Posted by By STEVE NWOSU on
Senator Ali Modu Sheriff enjoys driving. In fact, he drives himself most of the time – even as Executive Governor of Borno State.
Senator Ali Modu Sheriff enjoys driving. In fact, he drives himself most of the time – even as Executive Governor of Borno State. If he were to have any such thing as hobbies, driving would probably be top on the list.
But ironically, it is not the story of his driving skill that is generating national attention, it is the media report that he had 76 jeeps before he became governor of Borno State on May 29, 2003.
In a country where many people are living below poverty level, many critics are angry that one man could claim to be driving 76 jeeps, all alone.
But Senator Ali Modu Sheriff told Saturday Sun that the story which is drawing so much fire from critics is a distortion of the truth.
According to the Borno State Governor, it is not true that he has 76 jeeps just for his perosnal driving, but rather the vehicles were acquired for his gubernatorial campaign in the vast and rugged terrain of Borno State spanning 27 local governments.
Speaking to the Saturday Sun in Maiduguri during the week, Senator Sheriff lamented that people, especially political opponents, had deliberately twisted the issue to portray him as a car freak who delighted in collecting luxury vehicles that he might never use.
"Somebody wrote that only a mad man would have 76 jeeps to drive," he said, adding, "I agree with her. If it is true that I drive 76 jeeps, then I must truly be a mad man to gather so many vehicles, especially jeeps, when I only ride one car at any given time."
Governor Sheriff said it is not true that he has such strong attachment to cars. "I am not fuzzy about cars. I don’t like cars that cannot go to the village, that is all. I love strong, rugged cars.
That might well speak volumes about the state of rural roads in the country but it also narrows down the type of cars the Governor prefers to jeeps.
It is therefore not surprising that the vehicle that bears his personalised number plate, SAS I, is a Hummer jeep and his back up car is also a Hummer.
Sheriff took pains to explain that while he drives such strong cars, the 76 jeeps people spoke about were merely used for campaigns and were certainly not luxury jeeps as people have been misled to believe.
He added that if his critics and political opponents had taken time to read the Daily Sun story, they would have discovered that the vehicles in question were Isuzu Troopers which were ideal for campaign runs in the rugged terrain that he had to campaign in during the gubernatorial election in the state.
The SAS campaign office had allocated two of the vehicles to each of the 27 local government areas of the state. Another eight or so were left in the highly cosmopolitan Maiduguri Municipal Council while about six others were allocated to Barma.
Even at this, SAS said most of the vehicles were not brand new ones.
He takes up the story: "I believe only a mad man would have 76 jeeps to drive. The story was far from that. During our campaign, we used (Isuzu) Trooper jeeps. And those trooper jeeps, even when we were doing campaign, we bought them for about N500,000 each. They were not the luxury jeep type and even, by that time, a fairly used Peugeot station wagon of their age would cost more than that. We bought two Trooper jeeps per local government at the cost of N500,000 each and they were the ones that were used for the campaign. I can’t drive more than one car. What am I going to do with 76?... The truth of the matter is that we used those vehicles to campaign and the cost of those jeeps is only N500,000. Some are even less than N500,000. We have 27 local governments. In Maiduguri Metropolitan, we have about six because Maiduguri Metropolitan alone is like four local governments. In Barma we have like seven. That was how, and in the context which, the jeep issue came. They were the Troopers with which we campaigned which they reported that I have. I mean, what am I going to be doing with them? … I didn’t tell anybody that I have 76 jeeps for driving"
"I don’t believe Governor Sheriff is a very wealthy man. The Almighty Allah has been kind to me. I don’t lack. For that I am grateful to the Almighty Allah. But I am not as rich as people tend to think. Suffice it to say, all my life, I have been a businessman. My father was actually the businessman. I finished my school and started working in my father’s company as a director and eventually, as the managing Director. Later, I begged my father that he should allow his expatriates to take over the running of the company so that I could go and set up my own company".
SAS says the initial money that launched him into bigger business came from his import business in Lagos where he used to import infant formula and other such baby food.
He would move from there to take up military contracts (a business that had being in the family since the days when his grandfather partook in the construction of several military barracks), government contracts and larger scale merchandising.
Coming into politics (first in 1992), he has relinquished the direct running of his businesses – located both in Lagos and Abuja. But he says the businesses are still doing very fine. "My organizations are doing very well. I have a chain of companies. Some of them worked in the states during the military era. Many of them are still strong in the states they operated in. That is what I’ve been doing. That is where I made all my money. And this may not necessarily give you the ‘huge’ wealth people say I have. But it is enough to survive on.
Politics has made me poorer
Governor Sheriff says it is people who do not know the workings of politics that believe that you go into it to make money.
"Do people go into politics to make money?" he asked rhetorically. "Politics will always make you poorer. You go into it and spend the money you already have. It is name that you make in politics. But you don’t make money. Money that you make in you business, you spend it in politics."
He said it was also to correct this notion, at least, make it clear that he was not in it to make money that he showed all that he had to those who, at the end of the day, would write that he had accumulated wealth using his public office.
I n the first week of June last year, about one week after he was sworn in as Executive Governor of Borno State, Senator Modu Sheriff invited every journalist who was anybody in the state to the site of his literally completed mansion country home.
He was yet to pack into the multi-billion edifice. From the mansion, the group visited another part of Maiduguri where the new governor has his warehouse. There also, Sheriff showed them all the materials and gadget needed to complete whatever was left of the country home building. Even the entire kitchen set and décor had been imported from Europe. He let them take photographs.
Asked why he undertook this excursion, SAS said it was to make his guests his witnesses whenever the issue arises later on that he used Borno State’s money to build a mansion for himself. "Today", he confesses to Saturday Sun, "I am happy I did. I did it for posterity. Because with this jeep story flying round, people would also add that I am also building a family home with the rest of the fund".
Ironically, Governor Sheriff is yet to move to the new house, preferring to operate from his old home which is just about five minutes drive to the Governor’s office.
He confessed that neither he nor his wife is excited about the new house. "Like me, my wife prefers something smaller. But in this part of the country, when people want to insult your children, they say ‘show me your father’s house’", the governor explains.
Similarly, he said it would be culturally proper that he has a "befitting" home in his place, especially since he already has in Lagos and Abuja.