A young Nigerian farmer, Abdulkadir Muhammad, is seeking compensation for a job he did for the Senior Special Assistant to the President Muhammadu Buhari on Economic Management Team, Dolapo Bright.
Between January and June, Mr Muhammad was asked by the top aide to carry out three agriculture-related feasibility studies.
The first, on rice milling plant in Jigawa State, and the second, on packaging and storage strategies of perishable farm produce in northern Nigeria and the third, a compilation of regions where perishable produce are cultivated in 19 northern states.
Mr Muhammad had carried out the assignments with the hope of remuneration and continued relationship with the top aide but things changed as soon as he delivered.
HOW IT STARTED
Concerned about the flight of local rice from producing communities to neighbouring countries, 35-year-old Muhammad created an agri-tech website early 2017.
The website, Magna Wealth, was intended to bridge the gap between local rice farmers and Nigerians who are willing to purchase the produce.
“There is a lot of activities of the government in helping farmers to grow the rice but there is actually no much effort to see these rice penetrating inwards Nigerian market. You see, most of the communities producing rice in Nigeria exist in border states so they (farmers) sell it easily to foreigners.
“I developed a website that I wanted to identify with some key distribution agents so that we can be collecting pre-season orders. So, we needed to identify with the farmers because we can’t sell what we don’t have. I’m more concerned that these rice should be sold to Nigerians as an extension of the benefit the CBN is giving to farmers through the Anchors Borrowers Scheme so that foreigners will not come and benefit what our government spent on. So, I developed this website,” he said.
In the course of interaction with the farmers, one of them (farmers) introduced him to Mr Bright who asked for a proposal on his plans. After the first interaction, Mr Bright invited the youth to his office in Abuja in March 2017.
THE CONTROVERSIAL DEAL
At the meeting, Mr Muhammad said the aide told him that his proposal was not good enough and asked for a redrafting.
Also at the meeting, Mr Muhammad asked for the aide’s assistance in setting up a warehouse and working capital.
While the meeting was getting to the tail, Mr Bright informed him that the federal government was in a partnership with the Chinese government and would want to interact with organised farmers to get them to benefit. To facilitate this interaction, he was asked to generate data and design a rice mill.
“Mr Dolapo told me that I needed something that will attract farmers to me. He said you needed rice mill. He asked me to go back to Jigawa, talk to organised farmers on how to facilitate government’s interventions and get data for them. He was clapping his hands and told me to do it in two weeks. He said we’ll have a meeting after submission and another meeting with DG of BOA (Bank of Agriculture) on the rice mill he wants help me with.”
For this assignment, there was no agreed remuneration nor was there a written agreement.
Within the deadline, however, Mr Muhammad submitted a report on a proposed seven tonnes per hour rice milling plant in Auyo Local Government Area of Jigawa State.
The 24-page report, a copy of which he gave to PREMIUM TIMES, includes market survey, technical specification, production plan, marketing plans, and evaluation of critical problems among others.
However, instead of making a physical submission of the report, Mr Muhammad sent it to Mr Bright’s e-mail, therefore robbing himself of an acknowledgment copy.
A copy of the mail seen by this reporter indicates that the report was sent to Mr Dolapo on March 2, 2017 at 9:21 a.m.
“I eventually went to Abuja and I called him that I need to submit the hard copy so I can get my acknowledgment, he said he was in a meeting that I should call him back.
“Three days later, he called me that the work was very wonderful. That why not me extend it to the 19 states of the north and present it to their governors as template so that they will have data generated and prepare ground for government intervention?”
To this request, Mr Muhammad demanded to be provided cash, a Hilux van to move around and a means of identification. He said Mr Bright did not provide any of these but made another request.
In May 2017, an unsuspecting Mr Muhammad was asked to gather data on perishable goods and list regions where they are cultivated in all 19 states of northern Nigerian.
The report was concluded and submitted, again, via e-mail on Thursday, June 8, 2017.
The 732-kilobyte file details local technology in packaging and storage of perishable farm produce and list of regions where perishable produce are cultivated in 19 northern states.
