Trouble continues to follow former Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State a week after agents of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) interrogated him for nine hours over his alleged misappropriation of public funds during his tenure. SaharaReporters has learned that Mr. Suswam’s wife, Yemisi Suswam, was last Saturday besieged by a mob, escaping from their claws only with the swift intervention of police officers in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Mrs. Suswam was nearly mobbed by irate traders protesting what they described as excessive stall fees as well as denial of access to their shops at the “Wuye Ultra Modern Market.” Some of the protesting traders told a correspondent of SaharaReporters that the market was run by All Purpose Shelter Development Company, a firm in which Mrs. Suswam reportedly owns controlling interest.
“We found out that she was present at the market, so we decided to go and meet her face to face,” one of the traders said. The multi-billion-naira market is still under construction, one of the reasons the traders said they were upset.
A security source disclosed that the protesters held Mrs. Suswam hostage for several hours before the police arrived to rescue her. He added that the demonstrators accused the ex-governor’s wife of conniving with authorities of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) to extort fees from them without permitting them access to shops they had paid for.
A leader of the traders, Ifeanyi Ezejim, disclosed that the traders had paid various amounts ranging from N2,000 to N8,000 as allocation fees to the FCDA, adding that the agency should allow them to move in and start their businesses. According to him, the FCDA had failed to obey the judgment of an Abuja High Court, which had ordered the agency to disclose the statutory fees for the shops.
“Somebody somewhere who believes he or she is above the law is now using the police to stop the traders from doing their businesses,” he said, adding, “That is why we are protesting.” He wondered why the police, who should be upholding the law, were instead going against it.
He added: “We have gone to the FCDA and they did not say that we have no allocation here. They did not say we did not pay for allocation of shops here.” He added, however, that there were rumors that the FCDA was now claiming that the traders had not paid any fees. “It is not true,” he said, adding, “We’re telling them to give us the statutory fee so that we pay and continue our businesses.”
“The court has even told the FCDA to give us the statutory fee. We have so far paid what is required of us, but we are talking of the statutory fees now.”
Another trader said Mrs. Suswam was instrumental to their plight, accusing her of stating that she used her private funds to construct the market and must recoup her funds quickly.
Lekan Ogunleye, the secretary/legal adviser to Mrs. Suswam’s firm, All Purpose Shelter Development, denied that the traders had been given allocations. “In 2002, the government advertised for the construction of four markets in Abuja, which were in Garki, Kaura, Wuye and Mabuchi. All Purpose Shelter Development won the contract for the construction of Wuye Market,” he said.
Mr. Ogunleye added that the firm took a bank loan to build the Wuye market. According to him, the government had provided the developer with a list of 5,605 traders who were supposed to receive stalls at the market, even though there were just 1,600 shops at the market. He said the FCDA had since 2007 been collecting money for the developer for the shops.
He explained that the firm went to court in 2012 to contest FCDA papers that gave the traders the right to use the shops after making a one-time payment of N2000, N5000 or N8000. He said the judge ruled that the traders could use the shops under the existing arrangement.
He added that the developer felt that each trader should meet certain conditions in order to enjoy the shops.
He said the company had filed another case in court to make the case about the conditions for use of the shops, adding that the case was due to come up on December 10. He added that he had written to the traders’ lawyer stating the new fees to be paid, but that the lawyer had ignored his letter.