Aggrieved contractors owed over N17bn by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development are mobilising to stop the FMARD’s minister from gaining entry into his office again on Friday (today).
About 50 members of the Concerned Unpaid 2018 Contractors of the FMARD had picketed the ministry’s headquarters in Abuja on Wednesday, blocking the major entrance of the agric minister’s office.
The contractors told our correspondent in Abuja on Thursday that the protest would continue on Friday, as no one addressed them on Wednesday at the ministry.
The contractors are demanding the payment of debts owed them by the ministry for contracts that were completed since 2018.
Speaking on behalf of the contractors, their coordinator, Mr Daniel Mozie, said, “Nobody arrested us and none of them have spoken to us.
“We know that they may want to arrest us and claim that we are breaking the social distancing rule, but that will not deter us from asking for our money.
“Some of us have slated tomorrow (Friday) for another protest. We are still around and agitating for our payments. Since 2018, they held our money, over N17bn, and refused to pay us.”
He added, “You’ll be shocked to know that some contractors are dead; many others have sold or mortgaged their houses and their creditors are on their neck. Many can’t pay house rents and school fees for their kids or access medication.”
Mozie said the contracts had been funded 100 per cent, as he noted that the finance minister had stated that the contracts were 99.44 per cent funded.
He said, “So why will they owe us? They told us that by 2019 they will pay. The appropriation for 2019 was funded and paid and they advertised for 2020 but yet they owe contractors for 2018.”
On what could be the possible reason for the delay, the coordinator said the ministry’s permanent secretary had intentionally decided not to pay due to concerns between him and the former permanent secretary.
Mozie said, “Their (FMARD) tradition is that they have a two-year procurement process. If you execute your job in 2017 and they were not able to pay, by the first quarter of 2018 they would clear the backlog and continue. That has always been their practice.
“But this permanent secretary came in and refused to pay us. We understand that he had some battle with the former permanent secretary; should that affect us?”
He added, “The ministry entered into agreement with us, we went and did our jobs, generated certificates 100 per cent; so why the delay? That you are against the award of the contract by the former permanent secretary, is it our business?”
He argued that it was binding on the ministry to execute the agreements that it entered with the contractors.
On whether the contractors had met with the minister and his permanent secretary, Mozie said they had met the government officials more than six times.
He said, “We’ve met them more than six times; in fact, at a time, the meeting involved all the directors with the outgone director of finance and even the present director of finance.
“They have paid for the intervention jobs for COVID-19 of over N10bn but still don’t want to pay for our already completed contracts of 2018. Is this not wickedness?”
Calls to the spokesperson of the agric ministry, Theodore Ogaziechi, rang out. Also, he had yet to reply a text message sent to him as of the time of filing the story.