Sunday, 21 January 2018

Barely 24 hours after his arrest, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has released the owner of Innoson Motors, Chief Innocent Chukwuma, on bail.

The anti-graft agency, however, said Chukwuma and his brother, Charles Chukwuma, are being probed for N1,478,366,859.66 fraud and forgery.

The industrialist was also accused of using forged documents to secure tax waivers.

A statement by the Head of Media and Publicity of EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said: “The EFCC has released the Nnewi, Anambra-State born industrialist, Chief Innocent Chukwuma, on bail.

“The businessman who runs a local auto assembly plant was arrested on Tuesday December 19, 2017 at his Enugu residence, following his refusal to respond to invitations by the commission, after initially being granted administrative bail by the commission, while his surety could also not be found.

“Unfortunately, the industrialist resisted arrest and stirred controversy by bringing six truck-loads of thugs to block the entrance to his Plot W1, Industrial Layout, Abakaliki Road, Emeni, Enugu home.

“This was after he initially misled the Police Command by informing them that his home had been invaded by armed robbers and kidnappers despite the fact that operatives of the commission duly identified themselves to policemen guarding his home.

“His unruly thugs encircled and manhandled operatives of the commission, who had gone to effect the arrest.

“Consequently, a distress call was sent to the commission’s Enugu Office for reinforcement.

“In all of this, the commission’s operatives acted with decorum and civility.

“No one was manhandled or assaulted by the EFCC team, and not a single shot was fired, despite the provocation.”

The EFCC explained why it was investigating the industrialist.

It said was in connection with N1, 478, 366, 859.66 fraud and forgery.

The statement added: “Chief Chukwuma and his brother, Charles Chukwuma (who is still at large), are being investigated by the Insurance and Capital Market Fraud Section of the commission’s office in Lagos over matters bordering on N1,478,366,859.66 fraud and forgery.

“The industrialist, among other infractions, allegedly used forged documents to secure tax waivers.”

Published in Headliners
Tuesday, 19 December 2017 03:10

Henry Thiery ‘crowned’ Igwe of football

Football legend, Henry Thiery, who is popularly referred to as ‘Igwe’ by Arsenal fans, was on Sunday crowned ‘Igwe of football.’

The Arsenal legend was unveiled as the ambassador for Guinness ‘Made of Black’ campaign held at the Landmark Event Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Published in Sports

The Federal Government has accused a former Senate President, David Mark, of illegally acquiring his then official residence as his private property.

In September this year, the government, through the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, which is chaired by Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, gave the former Senate President a 21-day notice to quit the mansion.

The notice to quit, however, asked Mark to “show cause” why the Federal Government should not “enforce the recovery of the property for public good.”

But Mark had quickly filed a suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja to quash all steps taken by the panel to evict him and recover the house from him.

The case has not been heard.

The PUNCH, on Monday, obtained from court sources, copies of documents, including exhibits, filed by the former Senate President in his suit challenging the recovery process.

The Senate President’s official residence is sited on 1.6 hectares of land at 1 Musa Usman Street, (also known as No. 1 Chuba Okadigbo Street), Apo Legislative Quarters, Gudu, Abuja.

According to title documents, the property comprises eight structures, made up of the main house, ADC/chief security detail’s house, guest chalet, security/generator house, boys quarters, security post, driver/servants’ quarters and chapel.

The eight structures are said to be properly spaced and linked with well-paved drive and walkways and further done with lawns.

Mark, the senator, currently representing Benue South in the National Assembly, is accused of illegally acquiring the property with the approval of former President Goodluck Jonathan despite that such property was excluded from the monetisation policy of the Federal Government.

Copies of correspondences and other documents, leading to the purchase and eventual handover of the property to Mark in April, 2011, showed that the serving senator purchased the property at a “reserved price” of N673,200,000.

Meanwhile, in his letter, dated October 28, 2010, seeking the then President Jonathan’s approval for the sale of the property, the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mr. Bala Mohammed, had indicated that the open market value of the property was N748,000,000.

In addition, the then minister specifically stated that the Federal Executive Council had, in 2004, mandated the Federal Capital Territory Administration to sell all Federal Government’s “non-essential housing units in Abuja under specific rules and guidelines.”

Exempted from this arrangement are the official residences of the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Deputy Speaker.

