Yari’s Disturbing Debt Legacy

Abdulaziz Yari

Beyond the scanty denial by his media aide, former Zamfara State governor, Alhaji Abdul Aziz Yari, must clarify the true position in the allegation that he indebted the state to the tune of N251billion, writes Shola Oyeyipo

The immediate past governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdul Aziz Yari was one of the prominent newsmakers last week. He wasn’t in the news for the best reasons though. He allegedly left about N251 billion debts for his successor, Governor Bello Muhammad Matawalle.
The information was made public last Monday by the new deputy governor and chairman of the Zamfara State transition committee, Alhaji Ibrahim Wakkala, when he addressed the media on the findings of the committee.

According to Wakkala, liabilities from economic, environment, general and social services stand at about N151.1bn.

Giving a breakdown of the indebtedness, he said outstanding loans, contract retentions, bailouts and loans from banks constitute about N65.3bn, Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs (N33.3bn), unremitted National Housing Fund and pension contributions deducted from salaries between 2016-2019 (N1.4bn), education sector (N2.8bn) and pension and gratuity (N1.6 billion).

Though Yari, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has scantily denied the allegation, the news is still generating concerns among Nigerians, who want more details about the huge debt, which is huge increment from the N49 billion Yari inherited from his predecessor, Alhaji Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi in 2011.

While Yari and his media aide, Ibrahim Dosara, were yet shunning out defences and denials to the allegation, describing it as “baseless, unfounded,” and “an attempt to smear the good name of the former governor,” documents exposing multi-billion-naira contract scam purportedly undertaken by Yari were again made public by a reputable online media.

In the report, Yari, allegedly awarded same contract two times for same project and to the same contractor at exorbitant cost.
The state embarked on the drilling of 84 solar-powered boreholes in its 14 local governments areas. The contract was awarded in 2014 to a Chinese firm, China Zhonghao Nigeria Limited, at the rate of N27.5bn, but later finding revealed that the same contract was re-awarded in 2018 at the same cost.

When the state government first informed the company about the contract, the contract sum was put at N19.7bn but in the letter of award dated October 3, 2013 and addressed to the Managing Director of the company, the contract cost was put at N27.5 billion. Then at the point of payment, the government changed the figure to N19.3 billion in 2014.

The Wakkala-led committee has also underscored the discrepancies that took place under the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. The allegation was that the Yari administration padded the contract amount with about N8.2 billion, which was the difference between what was paid and the amount the contract was awarded.

By the contract figure the Zamfara State government spent N327.4m constructing each of the solar-powered borehole. That amount is far more than the rates most governments pay for boreholes and by 2019, the project had reached 75 per cent completion, but again in 2018, the exact contract was re-awarded to the same contractor at the same rate. The state government paid a part-payment of N14.2 billion.
In its handover note to the transition committee, the Zamfara State Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, notified the new administration that the state is indebted to China Zhonghao Nigeria Limited to the tune of N21.5 billion in payment for the contract.

Members of the transition committee, who carried out an on-the-spot assessment of the contract location, insisted that the projects were never carried out.

Judging from the backwardness in Zamfara State, such malfeasance will surely attract national and international outrage.

In 2017, the United Kingdom’s Oxford University in its Human Development Initiative, Multidimensional Poverty Index Data Bank, indicated that the Northern part of Nigeria performed very poorly in poverty rating, posting 85.36 per cent poverty on the average and six among the 19 states were rated “worse states. Zamfara State was the poorest, posting 92 per cent poverty.

The 2019 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that 10 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have eight million out-of-school children and Zamfara was listed along with others such as Bauchi, Niger, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto, Kebbi, Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba States.

With its 3.7 million population, Zamfara gets almost an average of N3bn from the monthly federal allocation and it is on record that the state has the highest concentration of extremely poor people. It is also estimated that about 80 per cent of the population is in extreme poverty level.

Though Yari said the allegations were mere smear campaigns aimed at maligning his person. But for the sake of emphasis, they are weighty and come with fine details. The accusers are boasting that they have documented facts to back their claims, so this cannot be limited to the politics that led to the nullification of the election of APC governorship candidate in the last election in the state, Mukhtar Idris. It has to be fully addressed and all the facts brought to public domain.

Talking through his media aide, Dosara, the former governor told journalists at a press conference held at the Zamfara State secretariat in Gusau last Wednesday, that “l want to make it categorically clear that the immediate past governor, His Excellency, Hon. Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar left no debt in the state, when he handed over the leadership of the state to the government of Alhaji Bello Matawalle.

“The press briefing by the immediate past deputy-governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Wakkala, saying that Yari administration left a debt of over N251 billion, was misleading, misrepresenting and a calculated attempt to smear the good image of the former governor.

“We wonder why the committee failed to inform the world that Yari left N7bn in the state coffers or that the former governor had constructed hundreds of kilometre roads cutting across all the 14 local government areas of the state as well as provision of other dividends of democracy.”

Obviously, the last couldn’t have been heard of this matter. Already, there are claims and counter-claims that must be well clarified. It cannot be left in the realm of allegations. If the new government is sure about its claims, then the needful should be done. The Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) must be invited to take a closer look at the books and necessary sanctioned dished out.
On the other hand, considering that anti-corruption fight is an important mantra of his party, the APC, former governor Yari must come out clean. Beyond the rhetoric of denial by his aide, he should let Nigerians know what truly transpired.