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BEING KICKED OUT OF OUR HOUSE MOTIVATED ME TO WORK HARD

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Dr. Kennedy Okonkwo sits atop a growing real estate company, NEDCOMOAKS Limited, which develops, manages and consults for clients with a dream to bridge the gap in the housing sector in Nigeria starting with Lagos State. The debonair entrepreneur reflected on his baby-steps to greatness, the humbling but inspiring waltz out of despair and how his sector has benefitted from his emergence on the scene in this interview with LANRE ODUKOYA

 

Your company recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Forte Solar to enable inclusion of solar power distribution to the housing services you render. Could you shed more light on what the partnership entails?

Well, as you’ve already established, the partnership was with one of the leading energy service providers in Nigeria, Forte Oil with their Forte Solar Solution. The driving force behind it is the urgent need to start providing alternative power solutions to the houses that we build.

We have an upwardly mobile middle-income housing bracket that we serve. And to serve them you must be thinking of solutions that will outlive the houses, solutions that would last long and benefit the home buyers.

Over time we’ve had other companies provide such services but you’d end up with little or no after sales solution to support the kind of house we’ve built for the clients. In that light, we sought a new partnership and that is supposed to take us to the next level.

We want a situation whereby as we give warranties on those houses, those warranties are also extended to the solar solutions that are provided, and only a reputable company of that magnitude can provide the service.

Forte Solar has partnered with Jingli Solar, a leading solar equipment manufacturer, in the world today and it’s from China. The people who’d end up benefitting the most are our clients because we want them to experience no noises from generators.

If somebody buys a house from you and the DISCOs are able to provide about 12-hour power supply a day and you get your solar system harnessing some power during the day because we’ve got beautiful sunlight in Lagos especially, it’s the consumers that would end up benefitting.

NEDCOMOAKS Limited came into the real estate sector 10 years ago, how do you think the industry has fared this past decade?

I’ve witnessed a decade where we’d seen a lot of real estate companies go down. Some of the leading companies available 10 years ago are actually nonexistent. It’s just a fraction of them you can find today, but we’re grateful to God because today we have a much more robust industry.

We have more people coming into the sector because people are beginning to realise that the sector is a major contributor to the country’s GDP. So our sector provides about 7.2 percent of Nigeria’s GDP according to the Federal Office of Statistics. It goes a long way to show that the industry is growing and despite that, there’s still a huge gap of housing to fill both at the state and the federal levels.

There are so many new satellite villages that need to be connected via road infrastructure as we begin to say the Federal Government is embarking on housing model (building houses across the regions), most of those houses are coming up in satellite towns and districts. There’s a need to extend good road infrastructure, telecom infrastructure, water and power to those satellite towns.

As a starter in the industry, how were you able to earn the confidence of your first set of clients?

To build trust in the consumers doesn’t happen in one day. But one of the things we’d tried to do is to under promise and over deliver. Anytime we tell our clients we’d deliver a house in nine months, when they come in the seventh month, the house is built and tested. And that goes a long way to gain the confidence of the clients that we serve.

Weren’t you scared by the competition of the existing firms some of which might have been bigger?

There will always be competition but you’d realise that there’s always a place for everybody to play. This because in every sector you have the very big players, you have the upcoming ones too but with innovations, most importantly, with creativity there’s so much we’re doing as added value to the houses we provide.

Today we’re one of the very few firms that provide uninterrupted after sales support for the houses we’ve built. We’re one of those providing houses with extra values such as CCTV cameras, home audio systems, internet services and we’ve just added solar power system to boost the confidence of the subscribers. As innovation begins to come and the economy begins to evolve, we also want to do newer things that would make our subscribers feel better.

How did the sector fare before the officially announcement that Nigeria was out of economic recession?

When they say the economy is out of recession I ask, is government spending the way it used to spend? When you say we’re out of recession, is the dollar rate back to what it was before recession was announced? The answer is no.

Today they’d tell you we’re out of recession and the prices of cars and other commodities are double how much they used to cost. The prices of houses have not increased. What has happened is that the developers have lost their margins.

The number of houses that was churned out this year cannot be equated with what was churned out in this country last year. The reason is that the funds are not available. So, there’s no sector that didn’t feel the recession and the impact of exit from recession wouldn’t be felt in this country until most likely the second quarter of next year.

How did your company stay afloat?

This is the time for creativity. In those times when the economy was quaked to its root, only great men survived. So, we are a young dynamic organisation and we try to be creative in all we do. What we’ve newly added is part of what we do to better the lives of our subscribers.

But you could have taken advantage of the downturn like some claimed they’ve done. Some businessmen have said that the economic crisis like that offers fresh opportunities…

Like I told you earlier, this is a time for people who are innovative to show what they can do. This is the time to bring creativity to play and that’s what my team and I have been doing. We’re delivering our Victoria Crest Luxury apartments, this year, we’d flagged off our projects in Ikoyi, Oniru, Osbourne (Lagos); we’re doing the best we can to stay afloat.

