Kwara Uncovers Dirty Deals at Shonga Farm
In 2004, during the administration of Dr Bukola Saraki, 13 displaced white farmers from Zimbabwe were brought to Kwara State to do farming by the Kwara State Government.
At the time, the farmers were simply referred to as Zimbabwe Farmers.
However, since their arrival in 2004, their farming project has been involved in crisis of ownership due to the involvement of the Kwara State Government.
While many Kwarans believe that the project was developed and owned by the state, the former administrations were giving contradictory explanations, leading to more questions than answers.
To unearth the truth behind the project once and for all, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq set up a committee to look into the project and many others.
In July 2019, the Kwara State Governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq constituted a committee, led by Sen Ajadi Makanjuola to review sales and disposal of government properties between 1999 till date, and one of the properties reviewed is the Zimbabwe Farmers project, now known as Shonga Farm.
How was shonga farm created?
Senator Ajadi led committee found that, at the inception of the project in 2004, 17000 hectares of land were forcefully taken over by Bukola Saraki led goverment from about 33 villages of Shonga District in Edu Local Govt area of Kwara State.
When land was taken from those 33 communities, the owners and people of Shonga protested and resisted the forceful takeover of their ancestral land, but they were suppressed, brutally attacked and unlawfully arrested and prosecuted.
Additionally, apart from the forceful takeover of Shonga land, it was discovered that a lot of money was also expended by Kwara State government on the project and till date, the exact amount cannot be ascertained because all files related to the project have been carted away by officials of the past administration.
It is important to note that, the 17000 hectares of land forcefully taken from Shonga people were distributed to the 13 Zimbabwe farmers by government and they all registered the farm in their individual names as owners.
Meanwhile, all the 13 farmers did not come to Kwara with any money or investment. The government of Kwara under the leadership of Dr Bukola Saraki took care of all their bills, including building befitting accommodation for them.
The Kwara State government also gave them take off grant in foreign currency, as well as sunk boreholes, provide steady electricity, communication gadgets and others.
We should also add that, in addition to the above cost incurred, government also guaranteed the farmers loan facilities with Nigeria Agricultural Bank and Rural Development Bank to the tune of N650million.
Furthermore, Bukola Saraki led government also led the unknown farmers without any collateral to procure several other loans from 6 other Banks, including Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and till date, the amount taken from these other banks is yet to be ascertained.
However, when the farmers could not pay back the loans they took, it was deducted at source, from the kwara State allocation.
This was so because, Kwara State government had earlier issued an irrevocable standing payment order to the office of Accountant General of the federation as guarantor for the loans in event of a default. The amount deducted from Kwara State allocation was over N1billion.
Based on the above facts, it was clear that the Kwara state government is responsible for the establishment of the project and being solely responsible for its funding.
However, in 2007, from Zimbabwe farmers, the project was turned into what is now known as Shonga Farm. The company, Shonga Farm Limited was incorporated with share structure.
Surprisingly, instead of Kwara State government which has been the sole financier of the project to be owner of the company, several banks were listed as shareholders as follows, Unity Bank (15%), Intercontinental (15%), GTB (15%), Bank PHB (15%), FinBank (15%) and Kwara State (25%).
From this shareholding arrangement, Kwara State is said to have only 25% of the company, with the remaining 75% being owned by banks.
Another major observation was that, out of the 13 farms earlier established in 2004 by the 13 Zimbabwe Farmers, 11 have been sold to other strangers not captured in the shareholding arrangement and those 11 farms were not part of those incorporated into Shonga Farm in 2007.
So, what we have as Shonga Farm today is just 2 out of 13 farms established with Kwara State money by the Zimbabwe farmers in 2004. The remaining 11 have been sold to others before Shonga Farm was incorporated and the entire worth of Kwara share in this enterprise, is said to be N420million.
It was also found that, the loans taken from the listed banks were also converted to shares, reflecting the 15% shares allocated to the 5 banks earlier mentioned.
To make matter worse, the exact amount spent by the Kwara State govt cannot be ascertained and all documents relating to this farm has been carted away from the various ministries. The amount borrowed from the shareholding banks before they were converted as shareholders also can not be ascertained.
Additionally, even though Kwara State is said to own 25% shares as major shareholder of the company, no Kwaran is part of directors of Shonga Farm. All those managing the farm are cronies of the former governor from outside the state.
From the above, it is clear that there is an urgent need to fish out all documents relating to Shonga Farm that has been carted away by men of the previous govt. This would go a long way in unravelling the mystery behind the company’s dirty dealings.
It was recommended that the State Auditor General should be mandated and empowered by government to carry out forensic audit of the company, in addition to overhauling its activities and all properties bought by Kwara State government but still in possession of erstwhile workers of the company should be retrieved.
Finally, should any criminality be discovered after the audit has been done, all those involved should be dragged to anti-graft agencies for prosecution.
Kwara Must Change,a socio-political organisation writes from Ilorin