The governor of Borno State, Babagana Umara, has said his administration would soon “open the Pandora’s box” and expose those who had criminally diverted a N2 billion loan issued to the state by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The governor said this on Wednesday evening when he hosted the management team of the CBN Maiduguri branch, who paid him a courtesy call in his office.
The CBN delegation, while briefing the governor on areas of possible collaboration that could jump-start economic activities in the state, said they were not impressed by the disposition of the people of the state after they disbursed a N2 billion loan package to stimulate small and medium scale businesses in 2015.
According to the Maiduguri branch controller of CBN, Lawal Tijjani, none of the beneficiaries of the loan package has shown any interest in repaying the credit facilities even though the amortisation period has long elapsed.
PREMIUM TIMES findings revealed that in 2015, the Borno State government secured a N2 billion loan package for SMEs, during which business owners were encouraged to take advantage of.
According to sources familiar with the matter, the loan distribution later became a jamboree for top government officials, traditional rulers, and businessmen who besieged the Renaissance Micro Finance Bank to obtain loans, using all forms of shady fronts.
Those familiar with the issue told PREMIUM TIMES that many of the beneficiaries did not invest the money received but “used the money for their personal things.”
Though forms were signed and agreements reached on how to service the loan, most of the beneficiaries have not paid back.
Besides the N2 billion unpaid loans, the CBN also lamented that even the recent federal government’s anchor borrowers loan scheme has also been grossly abused by majority of the debtors.
“It is sad that Borno people don’t like paying back loans,” said the CBN branch controller, who worried that the development is affecting the implementation of other laudable agricultural programmes that could have assisted the state in reviving its crippled economy.
Visibly peeved by the issue brought before him, Mr Umara described the situation as unacceptable and vowed to deal with it decisively.
The governor said he has the knowledge of such kind of abuses by officials and other citizens and that he has already put plans in process to investigate and prosecute all those involved in such financial indiscipline.
“You are very right about the people of Borno State not willing to refund loans,” he said.
“Very soon, government will open the Pandora box on those who may have benefitted from the said N2 billion loans. We will trace them and get back the money.
“It is never possible to have a perfect situation because we are all human beings. The impact of the insurgency is well known to us. Where there is reason why somebody could not refund the money, we shall sit down and plan for repayment.
“But I know quite a number of people just thought the money was a kind of dash to them. Those people shall be brought to book and shall be prosecuted. The issue is that there was a lot of impunity in the system and for us to move forward, we just have to remove such impunity,” the governor said.
Earlier, the Maiduguri controller of CBN said the federal government of Nigeria has launched several developmental policies that could help jump-start the Nigerian economy.
He said the main objective of the interventions was, amongst other benefits, to increase production in the agro-allied sector with a view to help produce enough food to meet the domestic consumption, to generate employment for the teeming youth and raise the standard of living of Nigerians.
He said key amongst the CBN intervention programmes are the anchor borrowers program, the agro-business small and medium enterprise business scheme, the agricultural credit scheme, the agricultural credit guarantee scheme, the accelerated agricultural development scheme, micro small and medium enterprises development fund, real sector support facility and export development facility.
Sadly, he said, Borno State has not been able to access most of the above listed intervention facilities because the CBN considers the conflict-ridden state as a “high risk area”, where it is not safe to make such investments.
The state had, in 2015, benefitted from the Micro-Small-Medium Enterprises Development fund, when CBN gave Borno State a N2 billion loan facility.
None of the beneficiaries have, up till now, paid back the loan which was disbursed through the Renaissance Micro Finance Bank.
On the anchor borrowers loan programme, the CBN said it had supported 1,763 farmers who received the financial backing directly from the CBN into their bank accounts.
The project was to assist farmers cultivate rice, maize, soy beans, and sesame.
But despite these supports, the CBN lamented that the farmers are not willing to pay up the loan.
“People just don’t want to pay loans in Borno State,” the controller said.
The CBN advised that government should assist, through the local traditional authorities, to ensure that some of the loans are repaid.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that out of the total investment the CBN had made in the above listed agro-allied sector across Nigeria, which runs into trillions of Naira, ‘Borno State benefited the least.’
The CBN branch controller blamed the reason for Borno’s lag on lack of education, the absence of organised private sector like farmers’ cooperative societies, and existence of wide information gap in the state.
Mr Tijjani suggested that the Borno State government should have a special department to handle that sector and see how the state can take advantage of the schemes.
He said the schemes have the potential of solving the problems of youth unemployment, low income and persistent poverty, just like it did in many of the southern states.
Mr Umara, who appreciated the concerns of the CBN in the areas of improving the economy of the state, said he is not unmindful of the problems of increasing youth unemployment and poverty in the state.
He said it was on that note that the state government had recently started cultivating 10,000 hectares of land in safe locations.
“We need to address the root causes of this insurgency, most importantly the issue of youth unemployment and illiteracy,” said Mr Umara.
He said the only way of resolving the problem of unemployment is through agriculture because that is the only single industry that can take the youth off the streets.
“Therefore my administration will do everything possible to exploit all the potential under the CBN schemes. We shall appoint dedicated and capable persons to help us manage these schemes.”
The governor also agreed with the CBN that there are no organised private sectors in Borno State.
“Since my days in the secondary school, up to the university, I know of some private sectors but they are all not functional. This administration will ensure sanity and punish all those sabotaging the system,” he said.