Incessant cases of collapsed buildings in Lagos made the state clampdown on in the recent past; would you say the new legislation has strengthened the sector with regards to quality control?

There is so much the government is doing now in trying to curb the influx of quacks into the industry and standardize the processes. The Lagos State Government has employed over 2000 people in the Lagos State Building Control, they’re supposed to be monitoring officers going from site to site because the state is big and the level of constructions going on in the state is not the same with any other part of the federation.

So, the government has institutions working, it has material testing laboratory as an agency of the state going around to do non-destructive tests while construction is going to ascertain the structural stability of the building.

Today, we have the building control agents going round to ensure that what is approved by physical planning is what is being built. We also now have the other agencies such as the Lagos State Safety Commission responsible for ensuring that you’re building in a safe way, in a safe environment and that your construction processes are safe for those who will live in it and those living around your construction sites. There are so many steps the state government is taking, and I know that other states will soon start to emulate Lagos State.

Does your company portfolio accommodate developing, management and consultancy for individuals and corporations?

No, we only build our own projects. We only build houses and sell. We don’t do constructions for other people.

What actually drives your innovation?

I’m passionate about our industry, I had a privilege of reading a report some years back and in it they said that, Nigeria needs $363billion to fill its housing deficit. In that alone, I’ve come to realise that there’s so much money in the industry.

If you look at what we had when I studied Psychology at the University of Ibadan, Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needshousing is seen as an existential need, a survival need, when you have food, the next thing you’re looking for is shelter.

So, food, clothing and shelter are the greatest of human needs. So, I saw that anybody who is selling foods or providing accommodation cannot go wrong because everybody must live in a place, even the birds retire to their nests.

I believe there is so much job opportunities in this industry because it provides a great deal of workforce. There’s a huge employment opportunities in it for the under-employed. We provide work for artisans, skilled labourers and unskilled labourers.

Were you inspired in your formative years by some architectural wonders you came in contact with?

When we were growing up we used to come to those houses that were built by the likes of G-Cappa, Cappa and Dalbato, we would cross the Marina from school back then and we would trek to Oyinkan Abayomi Drive and you’d see those beautiful houses being built by the waterside.

They were wonders to behold. I was born in Lagos and I grew up in Lagos too. I knew that I wasn’t going to live on the mainland for a long time because I felt that I wanted to live closer to the water. I knew people who live on the islands don’t have two heads.

When exactly did you decide to become a builder especially because you studied Psychology in school?

At some point in my life, my family was kicked out of a shop that we called a house. This was in Ikeja when I lost my dad. We used to live in the shop and that was my mum’s restaurant in the daytime.

At some point in my life we didn’t have a house and we were kicked outthat was in 1994. I was about to get into the university and I had to go and live with my elder sister from there I went to live with a cousin of mine who trained me in school.

I remember that we didn’t have a house and we had to stay under the Ikeja Bridge for a few weeks before a pastor, Pastor David, said we should come and live in the boy’s quarter of our church.

And seeing my family there, I knew that I needed to do something a lot better after graduating from the university to take care of my family. I had to go and rent a house for them. I knew the future for me required t h a t I work hard.

I had a privilege of working when I lived in Oniru, I got my first set of leases from the Oniru family on 15 to 17-year lease for bungalows that were developed then. I used to have a cousin who was doing contracts with the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) and I was supervising some works for him as holiday jobs. And I enjoyed seeing the projects that he was doing.

When I finished school and that wasn’t there anymore, I did my first major business which was as a real estate agent and I made about N280, 000. I bought my first car and used the rest to take care of myself.

So, when I did that in 2001 fresh from the university, I knew there was an opportunity in this sector, that I was going to make money from it. So, while I was working, I still had my eyes on the sector. I was still doing stuffs like agency, build, design and transfer which was where we started from. We would take long leases, we build house and transfer the houses to the owners after a period of time.

What are the projects you have at hand at the moment?

We just decided to do the Phase 3 of our Victoria Crest Service, it comprises 4-bedroon semi-detached houses, 32 in number, 14 number of 4-bedroom terrace houses, as well as a total of 69 3-bedroom terrace houses and everything in total is 115 units of houses.

They are situated at Lafiaji Lekki-Peninsula, we’ve also decided to touch it up a little bit and it comes with a swimming pool, a club house for residents where they can seat, relax and unwind. It also has gym facility with a 5-aside pitch at the Victoria Crest three.

We’re also completing and handing over our Victoria Crest Luxury Apartments comprising 30 luxury flats that we built by the Pinnock Beach Estate, off the road that leads to the Circle Mall. Clients have taken possession of that on November 1 and we’re handing over that already.

It also comes with a swimming pool and we just have a few units left in that investment. Work is also ongoing on about 500 meters of road network to link up with the existing roads so that people who buy those properties don’t have to drive on untarred roads.

What other things excite you about life?

It’s my family, I think that’s one of the most fascinating gifts God has given me. I have a young family and I love to spent time with them. The greatest thing that gives me joy is the moment I share with my kids and my wife. Those are moments that even a billion dollars cannot buy.

