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FCFA 2, 5 Billion Deal That Went Sour 

• Mayor Called It Nigeria-Cameroon Bilateral Cooperation ‘Ground-Breaking Investment’

• ‘Mothercat-Cameroon’ Boss Now Held By Gendarmes

• And Consul General Says Nigeria Doesn’t Interfere With The Free Market…

Investigative Report By Yvonne Massa Ako & Isidore Abah

Effective groundwork for what is an apparent scam was laid in Buea, on Friday, February 13, 2015, at a public ceremony. The ceremony was graced amongst others by Southwest Governor, Bernard Okalia Bilai and a representative of the Nigerian Consul General to the Southwest and Northwest Regions.

It was the signing of a Memorandum of Collaboration Between Mothercat Cameroon and the Buea Council. The Lord Mayor of the Buea Council, Patrick Ekema Esunge referred to the 2,5 billion contract signing event as “…memorable day in the history of the Cameroon – Nigeria Bilateral Cooperation which marks a new milestone in the official signing of a Build, Operate and Transfer project agreement for the Buea Central Market between Mothercat Cameroon Limited and the Buea Council…”.

But four months after the deal was sealed, work at the project site is either stagnant or at best, crawling. Sub contractors of Mothercat Cameroon are restive, swearing and threatening.

The Chief Executive Officer, CEO, of the company has been placing radio announcements, soliciting prospective investors to pay up and acquire shares in his company which the Mayor confirmed in his speech to be a subsidiary of what is known to be construction giants in Nigeria, Mothercat Nigeria.

It is suspected that what could possibly trickle in as paid up shares would be put directly into a project that from all indications is devoid of a start off capital.

On Monday, June 29, 2015 gendarmes arrested the CEO, on the orders of the Procurator General and detained him, following complaints from several creditors, who either did work or supplied material to the business site but were not paid.

And so a company about which the Mayor talked of in such glowing terms just months ago, is in dire straits, even before it has started work.

The Mayor had chosen his words carefully to wit:
… “we entered into negotiations with the real estate company, Mothercat Cameroon Limited, a subsidiary company of the Nigerian parent company to construct the Buea Central Market on Build, Operate and Transfer basis.

The project envisages the construction of a total of 1000 lockup stores and 500 open shades tp be executed in phases…
“The total project will be executed within a period of 16 months at an estimated cost of 2,5 billion FCFA…

“May I use this opportunity to THANK Mothercat Cameroon Limited for this ground breaking investment which will contribute significantly in improving the wellbeing and livelihood of the people in Buea in particular and Fako Division and the Southwest Region in general. You can be sure of our support and effective collaboration in a bid to ensure the success of this mega project…

We equally assure our population, especially the host Molyko community that Mothercat Cameroon Limited will make good use of its labour potentials.”

However, Mothercat Cameroon hasn’t so far, quite made good use of these “labour potentials”.
The arrest of Alechenu Yusuf Adah, the CEO of the company is an indication that all is not well at Mothercat Cameroon whose rather obscure office in Molyko, Buea have remained sealed for a long while now. The arrest in question is a snowball of a plethora of grievances hatched by the employees and contractors working on the market construction site.

Before his arrest many of the workers had vented out their frustrations to The Post on Wednesday, June 24, 2015, when they went to the construction site and demanded that their dues be paid up.
The restive workers said it was over three months since they started work on the site, but were yet to receive a dime for their services.

Some of the workers have invested FCFA millions on the project.
One of such worker is Elvis Ekwoge, who said that he moulded 3,160 blocks for the market project.

“I bought 10 trips of sand, comprising sharp and soft sand, which I didn’t use up to one quarter of it. They made us to understand that immediately we commence work we will be paid. They have used my sand and blocks without my knowledge. I bought materials thinking that it was a good contract.

I have been running behind the Contractor to no avail.So many people are complaining. Nobody has received any money.
“They deceived us that we will receive money after every six weeks, but they haven’t given us anything. I don’t know where to start.

Even the Surveyor and people who supply water have not been paid. Money for cement is being owed because it got to a point where we had to borrow cement and pay at the end of the week.

I spent over FCFA 2 million for the first phase of the project. They had to give me FCFA 869,000 as cost of the blocks. The Contractor and the Mayor deceived innocent people to come and work here; that is the game they want to play.

“I want to get my money. Cameroon is not a lawless State; if they do not give my money, the law will take its course.”
Ekwoge said the CEO of Mothercat-Cameroon, Alechenu Yusuf Adah told him that Mothercat is a company that can be sued.