He stated that the exemption was “expressly contained in the Federal Government of Nigeria’s Official Gazette No. 82, Vol. 92 of August 15, 2005.”

In justifying the request for the then President’s approval for the sale, the former minister noted that all the houses in Apo Legislative Quarters, with the exception of the official residences of the four principal officers of the National Assembly, had been sold to the legislators occupying them at the time or the general public, under the Federal Government’s monetisation arrangement.

The former minister however stated that sale of other houses in the Apo Legislative Quarters had “altered the general security provision for the area and extension, the security of the leading principal officers of the National Assembly.”

The letter added, “This lapse in the general security provision of the area led the National Assembly to unofficially rent residential accommodation for its leading principal officers in more secure areas within the city.”

It also stated that due to the security concerns, the four houses of the leading principal officers “will no longer have the status of ‘essential properties’,” hence the FCTA “has made provision in the budget to construct residential accommodation for the leading principal officers of the National Assembly where the general security is befitting the status of the officers.”

The then minister had stated that the Senate President’s residence had an open market value of N748,000,000; the Speaker’s N670,000,000; the Deputy Senate President’s N458,000,000; and the Deputy Speaker’s N348,500,000.

What appeared on the then minister’s letter as Jonathan’s hand-written approval of the request dated November 15, 2010, read, “Para 6 and 8 approved. Also see if this could be gazetted.

“N/B: Ensure that the new residences are ready early next year.”

By a letter, with reference number PRES/83/FCTA/18 and dated November 18, 2010, Jonathan conveyed his approval to the then minister’s request for the sale of the Senate President’s official residence.

The letter, addressed to the FCT minister and titled, ‘Re: Sale of Residential Houses Occupied by Leading Principal Officers of the National Assembly’, was signed by the then President’s Senior Special Assistant (Admin), Matt Aikhionbare.

The letter read in part, “I am directed to forward Reference A to you and to convey to you, Mr. President’s approval of paragraphs 6 and 8 and further directive on page 2 in line with the earlier approval of 27/06/2010.”

But by a letter with reference number SPIP/INV/2017/VOL.1/17 and dated September 5, 2017, the Obono-Obla-led Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property insisted that Mark acquired the “national monument” in clear breach of the monetisation policy of the Federal Government.

The letter, signed by Obono-Obla and titled ‘Investigation activities: Notice to recover public property in your care’, and addressed to Mark, stated in part, “The extant Monetisation Policy of the Federal Government, as enunciated and still being implemented, excludes all Principal Officers of the National Assembly and hence places the responsibility on the Federal Government to provide accommodation for them, same which you allegedly illegally appropriated.”

The letter asked Mark “to take steps within the next 21 days to vacate the said property or show cause why the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should not enforce the recovery of the said property for public good.”

It added, “You are further being notified pursuant to the Recovery Property (Special Provisions) Act, 1983, to complete and return within 30 days the attached Form B (Declaration of Assets Form) to the office of the undersigned.”

But Mark, through his lawyer, Ken Ikonne, filed the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1037/2017 before the Federal High Court in Abuja, insisting that he legally acquired the property through a “walk-in bid” at the behest of the FCTA.

He also contended that the recovery process initiated by the Federal Government was unconstitutional.

The Attorney General of the Federation and Obono-Obla are joined as respondents to the suit.

Among his prayers, Mark sought “a declaration that the unilateral declaration by the defendants that the plaintiff’s acquisition” of the property “is illegal and the order compelling the plaintiff to vacate the aforesaid property” without affording him “a hearing,” amounted to a denial of his “fundamental rights to fair hearing and property, and are therefore unconstitutional and void.”

He also sought a declaration that “the service by the defendants on the plaintiff of the Notice to Declare His Assets (Form A) and the Assets Declaration Form B is unconstitutional and thus void.”

He sought “an order quashing” the defendants’ declaration of his acquisition of the aforesaid property as illegal, and another order “quashing the order of the defendants” compelling him to vacate the aforesaid property.”

He also applied for an order of the court “quashing the Notice to Declare Assets Form A and the Assets Declaration Form B” served on him and “a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, jointly and severally” or through any agent “from evicting the plaintiff from the said property, or recovering same from him.”

