Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have commenced investigations into allegation of fraud associated with agricultural loans and illegal detention of about 300 herdsmen and farmers in Shira and Giade Local Government Areas of Bauchi State.
An agricultural loan amounting to N2 million was said to have been disbursed to the herdsmen and farmers in the two council by the Shira branch of a bank.
THISDAY gathered that there were allegations of maltreatment and detention of the beneficiaries during the loans recovery drive, which allegedly involved a traditional ruler and a Sharia court judge in the area with the alleged connivance of the bank.
The EFCC operatives were said to have visited the area following a petition the commission received on October 24, this year from the communities against the bank branch, the traditional ruler and judge of a court.
The commission explained that the visit was as a result of the petition it received on October 24, this year from the communities in the two local government areas of the state.
The beneficiaries were allegedly cajoled to open account with the bank branch so as to benefit from an agricultural and animal husbandry loans to boost their occupation.
It was further alleged that the villagers were deceived to receive the loans sometimes in 2009, which were interest free ranging from N350,000 to N1 million.
It was also alleged that the traditional ruler had employed an agent, who acted as clerk or secretary to facilitate documentations between the farmers and the bank as the traditional ruler and the farmers were illiterates, who could neither write nor read in English language.
Investigations further revealed that farmers and herdsmen loans beneficiaries were charged substantial sums of money for accounts opening just as all transactions done by the traditional ruler and his agent-clerk both of whom collected the villagers' passports fill bank's forms, tellers and take money for them.
The farmers and herdsmen, however, complained that throughout the procession of the loans, they never set their feet into the bank to fill or sign any document but alleged that they were attended to under a tree near the bank for all the transactions made with them.
Some of the beneficiaries of the loans said that a traditional ruler (name withheld) brought their due loans to them in their homes and or farms for collection.
It was also learnt that when the loans were approved, various sums of money were deducted upfront before the monies were handed over to the beneficiaries.
One of the alleged default loans victims, while narrating their ordeals to newsmen weekend lamented that for those collecting N500,000, an amount of between N50,000 to N100,000 were allegedly deducted as commissions and facilitation fees for the loan which was not initially made known to them.
Sa'idu Umar, a farmer told journalists that he applied for a loan of N1million but was given N870,000 while the remaining N230,000 was deduced as insurance fees by the bank.
"I have so far repaid the sum of N1.8 million but up to now, they are claiming that I am yet to settle my loan. If I knew that the loan would attract such interest, I would not have collected it because I now sold my car and farmland in addition to my arrest and detention for 19 days due to my inability to complete the payment," he cried.
Another victim, Yahaya Shira, a herdsman said he collected a loan of N250,000 but refunded over N330,000 and was still being asked to continue repayment to the bank.
Sama'ila Lawan, another victim with two wives and ten children disclosed that he got arrested when the bank branch manager came to his farm with police and was bailed only after the payment of N60, 000.
According to another victim, Sa'idu Lambu, the Sharia court judge was said to have allegedly ordered for his detention without bail option when he defaulted to settle the huge interest on the loan.
"The Judge said he would not release me until I pay the bank its loan of N2 million. He also asked all those who wanted to get my bail to pay the amount or I would not get free. But two days later, a former party chairman in the local government gathered N5, 000 from us and intervened before we were released from cells," he said.
Finding also revealed that some victims had to abandon their families and fled their villages for fear of being arrested.
Victims, according to the petition letter, appealed for justice from the EFCC so that they can go about their normal business without any form of harassment from the bank and its 'conspirators'.
Meanwhile, the EFCC North-east zone office in Gombe, said it was currently investigating the allegations.
The Media and Public Affairs Officer of the Commission in the state, Mr. Samin Amaddin, said: "An investigative team from EFCC Gombe zonal office has thrice visited Yana and Shira areas in shira local government of Bauchi State."
He added: "Useful statements have been obtained from complainants and some of the collaborators alike, the Yana bank branch and some victims. Several interested parties have also been interviewed.
"Investigations are on-going as the commission will not fail to bring to justice any person found to have contravened the law," EFCC stated.