Inside Darius Green House Farm of Controversy
…plan to invest additional N2 billion scandalous, insensitive
…farm was designed as a conduit pipe to drain state resources – stakeholders
… ‘This is the height of corruption, recklessness and insult on the sensibilities of Tarabans’
Barely four years after it was commissioned, the Taraba State Green House Farm Project is generating yet another controversy, considering the near collapse nature of the farm, as Governor Darius Ishaku is planning investing additional N2 billion on the farm. CHUWANG DUNGS, spoke with stakeholders and visited the farm to find out its present condition.
The last, definitely has not been heard about the controversial N2.6 billion Taraba State Green House Farm Project initiated by governor Darius Dickson Ishaku. The project was contracted to Onida Development Ltd, an Israeli company, with the agreement to construct the project, train the needed personnel and handover the project to the owner- the Taraba state government, in the future.
Our reporter learnt that the agreement was sealed for the Israeli company to manage the farm for five years before handing over but they left in 2018 just two years after construction work started in the company and a year after commissioning, without fulfilling the contract terms.
The project which construction work started in 2016 was commissioned in August 2017 by Vice President Yemi Osibanjo with fanfare by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration in the state.
Speaking shortly after the commissioning of the project in a channel television interview with Maupe Ogun, Governor Darius said he was happy to be nicknamed as the “Cucumber governor, or Baba Cucumber.”
He said he earned the name “Baba Cucumber” due to his huge investment efforts in the agricultural sector, through the Green House project.
Ishaku said, in his efforts to develop the agricultural sector in Taraba State, his administration established the Green House, the first ever in the north-eastern region of Nigeria worth over N2 billion.
The Green House, according to the governor, produces high quality vegetables such as tomato, lettuce, pepper, cabbage and cucumber that have met the international standard.
Narrating why his administration ventured into the project, he said: “Prior to the establishment of the Green House, vegetables, with low quality, were imported into the country from South Africa. As a result of this development, the idea of the Green House was actualised.”
On whether the Green House is worth the colossal amount and whether it has direct impact on the people, Ishaku said the project has been a huge success in Taraba State, because, apart from offering an all-year round high quality vegetables in commercial quantity, it has employed 500 persons and improved the Internal Revenue Generation (IRG) of the State.
He explained further that the previous regime shared about N2 billion to farmers as agric loan, but the beneficiaries refused to redeem their debt, which is why instead of sharing money in the form of loan to farmers and making the same mistake, he used the money to establish the Green House.
“I met a very bad example. The past regime took almost N2 billion and shared to farmers as agricultural loan. Now, not up to one-quarter redeemed the pledge. They saw the money as a free gift from the government.
“Even from the one-quarter we recovered, I had to set up a committee to go after them. And now, with that experience, if you receive another N2 billion, will you repeat the same mistake that was done by the past government? No.
“I decided that simple vegetables like tomato, pepper and cucumber among others, which were hitherto imported, be produced here. I decided to venture into the Green House project, and it has been a huge success.
“Most of our Green House produce have found their ways into various markets and I have earned the name Baba Cucumber.”
Despite Governor Darius’s conviction and explanation, many Tarabans opposed the idea of the project since it was first initiated. When it was eventually unveiled, and labeled a success, the attendant outrage was bitter and loud because it was seen as a project designed not to have a sustainable plan but initiated to serve as a conduit pipe to steal state resources.
Barely four years after the commissioning and take off the story has changed, the situation on ground is nothing but a sorry sight as the company is gradually going underground. The few workers left at the place located between Taraba State University and the state College of Agriculture in Jalingo the state capital claimed that for long they have not tasted the variety of vegetables even the cucumber being planted and harvested from the farm are small specie and cannot even serve the commercial demand in Jalingo for many months. Again those working in the farm have not been paid for several months.
Speaking to The EYEWITNESS on condition of anonymity for fear of harassment and victimization, some workers revealed that indeed the farm is in a sinking state portraying a failed legacy in spite of the huge amount of public funds already expended.
Narrating the situation, one of the staff said the organization started having problems with production about two years ago, when the Israelis left, the problem then worsened in December last year when the Indian expatriate that took over from the Israelis as general manager also left.
“It all started well when the Israelis were in charge, things were moving smoothly but things began to change when an Indian strangely took over after the Israelis left. The situation became worst and unbearable after the Indian left in December.”
According to her “since the Indian left things became bad, many staff were relieved of there appointment due to redundancy and unproductivity and those of us left our salaries have not been paid for almost five months now and we are also redundant because nothing serious is happening in the farm which is not our fault.”
She said aside from the few cucumber being harvested in the farm all other veggies like lettuce, pepper, cabbage and tomatoes are not being cultivated for quite some months, even the plastic are in a sorry state depicting a lost dream.
She said despite the fact that they are being paid mere pittance, ranging from N70,000, N35,000 and N25,000 for both skilled and unskilled workers, they are unjustifiably in arrears for over five months.
