The dust over alleged disappearance of about N2 billion obtained by the Borno State government as loans from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) may not settle pretty soon. With members of the State House of Assembly developing cold feet in answering questions on the issue, SYLVESTER AHIJO reports that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is set to resume investigations into allegations of skewed disbursement process by the Borno Microfinance Bank (BMfB).
Following what an insider described as temporary suspension of investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) into the alleged disappearance of N2 billion belonging to the Borno State Micro Finance Bank, there are emerging signals the anti-graft body has finalized plans to resume investigations on how the State government purportedly frittered away loans obtained from the nation’s apex body for its citizens. The fresh moves by EFCC to resume the probe may not be unconnected with the lackluster disposition by the Borno State House of Assembly to continue with its earlier scrutiny of the alleged N2 billion fraud. The Assembly, which passed the law establishing the bank and subsequently approved the N2.1 billion loan from CBN, swiftly commenced investigation into the funds that allegedly disappeared without traces of the beneficiaries and their so-called projects. This development, described by a source as very shocking to many, attracted the presence of EFCC operatives that invaded the State based on petitions received from some concerned stakeholders. However, immediately the State lawmakers announced their plan to commence probe of the alleged sleaze, large sums of money were deposited in some of their accounts in an apparent move to stave off the investigations. Though some House members confirmed lodgment of the funds in their accounts; they vowed to continue with the probe, insisting that it could well have been the allowances owed to them by the state government. However, after several weeks of inactivity from the lawmakers, an EFCC source hinted that the Commission is set to resume its fireworks on the probe, convinced that nothing positive may come out of the lawmakers’ probe given the obvious lethargy in handling the disturbing issue. According to insiders, though valuable information was obtained when Managing Director of the Micro-Finance Bank, Hajiya Zainab Kolo, honoured the EFCC’s invitation in February, the Commission is set to invite other principal actors for clarifications on certain grey areas concerning the alleged fraud. “The Commission is aware of the monumental fraud that trailed the disbursement of the N2 billion loan acquired by the Borno State government from the Central Bank of Nigeria. We initially invited some officials of the bank to throw light on some of the issues termed grey. The issue is not dead as alleged in some quarters. Investigations are on-going and we will get to the bottom of it,” the source added. A member of the State Assembly, who pleaded anonymity said, “We cannot refund money paid to us because we did not solicit for it. Besides, the State Government still owes us a lot in terms of backlog of payments. So, let no one disturb us with threat of forcing us to pay back the funds. The state government is yet to pay us allowances and other stipends meant for our operations.” The controversial lodgments that came from either the Banks management or Governor’s aides seem to have generated further curiosity amongst members who insisted the Managing Director, Hajiya Zainab Kolo must face the Assembly to give explanations on certain unwholesome developments within the Bank. Some of the lawmakers had threatened to commence impeachment moves against Governor Shettima if they failed to get satisfactory explanations on how the Microfinance Bank went underground due to gross mismanagement and misapplication of its resources. “We are ready to prove that we have not been pocketed. The EFCC is looking for the wrong people by calling us over this matter because within us, we are not happy with what is happening. We know it is a loan and we will not allow it to spoil our name”, one of the lawmakers stressed. The source disclosed that Kolo, on alleged instructions from Governor Shettima, begun the disbursement without following due process and on grounds considered totally against laid down rules of transparency and accountability. Forefront gathered from insiders within government circle that only few youths benefitted from the loans that were meant to empower the state citizens for small and medium scale businesses among others. During her visit to the anti-graft agency, Kolo told the interrogators that there was nothing wrong with the manner the loans disbursement was handled, adding that as a civil servant, she did everything in line with directive given to her by her employer, the Borno State government. In an interview she granted an online platform, the Microfinance bank boss said, “it is not the whole N2 billion that was blown up, as there is N1 billion still stashed away in fixed deposit accounts operated by the Governor, while the remaining N1 billion was disbursed based on directives from the Governor to various banks, organizations and individuals.” On why the loans were disbursed to beneficiaries without any form of collateral or guarantors, Kolo said, “All I did was follow instructions, whatever documents you have to tell my story. I have given them to EFCC as well. I have nothing else to add. You can call any of the beneficiaries listed, and find out how much they got.” She denied claims that the Micro Finance Bank was being used Governor Kashim Shettima as a conduit to siphon tax payers’ money into private pockets. She also disclosed that the State House of Assembly has equally invited her on the same issue and that to keep her career that has remained untainted over the years; she was ready to put the records straight anytime it become necessary to do so. The embattled microfinance boss blamed some politicians and mischief makers for being behind attempts to dent her image, adding, “I only pay what has been approved, I am not a member of the Committee or part of the screening body meant for the loans.” Forefront further learnt it was the EFCC’s investigations that exposed the funds lodged into the State lawmakers’ accounts. Findings also indicate that part of the N2 billion loans might have been disbursed to the legislators to curry their cooperation and understanding in the process of investigations.