Again, Mr Muhammad went to Abuja and asked to see Mr Bright to follow up on their initial discussions and submit a hard copy of his latest report. But, according to him, the aide kept giving him excuses and later stopped answering calls.
At this point, the farmer then realised he might have been used.
After multiple unsuccessful efforts to get Mr Bright’s attention, the youth in August 2017 approached a law firm, Idi Danabubakar and Co., to front for him.
The firm on August 9, on behalf of Mr Muhammad, wrote Mr Bright to demand N150, 000, 000 to be paid within seven days.
Mr Bright did not respond, necessitating a legal action but the farmer could not afford what was demanded by his lawyer.
Next, he contacted the Legal Aid Council, a body which offers free civil litigation service to Nigerians. In a letter dated October 24, 2017 the council demanded N275 million to be paid to the farmer on or before November 30.
“This demand stems from the fact that our client’s work is an intellectual property which you know is valuable and can be exploited for economic advantage by you, or your office, or anybody,” the letter notes.
Again, Mr Bright ignored the letter.
While Mr Muhammad was making efforts to get compensated for his work, the Federal Government on July 9, 2018 signed a N10 billion contract for the construction of integrated large scale rice processing plants in 10 states of the federation.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and MV Agro PVT of India and its partners, MV Agro Engineers Nigeria limited.
The 10 states where the rice mills will be sited are Anambra, Kaduna, Kebbi, Ogun, Zamfara, Kogi, Benue, Bauchi, Niger and Bayelsa.
The MoU will now enable the conclusion of the plant procurement procedures, installation and commissioning to be delivered within 18 months or latest by December 2019.
Even though Jigawa was not one of the states where the mills will be set up, Mr Muhammad believes the approved mills were awarded to specifications in his feasibility report.
“Along the line, as I was pursuing this issue, the Federal Government approved 10 rice mills in Nigeria. These mills, 100 percent are my idea. I spoke with an insider who said all these your work has been approved, all the correspondences have passed through tables. He said I should be careful that these people can even harm me. He said I should trace my work at the Ministry of Agric.
“Before I submitted my report, they already had a plan that some implements were coming from China. They just wanted me to prepare the modalities and prepare ground for them as against their plans. The only difference is the capacity, all other things are the same. My proposal was 140 tonnes, theirs is 100. I did everything to perfect specification; from boiler to de-stoner, energy efficiency, how the rice brand can be used to power sections of the rice mill. “They needed only one of mine to develop their own. It was because of this plan that he insisted that I must work on the rice mill. Maybe that was an assignment they were on before I came, he just decided to use me and dump me later,” he said.
ABDULKADIR SEEKS COMPENSATION
Meanwhile, a few days to the signing of the MoU by the federal government, Mr Muhammad had approached the court to seek justice.
In the court papers seen by PREMIUM TIMES, the Vice President of Nigeria (Chairman of the Economic Management Team), The Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Bright and three others were listed as defendants in the case filed on July 2, 2018.
The claimant sought N275 million ‘representing consultancy fees for services rendered,’ and N500 million ‘representing damages for breach of contract.’
In another relief, Mr Muhammad wants 14 percent pre-judgement interest, another 14 percent post-judgment interest and N5 million as cost of legal action.
But Mr Muhammad had other obstacles to contend with.
“He (The lawyer) filed the case in July. In August, the court went on vacation but because it’s a human rights case, they assigned it to a judge. They served them court papers, yet no response.
“As I talk to you now, every time I call my lawyer he’ll say they have not re-assigned it. Later, he stopped attending to my calls.”
Later, I went to the Federal High Court to trace my file and I realised that it has not been re-assigned. There, an insider told me that the case has some element of interest from people from above.”
As at the time of filing this report, the case has not been assigned to a judge over six months after initiating legal process.
When contacted, Mr Bright snapped at this reporter, insisting not to comment.
“Listen, he has already gone to court. Don’t come and tell me anything about…shebi he has gone to court. Don’t come and ask me anything,” Mr Bright said furiously.
“He has gone to court, why should I be making comment,” he added and ended the call.