How often do you go on holidays a year?

In a year, being an entrepreneur gives me the opportunity of choosing how I work and what time I work. I can work three months stretch and not have a holiday and sometimes after three months I take a week or two to recuperate. I realise that for each holiday you take, it rejuvenates the mind and you come back fresher with more brilliant ideas to forge forward.

What is actually your favourite fashion accessory?

I love wrist watches and shoes.

What are your best brands?

I have them in varieties- from AP, Rolex, Patek Philippe and so on- what I’m wearing is all a function of what I’m doing at a particular time.

 

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Investigation

KUJE PRISON INMATE: His operations, connections and lifestyle

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When, on June 30, 2017, Mr Dalhatu Yahaya, a 43-year old, walked into Elizade Motors Nigeria Limited in Abuja, explaining that he came to collect quotation for three Toyota vehicles, everyone around was on ground was happy that fortune was smiling on the company as regards sales that day. Mr Ige Olaleye, one of the members of staff of Elizade Motors who attended to Yahaya, said the man requested for quotation concerning a Toyota Hilux Pick-up, a Toyota Prado as well as a Toyota Land Cruiser, all amounting to a princely N38.9million.

Unknown to 48-year-old Olaleye, Yahaya, allegedly working with Ifeanyi Ezenwa, an inmate in Kuje Maximum Prisons in Abuja, was out to defraud Elizade Motors with fake bank alerts being their weapon. According to Olaleye, the recovery of the cars by his company would have come to nothing if not for the interventions of operatives attached to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT) headed by an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr Abba Kyari.

“The main guy, Ezenwa, is in Kuje Prison, Yahaya is his collaborator. In fact, it was Yahaya that came to defraud our company, he’s the person the syndicate uses to defraud people. As at the time this crime was committed, I was Acting Branch manager, all my statements are with the IRT operatives. Yahaya came on that fateful day, saying that his boss asked him to come and obtain quotation for the procurement of different cars,” Olaleye said. According to him, when he demanded to know who Yahaya’s boss is, the latter quickly put a call through to someone, clearing the cloud of suspicion and making Olaleye hand over the quotation and the company’s account number to him. “Yahaya’s boss introduced himself as Dr. Sam Attah. He claimed to be in Lagos as at that time and said we should give his boy, Yahaya, quotation of cars, which we gladly did. We didn’t hear anything until some weeks later.

He sent me a text; we were communicating through phone. I still have his number. One day, he called me twice; he said that he had paid thirty nine million, eight hundred thousand into the account number I gave to him. I asked him to forward me a cheque on how the payment was made, which I forwarded to our accounts department and our accountants confirmed that the money was already in our company’s account.

When Yahaya came to pick the cars, only one vehicle, which is the Hilux, was available. “I asked them to come back for the remaining vehicles. As a matter of fact, I reluctantly released that Hilux Jeep, since the receipt had been issued to my department by the account department. We had no reason to hold on and we were not aware of their fraudulent intentions. When it was time to issue the invoice, we asked him the name that should be there, he said Eniola Oladapo Hannah.

That is the name of the lady whose bank account they use to commit fraud. The payment was split into four parts of N9, 950,000 each amounting to N38, 9m, which is the total amount for the three vehicles. On July 13, Dr Sam Attah (Ezenwa) credited our Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) with another N38.9m, asking that we should double the number of the previous vehicles. “It was because of the alert, that the available Toyota Hilux, worth N17.5m was released to Yahaya on behalf of Dr Sam Attah on July 13, 2017. I pleaded with them to give me till the next day to provide the remaining vehicles.

After a while, our accounts officer called that all payment from Eniola Oladapo Hannah had been reversed. All efforts to reach Yahaya and Dr Sam Attah proved abortive. I even rushed to check the address, No. 92. T.Y Danjuma Street, Asokoro Abuja given to us by Dr Attah. When we got there, the address was fake, the street ends at No. 56.”

The company lodged a complaint with Independent Corrupt Practice and other related offences Commission (ICPC), IRT, Department of State Security (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Not long after, Eniola Oladapo Hannah was traced to Owo in Ondo State, she’s a mother of two kids. She probably got information that security agents on her trail and absconded. Eniola’s mother was arrested, detained for three days and then allowed to go. “The account officer that the fraudsters were using, was later arrested.

The account officer is with First Bank of Nigeria and our own account officer, GTB was also invited by EFCC. God was on our side. We didn’t stop praying on the matter and fortunately for me, one of the prayer points was for God to cause confusion in the midst of the fraudsters. Police traced the number Ezenwa used to call me to Kuje area.

