a baby in the U.S.? We are going to deal with you.’
“They say my son has $5 million and he’s living large on the streets of Dubai with a Lamborghini...a green Lamborghini with a white man inside. They said he’s been arrested and is distributing one million dollars. Meanwhile the boy is in my home state of Yola for his holidays.
“They say why should I have escorts when plying the Abuja-Kaduna road? That I should be exposed to bandits. Tell them that whoever is planning to assassinate me, I’m sorry, I would not make myself available to be killed. It’s as simple as that.
“My Head of Corporate Communications, Ann, is from Imo State. Eze (head of my most sensitive unit) is from Abia State and Osagie is from Edo State. Everyone who works closely with me hails from different states across the country.
“And then they pick out a person and say why do I give Jude’s brother a job! If I don’t give Jude or his brother a job, is it an American I would give the job to?
“When I travel for business, I travel with entire relevant members of the team. If you speak French, I carry you as a French speaker.
“It so happens that Sekina, the daughter of the IGP, is a fluent French speaker. Morocco speaks French. And all of you (addressing his staff) were there when I signed MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with King Mohammed VI and President Buhari so that we can partner with Morocco, a country so advanced in Agriculture.
“In Morocco, they speak either Arabic or French. So, a staff that speaks French, which is her job and desk, shouldn’t come with me? Because Jude’s brother speaks French, I should not carry him because I am afraid? Is that the way to run an organisation? I don’t run this place with fear,” Hameed says, emotion parsing his every word.