MAWA Foundation has uncovered how the Edo State Government is diverting Agric Loans given to farmers using Sterling Bank.
Under the deal, the Edo State government instructed Sterling Bank to restrict bank account of the farmers who benefited from the Agric Loan while the government is withdrawing the money without the farmers’ knowledge and approval.
An action the state government said she is carrying out because she is undertaking farming activities on behalf of the farmers. And, this is even as all the farmers who got the loan said the Edo State government is yet to show them any farm they are cultivating on their behalf.
One of the farmers who got the loan, speaking to MAWA FOUNDATION narrated how the Edo State government instructed Sterling Bank to restrict his account preventing him from accessing his account while withdrawing the sum of N250,000 from his account without his consent.
Explaining the incident to MAWA, a farmer, a beneficiary of the Agric Loan, who does not want his name mention, said he applied for the Loan in October 2020, an application he said was facilitated by a prominent politician in Owan West Local Government of Edo State.
According to him, after the Loan application, nothing was heard until March 31st this year when they got alerts of N747, 000.00 from Sterling Bank. An amount he said was supposed to be N750k but the bank deducted N3k as tax clearance.
He further explained that a month after he got the alerts from Sterling Bank, he went to the bank to withdraw the money and use it for agricultural activities which it was meant for, it was at that period that he discovered his account has been restricted, preventing him access to his money.
When he demanded an explanation from the Bank, he was told, there is a standing instruction from the Edo State government to restrict the account and ensure none of the farmers who got the Agric Loan takes the money away from the bank.
According to the framer, when the bank denied him access to the money on the instruction of the Edo State government to restrict his account, he left for home.
But, to his greatest surprise, a month after, he got debit alerts of N250,000 from Sterling Ban. A debit he said was done in N150,000 and N80,000 separately. When he got the alerts, he quickly rushed back to Sterling Bank to lodge a complaint but was told the money was taken by the Edo State government.
An action the bank told him, the Edo State government is keeping the money to use it and farm on the behalf of the farmers.
“Sterling Bank officials told me at the Banking Hall that I cannot access the Agric Loan given to me because the Edo State government has instructed all accounts the loan is kept be restricted to ensure farmers can’t access it” he told MAWA.
“How can Edo State government give us Agric Loan of N747k, stop us from using the money, take the money from the bank without our consent, who signed before the funds were released,” a farmer told MAWA.
One of the farmers who is a beneficiary told MAWA that when he discovered that his account has been restricted, he went to another Sterling Bank branch where he was issued an ATM card that made it possible for him to withdrew the remaining N500k in his account.
He disclosed that shortly after he withdrew the money using an ATM card, he got a call from Sterling Bank, saying the Edo State government had removed the sum of N250k from his money, to lay the foundation for the farm they are undertaking on their behalf, while he is required to immediately return the N500k he took from his account.
Asked if any of the farmers have seen the farm being cultivated on their behalf by the Edo State government, they all answered in affirmative that none of them has been shown any farm by the government. A clear indication that the state government has perfected plans to divert the Agric Loan using Sterling Bank.
When MAWA inquired if they have brought the development to the government notice, they said some of the government officials they had complained to told them, they should not touch the money because it belongs to the government.
“When I drew the attention of Edo State government official to the development regarding our Agric Loan in Sterling Bank, he advised me not to touch the money, pointing out it belongs to the government,” a beneficiary told MAWA.
When contacted, an official (a banker) at the Sterling Bank branch in Benin City, the Edo State capital, confirming the claim, said all the beneficiaries of the Edo State Farming Scheme, are not allowed to access their account, pointing out that the state government gave the bank instruction to restrict their accounts.
The Sterling Bank official said the Edo State government refused beneficiaries of the Agric Scheme access to their money because the government is cultivating the farm on their behalf.
A claim all the farmers say the government lied, pointing out none of them has been shown any farm by the Edo State government. The banker added that he is aware of 44 farmers who are currently having the same issue.
However, MAWA FOUNDATION learned from a senior Sterling Bank official that a female banker who issued an ATM card to one of the farmers that made it possible for him to withdrew N500k is currently facing disciplinary action from the bank and is likely to be dismissed.
Mr. Ilevbaoje Imoukhuede, Tracka head, a public accountability organization has since described the Edo State Agric Loan as the biggest fraud ever. Pointing out that the Edo State government used the farmers’ names to access fund and divert it into their individual private pockets.
A senior official in the Edo State government who spoke to MAWA in a condition of anonymity said the Loan is a scam and wondered why the state will engage in such an act.
An effort by MAWA FOUNDATION to get an official response from Sterling Bank was unsuccessful as the bank did not respond to an email sent to it.