The Sun Newspaper of Monday 24 January 2004 carried the headline “I HAD SEVENTY SIX JEEPS BEFORE I BECAME GOVERNOR”. This incredible claim was made by the governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff while addressing journalists in Maiduguri the Borno State capital last week. For any keen observer this fatuous remark is a huge gaffe for a sitting governor. But for those of us living in the ridiculed city of Maiduguri, this was a typical bluff, and this remark a subterfuge, meant as a red herring for his massive expropriation of the finances of the state since he muzzled his way to governership in 2003. The message in that statement is that since he had seventy six jeeps in addition to other luxury vehicles, properties, businesses and and huge disposable capital before contesting the govenorship election in 2003, then he would have no need to steal the resources in the coffers of the state other than to manage it openly, prudently, judiciously in the interest of the state.
But far from that, the governors behavior and conduct since May 2003 with regards to management of the states finances is anything but selfless. To start with, Ali Sheriff has persistently been questioned on his selection of key lieutanants and the composition of his cabinet as well as his insistence on running the government from his personal residence. Other issues the citizens have questioned over the last twenty months are his approach to executing public sector procurements and contracts as well as his increasing intolerance resulting in threats, intimidation and bullying of well meaning indigenes of the state.
Inspite of his avowed claims to wealth, Ali Sheriff shamelessly appointed his sister in law as the state’s accountant-general and his uncle, a languid old man as his commissioner for finance all in bid to have personal control on the finances of the state. Such lieutenants are not as would have initiative or independent opinions, as so far seen from their performance over the last year and halve.
The Borno Patriots, an NGO based in the state, made up mostly of young graduates and businessmen accused the governor last year, in a widely circulated titled “365 DAYS OF FRAUD, LOOTING AND SATANIC ADMINISTRATION IN BORNO STATE”, that the administration of Ali Sheriff “had awarded a lot of contracts on paper but nobody, not even the members of his government or party know the contractors, the contract sums or how or when the contracts were executed”.
The group from its detailed findings went ahead to list many multi million naira projects and procurements made by the state government, a lot of them unrelated to the peoples need and yet bearing huge contract sums. Specifically on the governor’s decision to run government from his residence, far from what he told the journalists that it was due to the prohibitive cost of renovating the government house, the NGO in the state had accused the governor of renting his house to the state government. Infact they acussed the governor of charging the state two hundred million naira per annum and paying himself four years rent upfront with total amount of eight hundred million naira,and an additional payment of four hundred million naira for furnishing and renovation. The governor has neither denied or disputed these allegations. It is an open secret here in Maiduguri that the governor is building another massive private mansion, almost three times the size of the government house in the Old GRA behind the same government house.
Coincidentally, on the same day those swaggering remarks were carried in THE SUN on Monday the 24 January, another respected Nigerian daily, THISDAY, carried an editorial highlighting the plight of Borno state students stranded in England, who have been experiencing untold misery due to non payment of their allowances the by the Borno state government. The editorial had correctly argued that, governance is supposed to be a continuum, pleading with the state governor to see reason and save these poor student’s livelihood and carrier by enabling them meet their obligations.
As pathetic as this case is, there is very little chance these pleadings will be considered as the issue in question has been lingering for quite awhile. Indeed the TRIBUNE had also run an editorial on the same subject some months ago. The deeply personalised control of the finances of the state by the governor has cut off funding for this and many other social sectors in the state. Many respected observers and commentators of events in Nigeria have opined that most states in the country are either colonized by governors directly or in tandem with their financier godfathers. Chief Chris Uba’s request to the PDP committee on the Anambra state crises, to be allowed to rule the state for a period of at least six months has clearly brought to fore the thinking of some of these bunkrupt elements who have schemed their way to power during the national electoral heist or the 419 general election of 2003. The truth of the matter is that in a situation where a governor considers the resources of the state as fruit of conquest, how can any social expenditure like scholarship which carries no immediate tangible benefit to the governor be accommodated?
Judging from his conduct in the last twenty months in power as governor of Borno State, Ali Sheriff has far from being a wealthy, selfless and generous has exposed himself as a mindless plunderer and kleptomaniac. When last year a well known member of his party Mohammed Bolori challenged his style and motives, a killer squad was dispatched to assault him. The young survived only because one of the gang members at the last minute leaked information on the assignment given them, whereupon he rushed to report to the state police command. Even then attack on his residence still took place and the police in Borno State has a clear account of this incident.
While in sharp contrast to the above incident, when Ali Sheriff accused his predecessor of not accounting for seven billion naira, out of fifty one billion naira, the former governor responded in a remarkable way. Alhaji Mala Kachallah who governed the state from May 1999 to April 2003 called a press conference and announced that the amount that accrued to the state from various sources during his tenure was actually fifty four billion naira, three billion naira over what he was accussed of not declaring, and went ahead to get published in all the national dailies, the entire detail of revenue and expenditure of his tenure. The accusations and malign campaign on Alhaji Mala Kachallah by Ali Sheriff collapsed there.
Having witnessed how this earlier allegations and dispute was addressed, the people of Borno State have every reason to expect a similar civilized and transparent approach in responding to questions bodering on the management of their finances rather threats or bogus homilies like ‘I HAD SEVENTY SIX JEEPS BEFORE I BECAME GOVERNOR’.
In respect of the abandoned Borno State students in the United Kingdom, THISDAY newspaper’s call for the intervention of the Federal Government is commendable as this is the only way out to save the students and the battered image of the country. One would only plead further to the Federal Education Minister, Prof. Fabian Osuji to specifically take up the challenge and go further to recommend deduction at source from the state’s allocations to pay the students allowances.
ALH. BABA MOHAMMED