Greed factor: Why Nigerians are losing billions to get-rich-quick investment frauds
…victims vulnerable to mental illness, says psychologist
In this second report, TESSY IGOMU took a detailed look at how greed among other factors, leave Nigerians at the mercy of fraudulent investment scammers and illegal fund managers.
Driven by a desire to assist petty traders and market women to access soft loans to boost their businesses, Alex Onyia did not think twice before investing in a micro lending investment scheme introduced to him by Bamise Ajetumobi, founder of Imagine Global Solution Limited.
With a promised Return on Investment of 3.5 per cent, Onyia claimed to have invested a total of N60m.
He told PUNCH Investigations that what Bamise sold to investors was a convincing plan hinged on poverty alleviation, only for him to disappear with investors’ funds pegged at around N22bn.
Onyia said, “I invested an initial N10m at the time Bamise had about 5,000 customers. He gave N30,000 as loan to traders and was collecting N500 from them daily. I later invested another N10m and later N40m. Suddenly, there was a delay in payment and it later stopped completely.
“I was not particular about the RoI, it was more about the model he sold to us and it was one meant to impact on lives. As an investor, I wanted my money to change lives. If I am able to help fish and tomato sellers to raise little capital to boost their business, why not. There was profit and impact to it.”
Onyia said when investors sensed that something was amiss, the advisory board of the company invited Bamise for a meeting, but he never showed up.
“By then, he had moved to a penthouse in Ikoyi. Unknown to us, he had collected a large sum of money meant for investors from a bank and had also sold his house. His action took us by surprise and it was against all odds,” the distraught Onyia said.
Lost to the wind
Onyia’s case is not an isolated one. At the moment, several distressed Nigerians have retreated to the confines of their homes to lick their wounds after investing billions of naira in fraudulent financial schemes advertised with promises of bogus interest rates.
Fronting physical offices with handy staff members and brandishing certificates engraved with logos of relevant regulatory agencies to appear legitimate, the promoters of the schemes have over the years, lured Nigerians with promises of unrealistic RoI.
As usual, an exhilarating high is almost always followed by a steep fall for those who fall prey, as they end up losing everything.
Operators of these schemes thrive on people’s trust and greed to strip them of their life savings or retirement benefits as retirees have more often than not fallen victim to their dubious ploy.
Victims are plunged into perpetual poverty, while those that borrowed to key into what they are brainwashed to believe are once in a lifetime, larger than life business opportunities, become indebted.
Aside the initial shock that comes with huge losses, disbelief and utter disenchantment set in, while some people gradually accept their fate, others, with time, slide into depression and later nurse suicide ideations.
Ponzi schemes have continued to spread across nations, especially in developing countries with low per capita income like Nigeria, where the poverty and unemployment rates are high.
As time passed and with people becoming aware of the antics of the operators, ingenuity went into play and others crept up under the guise of real estate, agriculture, medicine and tech, among others.
Based on reports, unemployment and poverty, which have plagued Nigeria, are major factors that fuel these investment scams.
According to data from the World Poverty Clock, a web tool produced by the World Data Lab, the number of people living in extreme poverty in Nigeria rose from 86.9 million in 2018 to 93.7 million in 2019.
This positioned Nigeria among nations with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty across the world.
Also, data from the World Bank revealed that around four in 10 Nigerians live in poverty, while millions more are vulnerable to fall below the poverty line, as growth remains slow and not inclusive.
Similar data released by the National Bureau of Statistics stated that the population of the unemployed in Nigeria during the last quarter of 2020 stood at 33.3 per cent, an increase of 6.2 per cent compared to the 27.1 per cent of the second quarter.
The report placed Nigeria at the number three position among countries with the highest number of unemployed people in the world.
Social critics and financial analysts have averred that the alarming proliferation of fraudulent investment platforms in recent times and the scramble to key into them were invariably linked to greed, which is most times fuelled by unemployment and poverty.
According to the Chairman, Health Assur Limited, Abimbade Adeshina, technically, people who invest in unregistered schemes with unrealistic RoI are driven by greed. “Those going into it do so due to greed. When you meet your waterloo, you are on your own,” the stockbroker added.
Sadly, the recent fleecing of Nigerians is coming years after members of the public were robbed blind through similar Ponzi schemes including the Mavrodi Mundial Moneybox or MMM. From all indications, it seemed Nigerians have not learnt any lessons from the past.
Colossal sums lost to fraudulent schemes
According to an Annual Report of the Nigeria Electronic Fraud Forum, the Nigerian investing public lost N11.9bn to the MMM and over N28.7bn was invested in the scheme between June and December 2016.
The report further revealed that N28.7bn was the actual amount of money that passed through the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc and involved only 14 banks currently on the NIBSS Industry Anti-fraud System. The report noted that the loss could be much higher than the figures quoted.
The Managing Director of the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation, Umaru Ibrahim, also revealed that an estimated three million Nigerians lost N18bn to the MMM between 2015 and 2016, while over N106bn was also lost by investors to the Nospecto scheme within the same period.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said it was alarmed at the rate investment scams were thriving in the country despite the enforcement and public enlightenment interventions.
In a statement by its media head, Wilson Uwujaren, the anti-graft body noted that hapless citizens had lost and were still losing money, thus compounding the nation’s economic woes.
Greed validated by celebrities, social media influencers, comedians
While celebrities, comedians and social media influencers carelessly endorsed and raked in millions, citizens who love and blindly trusted their judgment, fell victims to the scams they promoted.
For years, these individuals have always been courted by promoters of these fraudulent schemes that see them as go-to for adverts and promotions. It is believed that the endorsement of any…