“I told him I don’t know Mothercat-Cameroon, but him. When I came here, they asked for a bottle of whisky and registration money, which they said was for a contract. I told them to prepare a contract letter for me, but till date they have been unable to produce one.

They knew I may use the contract against them, so they are refusing to give me the contract letter. Normally, they are supposed to pay every worker six weeks after doing some work, but it is over three months now.

They know for sure that most of us borrowed money to start the work. I borrowed money from somebody and I have to pay back with interest. Where do I get the money from? No statement has been made?
“The last time I spoke to the CEO he told me they had to take a loan and that the bank is refusing to comply because they are foreigners,so they had to change the bank…the stories are just too much; each day a new story is advanced.

Finally, I understood that they wanted the bank to fund this project, but the bank refused, because they thought it was a wrong project for them to invest in. What I asked myself was, is this a two billion project that a company doesn’t even have FCFA 50million to start up the project? They keep presenting some horrible maps, explaining to people that shops have to be like this, roads, toilets…at the end of the day we realized that the project was a total scam. So, they had to trick innocent Cameroonians to get them stuck into this nonsense.”

Another worker said he is being owed FCFA 2.1 million.
“I was asked to mould 5025 for FCFA 1,381,875. I had five trips of sand worth FCFA 450,000 on the site. After I stopped work because of non-payment, they gave me FCFA 150,000 as part of the money for the sand. So, FCFA 300,000 is still remaining to complete the money for my sand which they have already used.

“I was equally asked to build a store at the market for FCFA 1.5 million, but they have not paid for that. The issue is; when you are almost done with work, they delay the supply of materials or provide insufficient materials to slow down work and avoid payment.

I have personally employed four other people from Bamenda, whom I take care of their bills to assist me in the contract. I have told them to give my money and look for other people, but they keep on promising me.

“I have decided to go to the State Counsel and the Governor to stop the construction of the market because they don’t have money. At the beginning, I was asked to borrow money from a bank to start the work, but I did not. If I had done that, I would have owed the bank two months of interest.”Wilson Mbua, another worker also lamented:

“I was to mould 200,000 blocks. They were supposed to pay me after every six weeks. Within six weeks, I had moulded 28,000 blocks, which are FCFA 8.4 million.

I borrowed money from a friend to commence the work, but when the six weeks elapsed, they couldn’t settle their part of the bargain. Even before the six weeks, I was told money was coming from Nigeria, which never came.

They kept saying the Nigeria elections should be over first; it did, but no money came in. If we all decide to go to the State Counsel, that will be fine. They will tell the State Counsel when to settle us. We will team up and write a complaint to the State Counsel for legal action to be taken.

In the same vein, Augustine Wirdzen, a businessman, bemoaned that he is owed over FCFA 5 million for supplying gravel and sand.He said he has never met any other worker on the site and was surprised to know that there were several others with similar complaints.

Controversy OverMothercat-Cameroon’s Legality

The inability of the contracting company, Mothercat-Cameroon to pay its workers is not surprising to many.

After awarding the Buea Central Market project to Mothercat-Cameroon, which the Mayor of Buea, purported to be a subsidiary of the renowned multi-million Mothercat Nigeria Limited, he (Ekema) boasted during the official signing ceremonyof the project that the contract was going to further cement the bilateral corporation ties between Cameroon and Nigeria.

However, inside sources at Mothercat-Cameroon told The Post that Mothercat-Cameroon was not a subsidiary firm of Mothercart-Nigeria Limited. To them, Mothercat-Cameroon is a scam.

According to our dependable source, officials of Mothercat-Nigeria Limited had sent one of its staffers to Cameroon to explore and assess the business environment in Cameroon and report back to the company if it was favourable so that the mother company in Nigeria could open a branch in Cameroon.

Our source said it was during this assessment phase that the said staff of Mothercart-Nigeria Limited came across the Buea Central Market project and bidded for the contract.

This staff of Mothercat-Nigeria Limited is said to have written back to his company in Nigeria, telling them that the business environment in Cameroon was not only unfriendly, but asphyxiating. As such, it was unwise for the company to open a subsidiary in Cameroon.

In collusion with the Mayor of Buea, the staff of Mothercat-Nigeria Limited hastily created Mothercat-Cameroon, claiming to be a subsidiary of Mothercat-Nigeria Limited.

