Some Nigerians have lamented the reluctance of security agents to investigate and apprehend a suspected fraudster, who fleeced them of their hard-earned money while pretending to be selling ponmo (cow hide).
PUNCH Metro learnt that the suspect operated under different names onFacebook, including Pastor Isaac Nwaizugbu and Pastor Confidence Ikegwuoha, claiming to be the resident pastor of a Pentecostal church in Kaduna.
Both accounts, our correspondent observed, were stolen, with the pictures of a cleric and his wife displayed on them.
He was also said to own different Facebook pages, including Dried Ponmo Nigeria, Dried Ponmo Store, Dried PonmoDealer and Dried Ponmo Business.
Our correspondent gathered that the modus operandi of the suspect was to lure unsuspecting social media users with colourful photos of ponmo and ask those interested in buying to call several telephone numbers listed on the pages.
After calling, the victims will be asked to deposit money into some bank accounts and the suspect will promise to deliver the product to their addresses.
However, after payment, the suspect will come up with excuses for not delivering the product and later stop taking their calls.
The bank accounts he used included, FCMB, 663116012, Tangban Pearl Assemeghai; Union Bank, Tangban Pearl Assemeghai; and Fidelity Bank, 6323250826, Ihechiluru Orieji Kalu.
Our correspondent got the contact of at least six of his victims, who lost sums ranging from N10,000 to N52,000.
A trader, Oyebola Ojeleye, said pressure from her customers for ponmo and the lockdown forced her to go online to seek suppliers.
Ojeleye stated, “I came across his business page on Facebook. I called the contact and he asked me to chat him up.
“In the course of the conversation, he said he would give me 2,350 pieces of ponmo for N30,000. I was surprised that the quantity was higher than the usual 1,200 pieces that I buy. He told me that he was a producer and that was the reason. He asked me to pay into an FCMB account and he would supply the product from Kaduna, where he is based.
“I was afraid of being scammed and I demanded his address in Kaduna. I sent the address he gave me to someone, who confirmed it. I also asked for his personalFacebook page and he sent it. The account had the name, Pastor Confidence Ikegwuoha. He said he was a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God.”
Ojeleye said she observed that the account name was different from the supplier’s name on Facebook.
Queried on the variation, the suspect reportedly said he maintained the Facebook account for church activities, while the bank account belonged to his brother, and he used it for business.
After payment, the suspect allegedly said he had transportation problems and suggested that Ojeleye should make more orders to reduce the cost of logistics.
The victim, however, declined as the suspect agreed to send in additional bags on the condition that she would transfer more money.
The trader said when she did not send more money, the suspect stopped talking to her.
She said efforts to get her money refunded were rebuffed.
“I sent several messages, but he did not respond. When I chatted him up with another line as a new buyer, he responded. I cursed him in a voice note and he stopped responding,” she added.
Another victim, Pauline Ebewehele, said she lost N52,000 to the suspect after ordering dried meat and ponmo.
Ebewehele stated, “He said the dispatcher he wanted to use asked me to double my orders or I should get other people to buy so that they could dispatch them together.
“I told him to refund my money, and once he got a buyer from Lagos, he could contact me. That was how he stopped replying my messages.”
Another victim, Sarah Emordi, who is based in Benue State, said she reported the case to the police at the Ado Igumale Division.
She said the police gave her two options.
“They were basically discouraging me from pursuing the case. They said if they had to look for him, I would have to pay them to look for him and that would cost me a lot, because he was not resident in my state. They said I should forget it, because the money was not much,” Emordi, who lost N12,000, stated.
A blogger, Deji Yesufu, who operates www.textandpublishing.com, said he created a WhatsApp group for all the women, who had been defrauded by the suspect.
Yesufu said he was worried that more people were falling victim to the scam.
He stated, “While we were strategising on the WhatsApp group, we got a report that another person had been defrauded of N50,000.
“Some of the women affected went to the banks they paid to and complained about the fraud. But they were asked to return to their banks. Nobody responded to the emails they sent.
“The police also said the money was not much. So, if I am sitting somewhere and collecting N12,000, N20,000, or N50,000 from different people all over Nigeria and the police are saying the money is not much, will the person not continue to defraud more people?”
Yesufu said he had contacted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which requested a petition, adding that a letter had been sent to the anti-graft body.
Our correspondent contacted the suspect on one of his mobile numbers, 09029995374, and ordered three bags of ponmo.
After agreeing to sell a bag for N28,000, he said he needed two days to make the delivery from Kaduna to Lagos.
PUNCH Metro asked for his real name to be sure he was not a fraudster.
He identified himself simply as Mr Ukebu, refused to disclose a surname and later cut off the call.
When our correspondent called back and challenged him on the allegations against him, he went mute and allowed the call to continue running.
The spokesperson for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, did not take his calls and had yet to respond to a text message sent to him as of the time of filing this report.