Mark said he was occupying the said property in 2010 when the FCTA, “citing security concerns”, decided to construct new official residences for the leadership of the National Assembly, including the President of the Senate, in a more secure and conducive environment.”

According to the former Senate President, the FCTA had insisted that the reserve price of N673,200,000.00 reflected the open market value of the property.

He added that the valuers of the FCT that inspected and carried out a valuation of the property had put the “replacement cost” of the property at N492,700,000.

He said he duly accepted the offer on April 21, 2011 and paid the “agreed purchase price to the Ad hoc Committee on Sale of FGN Houses” on April 27, 2011.

He said the house now served as his family home in Abuja.

But he said surprisingly he was on October 9, 2017 served a letter of investigation activities dated September 5, 2017, by the Okono-Obla-led panel.

He stated in his suit that, “the defendants (AGF and Obono-Obla)  unilaterally, and without affording me any hearing at all, and without any order of any court, declared my acquisition of the said property illegal, and ordered me to vacate the said property failing which the defendants would enforce the recovery of the property against me.”

EFCC grills Benue senator for seven hours, seizes passport

Meanwhile, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, on Monday, interrogated the immediate past Senate President, David Mark, for seven hours, The PUNCH has learnt.

Impeccable sources within the EFCC told one of our correspondents that Mark’s passport was also seized before he was allowed to go on an administrative bail.

The PUNCH learnt that Mark, who served as Senate President from 2007 to 2015, arrived at the Abuja office of the EFCC around 12noon and was released at 7pm.

The source added, “The former Senate President arrived around 12pm and spent seven hours responding to several questions from detectives.

“He was released at 7pm on the condition that he must submit his passport to the commission which he did.

“Senator Mark is expected to return soon to answer more questions”

The former Senate President is expected to account for over N5.4bn slush cash and campaign funds allegedly traced to him.

He was alleged to have received over N500m from the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan during the build-up to the 2015 presidential election.

The money is alleged to have been part of the $2.1bn meant for arms procurement.

The Senator, who has been representing Benue-South Senatorial District since 1999, is also accused of sharing N2.9bn to his colleagues while presiding over the upper legislative chamber.

The former Senate President has, however, denied all the allegations levelled against him.

In a statement on Sunday, Mark said, “To set the records straight, Senator Mark was invited by the EFCC via a letter addressed to the National Assembly to answer questions on the 2015 presidential election campaign funds as it concerned Benue State.

“As a law-abiding citizen, Senator Mark honoured the invitation.

“Curiously, they also alleged that the PDP paid over N2bn into the National Assembly’s account which he, as then President of the Senate, allegedly shared among the 109 senators, including PDP, Action Congress of Nigeria and All Nigerian Peoples Party (members) in 2010.

“Again, to the best of his knowledge, Senator Mark is not aware of such transactions. This simply did not make sense to any right thinking member of society.

“Senator Mark wondered why anybody would think that PDP will pay money into National Assembly account. He, however, clarified all the issues raised before returning home.”

Published in Headliners

The UN has warned of a rise in trafficking of the synthetic opioid tramadol across West Africa, as one official revealed it is being found in the pockets of suicide bombers.

Seizures of the drug have skyrocketed since 2013, from 300kg (660lb) to more than three tonnes a year, the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.

In September, three million pills in UN-logoed boxes were found in Niger.

The opioid is known to be popular with Islamist militants Boko Haram.

The pills - which can be legally prescribed as painkillers - are thought to be used to calm the would-be attackers, with the Guardian previously reporting the terrorist group stuff it into dates which they then feed to children before sending them to their deaths.

Some 600,000 pills bound for the group were seized on the Nigeria-Cameroon border in August.

Pierre Lapaque, the UNODC's West and Central Africa representative, warned the situation could not be allowed to "get any further out of control", as it continues to undermine global security.

"Tramadol is regularly found in the pockets of suspects arrested for terrorism in the Sahel, or who have committed suicidal attack," Mr Lapaque said.

"This raises the question of who provides the tablets to fighters from Boko Haram and al-Qaeda, including young boys and girls, preparing to commit suicide bombings."

The UNODC says the abuse of the drug - usually smuggled from Asia through the Gulf by criminal gangs - is escalating into a major health crisis in the Sahel, particularly in northern Mali and Niger, with sub-Saharan Africa's young population potentially providing traffickers with an even larger market.

