Special Report: How poor planning, implementation, politics marred ex-Gov Lalong’s tractorization project

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Some of the tractors that were actually supplied during their inauguration by former President Muhammadu Buhari.

By Marie-Therese Nanlong

Ex-Gov Simon Lalong

In 2018, former Governor Simon Lalong announced the purchase of 400 tractors for use by farmers across Plateau State but the scheme never really got underway.

An investigation revealed why.

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In March 2018, Lalong announced that the State government had procured 400 tractors for farmers’ use across the State. The news was widely reported in the newspapers as seen here or Here.

However, when former President Muhammadu Buhari was invited to commission the tractors, only 40 of them were on display. Lalong explained that this was because the Government House premises used for the ceremony could not contain all the tractors.

A controversy has since raged on the whereabouts of the tractors as most farmers in the State still lack access to modern farm implements.

Plateau State is a leading food producer in Nigeria. Its landscape, fertile soil, and temperate climate make the state suitable for large-scale farming.

Yet, its agriculture sector is still dominated by subsistence farming. Who did what?

The State Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) portal states that the state government procured “400 Tractors and farm implements in 2019” at a total cost of “NGN 5.6 billion.”

The agencies and groups involved in the procurement process were “Plateau State Ministry of Agriculture, Plateau State Ministry of Finance, Plateau State Bureau of Public Procurement, Office of Accountant General, Plateau State Local Governments (17 LGAs), Tractor Owners Beneficiaries, Plateau State Government, and Commercial Banks.”

But the State Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) has said it was not aware of the project.

In response to a Freedom of Information, FOI request sent to him, the Acting Director-General of the Bureau, Yabilsu Dogo, said it was not involved.

“I wish to categorically inform you that the Bureau of Public Procurement has no records of the said Procured Tractors, hence not in a position to answer the questions raised in your letter.

“You may wish to confirm from the State Ministry of Agriculture if it has such information, please,” Mr Dogo wrote in a letter.

In its response through its Programme Manager, Ishaku Jilemsam, Plateau Agricultural Development Programme (PADP) noted:

“As far as we may not be able to tell whether there was such procurement of the 400 tractors in question or not, we emphatically wish to state that we did not receive the tractors neither can we tell about the current state of the tractors and whether they are in use or not…”

The Agricultural Services Training Centre and Marketing Ltd (ASTC & M Ltd.), through its Managing Director/CEO, Susan Bentu, also said it was “not aware of any transaction regarding the procurement of any 400 tractors said to have been procured during the Lalong’s administration.

“We do not know how many tractors were procured during the period. We have (had) 300 tractors for mechanised agricultural operations since our establishment in September, 2010.

“None was received from the Plateau State government during the period under review (Lalong’s administration).

“Since ASTC & M Ltd was never a part of the team for the said procurement, and or beneficiary it cannot say who the beneficiaries of those said 400 tractors are…”

The other agencies that are supposed to be involved either in the procurement or implementation of the project did not respond to the FOI requests as of the time of this report, despite many reminders.

Hakar Engineering Nigeria Limited supplied the tractors to the State government. However, it said it did not go through the normal public procurement process because it was not a “direct contract.”

A management staff member of the company, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, explained its role.

“It was not a contract thing, The whole thing started in 2016 when we presented the tractorization idea and sought a partnership with the state government.

“It was a tripartite partnership that involved the Plateau State Government, Hakar Engineering, and farmers to revolutionize agricultural activities. The scheme was to allow farmers to own tractors at subsidized rates and pay over time.

“Each tractor was N14 million, it was to be funded by all stakeholders at different levels as counterpart contributions.

“The State was to pay 30 percent, the local government 10 percent and the farmers 60 percent.

“The farmers were to pay 10 percent of the cost of a tractor as a down payment and the remaining balance was to be spread over three years. As the tractors are working and they make a profit, they remit the payment into an agreed account.

“When the programme came in, it was a complete package with mechanization, agricultural development, youth empowerment, community farming, and land development. The government was to subsidize the tractors for farmers to enable them to own tractors to develop agriculture.

“I don’t know if it was a misconception because when we were writing the MoU with the government, instead of MoU, it was now presented as a contract to supply tractors. It was not a direct contract but a subsidized PPP programme,” the official said.

