The alleged corruption that is stultifying development in Borno State has seen agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) visiting Maiduguri, the state capital, to cart away documents relating to the State’s finances and other matters. And no fewer than eight former and serving commissioners, including top aides, have been guests of the EFCC at the Tunde Idiagbon House in Abuja. SYLVESTER AJO reports on the probe of an administration that, for long, has been accused of fleecing the state of scarce resources for personal use
For the Borno State Government, troubles now come in torrents as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has commenced a full-scale probe into how the Kashim Shettima-led government expended over N600 billion that accrued to the State and its 27 local governments since June 2011. According to inside sources, the anti-graft agency is acting on available information that no single job worth N10 billion has been executed by the state government since Governor Shettima assumed leadership of the state. In a bid to uncover the alleged massive looting of the treasury, no fewer than eight former and serving commissioners have so far chatted with the EFCC. Forefront learnt among the key areas being probed by EFCC is how the sum of N400 billion belonging to over 20 local councils that were under Boko Haram developed wings.
Storm Over Alleged Looting
Sources close to the Commission hinted that the former Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Kaka Bashir Garbai, now a senator, along with others, have honoured invitations from the EFCC on their various roles over how the whopping sums were allegedly diverted into private pockets. “The EFCC is probing the alleged disappearance of whopping sum of N400 billion belonging to local councils that were under the authority of Boko Haram. There is no evidence that the money was deployed to fund projects in any local government council. “Thorough checks on accounts of all the local government councils also show that the money remitted through the state government are not in the treasury of any of the local government councils, even as withdrawals on the local government accounts on a monthly basis were done for apparently no genuine purposes,” said the source. This magazine gathered that the EFCC has already invited some petitioners and the eight serving and former commissioners mentioned in the petition to verify claims and counter claims. Our sources said the anti-graft Agency is astounded at the bogus claims about money expended on the educational sector, even when all public schools remained shut for about three years throughout the state. “The massive looting in Borno State is under the probing eyes of the EFCC. What happened in the state in the past five years under Shettima is unforgiveable, as Borno State witnessed colossal pillaging of the public vault unprecedented in the history of the State. While there is nothing to justify the huge expenditure on grounds, those opposed to the state government and its style of leadership are irrevocably committed to exposing the underbelly of corruption that is militating against the development of the state. The crux of the petition against Governor Shettima, according to sources knowledgeable on the matter, is the alleged attempt by the State government to divert funds meant for managing the Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs) camps. The petitioners claimed the Shettima’s administration was using the general insecurity in the state to siphon funds for personal aggrandisement. “Borno State Government appropriate funds from security votes, from local government councils’ coffers as well as the Ministry of Education’s budget, all in the name of catering for IDPs, only to divert most of the money for personal uses to the detriment of the displaced persons. What is happening under the present government is condemnable,” the source said. While our sources in EFCC confirmed that there are no fewer than three petitions against the Shettima-led government, there have also been knocks on the government for squandering about N64 billion left behind by former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff, in addition to the N600 billion accrued to the state from the Federation Account. The administration is also alleged to have taken a loan of N23 billion in the last three months for the execution of no particular project(s). Insiders said the avalanche of petitions against Shettima seems to be promoted by supporters of former Governor Sherriff. It was gathered that some of Governor Shettima’s aides are accused of being behind the petition urging EFCC to probe the over N300 billion that accrued to the state between 2007 and 2011 under the administration of Senator Sheriff. “Except for a frivolous petition in 2009 when Governor Shettima was Commissioner for Finance and later local Government, which was investigated and dismissed by the EFCC, there is no case against Ali Sheriff, and if there had been any, the EFCC would have acted upon it since, and not wait until four years after Sheriff had left office,” a source close to Sheriff said. Inside sources said EFCC’s decision to go after the State Assembly members was a direct response to claims of their perceived complicity by those so far questioned at the Abuja ‘Yellow House’ over issues of alleged corruption and malfeasance in the Borno state governance structure. “The EFCC is always running into cul de sac because most individuals invited for questioning readily lay claims that approvals for the execution of alleged bogus contracts were gotten from the State legislature. So, the recent visit to the Assembly complex was borne out of the need to have a head start against the Assembly and guard against possible leakages or disappearance of sensitive documents relating to cases currently before the Commission. This is against the backdrop that several petitioners have alleged that the State Legislators were in active collusion with the Executive arm to plunder the State”, our sources confirmed.