One woman in northern Mali told the agency she regularly saw children little older than 10 walking around "after taking or being given pills in their tea in order to help reduce their feeling of hunger".

People taking the drug illegally are thought use a dose up to five times higher than usual medical prescriptions, the UNODC added.

Published in News & Stories
The 2019 Presidential election is only 423 days away, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced Friday.

According to the time table released by the commission, Nigerians are expected to elect the president on February 16, 2019.

Also scheduled for the same day is the election into the Senate and the House of Representatives.

News of the election dates was broken by INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, at an induction retreat for Resident Electoral Commissioners in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

The Governorship, State Assembly and Area Council elections in the Federal Capital Territory will follow on 2nd March 2019,” Yakubu said.

The implementation of the 2019 Election Project Plan is to begin on   January 1, 2018.

He said an additional 3,630,529 voters were registered in the recent continuous registration.

“This is an important development in our efforts to ensure that electoral services offered to Nigerians are better, more frequent and easier to access than ever before,” he said.

This exercise will continue until 60 days to the 2019 General Elections, as a provided by the Electoral act.

The INEC Chairman said the commission was “working assiduously to ensure 100% performance of the Card Readers. That is why there is an ongoing pilot to upgrade it by enhancing its features including new superior processors.”

He added: “At the same time, the Commission is exploring ways of improving the integrity of the collation and results transmission processes and has begun to deploy the electronic result collation and transmission platform on a pilot basis.

“Our ultimate aim, learning from the pilot and consequential improvement of the supporting infrastructure, is to deploy the system for all forthcoming off-season elections and, ultimately, the 2019 General Elections. The Commission is working to ensure that this goal is achieved.”

The commission said it has conducted 175 elections across the country in the last two years.

These include 79 Court-ordered re-run elections, 73 end of tenure elections and 23 bye-elections.

Yakubu said that even where electoral tribunals overturned two of the elections conducted, the commission was never asked to do a fresh election.

He also noted that to the credit of the commission, outcomes of most recent elections were not challenged in court.

Published in Headliners

The Swiss government has announced that it will return $320m (£240m) of the money allegedly stolen by Nigeria's late military ruler Sani Abacha.

The money was frozen in 2014 by a Swiss court after a legal procedure against his son, Abba Abacha.

Originally deposited in Luxembourg, it is a fraction of the billions of dollars allegedly looted during his rule from 1993 to 1998.

Recovering the "Abacha loot" has been a major priority for Nigeria.

President Muhammadu Buhari made the recovery of stolen assets a major part of his 2015 election campaign and this will be the largest yet.

Although an agreement to repatriate the money was signed in March, the Nigerian Ministry of Justice, the World Bank and Switzerland have been grappling with legal complications surrounding the return of the money, says the BBC's Stephanie Hegarty in Abuja.

However an agreement setting out how the money would be repaid was signed on Monday by the three parties at the Global Forum on Asset Recovery GFAR in Washington, which means the funds will finally be sent back to Nigeria.

How much 'Abacha loot' is outstanding?

The Swiss government has paid $700m of the "Abacha loot" to the Nigerian government in the last 10 years and the outstanding $320m is the last of the money on Swiss soil and will be remitted in the next two to three years, ambassador Roberto Balzaretti, head of the Swiss delegation to GFAR told BBC's Gbolahan Macjob in a telephone interview.

"The money will be transferred to the Bank for International Settlements in Basel into the Nigerian government account," he said.

"It will be used to finance projects that will strengthen social security for the poorest sections of the Nigerian population."

What are the conditions of the agreement?

The money will be paid in instalments and in small amounts, specifically to finance the National Social Safety Net projects, which would be agreed with the Nigerian government under the supervision of the World Bank with regular audits.

If the first instalment is not properly accounted for, subsequent payment will be halted. This is to prevent the funds from being stolen again, Mr Balzaretti said.

"It is the first time we are having this sort of trilateral agreement and we feel confident that it will work, plus we signed it in the spirit of trust that the money will be put to good use," he said.

Switzerland said the agreement was in line with its policy on returning illegally acquired assets and would set a good example for future cases, according to a statement from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

"The fight against corruption is one of Switzerland's priorities" Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said, adding that the move should "strengthen social security for the poorest Nigerians", AFP reports.

