By Dirisu Yakubu – Abuja
A mix of anger and palpable fear has enveloped some officers and men of the Federal Fire Service FFS following a breached contract on vehicle acquisition scheme.
Those at the centre of the controversy are over 50 staff of the Service – who paid various sums of money between N700, 000 and N1.4 million, being part payment for the supply of various brand of vehicles- the company, Whitehorse Capital Limited and the Dr Ibrahim Alhaji Liman-led management of the Federal Fire Service.
How it began
In August 2020, the company, Whitehorse Capital had approached the service, seeking to supply different brands of vehicles to its personnel.
The agreement was to supply the vehicles within eight weeks, the staff having paid an initial deposit of 50 percent of the total sum, and a five percent commission to a Bank Account Number operated by one Ezekiel Best, a Personal Assistant to the Group Managing Director/CEO, Whitehorse Capital Limited, Dr Paul Ndi Oyemike.
Personnel of the Service who subscribed for the vehicles said they were asked to obtain the vehicle purchase agreement from the Service’s Welfare Unit, then headed by a certain Hahe Babu.
Recent developments have however shown that the personnel seem to have been abandoned to their fate as the Service has taken a back seat on the matter.
Although, the vehicles were supposed to have been delivered to subscribers by November 4, 2020, staff of the service are currently uneasy, following the inability of the company, White Horse Capital Limited to fulfil its part of the bargain.
Since that November 4, 2020, rather than take delivery of their vehicles, what subscribers had been getting were messages of dashed hopes.
The delivery date was then shifted to November 29, 2020. Still unable to deliver, the company again moved the delivery date to December 5, 2020.
In order to keep buying time after failing to deliver on the said date, Whitehorse Capital again announced December 18, 2020 as the new delivery date.
It consequently sent a message to subscribers thus: “This is to further update subscribers of the car loan scheme regards venue and time. 1. You are to proceed to our Abuja office for further documentation from Tuesday 8th December. 2. From 18th December 2020, car collection begins. Bear with us for the few days behind schedule.”
However, having gone to the company’s office to do the required documentation, the company again, failed to deliver the vehicles on the due date.
After coming up with excuses, the delivery date was further moved to the end of January and later the 28th of February 2021.
Earlier in February, Enokela Israel Owoicho, a top executive of the company in an “update” to subscribers; “As earlier promised, all our instruments have been released, find attached.
“We will not rule out this month end as promised and based on our preparedness, we are just waiting for our vendors to receive final credit from the bank and vehicles can start moving to various destinations. However should there be extention we will communicate you tomorrow. Thanks for your patience and with little more time,we will be over with it”.
The last of such messages was sent on May 5, 2021, which reads; “Dear Client, you are hereby notified that delivery of vehicles to all clients commences from 17th of May 2021 and will run for a period of 2 weeks.
“However your scheduled pickup date will be communicated to you 2 days before the pickup day. Thank you. -Kenneth J. (Group head, Customer service) Whitehorse Group Ltd”.
Several attempts by Vanguard to get in touch with the CEO of the company were futile as the number displayed on his complementary card was said to be “switched off” each time our correspondent called. He also did not respond to a text message on the issue.
Fire Service meets company
In a last minute attempt to salvage the situation, Controller General of Fire, Dr Ibrahim Alhaji Liman, had on May 21 summoned officials of the company where it was gathered that they made a commitment to deliver on the vehicles “as soon as possible”.
“Thereafter, whenever we called the company, they had nothing to tell us other than to ask us to calm down. At a point, one of their staff said we should be praying for them. I have never seen this kind of ‘daylight’ scam”, one of the subscribers told Vanguard.
As part of its delay tactics, on June 11, the General Manager, Credit Control of the company, one Jennifer Umeh reportedly wrote the Fire Service asking for a repayment schedule and “guarantee” by the personnel.
The letter addressed to the CG of Fire reads; “We write to notify you that the staff of the fire service who applied for cars are expected to spread the balance payment within 2 years, hence the need for guarantee, more so in the event of death or termination of appointment.
“This has become necessary as result of a staff of Fire Service, whom we have
already issued vehicle to becoming problematic in ascertaining her payment.
“With the large number of Fire Service staff coming in as recipients, there is
need for proper documentation.
“Since Fire service will not guarantee the individual, it only means that
applicants will provide guarantors for themselves, which is a vital
requirement in our process”.
Vehicles coming soon – Whitehorse
However, earlier in March, the company had written a national newspaper through one Erasmus Ogeleka Esq, said to be its Director of Legal Services/Company Secretary.
In the letter, the company had stated; “We candidly acknowledge the fact that we entered into Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)/Vehicle Supply Agreement with some personnel of Federal Fire Service.
“Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen circumstances, we have not been able to fulfil our part of the obligation to supply the vehicles to the said personnel in question.
“It is occasioned by some challenges of logistics and other procedural challenge encountered by the financial institutions handling the transactions on our behalf.
“Our transactions with the different personnel of Federal Fire Service is legitimate and devoid of any criminality, nay fraudulent intentions,” it insisted.
When contacted, spokeswoman of the Federal Fire Service FFS, Ugo Huan, neither responded to calls nor text messages sent to her known mobile line.
For now, most of the affected personnel said they no longer want the vehicles.
“We want our money back. We borrowed the money to make the 50 per cent payment.
“Some of us had to use our house rents and borrowed from other sources to make the down payment. We want our money back”, said a personnel who pleaded anonymity.