The police used their GPS, but really couldn’t get the exact location of the caller. The trackers took us to Kuje Market, Winners Chapel Church, Deeper Life Church but nothing panned out. Most of the people arrested were interrogated and later allowed to go. We didn’t know he was in Kuje Prison. Nobody bargained that he was calling and pulling strings from inside Kuje Prison. Along the line, this same Attah started calling me; I had already saved his name as Dr Sam. He asked me how many cars were moved from my office, I said two Hilux vehicles. He said No! No! No! It was like a miracle when he gave me all the information on how to get Yahaya. He kept calling me back every three minutes.” Olaleye would later discover that Ezenwa was miffed because Yahaya, rather than sell and bring the money for them to share, disappeared with the cars. Angry and vengeful, Ezenwa called Olaleye and directed him to the location where he would get Yahaya, urging him to report to the police. “It was then I knew that God answers prayers.

There was confusion in their camp already. I went to EFCC to inform them, but they couldn’t believe it that a criminal actually called to give me information about other criminals’ whereabouts. Eventually, as God would have it, I put a call across to Mr Abba Kyari. He gave me a phone number of his team and the men immediately moved into action and arrested Yahaya. He’s the same guy that came to pick the cars. When police called me, I immediately identified him.

That was how God saved us. It was during interrogation that Yahaya confessed that he sold the car to someone in Kaduna State, their prime location for selling of stolen cars,” Olaleye noted. IRT operatives, the following morning, travelled to Kaduna State and arrested the man that bought the car from Yahaya. They also saw where the car was parked.

“I appreciate Abba Kyari and his men for a good job,” Olaleye said with joy. So powerful is Ezenwa that in June last year, he allegedly connived with some prison warders and sneaked out of his cell. He allegedly went to a store to buy an automatic wheelchair, using a fake bank alert. Mr Ani Okwudili, a 44-yar-old, reportedly told police: “On June 15, one Igwe and four prison officers, which the Igwe used as his body guards, came to my shop, situated opposite National Hospital Abuja requesting to purchase an electric wheelchair, BP apparatus, humidifier and 1 Q142 Omron, which amounted to the sum of N924,000. Igwe was complaining that he didn’t have money right then. After much persuasion, he demanded for our account number and phone number to enable him pay the money.

On June 20, Igwe called with phone number 09068148786, to tell me that his boy had paid the money for the items into my GTB account. He said that his boy made a mistake and paid the sum of N1, 050,000. He said that I should pay back the excess of N121, 000 into an Access Bank account, with account name Alhaji Galuba Shaidu and account number 0032392135. I confirmed from my account officer that N1, 050,000 clearing First Bank cheque with account name Eniola Oladapo Hannah with account number 2031617202 was lodged into my account from Akurem, Ondo State. After that verification, I paid N70, 000 into the Access Bank account given to me by Igwe.

He told me that he was sending his boy, with phone number 08022729641 to come and pick up the wheelchair and other items, including the remaining cash of N50, 000 of which he did. I released everything to the man that came from Igwe. I even called Igwe, who confirmed that he has received the items. Later, my account officer called me, saying that the lodged cheque from Igwe is a DUD cheque. He scanned and sent the cheque to me.” A frustrated Okwudili is of the view that police are delaying the case of Ezenwa. He wants him to be charged to court and prosecuted accordingly, rather than remaining in prison custody. “He should be prosecuted first and then, his victims would tell their stories to the media. He should be prosecuted and judgment passed on him.

The most important thing right now is to get judgment against him. Many people have information about him but once judgment is passed on him, people will open up. Moreover, police have all the information about him. Whatever information you need is with police. They cannot lie to you. Our statement is with the police and we cannot retract our statements. Several security agencies are involved in this matter.”

Ezenwa would have got away with the alleged crime against Okwudili but for a Close Circuit Television (CCTV), which captured him posing as a rich man, with the prison warders as his guards. Having allegedly left prison accompanied by prison warders to perpetrate the fraud, police now believe that warders are part of Ezenwa’s fraud syndicate. Speaking on the fraud perpetrated at Elizade Motors, Yahaya said he knew Ezenwa and a judge who is a friend of his were running a syndicate and was determined to get a piece of the action. He asked that a percentage should be given to him after the car had been sold, but Ezenwa and the judge allegedly refused.

This made Yahaya to disappear with the car. He ran to Kano State and sold it for N9m. He used N1.9m to buy another car and used N7m to run his political campaign. A vindictive Ezenwa, upon realising that Yahaya, a father of five children and husband to two wives, had played a fast one on him, he called Elizade Motors and spilled the beans. Already in prison, Ezenwa knew he had nothing to lose. Yahaya, who describes himself as a holder of a Diploma in Sharia and Civil Law which he bagged at the Legal Islamic School in Yola, Adamawa State, used to work at a Sharia Court in Gombe State as a driver. He resigned in 2013 to contest election as a local government chairman. Upon failing win the election, he relocated to Abuja in 2017 and went into property business. “In July 2017, Isah Imam Jega, an ex-convict from Kuje Prison, who is a judge, called me to go and pick up some cars.

