Magnus Eze and Okwe Obi
Everything about the United African States (UAS) pointed to fraud- from its nomenclature to modus operandi.
Even complimentary cards of the key promoters depicted phoniness. One of such cards belonging to the organisation’s spokesman; Hon. Isaac Bala Azi, addressed him as “Executive Commissioner, Communication and Information (The Presidency)”.
On February 20, the Police smashed the syndicate behind what may have turned out to be the biggest job scam ever in Abuja, the nation’s capital. Force Public Relations Officer, CSP Jimoh Moshood, who paraded the nine suspects at the Force Headquarters, last month, revealed that aside the UAS being an illegal organization, the promoters also had an affiliate security outfit called Land Marine Police Force.
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The illegal outfit allegedly operated by one Prof. Brimmy Olagbere, the acclaimed Executive President of the organisation had its office at No. 6 Ubiaja Crescent Garki II, Abuja and according to the police, it had operated for about a year.
Moshood said Police intervention followed complaints of extortion of N5,000 each from over 150 unemployed persons by the organisation under false pretence of employing them.
Those arrested in the raid were Prof. Brimmy Olagbere; Pastor Henry Akujobi (Accts Clerk II), Felix Asunomeh (Human Resource Unit), Patrick Eze (Commissioner of Education); Hobe Nicholas (PA to Olagbere), John Ogbaje; DSP retired (Land Marine Police Force), Ifeoma Okafor (Accounts Section), Deborah Zungwe in-charge of ID cards and ASP Ezekiel Damah (retd) (Commissioner of Police, Land Marine Force).
He disclosed that investigation was being extended to Zamfara, Enugu, Yobe, Delta, Niger, Bauchi, Gombe, Kano and Nasarawa States, where the organisation had branches for the arrest and eventual prosecution of the perpetrators.
Prior to the arrest of the suspects, Daily Sun was on their trail for months. The reason for trailing the group was to uncover the method and tactics deployed by members of the syndicate who took advantage of the high unemployment rate in the country to allegedly defraud unsuspecting people.
The group which claimed to be working with African leaders started operations somewhere in Asokoro District before relocating to Garki II.
At inception, some sketchy information was posted on the group’s Facebook page urging Nigerians, particularly the youth to take advantage of the rare opportunity offered by UAS to get jobs. It promised 10,000 job placements in the first instance, adding that successful applicants would be paid $40 to $90 monthly.
Expectedly, applications flooded their platform in a short time.By April 2017, those who had registered started asking when their appointment letters would be released while those that had purportedly received their letters wanted to know the commencement date.
It was at this point that one Henry took to a phoney website ‘www.careerportal.ng.com’ to assuage their fears and also urged those who had not registered to do so. Thereafter, attempts to access the fake site became impossible.
However, part of the enticing opening statement on the platform said, “Hello! Guys, I welcome you all to my new project. A project which seeks to provide unlimited career tools to everyone without much ado. Anyway, as time goes on, I hope you will come to understand fully what we do, and I wish you’ll be part of it unto the end.
“Anyway, for those who know, United African States employment is one of the most talked about employment opportunities in Nigeria, especially for those leaving within the heart of Abuja city, the Federal Capital Territory.
“The United Africa State is a sovereign body or better said, a government, which is focus (sic) on bringing all African people, countries and government, under a unified entity known as the United Africa States (UAS). The project which has been the vision of some African leaders from the past to present, will indeed be a great and demanding project, and as such, the said Federated African State is currently seeking to recruit 10,000 able head (sic), to make this great project a reality…
“In this article, I’ve taken time to compile names of all shortlisted candidates so far for the project. So if you’ve already applied, then check through the table below, to see if luck has been on your side. To avoid time wasting, I’ve also added a search button, to enable you search for your name in a more intuitive way.”
The said comprehensive list contained the names and placement codes of about 5,000 persons who had registered at the period. Still on the platform, some persons made inquiries which Henry responded to.
One of such inquiries came from Blessing Alexandra Nwankwo, who wrote: “Hello, I applied for provisional position in the United African States on April 2017 and the message I got in my email inbox reads that I will be required to commence an induction and training immediately but I haven’t gotten any directive concerning that. Please what do I do?”