How many and where are the tractors?

Although the initial intention of the government was to get 400 tractors through the PPP scheme, fewer than 100 tractors were supplied, according to the official of the supplier company.

“The project was for 400 tractors which were to be supplied in batches. We brought the first batch which was over 90 but there were a few delays, and it never took off again. I can’t say why it stopped.

What we asked for, what we got”

But not all those who got the tractors have been happy ever since. Some beneficiaries expressed regrets that they committed their resources to get the equipment.

A beneficiary from the Jos North LGA beneficiaries cluster, who declined to be named, explained his disappointment.

He said: “The government collected the sum of N1.5 million from each beneficiary through the All-Farmers Plateau Multi-Purpose Cooperative Limited as a commitment to be given the subsidized tractors.

“The model of tractors agreed upon with the farmers was the Massey Ferguson brand, including all the implements.

“However, the contractor supplied another brand (Deutz Fahr) alien to our topography. When we raised an observation, the representative of the government and the contractor assured the farmers of the availability of spare parts and service stations in each of the senatorial zones in the state, to avoid any breakdowns.

“The remaining parts (trailers) were never supplied. The spare parts were never supplied. Most of the tractors broke down in the first few months. The service centres agreed upon were never established. No trained mechanics were available to repair this brand of tractors.

“The contractors moved out of Plateau State and the beneficiaries were not privy to any information concerning the remaining tractors.”

Why we did not participate – Farmers’ groups

John Wuyep was the Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in Plateau State at the time of the scheme.

“The tractor was an intervention scheme, the State government paid 30 percent, the LGAs 10 percent. It was an initiative of Plateau All Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative, it was not AFAN.

“Some persons went as cooperatives and benefitted but the majority were individuals. We felt it was the first batch so we should wait for the subsequent batches, which never came.

“It was a government arrangement, and it was an election year. After the election, everything stopped, and some people were refunded their money,” Mr. Wuyep said.

The Small-Scale Women Farmers Organization in Nigeria (SWOFON) was interested in the scheme. An Executive Officer of the group, Mrs. Mary Afan, explained why the group eventually did not participate.

Shee said, “We were asked to pay some amount of money, over a million, and small-holder women farmers have no such money.

“When they were procuring the tractors, we told them that as women farmers, we do not need those big tractors but power tillers that women can operate, so they should include those so that women could afford and access them.

“At that time, it was N190,000 to get a power tiller but they didn’t do that. When we talk about food security, people look at big tractors and big farms but what you find in the markets is what the small-holder farmers produce.

“The big farms target exports or industrial use. Women should be encouraged to continue to put food on Nigerians’ tables.

“Small-holder farmers produce vegetables, grains, tubers, and others, but when the government wants to support them, you hardly see them benefit, it is either the political farmers will collect and sell because they don’t have farms, or it is the big farmers that benefit.

“That is why we are facing food insecurity; small farms are neglected. The real farmers don’t get the needed support,” she said.

‘I got a tractor for my personal use’

A former local government Chairman and ranking member of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) during the Lalong administration, said he got one of the tractors as he spoke with this reporter on the condition of anonymity.

He said: “Our local government contributed 10 percent of the money as stated in the agreement. Individuals also contributed. Individuals contributed the sum of N1.4 million.

“I got a tractor for my personal use. My local government paid the amount to get one for the Agric Department, but we were not given one.

“The first batch they shared was for individuals and I got one. We were promised the one for the local government, but to date, that has not been done.

“Not all the 17 LGAs indicated interest in getting for their councils. A few of us did pay for the Council but we didn’t get it.

“The whole thing was done at the State level by the Ministry of Agric.

“That tractor was just a name, even right now, it is broken down and left at a repairer’s place at Shendam. I have wasted so much money on it and even if I were to sell it, I would not recover my money.

“There was no expert for repairs. The understanding was that three centres would be opened as the workshops across the three zones but nothing like that happened.

“Even the trailer was not given to us as promised. We got only the harrow, the plough, and the ridgers. What I have spent on that tractor!

“I have regretted getting the tractor because it did not serve me. Many of us have the experience, only a few people were lucky.