I was arrested by the police. It was a man who I then only knew as Igwe that initiated me into fraud. I met Igwe in Kuje Prison when I went to visit one of my friends, the judge. The judge was an inmate in Kuje Maximum Prison, just like Igwe. It was after I was arrested that I learned that Igwe’s real name is Chief Ifeanyi Ezenwa. “The first job I did for him was at the Orthopeadic store, where I collected two wheelchairs, blood pressure machines and N50, 000 for him. After I collected the money, the judge instructed me to take the money to High Court and pay for his bail. It was after the payment, that the judge was released from prison,” he said.

Yahaya said that he was given nothing from the automatic wheelchairs deal because at that point, he was not aware that the items were not paid for. According to him, “I would have collected my share” if he had known. Speaking further, Yahaya said: “Later, my judge friend called me and told me that those items where bought with fake bank alerts. After the judge was bailed, he called and told me that Ezenwa wanted me to do a job for him. He asked me to go to Elizade Motor Company; he made me to speak with them. At the end, he told them that he wanted to buy five vehicles. I don’t know how he did it, but after a while, Geja called me again that the company was ready for me. He said I should go and pick two of the vehicles. When I got there, they gave me just one vehicle; a Toyota Hilux. I called my judge friend and told him that I would not deliver the vehicle to Ezenwa if he didn’t give me 30 per cent of the value of the vehicle.

“They turned down the deal, which made me to take the vehicle to Kano State, where I sold it for N9m. I bought a car of N1.9 million, and spent the rest of the money on my people. I contested for election.” Another victim of circumstance in the ongoing scam of Ezenwa and his cronies is Alhaji Umar Muhammad who spoke about Ezenwa and Yahaya. A 42-year old, Muhammad is into the business of buying and selling cars and has a car stand at Mai Tambari Motors in Kano State. “Dalhatu Yahaya was introduced to me by two of my trusted business associates, Shehu and Matawale. They called me on phone that one of their friends,

Dalhatu’s boss wanted to sell his Toyota Hilux for N9m, but I told them that I didn’t have money. I told them once I make some sales, I would buy the car. In July 2017, I was making transaction at GTB in Kano State, when Shehu and Matawale called me that they were coming, so that I could take a look at the Hilux,” he began.

When he sighted the car, he decided to buy it, especially since the documents and keys were intact. “I was in Saudia Arabia for Hajj, when I got a call saying that there was a problem and that police had come to collect the car.” Nobody knows for sure when Ezenwa took to the life of crime like duck to water but he first came under the radar of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Special Intelligence Response Team operatives (IRT) in 2017. It was exactly March, 2017 that the IRT Unit received a case of criminal conspiracy and Advanced Fee Fraud with Mr Lawson Nwachukwu of Apo Mechanic village, Lagos State Line, Abuja as the complainant against Ezenwa. When detectives eventually commenced investigations, they stumbled on many mind-blowing discoveries, which left them speechless. For long, tracking and locating Ezenwa was like hunting for a ghost. It took months to trace Ezenwa to Kuje Maximum Prisons as he was allegedly running his operations and carrying out his fraudulent activities right from inside the prison.

It was in that prison that Ezenwa, also known as His Royal Majesty, Engineer Jedidiah Ezenwa Attah, allegedly duped several people, using fake bank alerts Determined to ensure more victims didn’t fall into his trap, police authorities went public with his activities and methods of operations. Irked, Ezenwa hired a lawyer, threatening to sue four media houses that covered the story for a sum of N1billion each if the story was not retracted. While his lawyer was waiting and hoping for the retraction, Ezenwa again, allegedly committed another crime. When the media was alerted by police, Ezenwa hired another lawyer, this time a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who is also asking for a retraction of the story as well as apology for his client.

In a letter, the lawyer, J K Gadzama, wrote: “Our client, though in custody for about six years now, for reason his lawyers are working relentlessly to unravel, has not been adjudged by any court as criminal.” Ezenwa, who was said to have become a guest at Kuje Prison after he allegedly defrauded someone and later jumped bail following his arrest, appears to be having a ball in the prison. What with prison warders allegedly allowing him leave prison accompanied by warders anytime while they pose as his guards! Little surprise his alleged criminal activities couldn’t be stopped by incarceration.

Modus Operandi Lawson Nwachukwu said a man came to his shop to purchase some spare parts for Mercedes Benz G Wagon Jeep worth N1, 950,000 on March 21, 2017. After confirming the availability of the spare parts, the man called someone he claimed is his boss who then asked Nwachukwu to send his account details so that he would transfer the money for the spare parts to him. Eager to do business, Nwachukwu immediately sent his Diamond Bank account number and received an alert of N1, 800,000 from a First Bank Account few minutes later.

He released the spare parts but a day later, the transaction was reversed and Nwachukwu immediately informed the man about the development through the phone. The man bid him not to worry, that such happened due to the need to credit the complete N1, 950,000. It was to be the last time they would talk and Nwachukwu never got the money for his spare parts.