The duo (Mayor of Buea and staff of Mothercat Nigeria Limited) bidded and awarded the market project to themselves, hoping to bring in Cameroonian businessmen to finance the projects in the operation Build Operate and Transfer, BOT, arrangement.

Mayor Ekema was further buoyed by the FCFA 500 million funding secured from the African Development Bank, ADB, and the National Council Support Fund, FEICOM, for the project

The Mayor was invariably upbeat and sounding certain that an apparent scam to mortgage the people of Buea for over 30 years will not be uncovered, and even if it were, the ADB and FEICOM funds will play the trick.

Consul General Reacts

In order to ascertain the legality or otherwise of Mothercart-Cameroon and to establish if it is an affiliate of Mothercat-Nigeria Limited, and if the company has been authorised to operate under its franchise in Cameroon, The Post contacted Mothercat-Nigeria Limited Company twice by email within a period of two weeks, but got no reply.

When the irate workers at the construction site were spoiling for a demonstration due to the non-payment of their salaries, these reporters met the Nigerian Consul General for the Northwest and Southwest Regions, Dan Wari Nwazim, to find out if he had any knowledge of Mothercat-Nigeria Limited, authorizing Mothercat-Cameroon to operate under its franchise in Cameroon.
The Consul General was terse:
“That is not my business. My interest is to protect Nigerians who are doing business in Cameroon.

It is the job of the people who are giving the contract to confirm that. The men who are doing the construction came to my office and told me that they have got a job to construct a market.

I interrogated them if they have found out the conditions and the ability of the awarding authority to honour their own part of the bargain.

They said they have done all the due diligence. I promised to give them some diplomatic support and that was what we did.
“I don’t do due diligence; it is done by the awarding authority.Conversely, if a Nigerian company applies to do business in Cameroon and the Cameroonian counterpart is not able to do due diligence, and request me to do it for them, I will.But in this case, there was no such request from the awarding authorities in Cameroon.

I have a feeling that they have done their own due diligence on the company before awarding the contract.”

According to Wari, “Nigeria is the home of African Capitalism. We do encourage private enterprises and the Government does not interfere with the free market. Once you comply with the law, you can do business wherever you go.

It is not the business of the Government to determine where you go and do your business. It can be a registered company in Nigeria, but have registered branches in Cameroon like Ecobank, which has branches in Cameroon, Togo, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

“But while in that country, you comply with corporate laws of that country. The same goes to UBA, a Nigerian brand that is all over Africa. If Mothercatis coming to Cameroon to do business, of course they cannot do it off shore. They have to get registered here as a subsidiary because you will need to file your returns here as a registered company in Cameroon.

“The awarding authorities have to find out…because there are conditions to follow before you award a contract.”
On the non-payment of workers, Wari averred:

“If a company comes here and is unable to honour its financial commitments to its workers, there are so many reasons that can be responsible for that. First, no company keeps money waiting for construction. It is when you get the contract that you go out and source for financial loans from banks. Most of them always ask for a letter of credit that when you get this contract, this is your source of funding. The money is not kept in the pocket waiting for a contract.”

Wari, however, commended the relations that exist between Cameroon and Nigeria.
“For a long time now, most of our interactions have been in the informal sector like smuggling and businesses that are not documented anywhere. I will always encourage a country that comes to do business here because that will enable us to know the level of interaction between our two countries.”

Contractor Advertises Ghost Stores

The gory symptoms of a scam behind the award of the Buea Central Market project began emerging a few weeks after the award of the project to Mothercat-Cameroon.

One month after the commencement of work on the construction site, the CEO of Mothercat-Cameroon pitched an announcement on Mount Cameroon FM, advertising some ghost stores in the still to be constructed Market and pleading with Cameroonians to buy shares of FCFA 10 million.

It was hoped that the response of business magnets and other viable economic operators will be spontaneous, so that the funds generated from this advertisement will be used to finance the project.

Mayor Employs Threats To Benefit From Contract Shares

Even though the Mayor of Buea is one of the architects, nay brains behind Mothercat-Cameroon, our source said the municipal authority has been using unorthodox means, including threats to reap undue proceeds from the project.

The Mayor is said to have threatened, on several occasions, to withdraw the project from Alechenu Yusuf Adah, if he failed to hand him cash amounts estimated in mouth-watering FCFA millions.

Attempts to get the Mayor’s side of the story hit a bric wall. After calling his mobile and introducing the topic to him, he spurted out:
“I am not aware of that.

I don’t know what you are talking about.” With this, the Mayor hanged up, even before our reporter could continue talking or even book an interview.

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