Photo: Sun News Publishing
Photo: Sun News Publishing
It was high drama recently in Lagos when over 7000 Nigerians realized they had fallen prey to the tricks of one Fred Olawale Makanjuola, owner of Crystal Services, an immigration consultancy outfit.
Olawale packaged a programme, inviting Nigerians who want to live and work in Canada to apply. The package he told them was free and his agency would foot the bill while the applicants would sign a bond to pay him back twice what he intends to spend. To further convince them, he involved the services of the police that provided Character Certificate clearance, the federal high court where affidavit were obtained, St. Nicholas Hospital and the National Hospital, Abuja for medical clearance.
Although the package was free, applicants paid at least N50,700 for registration. The victims cut across social and economic strata, that even the enlightened were part of it. But how won’t one fall for a trap where the master of the game staged a symposium at UNILAG, invited people he said were from banks, Immigration, NDLEA and others to coach the victims on how to travel to Canada and actualize their dreams while maintaining clean image for Nigeria.
Even applicants from nearby African countries travelled down to Nigeria to benefit from this dubious programme.
The bubble burst when the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) got letters sometime in June from applicants trying to confirm whether Crystal Services was not into human trafficking. The agency discovered that it was a scam and visited the office at No. 8 Okuneye Avenue, Famous Bus Stop, Pedro, Shomolu, with a search warrant when Makanjuola refused to honour their invitation.
Addressing the confused crowd Mr. Josiah Emerole, Head of Lagos Zonal office, who led the team to break into the office, told the crowd that it was a scam as they had investigated and discovered that the house indicated as his address was occupied by a young couple and his business is not registered. “He honoured our invitation, sometime in June and we asked him to provide documents to help us ensure that it was not an agency for human trafficking. We wrote to him severally and he failed to respond. It was then that the agency decided to lock the premises and arrest his secretary, Ronke Adeosun. It is with a search warrant that we have come to open the office.”
The office was opened and cartons filled with Nigerian passports were discovered. Emerole who showed the confused crowd the passports asked them to go as the agency would contact them as soon as investigation is complete. Meanwhile the victims who still insist that their visas could still be in their passports besieged the NAPTIP office in Ikeja. As at Thursday Saturday Sun had reliable information that about 2000 of the passports that had been opened, and none had visas. Efforts to get across to NAPTIP failed as Saturday Sun was informed that a formal statement would be issued when investigation is complete.
Makanjuola, a 32-year-old man placed an advert late last year on TV and newspapers wooing interested Nigerians who dream to travel abroad. Part of his promise was that the agency would bear the cost of moving them out of the country, if they agree to pay back with interest after they must have settled into their jobs. Days after that publication, a crowd besieged his office indicating interest. Before the advert, he had sold application forms for N1000 but when he discovered the number of applicants, he immediately hiked the fee to N50,700. On the sudden increase, he told the applicants that he wanted to foot the bill for medicals but the number of persons interested in the programme made it impossible. According to some of the victims, he explained that the amount is expected to cover medical clearance and registration. Still that did not deter the teeming crowd from picking the forms.
To further convince them that the scam was no scam at all he directed them to Alagbon police unit in Ikoyi to obtain fingerprint clearance. He also demanded sworn court affidavit indicating that the amount spent on each of them is N750,000 and they are to pay back double in two years.
They also filled a form for traveller’s cheque from GT Bank. He later organized a symposium to enlighten his victims on what they are expected to do when they get to Canada. The symposium held at the UNILAG main auditorium on June 10 and had one Mrs. D. O. Abidogun, claimed to be an immigration officer from the Department of Human Trafficking, Dr. Anthony Clerk who was the MC and one Barrister Odion a GTBank representative. While it appeared the process was clean, he planted agents to extort money from applicants with the excuse that they would put their names in the first batch.
To further convince them that he is grounded in his art, he sent series of texts to applicants to inform them on plans for the trip. To notify them of the travellers cheques he sent this text: “You are hereby scheduled for an invitation to apply manually for your Basic Travel Allowance at Crystal Services. Venue 8 Okuneye Avenue, Famous bus stop. Date: 2nd August 2011. First session 10am to 12pm. Second session 1-3pm. 3rd session 3.30-4pm. Note you are to tender the following – your sworn affidavit, 2 passport photos, invitation sent by Crystal Services (not a forwarded message)”
When his initial departure date of August 20 was fast approaching, he sent this: “Thanks once again for believing in our programme. We are earnestly working towards the success and reality of our moving schedules, a slight change was made on our date of departure which was due to the Ramadam season. Our new date is September 11th and 12th 2011. Note, ensure you get the carton colour or lace material.”