“The intention was to use the tractor and help rural farmers to cultivate their lands at a subsidized rate. Some people deposited money for the tractor to be used on their farms. The people are angry, and we are looking for money to return to those who paid.

“I heard that some people sold theirs in the first few months but mine was to work within the community and help others at a subsidized rate.

“The agreement was for the supply of Massey Ferguson in which parts are readily available and skilled mechanics abound.”

Why we did not supply a popular brand

On why the government did not get the popular brand of tractors the farmers asked for, the official of the supplier company said opinions were divided on the preference.

“We were to have facilities for the maintenance of the tractors in the three zones. We worked with the All-Farmers Plateau Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, which represented the farmers.

“They came up with the idea that Massey Ferguson was very common and there was a possibility of pilfering of the parts by either the operators or the workers. They insisted that they wanted a different brand and came up with the brand that we gave.”

On the complaint that the tractors were not durable, the official said:

“Some of the farmers started mismanaging their tractors almost immediately. The agreement was for the tractors to be warehoused as they arrived until they all arrived.

“The tractors were to be clustered in the various local government areas for proper management and supervision.

“Before the tractors arrived, we organized training and asked the beneficiaries to bring those who will manage their tractors to come for the training. In 2018, we trained over 200 operators with the support of our partners from Germany and South Africa.

“We used the tractors for practical for the trainees to show them how they worked. How the tractors were managed that within a short time, they developed problems is clear that some of the people that were trained were not the ones that operated the tractors. We found that out.”

The official explained further: “We asked them to call us for services because services were supposed to be carried out on the tractors at specific intervals. The company brought the components to do the service, but they did the service themselves without our knowledge until they encountered problems and started calling us.

“Those who approached us, we sent experts, but others chose to use their local mechanics, not trained by us and they damaged the tractors. We trained mechanics and engineers from the Ministry of Agric.

“The trailers of the tractors didn’t come because of the impatience of the beneficiaries.”

Despite challenges, ‘tractors useful’

However, some of the beneficiaries have a positive view of the scheme, despite the maintenance problems of the tractors.

The District Head of Pushit (Mangu LGA), Da Diket Gupiya, and the Acting Chairman of Pushit Development Association, Salihu Dakat, whose association was a beneficiary of the scheme, said despite the challenges, the tractor has been useful.

“The tractor that we got in Pushit Development Association worked and we were using it,” Da Gupiya stated.

“It breaks down from time to time, but we repair or replace the faulty part. Farmers in the district pay to use the tractor on their farms.

“We got it on hire-purchase, and we have been making payments. We made some down payment before the tractor was released to us.”

Mr Dakat continued: “We got our tractor in 2019 and it is still working. But just in the first week of June 2024, it broke down again. The ram broke. Anytime it breaks down, we repair it in Shendam LGA, but we buy the spare parts at Dadin Kowa in the Jos South LGA.

“The front tyres are always giving problems, so we replaced them. We have spent N4.4 million repairing the tractor since we got it and the broken ram will require about N1.8 million to fix it.

“We charge people who hire the tractor based on hectares of land. Before now, it used to be N30,000 per hectare but with the situation, we are charging N70 per hectare for ploughing and harrowing.

“The components of the tractors were not complete, we got the plough, harrow, and ridger, and we are yet to get the trailer.

“The first year we collected the tractor, we made a down payment of N1.2 million and a non-refundable N50,000. We have spent a lot to repair the tractor. The insecurity last year did not allow us to go to the farm. Now that we are making efforts to go to the farm, the tractor is grounded.”

‘We are probing the project’

The State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Samson Bugamma, said the administration of Governor Caleb Mutfwang was still looking into the project.

“We can’t comment on it, we are looking for information, we are doing every investigation, so we understand what Plateau State money was used for in that tractorization thing.

“Plateau people are asking questions and we want to be fair to all parties, so we have to conclude our findings so that we don’t indict anyone wrongly without proof.”

Former governor Lalong’s scheme to help farmers in Plateau State acquire tractors at subsidized rates and under flexible terms appears to be well-intended, but poorly conceived and implemented.

However, its story offers ample lessons for public project management and how the public sector can better help farmers modernize their practice in Nigeria.

The story was supported with funding from the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development, CJID.

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