The obstacles facing the development of agriculture in Nigeria are attaining to a level of absurdity.

Here is the latest: Police invaded a private warehouse and carted away N85 Million worth of stored maize. Sources have confirmed that the maize is currently being sold in Dandume Market, in Katsina State.

In a country where the law serves as protection for both citizens and law enforcers, it is shocking that the NPF, who are the enforcers of the law are the ones perpetrating this activity. We are calling on the appropriate authorities to intervene as a matter of urgency and stop this apparent violation of fundamental rights and disturbing abuse of power.

The Facts: On the 6th of July, 2017, one of the warehouses of AFEX Commodities Exchange Limited (AFEX Nigeria) in Kaduna was besieged by members of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), they carted away grains belonging to AFEX valued in excess of N85,000,000 (Eight Five Million Naira) in an operation that lasted till mid night, all at gun point. This confiscation of 5,571 bags of maize is said to have been authorized by top police functionaries in Katsina State and executed by the State’s Mobile Police Officers from the Katsina State Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) Unit.

The said officers of the Nigerian Police Force broke into the warehouse (which belongs to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, and leased to AFEX Commodities Exchange for its operations) handcuffed staff of AFEX on location, alleging to have a search warrant against some products but refusing to tender this warrant on demand by the staff of AFEX.

Upon conclusion of their operation they presented a warrant against a company called “Diversified Consulting Company”; a company which the AFEX Management, in a Press Statement and Court depositions maintained is unknown to, and bears no relationship with the Company.

Interestingly, according to the Company’s Management, “AFEX had no prior notice of this action”, and has had no known correspondence, complaint or petition filed against it.

The staff of AFEX, on site at the time of the incident, were handcuffed and grains stored in the warehouse forcefully taken from the Company’s Warehouse in Kaduna, to a location in Katsina. Information available at press time are to the effect that sale of the confiscated commodity has commenced in earnest.

Our utter shock and concern about this trend of events is with the brigandine nature of the conduct of the officers and men of the NPF who, in the exercise of their duties, are bound by a Code to uphold the Laws of the land.

From the facts at our disposal, the Police appears to have disregarded AFEX’s Constitutional Right to own movable assets and misused court documents. So far, there has been no word from the Police Authorities and we maintain that this is altogether unacceptable.

It is important to state that the operations of AFEX have a national coloration in that the identified warehouse is under lease from the Federal Government of Nigeria to help local farmers solve one of Nigerian agricultural sector’s most serious problems: the reduction of post-harvest losses.

For the NPF to have evacuated grain stock from the warehouse is, in our view, the most degrading treatment that can be meted out to a corporate organization which is legitimately contributing its quota to the revamp of the agricultural sector – a central focus of the current Administration.

AFEX Nigeria happens to be the first licensed private Commodities Exchange, with warehouses across the Northeast and Northwest geopolitical zones of the country.
Through its operations, AFEX has created an efficient marketplace that trades across a broad range of agricultural products including maize, beans, cassava (dried chips), millet, among others, as well as export crops like ginger, sesame seed, cashew nuts, chili pepper, cocoa, etc. The organization has been fully engaged in the battle to solve Nigeria’s post-harvest loss problem by offering smallholder farmers world class standard storage facilities.

The AFEX business directly increases income of over 150,000 farmers by up to 500% with plans to directly impact 1 million farmers by 2020. It aims to create in excess of 50,000 new (non-farming) jobs across the value chain, adding USD1.5 Billion in new wealth across Northern Nigeria, and up to USD100 Million in cost savings to processing companies. Up to USD3 Billion of informal trade will be added to the economy, with increased traceability and tax income to the states and the federation.

Further investigation has shown that Diversified Consulting Company allegedly purchased maize from traders in Funtua, Katsina State about four months ago, and has not paid for the sold grains till date.

The said Diversified Consulting Company’s officials are currently in Police custody but the Management of AFEX has reiterated that the ‘company’ has no relationship with AFEX, its principals nor its representatives. Fortunately, the Company has a very strenuous entry process for grains received at its facilities – a fallout of its international dealings and the global requirements for traceability – and it has no strange name in its books, let alone that of ‘Diversified Consulting’.

AFEX has since the invasion by the Nigerian Police Force, taken a few verified steps:

1. They filed a petition before the Magistrate Court in Katsina from where the Search Warrant was purportedly obtained, requesting for a vacation cum clarification of the said order as it relates to AFEX. It has further filed a Petition at the Katsina State High Court restraining the Inspector General of Police, The Commissioner of Police Katsina State, and Officers of the Nigerian Police from further actions against AFEX’s interests – in this case the bags of grains carted away from its facility.

However, unassailable information at the disposal of AgroNigeria points to the fact that the products were taken to a private warehouse in Funtua Katsina and that same has been steadily loaded and sent to Gandume Market where sale has commenced.

The question that will naturally arise out of this is whether, in the light of a subsisting action in Court and the vigorous contention of AFEX that they have no links to the errant company, this does not amount to a brazen expropriation of private property belonging to another member of the public through the instrumentality of an Agency of Government?

Again, does this not amount to a flagrant disdain and casting of profound aspersion on the integrity and authority of the judiciary; for the police to have aided the subsequent sale of the grains, after being duly served with the court processes?

Furthermore, where, in the world today, can it be tenable that a business concern would have its facility breached in such a dramatic manner and yet, as at press time, not have received even a “Phone Call” from the Police Authorities regarding the circumstances surrounding the exercise of such far-reaching, disruptive and expropriatory action?

Finally, what does this say about the business environment in Nigeria, and the existence, or otherwise, of the “RULE OF LAW”.

We leave it in the “Court of Public Opinion” but enjoin the Vice-President, Ministers of Agriculture; Trade and Investment; Internal Affairs; the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives and indeed the Governors of Kaduna and Katsina States, to demand a public explanation from the Inspector General of Police as to what really has gone down.

We want to state categorically that Nigeria’s Agribusiness Private Sector Stakeholders are interested in knowing the full story because we are filled with foreboding that “though it is AFEX today, it could well be US tomorrow”.

May civilization prevail!!!

Richard-Mark Mbaram Esq. FiME

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