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The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development says it spent N18.9 billion on farmers’ registration, soil sampling, mapping, and rehabilitation, among other things, not only on clearing bush during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The ministry’s spokesman Joel Oruche disclosed this in a statement on Wednesday in Abuja.

The ministry came under knocks by Nigerians after the House of Representatives, during a probe hearing, raised doubts about the bush-clearing project of the ministry.

“During the lockdown of the country as a result of COVID-19, some companies took contracts worth about N18 billion for bush clearing from the federal ministry of agriculture for land preparation, rehabilitation of soil plant lab and others. We cannot shave their heads in their absence,” said Wole Oke, chairman of the House of Representatives committee on public accounts. “We have invited them to come and give us their own side by responding to the issues and show us the places they are supposed to have cleared. They have to take us to the land they cleared”

The ministry said it only carried out bush clearing and land preparation of 3,200 hectares in eight states (Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Cross River, Kaduna, Kwara, Plateau and Ogun), allocated by their governments at the cost of N2.5 billion.

The agric ministry explained that the ministry executed other projects during the COVID–19 period that amounted to N18.9 billion, including rural road construction in the country’s six geopolitical zones. Others were soil sampling and mapping, farmers registration and rehabilitation and equipping four national soil laboratories in Umudike, Ibadan, Kaduna and Abuja.

“The ministry wishes to state that if the statement emanated from the House Public Account Committee, the committee must have been quoted out of context. To put the record straight, however, the ministry at no time received any audit query to warrant summon by the committee,” the ministry’s statement added.

According to the statement, the projects were part of a stimulus package under President Muhammadu Buhari’s Agriculture for Food and Jobs Programme to generate employment and grow the economy to mitigate the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.