 
Published in Business and Economy
Monday, 04 December 2017 03:21

Atiku Abubakar rejoins PDP

Former Nigerian vice president Atiku Abubakar has returned to the country’s former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party, less than two weeks after he resigned from the ruling All Progressives Congress.

“Today, I want to let you know that I’m returning home to PDP as the issues that led to me leave it have now been resolved,” he said in an announcement on Sunday on Facebook Live.

He is expected to run for the Nigerian presidency on the platform of the PDP, where he was the VP to President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007.

Atiku has defected from the party twice to contest for Nigeria’s top job in the then oppositions parties.

On December 20, 2006, he emerged the presidential candidate of now-defunct Action Congress after falling out with the leadership of the PDP.

He, however, failed to garner popular support as he came third in the 2007 general election behind eventual PDP’s candidate Umaru Yar’Adua and All Nigerian People’s Party’s Muhammadu Buhari.

He returned to the PDP after the 2007 misadventure. There, he vied again for the top job but lost the primaries to President Goodluck Jonathan who succeeded President Yar’Adua.

In February 2014, he, again, defected to the then newly formed All Progressives Congress which comprised major leaders of the defunct Action Congress, a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance and Congress for Progressive Change.

In APC, he failed again to realise his presidential ambition as he was defeated in the primaries by Muhammadu Buhari who went on to win the 2015 presidential election.

Not minding his few defections, Atiku doubled down on his criticism of the APC, blaming the party for the bad state of the economy and for its failure to deliver on its campaign promises.

“It is clear that the APC has let the Nigerian people, especially our young people, down.”

In a statement shortly after he announced his resignation from APC on November 24, Atiku alleged that the APC had derailed from the principles that made him join the party on February 2, 2015.

“While other parties have purged themselves of the arbitrariness and unconstitutionality that led to fractionalization, the All Progressives Congress has adopted those same practices and even gone beyond them to institute a regime of a draconian clampdown on all forms of democracy within the party and the government it produced,” Atiku said in a statement.

He also, tacitly, acknowledged the existence of a frosty relationship with the leadership of the party and President Muhammadu Buhari, using a controversial leaked memo sent to Buhari by the governor of Kaduna State Nasir El-Rufai as a reference.

“Only last year, a governor produced by the party wrote a secret memorandum to the president which ended up being leaked. In that memo, he admitted that the All Progressives Congress had “not only failed to manage expectations of a populace that expected overnight ‘change’ but has failed to deliver even mundane matters of governance”.

“Of the party itself, that same governor said ‘Mr President, Sir Your relationship with the national leadership of the party, both the formal (NWC) and informal (Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso), and former Governors of ANPP, PDP (that joined us) and ACN, is perceived by most observers to be at best frosty. Many of them are aggrieved due to what they consider total absence of consultations with them on your part and those you have assigned such duties’.”

Atiku insisted that since the memo was leaked, neither President Buhari nor the leadership of the APC had made moves to attend to all the points raised by El-Rufai.

He said the party has derailed, failed to deliver on its electoral promises, and has stifled youth participation in its government.

“But more importantly, the party we put in place has failed and continues to fail our people, especially our young people. How can we have a federal cabinet without even one single youth?

“A party that does not take the youth into account is a dying party. The future belongs to young people.

“I admit that I and others who accepted the invitation to join the APC were eager to make positive changes for our country that we fell for a mirage. Can you blame us for wanting to put a speedy end to the sufferings of the masses of our people?”

Published in News & Stories
Four governors may dump Secondus 

Battle for 2019 deepens crisis

There are moves to checkmate some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors pushing to install the party’s chairman at Saturday’s convention, sources said at the weekend.

Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike is leading the plan to put former Interim Chairman Uche Secondus on the much coveted seat.

But former military President Ibrahim Babangida, some PDP  founding fathers, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) may have teamed up to block the governors whose ranks may have been broken.

Four governors, including two from the Southeast,  may jettison the plan to make a former Acting National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, the chairman, it was learnt at the weekend.

A party source said: “We are set for a make or break convention between the old brigades, led by Gen. Babangida and Jonathan, and the governors.”

With Gen. Babangida are founding fathers, like former Minister of Information  Prof. Jerry Gana, ex-PDP national chairmen, including Sen. Ahmadu Ali, members of the BoT, ex-ministers, ex-governors and former Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu.