Nwachukwu said he quickly reported the matter to the police when he noticed that the same man was negotiating with another spare parts dealer around and investigations would later uncover the man sending the fake bank alerts as Ezenwa, an inmate in Kuje Prison. Kyari, who, together with his teams of detectives, had been tracking and attempting to unearth all the alleged nefarious activities of Ezenwa, said: “IRT operatives went to prison and confirmed that he is there. The operatives have gone to court for a warrant to move him out from prison, in order to interrogate him. Nobody knows how he generates fake bank alerts, but we shall find out.

We need to know if some bankers are working with him. Ezenwa has masterminded many frauds, leading to the financial ruins of many Nigerians.” A police source said: “The customers would receive a bank alert, indicating that the accounts had truly been credited. However, when the customers go to the bank to confirm, the money wouldn’t be there.” The police source continued: “These fraudsters carry out these fraudulent activities mostly on Friday evenings.

They know banks don’t work on Saturdays and Sundays. There would have been interval of two days before a customer goes to check his bank balance. By the time the discovery is made, the customer had already handed the goods over to them.” On Ezenwa, the police further revealed: “The leader of the gang is in prison and uses a smart phone. The phone is connected to the internet and browses through online retail sites like OLX, JIJI and Jumia, where he connects with people who want to sell their valuables, especially cars.

He communicates with them via WhatsApp. “When he is buying vehicles, which are usually very expensive ones, he would ensure that he deals directly with the real owners. He would send members of his syndicate to verify the condition of the car. When he is sure of what he wants, he would swindle the dealer, using fake bank alerts. His members would disappear with the car.” According to the police, Ezenwa has different fraud cases pending in different courts. Some of these he is not even aware of yet, involve his accomplices. These accomplices were alleged to have fingered Ezenwa in other fraud cases are said to cut across different states in Nigeria.

The case that caused his remand in Kuje Prison is one being handled by another unit of the police, not the IRT which is eagerly waiting for him to be through with pending cases before they re-arrest and re-arraign him for the cases they have been investigating him for. Until IRT operatives recently smashed the syndicate, his wife didn’t know he was in prison. When police stormed his home in Abuja to impound some stolen cars, the woman told them that there must have been a mistake somewhere. So confident was the woman that she told the IRT men her husband was in Italy, from where he sends money to her often calls her with an international number.

The police explained: “One of his brothers, Emma, is the person that used to go and pick whatever Ezenwa had bought via internet. He also used to assist Ezenwa to check out what items to buy. Emma will go to him in prison to tell him about the items and Ezenwa would generate the bank alerts. “This time around, they went and bought car spare parts worth N1.6m. They used the fake alert to dupe the dealer. Again, Ezenwa sent a mechanic to buy another set of spare parts and the IRT team was alerted while the mechanic was arrested.

“The mechanic took IRT team to Ezenwa’s house where some cars were recovered. He used to send money to his wife from prison; his sister and brothers knew he was in prison, but his wife didn’t. We got his pictures from his wife and took them to police station. Some policemen who saw his pictures screamed, saying he is a well-known fraudster currently in prison.” Unveiling Ezenwa along with his location The discovery and smashing of Ezenwa’s syndicate started after IRT got wind of his criminal activities, following series of petitions.

The IRT team was instructed by the Inspector General of Police, Mr Abubakar Idris, to go after Ezenwa and put an end to his alleged criminal activities. Investigations led operatives of IRT to Ezenwa’s house in Abuja, where a G Wagon, Hummer Jeep, Honda Odyssey and a Honda End of Discussion (Honda Accord 2005) were discovered.

A victim, Mohammed Salanke Dahiru, a car dealer in Abuja, said Ezenwa swindled him of a Mercedes G Wagon. Salanke said: “On the day he defrauded me, he made away with my vehicle. It was worth N7million. He sent a man to my car stand; the man priced the car and took copious pictures which were sent to Ezenwa. My sales boy, Obinna, was the person that handled the transaction. When they agreed to our price, they took my account number. They insisted on transferring the money to my Diamond Bank account number. I gave it to them. An hour later, I received an alert. I called them to come and collect the car. “This was on a Friday; on Monday, when I went to the bank to check my account, I discovered the money was not there. On that fateful Friday that I received the alert, it had my previous balance in it.

The total money was balanced. I wondered how he was able to get access to my account. This incident happened in November 2016. I have been looking for the car since then. Earlier in the year, members of his syndicate also attempted to defraud another person and were arrested.” Speaking further with our correspondent, Salanke said that he was shocked that a former commissioner of police, now a practicing lawyer, is taking up the case of Ezenwa.

According to the police, Ezenwa wouldn’t have been able to continue in his fraudulent activities, right from prison; if not that prison warders were aiding him. How criminals generate fake bank alerts Following an increase in the number of cases of Nigerians being duped through fake bank alerts, Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) in the country are stepping up measures to check the activities of fraudsters who engage in this act, findings by Saturday Telegraph revealed.

A top bank official who did not want to be named said the industry had been recording a steady increase in the number of cases of bank customers losing their hard-earned money through the supply of goods to fraudsters who tricked such customers by sending a fake credit alert to their mobile phones. A

ccording to the bank official, as a way of checking the practice, DMBs have finalised plans to change the format of their alerts in such a way that these alerts will contain security features that will be impossible for fraudsters to copy. The official explained that the current format of bank alerts could be easily customized by fraudsters do this using bulk SMS.

