A senator representing Bayelsa State in the just inaugurated 8th National Assembly, Ben Murray-Bruce has been accused of defaulting in the payment of suppliers millions of Naira, few years after the closure of Lifestyle, owned by the Ben Bruce family.
Lifestyle is a major shop that was involved in marketing of books, gift items, toys and other materials nationwide.
The suppliers, according to New Mail investigations, were owed in the process of supplying the various goods for sell in their Victoria Island, Lagos galleria and other locations across the country.
The suppliers, some of who borrowed huge funds from the banks to procure, import or produce the items before supplying them to Lifestyle became more frustrated when they learnt that the key officials of the company that were supposed to be attending to them had been forced to resign their appointments.
Consequently, the suppliers found it extremely difficult to establish contacts with people who can assist them to get paid, especially as it is also difficult to meet Ben Bruce and his brothers.
Our correspondent learnt that the suppliers have made several efforts, including visits, phone calls and text messages to officials of the company without success.
A Lagos based journalist and author of the book â€“ the Niger Delta and Oil Politics, Udeme, confirmed in a telephone interview that he was not paid even after Lifestyle completed the marketing of his books.
â€œIt is true that Lifestyle owed many suppliers, including myself before closing shop a few years ago. The officials of the company have not made any efforts to settle the debts which amount to some millions of Naira.â€œI have been paying interest because the funds we used in producing the book were raised from a bank,â€ he said.
Investigations revealed that the Ben Murray-Bruce and his brothers got themselves into the mess when they decided to delve into the business when New Metro, a South African company that was their tenant folded up mainly because of high operational cost and other reasons.
â€œBen Bruce and his brothers probably thought their case would be different, especially as they would not need to pay rent because the property belongs to them. But they were mistaken. For inexplicable reasons, the business was not successful. They therefore decided to close shop,â€ a source familiar with the deal said.
When Lifestyle ran into troubled waters, just like Nu Metro, the suppliers were full of hopes that their funds would be recovered, especially as the company was reportedly sent text messages, seeking understanding of suppliers and promising that their debts would be settled.
However, after some time, the word of reassurance seized. No messages came and when some of the creditors paid visits to the Victoria Island, Lagos office of the company, most of them were shocked by what they heard and saw.
Udeme told New Mail that when he discovered that the usual reassuring messages were no longer coming, he decided to visit the office and again, according to him, the lady she met promised that his own payment would be made within weeks.
However, as week turns into month, he decided to put a call through to the office, but alas, the same lady that had assured him that â€œmine would be paid within weeks,â€ later informed him on telephone that she should not be approached again on the matter as she had since resigned from the company.
Since then, Udeme said that efforts to get paid have been fruitless; especially as â€œstaff of other Ben Bruce have been very hostile to everyone who goes there to ask for payment.
â€œThis is to say least most unfair, fraudulent and discourteous, especially coming from Ben Bruce who gives impression that he is committed to building a new Nigeria.â€œHonestly, I am just wondering what value Ben Bruce and others would be adding to the National Assembly when they cannot show the best example in their own private life,â€ said an obviously enraged Udeme.
However, New Mail gathered that it is not only Ben Bruce that is at fault. According to further findings, New Metro also owed several other suppliers, including Udeme while in operation before it relocated back to South Africa.
A source told our correspondent that a company known as Balogun Badejo Consulting Limited, which specialises in human resources and management was selected to sell New Metro assets in Nigeria and used the proceeds to settle its liabilities or debts.
According to our investigations, authors and suppliers were invited to file their claims and provide necessary documents for eventual payment.
Most of the suppliers did, but rather than fulfilling its own part of the bargain, Balogun Badejo Consulting Limited, also reneged.
â€œI supplied all documents requested to process my payment and followed up with several visits. Its consultant, Ibrahim Showa kept on promising that I and others would be paid.
â€œBut the company never did despite several visits and calls. It beats my imagination why a company like Balogun Badejo that should have respect for ethics and professionalism should have accepted to execute the task if it was not going to leave up to expectation,â€ Udeme stressed.
Aside from Balogun Badejo Consulting Limited and Ben Bruce, our correspondent also gathered that the University Bookshop, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State is also involved in what is fast turning out to be a fraudulent ring to deprive genuine entrepreneurs their legitimate earnings.
He said that after selling all the books supplied to University in 2010, the former bookshop manager, Jonah Ode who was directly involved in selling the books has not paid for them despite numerous visits and promises to do so.
Ode who is currently in the investment unit of the University has not been taking phone calls nor responds to text messages and the new management of the bookshop said it cannot pay as Ode did not include that as part of his handover notes.
â€œFrom all indications, Ode is fraudulent. I donâ€™t know why the Professor Joseph Atubokiki Ajienka-led institution should allow such a character to remain in the system. He has seriously portrayed the university in bad light,â€ he said.
Culled from Newmail