The new brigade includes Wike, Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and state party chairmen “who want to put an end to godfatherism and hijack the structure of the party”.

The source, who pleaded not to be named, went on: “The hidden plan of the two groups is the battle for the 2019 presidential ticket of the PDP. So far, it is apparent that the founding fathers and Jonathan are beholding to former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, to whom they want to give the ticket

“The governors seem to have a focus on another candidate either an ex-governor or a defector into the party. The game is tough because whoever controls the structure of the party may produce the PDP flagbearer for the 2019 presidential poll.

“As it is now, the governors are in control of more delegates than the founding fathers who are scavenging for delegates. Even ex-President Goodluck Jonathan is not sure of the 50 per dent control of delegates from Bayelsa State.”

A former member of the NWC said: “Gen. Babangida, Jonathan and others are determined to tame the governors. They have succeeded in breaking their ranks because four of the PDP governors may back out of their colleagues plans to install Secondus as the next chairman.

“The governors have decided to abandon their colleagues following plea from Babangida and Jonathan.

“But the governors have the resources to make it a battle to the finish. The old brigades depend on goodwill whereas delegates need lifeline because the party had been out of power for two and a half years.”

“Babangida is crying out now because he has seen the handwriting on the wall that these governors are in charge. The founding fathers are banking on votes from the North to stop the governors from hijacking the party.

The source said: “The situation is dicey. The party may end up in a deeper crisis because the chairman that will emerge might cause a split. Once we are in a crisis, 2019 presidential poll will be an easy ride for APC.”

It was learnt that a former National Security Adviser Gen. Aliyu Gusau, has been the arrowhead of the outreach by PDP founding fathers to the governors to allow the chairman to come from Southwest. They are working for Prof. Tunde Adeniran.

“Gen. Gusau has been trying to restore the ideals of PDP as espoused by Gen. Babangida and other founding fathers. But the governors may fight the old brigades to a standstill.”

Published in Headliners

The 44-year-old mum of nine who left her husband and kids for her new man, who is 12 years her junior, has said that the love she has for her lover was stronger than any considerations.

Heidi had met Gambian lover on Facebook, claiming that before then, her marriage to husband Andy was over.

Last month Heidi’s heartbroken husband Andy, also 44, spoke of his horror at discovering his wife of 23 years had gone off to meet Salieu, who had contacted her on Facebook from The Gambia, West Africa.

Her decision sparked a police investigation and Andy said: “It’s a mid-life crisis. The person she has become is horrible.

“A caring mum wouldn’t go off ­gallivanting around Africa with her new boyfriend.”

Heidi has defended her actions, saying: “I don’t have a single regret. I’m not a terrible parent.

“It was really hard for me to leave my kids, but they couldn’t come with me, so I had no choice.

“I was shocked at the anger that was directed at me for supposedly abandoning my children. That just didn’t happen.”

Heidi has two sons and a daughter aged 24 to 29 from a previous relationship. She and Andy have three daughters aged six, nine and 23 and three sons aged 11, 17 and 18.

She added: “The three youngest were left with my eldest daughter. She moved into my home while I was away so that they were disrupted as little as possible.

“I went online every night and we video-chatted. They seemed happy and I know my kids well.

“They also chatted to Salieu and have become very fond of him through talking online over the past few months.

“If people think I went over to The Gambia and didn’t give them a second thought, they are so wrong.

“But having said that, I make no apologies for following my heart. I’ve been unhappy for a long time and I think I have found someone to spend the rest of my life with.

“We are in love and nothing will stop me from marrying him. If other people don’t like that, they will just have to lump it.”

Heidi’s romance rocked her family and made her the talk of her town, Hetton-le-Hole in Sunderland.

Car mechanic Andy blamed her online romance for killing their marriage, but Heidi insists the relationship was over before Salieu first sent her a Facebook friend request.

She also claims Andy was messaging women online behind her back, which he denies.
Heidi said: “Andy and I didn’t even share a bedroom, never mind a bed, for the last two years of our marriage.

“We were both unhappy and on some days the most conversation I would get from him would be when he’d say, ‘Put the kettle on.’

“At the end of last year, I picked up his phone to look up a number my daughter wanted and saw messages from two women. It was a big shock.

