Despite Boko Haram, Borno officials still defraud state of millions

Borno Governor, Kashim Shettima

The Borno State Government would not comment until a court a decision.

Ola’ Audu

Despite the Boko Haram insurgency that has led to the death of hundreds of people in Borno State and made the state capital virtually barren of formerly existing businesses, officials of the state government still engage in deals that allegedly defraud the state government of millions of naira.

An auction of nearly 1000 ‘unserviceable’ vehicles by a committee set up by the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, typifies the kind of fraud going on in the state.

Apart from allegation that about 159 of the vehicles were donated to Governor Shettima’s political cronies, at least one of those appointed by the governor to carry out the sales also cheated the government of millions of naira.

An angry bidder, Ali Shuwa, who has helped the Borno State Government sell depreciated vehicles in the past, recently sued a member of the Borno auction committee, Usman Mari, accusing the latter of defrauding him of N5 million.

The purchase

The bidder offered to buy ten ‘unserviceable’ fire fighting trucks belonging to the Borno State Government through the auction committee. The committee demanded he pays N750, 000 for each.

Mr. Shuwa was to pay a total of N7.5 million to the committee for the fire fighting vehicles. But instead of allowing him to make payment of the entire amount into a Borno Government account, he was allegedly asked by Mr. Mari, an engineer and the committee’s scribe, to pay only N250, 000 for each of the trucks into government account.

The remaining balance of N500, 000 on each of the ten trucks, totalling N5 million, should be paid into Mr. Mari’s private account.

The deal was sealed, the ten ‘unserviceable’ trucks were undervalued and Borno was defrauded of N5 million – which many people say is small, compared to the sharp practices that characterised the vehicle auctions in the state.

The bidder did as he was told.

Mr. Shuwa told PREMIUM TIMES on phone that he has documents proving that Mr. Mari collected the sum of N3 million cash from him and then a bank teller that also proves that a balance of N2 million was paid into Mr. Mari’s Unity Bank account all in November 2011.

I am not alone

Trouble started when Mr. Mari, who allegedly claimed to have collected the N5 million on behalf of the other members of the auction committee, could not deliver all the 10 trucks to Mr. Shuwa.

Only six trucks were delivered.

Since November 2011 that the deal was struck, the remaining four trucks are yet to be delivered to Mr. Shuwa.

The bidder after waiting for over a year could not wait any longer. It was clear he would not get the remaining four trucks.

Hence, he demanded a refund of the illegally collected N5 million since he could not get back the N2.5 million he paid into the government’s account.

However, Mr. Mari and other alleged beneficiaries could not return the money.

The buyer went to court.

“I have waited for getting to two years now, and nobody is giving me my money back, neither have I been given the four trucks I paid for. We are in court now, and even Mari could not deny my claims. At a point they wanted me to withdraw the case so that we can settle outside court, but I refused because I know they won’t pay me my money in full,” said Mr. Shuwa.

A history of fraud

Mr. Shuwa stated that he could no longer trust Mr. Mari, an engineer with the Borno State Ministry of Works.

He hinged his distrust for the engineer on an experience he had during the process of auctioning the vehicles. He said he was handed a list of 159 vehicles, trucks and earth moving equipment, labelled “Unserviceable’. The vehicles were to be allegedly given as gifts to top political office holders, senior government officials, and traditional chiefs in the state.

“We were asked to issue our receipts as auctioneer (bidders) for each of the heavily undervalued 159 vehicles, even without being auctioned to cover; up government’s hypocrisy.

“And by law for every receipt we issued at the end of an auction sales, we get a five per cent of the cost as our commission. But in this case, the cars were not sold but dashed out as gifts; hence Mari and his team refused to give us our commission as they earlier agreed. So that explains why I can’t trust them or Mari for an out of court settlement,” Mr. Shuwa said.

The buyer said unless his N5 million was returned, he would continue to expose the shady deals that characterised the auction process.

“We are in court with those that are trying to defraud me of my money, and as long as the trial lasts more revelations will surely be made on the criminality of government during the public auction of vehicles,” Mr. Shuwa vowed.

Mari, officials decline comment

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr. Mari, he declined to respond to all our enquiry saying the matter was in court and it would amount to subjudice for him to comment.

At the state Ministry of Works where the engineer works, officials spoke in hush tones about the scandal. No one would talk on record.

The ones that spoke said the auction committee was not set up by the ministry but by the state government who appointed the engineer.

The Borno State Commissioner for Information, Inuwa Bwala, also declined to comment on the fraud allegations.

Mr. Bwala said since the matter was before the courts, he would not want to pre-empt the court with any statement.

He however said he did not receive any of the vehicles and is not aware any of them was given to a government official.

“As an official, I did not receive any car. It I not true that the cars were given to government functionaries,” he said in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES.

At the Maiduguri High Court, the presiding judge, Haruna Shelia, said he is bent on disposing off the case with suit no. BOHC/MBA/CV/002/2013 between Mr. Shuwa (complainant) and Mr. Mari (defendant).

He gave both sides the 2nd and 9th of April to address and close their cases respectively after which he would pass his judgment on May 20.

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