“It is very easy these days for anyone who wants to send a fake bank alert to do this by closely studying the format that a particular bank sends its alerts. Once the fraudsters is familiar with the format, he can just do it by using Google to search how to go about sending bank alerts to a victim’s phone. So what we always advise our customers to do is to contact their account officers for confirmation if they receive any credit alert from someone they are not familiar with,” the banker said. Offering further insight into how criminals generate fake bank alerts, an official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission noted that there are different cases of cybercrimes. According to him, using fake bank alerts to defraud

 

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Diamond Platmumz’s lover, Zari, chooses Valentine’s Day to call it quit

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Famous Tanzanian singer, Diamond Platnumz, obviously had a black Valentine’s Day celebration as his first baby mama, Zari, chose the august occasion to kick him out of her life over allegation of gross infidelity. Sadly so, the news surfaced after his second baby mama, Hamisa Mobetto, dragged him to court for allegedly neglecting his child’s support.

Zari who is tired of the cheating scandals shared a photo of a Black Rose on her Instagram and wrote about the sad end of her long term relationship. The text reads: “Understand that this is very difficult for me to do. There have been multiple rumours some with evidence floating around in ALL SORTS of media in regards to Diamond’s constant cheating and sadly I have decided to end my relationship with Diamond, as my RESPECT, INTEGRITY, DIGNITY & WELL-BEING cannot be compromised. We are separating as partners but not as parents. This doesn’t reduce me as a self-made individual, and as a caring mother, and the boss lady you have all come to know.

I will continue to build as a mogul; I will inspire the world of women to become boss ladies too. I will teach my four sons to always respect women, and teach my daughter what selfrespect means. Unlike many, I’ve been in the entertainment industry for 12 years, and through all my challenges I came out a victor because I am a winner, and so are all of you Zari supporters.

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As a child I was hoping to board a plane one day –Queen Blessing Itua

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Atlanta, Georgia-based Queen Blessing Itua is a Nollywood actress and recipient of the President Obama Global Achievement Award. Also a lifestyle empowerment motivator, inspirational author and speaker, she told ADEDAYO ODULAJA that her aim is to touch lives when shooting movies as evident in her latest production, Mrs Adams.

 

 

Not much is known about you beyond your involvement in Nolllywood. What else do you do?

I’m based in the United States and I’m very passionate about so many different things. I’ve done quite a bit and I’m privileged to have been honoured by the former President of the United States, Barack Obama. I also received another one from the United Nations. It was just all coming to me even from countries like Zambia, Kenya and others. So having done all of that in the States, there was no way I couldn’t bring it back home, because home is where the heart it.

On this particular visit to Nigeria, what are you out to achieve?

I have an NGO in the US called Global Empowerment Movement while for Africans, I have ‘Blessings of Africa Empowerment Foundation’. The reason for that is that it takes all of us Nigerians to be the ones to actually spearhead the development we seek. That was why I paid the Edo State governor a visit.

This is the way I was thinking about these things. I had written the books, but I didn’t want to release them because I needed to make sure that I’m doing the actual work. I want to walk the talk. It is not just about speaking but talking about it. I don’t make noise about anything. Even on my social media platforms.

In all of these, what is your ultimate goal?

My goal is to spearhead the development goals in our own motherland, and in doing that, we have to be focused. I’m on this journey because of my true passion of being a blessing to Africa, of being a blessing to my community, of being a blessing to Edo State and of Nigeria. And ‘Blessings of Africa’ is not about individuals. It is about all of us together collectively, because you must first of all understand that you are here with a vision and with a plan. God created you for a purpose and has given you that talent, something inside of you that you have to be able to impact wherever your community.

What are some of those projects you are carrying out?

I wouldn’t want to go into details but we have created a project that we hope will solve the herdsmen crisis. Remember, it’s not just another photo op. Our team decided we will be presenting the solution for the herdsmen issue. We hope to liaise with the First Lady, so we can hopefully change what is going on. I’m looking at it from the public health point of view. Even the herdsmen are in danger.

The cattle are in danger, people that they come across are in danger, everybody is in danger. Sometimes they don’t even know what to do. They have no choice because those cattle have to feed and that’s their business. It is actually not wise to kill another man because of cattle. So you have to look at the whole picture before we can start a conversation.

This is not a blame game. I’m not blaming anyone but unfortunately lives have been lost and it’s not right. In order for us to have a solution, we have to think for everyone involved because we are not partial. I’m not partial. My heart bleeds for people that have lost their lives but how long are we going to continue like this?

Was your visit to the Edo State governor a political move?

When people hear that I visited the Edo State governor, the first thing they ask is ‘what is the contract? What are you working on?’ It is not about that. I’m here to make an impact. I’m not here to ask for something from him. I’m here because I have a vision for the people. A lot of our people are actually in need. We cannot close our eyes. We cannot turn deaf ears to all of these. The Edo State governor is doing a lot and I’m proud of what he’s doing. But of course, there is still room for improvement. Of course there are still ways we can support him.