The administrator responded thus: “Do nothing! Your details will be reviewed, and if you’ve got what they want, you’ll be shortlisted, and subsequently invited for documentations. So be patient please.”
How UAS operated
The suspected con artists used the social media to grab the attention of large number of unsuspecting job seekers before disclosing the conditions to them. Every applicant would pay a registration fee of N5,000 and also buy UAS Information book called Constitution for N700. It was gathered that some persons paid as much as N10,000 depending on the kind of job. Those who wanted to work with the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD), the defence sector and international agencies parted with N10,000 each.
When our correspondent visited their Garki office in January, to inquire how to secure jobs for his unemployed wards at home, he was attended to by a lady that manned the ID cards desk, who after discussion sold the Constitution to him for N700.
She advised him to insist on meeting one Mr. Felix anytime he would come to register, ostensibly to avoid falling prey to some unscrupulous persons milling around the area.
Armed with this information, Daily Sun returned few days later with a reporter who posed as an applicant. We got to the place by 9am as advised and were shocked to see that over 200 persons came before us.
Our waiting was not long as Mr. Felix arrived by 9:38am, went straight to his ‘cubicle’ where he took time to pray before attending to about eight other persons who were waiting for him. Since there was no light from the public power provider, he quickly put on a rechargeable lantern and shouted “Let there be light” to the admiration of the applicants, who in unison replied, “And there was light.”
He explained the procedure to us and promised to ensure that they concluded the processes that day after we had gone to the Accounts Unit to pay N5,000 registration.
There was mad rush that day because three 14-seater buses brought people from Gombe, Gombe State for induction.
Asked why we were told to ensure that he was the one that handled our case, Felix Asunome, who claimed to hail from Agonebode, Edo State, said: “They knew why they asked you to see me. You see, this table I am occupying was given to me by God. In fact, God put me there through the management.
“So, what I do here is once you come and your papers are complete, we process it. Nobody will ask you anything like bribe. So, you are at the right place because if they hijack your application with money at the gate, I can’t be accountable.”
It was during the visit of January 21, 2018, that Daily Sun discovered that the organisation had a security outfit called Land Marine Force as indicated by the weekly posting from 15-21 January, 2018, on the notice board signed by one Ezekiel K. Damah, Compol Land Marine Force.
Meanwhile, the lectures were usually in three batches a day; the morning which starts at 7am to 10am, the second commences 10am to 12pm while the last starts from 12-3pm. The applicants were assured that with the establishment of UAS University, more jobs would be created. One of the instructors, Perpetual Onyekwere, assured applicants of automatic employment.
Nothing there was free. To staple a document, one will have to pay N10 for the pin. Even those who paid with higher denominations were hardly given balance, all in the name of ‘no change.’
About one month after our correspondent went through the induction and was promised to be communicated via text messages for the next step, he never heard from them until the police struck.
One of the victims, Agnes Obeche, said it was not her first time of falling prey to job scammers. According to her, she spent N26,000 in the last one she took part in and did not get any job.
An official of UAS from Cross River State, who claimed not to know that it was a scam told Daily Sun that job seekers were pouring into some states where they had representatives.
He put the number of persons allegedly registered by end of January 2018 at about 20,000.
Meanwhile, the spokesman’s telephone had been unreachable for over a month. On one occasion that he picked in January, Azi told our correspondent that they were at the Force Headquarters to tackle some issues. This, we gathered was when the Police started closing in on them.
Olagbere and his past
Daily Sun gathered that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had in October 2015, arraigned the founder of UAS, Olaghere, before Justice U.P Kekemeke of the FCT High Court sitting in Apo, on a two-count charge of obtaining goods and cars by false pretence.
Olaghere was alleged to have defrauded one Okwosu Chinedu and a company, Joyjoe Global Link Limited, of N56,032,000 in July 2014.
According to the charge sheet, Olaghere defrauded Mr. Chinedu of goods worth over N20 million. He also allegedly collected eight cars worth N35,800,000 from Joyjoe Global Link Limited on pretence that United African Diaspora States, United African States, New Africa’s World Bank and Federated United African States ordered for the vehicles.