“We drifted even further apart and I was so unhappy. I started volunteering at the children’s school, just so I had some contact with other people and could feel better about myself.

“In February I started to talk online to Salieu after he sent me a friend request out of the blue. At first we were just chatting, asking about each other’s lives and hobbies.

“But as I got to know him I started to confide in him about how badly things were going wrong in my marriage, he was there for me to talk to.

“Andy has claimed I sent sexy pictures to Salieu, but I didn’t, that simply isn’t true.”

She added: “After a few months we were in touch with each other all day, every day via WhatsApp and I knew I was starting to develop feelings for him and he said he was feeling the same.

“I was falling in love with him.”

Although she had never flown or even been abroad, Heidi travelled to The Gambia at the end of October to meet shopkeeper Salieu in person for the first time.

But locals back home were furious at her arrangements for her three youngest children.

Their school was tipped off, leading to a police investigation, but officers were satisfied the kids were being cared for properly.

Heidi said: “I was shocked by the reaction. Anyone who knows me would confirm that my children are my world and always have been, but I believe Salieu is my future.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to be with him, but it has to mean we are all together — me, him and the children.

“I don’t know how we will achieve that, but we’re both determined to make it happen.

“It might be that Salieu comes to live with us in the UK, it might even mean we go to Gambia but that’s more complicated.”

“It was a romantic, unforgettable time with a loving, caring man.

“I had forgotten how it feels to be wanted that much. We slept together in the same bed and although we kissed we did not have sex because Salieu is a strict Muslim and it is forbidden before marriage.

“I respected that because I love him completely.”

During the month Heidi was in The Gambia she met Salieu’s parents, who run a small farm in the country’s Serekunda district, a few miles from the capital, Banjul.

“Salieu has made it very clear my children are important to him and he has been talking to them for months in video conversations.

“He told me that my family would become part of his family, which proves how much he cares.”
After her month in The Gambia, school worker Heidi had to return to the UK but she is already planning her next visit — and the rest of her life.

She said: “I am going to marry Salieu when my divorce comes through and I’m prepared to convert to Islam if that’s necessary. If people don’t like that they will just have to lump it. I’m not going to cry about it.

“We’ll be together, one way or another, whether Salieu comes to live here or I find a way to take the children to The Gambia.

“When I left him at the airport in Banjul it was one of the hardest things I have had to do.”

Heidi knows that cynics will claim her new lover is more interested in a British passport than life with her. But she said: “He’s not like that.

“He isn’t looking for a passport or anything like that, he is happy in Gambia. He fell in love with me, not the idea of a new life abroad.”

Published in News & Stories

The Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun has suspended the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mr Mounir Gwarzo, from office over allegations of financial misappropriation.

The Ministry’s Deputy Director of Information, Mrs Patricia Deworitshe, in a statement on Wednesday,said that the suspension was to allow unhindered investigation into several allegations of financial impropriety against Gwarzo.

Deworitshes said that Mr Abdulsalam Habu, Head of Media Division, SEC and Mrs Anastasia Braimoh, Head of Legal Department, had also been suspended.

“The suspension is in line with the Public Service Rules.

“The Minister has set up an Administrative Panel of Inquiry (API) to investigate and determine the culpability of the director-general.

“She has directed the suspended SEC Director-General to immediately handover to the most senior officer at the Commission, pending the conclusion of investigation by the API,” she said.

Gwarzo allegedly paid himself N104 million severance package when he was appointed DG SEC from the position of a Director in the same commission.

”This is in total disregard to the standing rule in the civil service which states that severance benefit can only be paid to an employee who has concluded his or her service or has completely disengaged from service.

Since Gwarzo was promoted within the commission to become a Director-general, the service rule says that he’s not yet entitled to a severance package.”

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) is also investigating the owners of the nine companies that got contracts from the SEC under Gwarzo.

They include Outbound Investment Limited, Medusa Investments Limited, Northwind Environmental Services, Micro-Technologies Limited, Tida International Limited, Outlook Communications, Acromac Nigeria Limited, Balfort International Investment Limited and Interactiven Worldwide Nigeria Limited.

According to the EFCC, Gwarzo, his wife and other cronies allegedly used the companies to carry out illegal transactions in SEC. (NAN)

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