According to her the farm which started with over two hundred employees now have less than a hundred which shows a clear sign of backwardness.
She disclosed that there was no attempt by the farm management to formally address staff about its challenges, “they are not telling us anything concerning what is happening.”
However, the affected employees are pleading with the state government to urgently look into their plight and fast track payment of their outstanding wages.
Speaking to our correspondent, other employees expressed frustration, saying if the situation is allowed to continue, their productivity will be affected. Expectedly, many of them complained of rising debts.
One said, “My debtors are continually on my tail and the situation is causing me sleepless nights I tell you.”
Another, said “Things have been very hard for us. A lot of us could hardly feed, talk more of extending a helping hand to those looking unto us. We really wish the government would release our salaries this month.”
However, during a fact finding visit to the green house in the state by The EYEWITNESS and interviews with some residents and stakeholders, Some residents and insiders in the area told our reporter that some employees conspire with security agents securing the place and youths in the area to sabotage the farm, by vandalizing properties to enable them steal some items and then split funds from the proceeds of the stolen items.
A resident who said to have also ignorantly purchased some stolen stuff in the past claimed that a lot of workers have been responsible for sabotaging and vandalizing properties in the farm.
Another insider said all the noise about the Green House not working is targeted at inflaming anti-government campaign to discredit the project which has viable prospects for the entire state.
These insider say that many of the mischievous allegations being made by some persons including politicians and some of the problems arising at the farm have all the hallmarks of a coordinated push by the staff and some external forces, including some top politicians in the system to undermine the current administration.
“This is a planned, coordinated attempt to sabotage the Darius administration,” said the insider who also begged for anonymity in other not to be harassed by some aggrieved co-workers.
So much energy and financial efforts went into building the farm, but some saboteurs are bent on destroying such a wonderful investment just to discredit the government” he said.
The EYEWITNESS also gathered from another credible source that since the current management of Taraba Investments and Properties Ltd (TRIP) led by Ezekiel Iliya, the MD/CEO took over the management of activities at the farm, vested interests, who have benefited from the the company revenue leakages in the past seem to be fighting back.
Our source who is an insider said while the present management is making frantic efforts to transform infrastructure and provide conducive working environment so that the gains of the huge investment can be consolidated and sustained some people who believe in money sharing are not happy and are bend on doing anything possible to sabotage and also scandalize him.
“Because it is corruption, they are fighting back. They have been responsible for all manners of smear campaigns to undermine the management. Specifically they are dropping names in high places with the intent of blackmailing, the MD over matters that do not exist.”
He observed that in the last couple of months, the management of TRIP have come under a barrage of attacks in a fierce fightback by politicians wounded by the reorganisation going on.
According to him the attacks which manifest in sponsorship of protests, petitions to the DSS, public complain commission and social media blackmail by politicians who are evidently hurt by the efforts to sanitise the green house has continued unabated and constitute a huge distraction to the work of the MD and the Farm management as directed by the Governor.
“All this noise and attacks is targeted towards an individual, he is being vilified for his determination to end the sleaze in the system.”
“Those who are uncomfortable with the reforms are fighting back with everything to destroy or discredit not only the governor but the MD of Taraba Investments,” he added
However, that activities at the farm is generating controversy is not the issue, but what is surprising is the plan by Governor Darius to invest additional N2 billion, while the farm is generating minimal or no revenue for the state.
The EYEWITNESS reliably gathered from credible sources that the state executive council has since approved a memo presented by the state ministry of agriculture, through the commissioner, Dr. Daniel Kassa, for the release of the sum of N2 billion for the “expansion” of the farm and the issue is generating serious talks among concerned Tarabians.
Some commentators observed that the spending on the project is more than what the state spend on building or renovating schools and health centres in a state in dare need of such basic fascilities.
They said the approval for the additional release of such an outrageous sum of N2 billion for a sinking farm is a misplaced priority and further exposes the anti-mases disposition of governor Darius.
They noted that in the last six years of Darius led government, his administration has been riddled with numbers of industrial strikes and disputes, pensioners have continued to groan over unpaid pension and gratuity.
They believe that the primary motive behind the setting up of the green house and the plan to invest more funds is not about any attempt to bring development, employment and generate revenue to the state as claimed by the governor, rather to continue to take the fraudulent advantage often provided by the pro-capitalist policy of private public partnership which is to enrich self and millionaire friends with public funds.
“It was not designed as a viable project, but as a conduit pipe to siphon state funds” a commentator declared.
A political analyst and political scientist Suleiman Tanko, who spoke to The EYEWITNESS criticized government plan to invest additional N2 billion in the green house project describing it as “ scandalous, alarming and unwise use of scarce funds ”
“To spend additional sum of N2 billion on the green farm is alarming, scandalous and unwise decision at this critical period, beside the farm is not yielding any gain to the state in terms of revenue. The move is questionable after spending same amount on the project without any viable impact.
“We cannot as a state expects to make economic progress if we continue to fund inefficiency, it is unacceptable.