Shettima Moves to Put House in order
Since the invasion of the state by agents of EFCC, reliable sources said Governor Shettima has moved fast to put his house in order. Realising that the smoke rising from likely probe on the state finances may not fizzle out easily, the Governor has directed all permanent secretaries in different Ministries and parastatals to update their financial records in readiness for defence. Competent sources hinted that top government officials are now engaged in getting required receipts to retire the expenditure. “The governor has directed that all ministries and parastatals must update their financial records so that a true picture of the State’s financial status of the state can be accessed at a glance. In a situation where top aides are being invited to Abuja for quizzing, the best option left is to get the records straight for any eventuality. “There is this Special Adviser to the Governor, who is said to have spent a whopping sum of N200 million. The governor has told him that he must update all his expenditure and produce necessary papers and receipts for the expenditure. The aide is having sleepless nights getting these receipts and has been running from pillar to post to update his financial records. So, the time of reckoning is now,” the source said. Another source told our correspondent that the recent invasion of the Borno State House of Assembly may not be unconnected with alleged flawed process that endorsed Governor Shettima’s request to secure loans running into billions of Naira. “Before now, members of the Borno State Legislature had given approval for the securing of loans by the state government. The processes leading to the final approval for the loans were faulted by some concerned groups in the state. So, EFCC agents were at the Assembly complex to get to the roots of the issue. Unfortunately, when they arrived the scene, the lawmakers fled, thinking that they may be arrested on the matter,” the source further stated.
Past Cover Stories on Borno
Forefront had since September 2015 carried stories on the happenings in Borno, especially on the management of IDPs and alleged diversion of state funds for other selfish purposes. After being inundated with documents and relevant pictures of what was happening in the state, we published a cover story entitled: Borno: ‘Shettima’s Cockpit of Corruption’ in our September edition. An attempt by the Special Assistant on Media to the Governor, Isa Gusau, to blackmail us into abandoning the story proved futile, as the management of Forefront Consult Ltd, publishers of Forefront, called the bluff of the Governor’s aide and went ahead with the story. Again, we followed up the story with a response from the Special Assistant to Governor Shettima on ICT, Bashir Shuwa, who cast aspersion on directors of the Forefront, threatening to expose the owners of the news medium. After our September 2015 edition on the endemic corruption that is eroding good governance in the state, Forefront website was hacked and, thereafter, developed serious challenges. With yet another set of pictures detailing the unfortunate happenings in the state, our October edition hit the news stand with the story: Borno State: ‘The Sleaze, The Lies.’ We published pictures of some of the IDPS and showed the sufferings encountered by residents of the IDP camps. Pictures of abandoned projects by the Shettima government were also published, just as the authenticity of our stories on Borno was further confirmed. Few months after Forefront refused to cave in to threats of legal prosecution and rather stood by its stories, Governor Shettima set up a committee to review the feeding system in the IDP camps, just as he was irked by the poor conditions in the IDP camps. He reportedly placed curses on government officials engaged in short-changing the IDPs. The IDP camps have been sources of funds diversion with state officials engaged in fleecing the state. Furthermore, the removal of Grema Terab as boss of SEMA proved the highpoint of a subtle attempt to cover up on the corruption trailing affairs of the IDPs. With controversies over claims of N650 million monthly spending by the state government on IDPs, Terab, who insisted that throughout his over two and half years headship of Borno SEMA, just a little over N700 million came to him, threatened to spill the beans and expose the scam going on in the IDP camps if pushed to the wall. Worried by the negative media reports on the fringes, the state government has ordered contractors to return to abandoned projects to resume construction work. For instance, the Lagos Street Road project that has gulped billions of naira is now being revisited. Also giving insight on happenings in the state, the Senatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Malam Kaka Bolori told Forefront that the local media in the state have been compromised and cannot be expected to report the true position of things in Borno. According to him, a strongly worded petition was already on its way to the EFCC to challenge corruption that has found safe haven in Borno state. Bolori had insisted that for development to take place, the Borno state government must be probed and made to account for the sum of N700 billion accrued to the state from the Federation Account since Shettima assumed leadership of the state. Forefront believes in accurate reports on the state and also places premium on fair reporting to enable all organs of government appreciate the realities on ground. While some may have had cause to doubt the sincerity of Forefront in championing the cause to salvage Borno State from impunity by elected officers, current happenings in the state have lend credence to reports published by this magazine since September 2015. Also, investigations revealed a group loyal to Governor Shettima’s former boss, Ali Sheriff may have engineered the EFCC’s probe process, following a recent post on the social media that Ali Sheriff has been invited by the EFCC for alleged missing N300 billion during his tenure as Governor of Borno state between 2003 and 2011. According to an insider, “The EFCC initially stayed action on the petition and had hoped to join Shettima, should he lose the 2015 governorship election. However, having won the election and with the immunity clause, Governor Shettima was requested to send some of his commissioners for questioning by EFCC operativ es over their roles in the alleged widespread corruption committed over the past four years.” With the EFCC insisting on probing the alleged financial misdemeanors perpetrated by state officials, previous reports carried by Forefront on events taking place in Borno state can best be appreciated for its credibility and consistency.