This came few days after: “Take notice of the under mentioned dates: 11th day of September: Exhibition at the National Theatre, 12th day of September: Air lifting commences with applicant registration numbers.13th Day of September: Air lifting continues to the last registration number, 14th day of September, Foreign orientation in Dubai for three days: 15th Movement to Manitoba, Canada: 19th arrival party, 20th day of September Rest day, 21st to 22nd of September: Registration, assimilation and association. 23rd to 29th day of September training and seminar: 29th of September confirmation/collection of certificate. 1st of October, collection of materials, 2nd of October Future begins. Signed Crystal Services.”
On September 11, dressed in their uniform, his victims who bade farewell to their families gathered at the National Theatre for the exhibition and takeoff the next day as planned. About 7000 Nigerians waited anxiously until they received another text message saying: “We are sincerely sorry for not meeting up with our exhibition plan as scheduled, we want you to know that the air lifting is most paramount and that has been our area of concentration for days now. We therefore, implore you to please bear with us as we will update you as we progress. Thanks! Pls. pass this information to as many applicants you have around you.”
They all dispersed and still the callous scammers sent another message through their agent for each to pay N2000 to enable them assist the airline operator to repair the plane. This amount majority paid into an account before the cat was let out of the bag – 7000 had been terribly fooled and swindled by one young man in a grand scam.
Was the Canadian High Commission aware of the plans to issue work permit to this number of Nigerians? Saturday Sun inquired.
According to their police liaison officer, the High Commission as far back as May received letters from the victims trying to find out whether the programme was genuine and they were told that it was a scam.
One of the letters made available to Saturday Sun, the Deputy High Commissioner of Canada, in it response to the victim said: “There is no such programme, and this is a scam. Canada has no fast-track programmes for immigration or work permits. Individuals who wish to work in Canada should follow the instructions and guidelines which can be found on the website at www.nigeria.gc.ca or www.cic.gc.ca.”
According to the liaison officer, no High Commission appoints agents outside the commission to run its activities. “Normally work permits are not given outside the country, the individual must have acquired a visa that befits that permit.”
When confronted with the allegations that Immigration service was a part of the scam, Muyiwa Odunubi, Lagos command Public Relation Officer debunked such allegation insisting that it could be a case of impersonation. “If any of the victims have a proof that an immigration officer was involved, let the person come forward. We need a photograph of the event showing the immigration officer. Let the victims help us to arrest this impersonator. We are not aware that such an agency is existing and did not at any time send a representative.”
Meanwhile Saturday Sun hopes to discover later how Makanjuola was able to operate an account in a new generation bank with fake identify in spite of the rules. We also hope to find out why the police issued fingerprint clearance to more than 7000 persons without raising an eyebrow and the Federal High Court that issued same number of affidavits without confirming what all these were about.
Tales of confused victims
Still finding it difficult to believe that they were defrauded most of the victims who spoke with Saturday Sun said the programme is real. They rather blame NAPTIP for destroying their dreams. They also accused the federal government for failing to protect its citizens from the fraudster because the agencies they were referred to failed to alert them that the programme was not real.
Emeka Okosun, a final year student of FUTO can’t believe the outcome. “I was supposed to take aptitude test for a job my father had arranged. How do I face my father, what will be my story? I investigated well, I went as far as visiting a native doctor in Ogun State and he confirmed that it was real. I know it is real, its NAPTIP that wants to spoil the business.”
Suleiman a businessman in Kano blames the police for failing to alert them, and said “I can’t believe that I have been defrauded. I consulted an alfa and he confirmed it.”
Chidi who claimed to have resigned from a job that pays him as much as N120,000 a month lamented that he sold almost everything he had to embark on the trip. He claimed to have given Olawale about N500,000 to ensure that his name is in the first batch. “I investigated this matter properly. I even went to GTBank and they confirmed that the travellers cheques had been processed and handed over to Fred. If a bank as big as GT would be convinced that this man is real why won’t I believe? If this is scam then, the bank, police, Federal High Court, Immigration and even lecturers are part of it. During the symposium at Unilag, a staff of the bank addressed us on how to use the travellers cheque when we get to Canada.
The immigration woman told us that it was real. The lecturer that claimed he came from LASU was there. There was also a representative from the NDLEA who advised us to stay away from drugs. I am seriously suspecting that NAPTIP is a spoiler because Fred refused to play ball.”
Another victim Lukeman Abiodun lamented that Fred collected money from them and is still withholding their passport. “I am a master’s degree holder and cannot believe what is happening. I am sure that this man must have visited the highest juju in Nigeria to perfect the plan.”
Faniyi Olalekan, is one of the lucky ones who parted with only N75,000 before he discovered that it was a scam. He wrote a letter to the embassy that informed him the deal was not clean.
A banker who is yet to come to terms that this is real thanked his stars that he did not tender his resignation letter before the bad turn of events. “My sister, I have my resignation letter in my pocket as we speak. Thank God I did not submit it. Three of my friends who were affected had resigned.”