How much of your current realities did you have as dreams growing up?

Everything I go through; I remember that young girl in the village, I remember the woman I left when I was in Bendel State. In 1984, as a very young child, I had won a state-wide essay competition, so I was to meet the then governor, Colonel J T Ogbeha. So I left my village, Iruekpen, to Benin to be honoured by the governor. I remember that we didn’t even have a TV to see myself.

The governor was there. He shook hands with me and presented me my award. I went back home where I was celebrated. The Abebes, the family of the Stella Obasanjo, gave me a scholarship and did all of that stuff with me. But I never saw myself on TV. So since then, I saw myself as that little girl in the village who hoped to enter a plane one day. When I was actually writing one of my books, it suddenly dawned on me that my son who is now the state essay writing champion in Georgia, and has been representing his state on TV, is the same age I was when I won the award. This was when I knew it was significant.

At what point did you leave the country?

I left Nigeria after I graduated from the University of Benin as a Biochemist. But in the US, I’m a public health practitioner with a specialty in fitness, nutrition, wellness, all of that stuff. I’m the one who helps women get healthy, especially after their babies. I help people because I believe my area of specialty academically is preventive wellness. In that capacity, I help people. Because when a woman knows her role at home, she is able to know what to do and how to feed her family and the community benefits. My passion is putting all of these together and using my books to make movies.

How many kids do you have?

I have four children. I’m blessed with two boys and two girls. I know the challenges we face but we must learn to empower our people, to look beyond our own personal issues, because we must see ourselves as blessings in whatever situation we find ourselves and you add God to that blessing, your attitude changes.

For someone who has acted in some foreign movies, why did you settle for Nollywood?

When I was called to host the Nollywood Europe Golden Awards (NEGA), I did mention that when I get there, I’m going to work with African stars. I didn’t know who was coming, but I told my colleague that when I get there, I will be working with Nigerian stars. I realised that I have this whole opportunity to work with them. I never portrayed myself as an actress because I was doing other things in politics. I needed to focus on one thing. The overall vision is not the acting but creating the platform to help people. And my background is not in the arts.

Are you now ready to get fully involved in acting?

There is a time for everything and when God has a plan for you, you might not know how it will unfold. But I also know that people want to see you focused. So, I had to learn to figure out what the focus was, especially with that high level position. So now, I have to be able to defend why I’m doing that, so that people on the high level that I’m working with will not see me as just acting.

This is real. I’m actually who that person is. However, the vision and the passion that drives my acting career is that as a public health practitioner, who has seen this big vision, I know that I have to be the voice. I’m using my movies and my books to address these critical public health issues.

Which roles have you taken on so far?

On the roles that I have taken so far, a majority of them have portrayed me as expert of what the movie is addressing. So that is how I could defend my passion for acting. For example, I was in the same movie with Will Pharrell. Will Smith was in the movie too. So was Kanye West. It’s titled Anchor Man 2. Though I was in other independent movies before that, that particular movie was Hollywood, so I had no control over it.

I didn’t audition for the role. I was picked b e – c aus e of my height, m y s h a p e and all that. Of course I was doing a lot of fitness. After that, I was in a reality TV show. I don’t know how far it went here because I was not here at the time. It is titled Nigerian Housewives of Atlanta.

So, I just felt like it wasn’t time for me to unfold my acting career until I’m in charge of what I’m doing. So, what happened is, I ended up doing a movie titled Skin. It is a Hollywood movie too, but I was the associate producer. The reason I did that movie was because my focus was now more meaningful.

What is the movie about?

The movie is about skin bleaching. It is about self image. You can now see how that movie tallies with my personal goals today. I did the movie because that story needed to be told of who I was. I have used skin lightening cream. I’m a biochemist and a public health practitioner who is using her movies to send messages. That was how the movie came about.

That was how I reshaped the movie as a co-executive producer. Van Vicker was our African star. So, after the movie, I realised there was still more to be done and I decided to bring it home? That was how the vision of going to Europe to work with our stars came about. I have worked in Hollywood, but my true calling is to support my people back home. I am the one who wants to address the social issues that we truly have right now.

Are you likely to go into politics anytime in the future?

I don’t know. To be honest with you, everything is open right now, because when God is leading you, you must be open. If anybody had told me that I would leave four young kids with my mother who is 84 in the US, to travel all over Africa, I wouldn’t agree with them. That is why I say when you get a vision, don’t think about yourself. Remove yourself from it and say God, let your will be done. He will give you the strength, the resources and the people you need.

What has life taught you?

I’m still learning. I have learnt that life is not a do-or-die affair. And it is not always smooth sailing. I’ve also learnt that challenges are meant to take us to the next level. We are supposed to use the challenges that we go through as a stepping stone to the next level. That is what life has taught me. When you go through challenges and you feel like the whole world is coming to an end, it is not.

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