“This is the height of corruption, recklessness and insult on the sensibilities of Tarabans.
“I called on Tarabians to demand that governor Darius administration should publish the detailed costs of all contracts awarded by it, showing payments for specifics, details of payments to contractors, the identity of the contractors as well as parameters for disbursements, so that we can see before making such demand.”
When our reporter visited Taraba Investment and Properties Ltd, the organization in charge of overseeing activities of the farm, he was told the Director General, Ezekiel Iliya was not on seat, he was however directed to one of the AGM, A .Adams who did not confirm or refute the allegation as he directed The EYEWITNESS to the management of the Green House Farm.
On arrival to the green house our reporter met with the young general manager of the farm, K.Y Japheth, who graciously shed more light on the controversies and the current challenges the company is facing in this interview. Excerpts:
The farm was initially projected for variety of vegetables, but you are now producing only small specie of cucumber and not in large quantity. Can you please explain the situation?
Last year was a troubled year where Covid 19 devastated the whole economies in the World. In Nigeria there were several lockdown likewise in the whole world. This has brought down our performance, since 95% of our inputs are foreign base.
We also had two dangerous windstorms that devastated the whole farms due to lack of wind breaker to protect the farm from the stubborn wind coming from College of Agriculture every year. This wind pull down our green houses twice which tore the plastics into pieces and pulled off even the iron pillars that held the plastic away.
On the issue of the size of the cucumber, the cucumber variety in production currently are referred to as seedless burples cucumber that are best used in the size we are currently producing, above the size, the nutritive value will be lost. There are other varieties that grow bigger, but ours is the small seedless variety some times called baby cucumber. About quantity as discussed earlier we can’t go into a large production knowing the situation of the farm with regard to the roof.
Your workers are complaining of non payment of salaries for quite some months and some were laid off without any explanation. Can you shed more light on this?
We have been paying salaries monthly, it is those that ceased to come to work from the month of February that are not earning income. Also we will declare them redundant and hire good hands to support our operations.
It is on record that government is planning investing additional N2 billion on the farm without it yielding any profit to the state, what is the justification for such a huge investment.
The green house project requires minimum of 20 standard green houses to make profit. This is because of the rotational process of crops. Our highly profitable crop is the pepper and we use about 8 green houses for that, when the cycle finishes, it is another crop that must be planted in the green house to avoid soil challenges. The next crop is the tomatoes and we always rotate with pepper but tomatoes are highly seasonal in the market and its price is very low. Before the green house will be profitable and to deliver dividend government most add another 10 minimum to enable a continuous cropping of large pepper.
Government has sunk capital in the phase 1 project and needs to make it sustainable by building additional 10 green houses to make it profitable, otherwise the first project will not deliver the required profit given the nature of crop rotation in the present 10 green houses which is inadequate.
Can you shed more light on why the plastic are in a dilapidated state and what is the company doing in that regard?
Technically the greenhouse covering plastic have life expectancy ranging between 24 to 36 months or more depending on the materials used for production and the environmental conditions of the place. As I explained, we had two big windstorm last year that destroyed the plastics and we have ordered a better and stronger 200micron from abroad which will be delivered very soon. The process of importation is not like buying goods in Nigeria. We had problems of foreign exchange, to SONCAP, to Form M, to shipping and several other challenges. But as at today these challenges are almost solved and we are waiting to clear our plastics and other accessories that got damaged by the windstorm.
Also other measures are being taken as the managing Director and chief executive officer of Taraba investment and properties limited in the person of Mr Iliya Ezekiel has advised on the planting of trees that will serve as wind breakers and currently some trees have been planted and we are expecting more to be planted.
It is being alleged that the project was not build to be sustainable but it’s a mere conduit pipe to syphon state resources by the governor. How true is this allegation considering the present challenges.
These are lies, and it’s coming from the opposition and it’s highly political statement in nature, coming from people who wish to destroy the green house. The Green house is new in Taraba and in Nigeria, but it is highly profitable business if we really abide by the rules of more green houses for crop rotations, at least to have minimum of 20 green houses This will make the project profitable and sustainable. This is the major reason why we are begging the state government to increase the green houses to 20 in the phase 2 so as to make the project sustainable and profitable.
Can you tell us the future economic benefits of the farm as it affect the masses.
If we have another 10 green houses more, there will be more employments for those that want to work, and more revenues which will trigger profit and also multiplier effects in the Nigerian Economy and in particular that of Taraba.
Can you tell us how much the farm has so far generated as IGR to the state since inception?
All revenues generated in a company as a limited liability set up are always used to run the company. The company only deliver dividends if she makes profit. But since the green houses are limited now to 10 numbers and not up to 20, we were unable to make profit to enable us deliver dividend to the shareholders. We so much believed that when the 10 green houses are added by the state, the state government shall begin to reap so much in dividends yearly as the business is highly capital intensive and also highly profitable if the crop rotational rules and all other things are put in place.