Aggrieved rice farmers in Abia State have protested the alleged fraudulent practices meted out to them by staff of Nigerian Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), in connivance with  Unity Bank Plc, Umuahia branch.

The farmers, numbering about 500, stormed Umuahia, the state capital and alleged that they had been defrauded of over N428 million by the two bodies, an amount meant for rice cultivation.

It was learnt that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) organised a rice farming loan scheme for rice farmers in the state, particularly those in Abia North, and that NIRSAL and Unity Bank were mandated to disburse the fund.

But regrettably, instead of giving out the fund as was agreed, NIRSAL and Unity Bank, pocketed it and started sending fake alerts into the farmers’ accounts.

Leaders of the aggrieved rice farmers, Anyim James Agbai and Pastor Emmanuel Oraekwute, the founder of Orakus Rice Mill Ltd, who spoke on the incident, said: “The deal was financed by the CBN while NIRSAL was saddled with disbursement of the funds to the farmers and the rice mill company. When CBN released the money meant for the take-off of the wet-season farming to NIRSAL for onward payment into the various bank accounts of the farmers in Unity Bank, the farmers were told to open a counterpart fund account with over 13,000 per farmer, promising that each farmer would receive close to N270,000.

“The role of Orakus Rice Mill Ltd. was to prepare the land for the farmers, so that immediately the fund was disbursed, the farmers would move into farms within five days of disbursement, as part of the money to be disbursed  were to be used for mechanisation of lands, supply of seeds and chemicals.”

The farmers disclosed that when the fund was eventually released to NIRSAL in  2018, it did not get to the farmers nor to the rice mill company, for the supply of chemicals to NIRSAL, which eventually led to the shutting down of the mill.

“Again, they started sending bank alerts from Unity Bank, notifying us that the money had been lodged in our respective accounts, but on reaching the banks, we  discovered that the alerts were fake and no explanation was offered.

“We are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the sabotaging activities, which is a setback for his commitment to make  food available for Nigerians as well as making the country an exporter of the commodity,” the farmers said.

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