Wednesday March 18, must have gone as a successful day for Senator Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf, a member of the Senate committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions. It was a day groups of youths posing as farmers protested at the main entrance of the National Assembly and the Abuja offices of the Nigerian Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL).
They carried colourful posters attacking NIRSAL and the Anchor Borrowers Programme sponsored by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Some of the messages include “Anchor Borrowers Programme is a lie, CBN: NIRSAL is Diverting Farmers Money and NIRSAL is killing Farmers.”
But the protesters were not farmers. Investigations by this website revealed that the youths were actually hired to protest allegedly by Senator Yusuf who is believed to have an axe to grind with Aliyu Abdulhameed, Managing Director and CEO of NIRSAL. Senator Yusuf is said to be determined to ensure Abdulhameed’s tenure is not renewed so that his wife, Maryam who is a top management staff of the organization, can take over as MD.
It is a project to which the Taraba senator is said to take seriously. Sources close to him revealed his plot to blackmail NIRSAL and cause a conflict situation in the organization so that Abdulhameed would no longer be in contention for the position of CEO when the time comes, soon. “This is why he wants to portray NIRSAL as not serving farmers’ interests and create conflict, when there appears to be conflict between farmers and NIRSAL, you know there would be calls for intervention,” the source explained.
The youths who protested at NASS and NIRSAL offices also gave out the Senator’s plot. They told this reporter they were not farmers, but were hired to protest. One even said he didn’t know anything about NIRSAL. The youths who spoke only Hausa, said most of them worked as labourers but were given one thousand naira to come and protest for some hours.
A police officer who was among escorts for the protesters said a senior officer in the Inspector General’s office gave the order for their release for the protest. The officer, it was gathered, is close to Senator Yusuf.
But a source in the office of Senator Yusuf said the allegations were not true. The source, who did not want to be quoted, said he did not believe the senator could “go so low” to sponsor protests against an organization “just because he wants his wife to be appointed MD.”
However, those at NIRSAL certainly believe the protesters were not farmers but people hired by “corrupt interests.” A statement issued in reaction to the protest by NIRSAL’s Head of Corporate Communications, Anne Ihugba, said it was a “campaign against NIRSAL by corrupt interests fighting against the successful agricultural reforms by the Buhari administration.”
The statement said the hired miscreants carried placards inscribed with unsubstantiated and discredited allegations against NIRSAL, NIRSAL’s Managing Director and the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Ihugba said when the protesters were “engaged by NIRSAL staff, some of the protesters who looked dirty and unkempt and spoke in Hausa language revealed that they knew nothing about NIRSAL’s operations and admitted that were sponsored to protest against NIRSAL.
“They also admitted that they have no information about NIRSAL’s operations, the Anchor Borrowers Programme and the Central Bank.
“According to them, they were at NIRSAL to do a job they were paid for by their sponsor(s) who got them a police permit.
The corporate communications office also described the sponsored protest as a “failed attempt to distort the facts about verified contributions of NIRSAL such as over N100 billion facilitated from the financial sector into the agricultural sector which is improving the lives of farmers across the country.”
Ihugba said NIRSAL used the protest as an opportunity to educate the youths and “enlighten more young people on its agribusiness initiatives and the promise they hold, the protest smacked of witch-hunting and a well-crafted agenda to smear the organization. Questioned individually, the boys admitted to belonging to no ABP tickets and were in fact recruited from Abuja and environs, particularly from areas such as Mararaba, Mabushi and Jabi. This negates the claim that they are farmers from Kebbi State.
“To be absolutely clear, all successful ABP applications for the 2019 farming seasons have been honoured by NIRSAL. As required by the guidelines issued by the Central Bank, farmers with incomplete loan documentations are prevented from accessing the funds in their accounts until they meet the obligations.”
She said the attempt was bound to fail because “facts do not lie” and the effort to discredit the institution by persons who do not mean well for the sector and the country was bound to fail.