Tension is now mounting in seven towns and villages in Shira Local Government Area of Bauchi State, following an alleged connivance between a traditional title holder and a Khadi of an Upper Area Sharia Court, which led to the detention of about 300 herdsmen and farmers over their failure to repay questionable bank loans.
The herdsmen and farmers in Yana, Taru, Jama'a, Ligadi, Malori, Gurlie, Bulkalori and Zabi in Shira Local Government Area of the state have been doing their jobs quietly until sometime in 2009 when they were encouraged to take the loans to expand their businesses.
A branch manager of one of the first generation banks in Yana, Abdullahi Aliyu, had through the title holder, who was identified as the Waziri of Yana, Muhammed Nagide Zanabari, allegedly enticed the farmers and herdsmen to take the loans with certain repayment period.
The bank manager was said to have further advised the beneficiaries to open accounts with his branch to benefit from the agriculture loans because the government had as a policy to offer farmers loans to boost their occupation.
LEADERSHIP SUNDAY investigation also revealed that the villagers were initially deceived that the loans, which were interest free, ranged from N500, 000 to N1 million.
But the herdsmen and farmers were said to have been short-changed later in the transaction, as they were made to pay N2, 000 for the opening of accounts and parted with various amounts to agents in the guise of assisting them in the documentation process.
The farmers and herdsmen had, however, complained that throughout the processing of the loans, they never set their feet inside the bank to fill or sign the documents, but were taken to under a tree in a bush near the bank where the transactions were handled.
An interesting angle to the loan saga is that when the loan was approved, various sums of money were deducted upfront before the monies were handed over to the villagers.
The ordeals of the herdsmen and farmers took a frightening dimension when they were unable to repay the loans as they were sent to jail by the court in the area, which did not give them any option of fine.
LEADERSHP SUNDAY further learnt that some of the victims abandoned their families and fled their villages due to the fear of being arrested by their "persecutors."
The development has, however, prompted an aggrieved citizen of the area to send a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), asking the commission to take appropriate action on the matter.
The EFCC had begun an investigation into the matter while those who were involved in the case had made useful information to the agency.
In a copy of the petition obtained by LEADERSHIP SUNDAY yesterday, the petitioner alleged that "the Waziri Zanabari in turn employed an agent, one Auwalu, who also acted as clerk or secretary to facilitate documentation between the farmers and the bank as he (Waziri) and the beneficiaries could neither write nor read in English language. Thus, Waziri and Auwalu acted as the bank foot soldiers."
Already, operatives of the EFCC have stormed Shira Local Government Area of Bauchi State to investigate the branch manager of the bank, the traditional title holder and the Khadi of the Upper Shariah Area Court over allegations of fraud associated with the loan saga and the illegal detention of the 300 herdsmen and farmers in the area.
The commission also explained that the visit was as a result of the petition it received on October 24, 2012 from the community against the bank manager of the Yana branch, the Waziri of Yana, Muhammed Nagide Zanabari and the Khadi of the Upper Shariah Court, Bashir Mahmoud Azare for allegedly extorting money and defrauding the herdsmen and farmers in the name of loan thereby enriching themselves corruptly.
Narrating their ordeals to LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, the victims claimed that for those collecting N500, 000, about N50, 000 to N100, 000 were allegedly deducted as commissions and facilitation fees for the bank manager and Zanabari, which they insisted was not initially made known to them.
One of the victims, Sa'idu Umar, a farmer, said he applied for a loan of N1million but was given N870, 000 while the balance of N230, 000 was deducted as insurance fees by the bank.
He said: "I have so far paid back the sum of N1.8million but uptil now, they said that I am yet to settle the loan. If I knew that the loan would attract such interest, I would not have collected it because I have sold my car and farmland but still I was arrested and detained for 19 days due to my inability to complete the payment."
Another victim, Yahaya Shira (a herdsman), disclosed that he collected N250,000 and refunded over N330, 000 but was still asked to continue to pay the bank. He lamented that he had sold his house to settle the bank because defaulters were being apprehended and jailed by the court. In the case of Sama'ila Lawan, who has two wives and 10 children, he claimed that he got arrested when the branch manager came to his farm with police and was bailed only after the payment of N60, 000.
Another victim, Sa'idu Lambu, alleged that the Sharia Court ordered his detention without an option of fines when he defaulted to settle the huge interest on the loan. He said, "the Khadi (judge) said he would not release me until I repay the bank loan of N2 million. He asked all those who wanted to stand as surety for my bail to pay the amount or I would not be set free. But two days later, the former party chairman in the local government gathered N5, 000 from us (detainees) and intervened before we were released".
The victims, who claimed that many of them had abandoned their families and fled their villages due to the fear of being arrested, appealed for justice from the EFCC in order to go about their normal business without any form of harassment from the bank and its alleged 'conspirators'.
Meanwhile, the EFCC in a statement issued by its Media and Public Affairs Officer, Gombe Zonal office, Mr. Samin Amaddin, said the commission is currently investigating the allegations adding that anybody found wanting will face the full wrath of the law.
He said, "An investigative team from EFCC Gombe Zonal office has thrice visited Azare, Yana and Shira local government areas in Bauchi State. Useful statements have been obtained from complainants and some of the collaborators like Waziri Muhammed Nagide Zanabari, the Yana branch manager of the bank, Abdullahi Aliyu, the Khadi (judge) Bashir Azare and some victims.
Several interested parties have also been interviewed. Meanwhile investigation is ongoing as the commission will not fail to bring to justice any person found to have contravened the law."