• Recruits foot-soldiers from front-line churches, NGOs, cooperative societies, etc, across the country
• Deploys social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, whazapp as major channels of communication
• EFCC, other law enforcement agencies on the trail of alleged mastermind, Donald Olorunkeyede
• Members of the syndicates already in police custody
• Victims count losses, many dead from shock and debts
TheNation’s reporters, in this special investigative report, expose the intrigues and underbelly of a new ponzi scheme allegedly operating under the Social Exchange Market (SEM), a so-called nonprofit, nongovernmental organisation which has fleeced unsuspecting Nigerians of over N55 billion under the guise of securing over $500 billion interest-free credit from fictitious donor-agencies abroad with the sole objective of lifting over 36 million Nigerians out of poverty.
Stealin’ stealin’, stealin’ in the name of the Lord…
The above line from Paul Kelly’s popular lyrics ‘Stealing In The Name of The Lord’ becomes apposite in describing the intent and purpose of the syndicate which planned and perfected what may unarguably be the greatest scam ever perpetrated by a syndicate in Nigeria in recent times.
Specifically, the Social Exchange Market (SEM) which prides itself as a charitable organisation being managed by a certain Donald Olorunkeyede allegedly sold a dummy to unsuspecting members of the public about a purported $500billion interest-free grant to uplift over 36 million Nigerians out of the poverty trap. To achieve his utmost objective, he played up the religious card: by simply engaging the services of Bishops, Pastors, Venerables, Reverends, Elders in churches, who from investigation were oblivious of his ulterior motives. Shockingly, a lot of people who were gullible enough to fall for the bait are seriously gnashing their teeth.
How it all began
The story started around 2016 that the grant is coming from World Bank, being called Bottom-up project, which was later disclaimed by World Bank. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2017/09/06/fraud-alert-world-bank-warns-of-co-operative-scheme-scam (from World Bank official Website). This scheme promise to provide grants of up to N10m to each applicant, establish 10,000MFO (each MFO has 1,000 applicants), disburse the fund through the use of NGOs and Micro Finance Banks/Outlets. SEM owner, Bar Donald Olorunkeyede claimed that he sourced this fund, $500b from world donors.
Presently, about 10 million Nigerians have applied for this scheme which has been running for close to three years.
Disclaimer all the way
Speaking with a cross section of operators at Utako Park, Abuja, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the story, they confirmed to our correspondent that some group of so-called NGOs, including officials of SEM did visited the popular park last year and sold forms for a range of N2, 000-N4, 000, in return for interest free loan to interested members of the public.
Accordingly, as many as 2, 000 people enlisted in the programme and nothing had been heard ever since.
Contrary to claims by minders of SEM, the CBN stated that it does not have anything to do with the so-called $500b grant by SEM purportedly given by international donors agencies to assist te course of the less privileged members of the society.
According to information on SEM web site as at August 2, 2018, the organisation claimed that Social Exchange Market ‘SEM.’ Social Exchange Market ‘SEM’ is the foremost international non-governmental economic empowerment intervention towards improving the standard of living of hitherto impoverish family. As evinced by our management dexterity, valued services, prompt response, discipline, efficient management and effective controls for accountability Social Exchange Market took-off with 5,486 collaterally registered Micro finance outlets, which serves as our financial correspondents for disbursement of once-in-lifetime financial grants to the financially handicap people with feasible people –oriented small scale business Our success is measured by the percentage of lives touched by our operations and we fully leverage our people, knowledge and resources for continuous improvement of our processes and always endeavour to surpass all regulatory standard and ethics. I hereby welcome you on board flight ‘Social Exchange Market’ in making life better for the poor.
We deeply appreciate your love for the financially less privilege Please kindly note as follows: Projects duly submitted by duly registered MFBanks are currently being processed; this process shall be completed in few months Hence, all duly collaterally registered MFBanks should endeavor to submit the softcopies of their already submitted projects at our Abuja office Our official channel of communication remains: -Our website: ‘socialexchangemarket.org.ng’ -Our only three (3) phone-lines: 234 (0)9030293138 234 (0)7055323810 234 (0)8163702419 So, please kindly disregard any info you receive from any other source Please kindly cultivate the habit of regularly visiting our website to: -Be abreast of developments -Pass your info, enquiries & feedbacks to send to us Always endeavour to report to us any monetary demand and confirm any info you receive. Thanks Signed Mgt.
Fallacies of SEM’s website
There are lots of discrepancies on SEM website. For instance, the name given as the executive leader of SEM is Barrister Donald Olorunkeye but this is not reflected on its site. Now SEM website has fictitious people as their Board of Directors. While at the office, Customer Care lady said they don’t grant audio/video interviews. That statement now speaks volume to me.
Social Exchange Market indicated on its website that it is registered as a tax-exempt charity at Corporate Affairs Commission. Unfortunately, when queried on CAC site, it shows its real name as SOCIAL EXCHANGE MARKET INTERNATIONAL NETWORK SERVICES LTD (RC 1482556) and registered in 2018-03-27.
How the bubble burst
A inside source revealed that a group had petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) sometime in October this year to express misgivings over the activities of the so-called grant awarding body.
The group, The Nation learnt, had attached evidences to back up their claims, some of which included disclaimer by CBN and a sample Certificate issued by SEM to Micro Finance Bank /Outlet none of which are registered wit the apex bank as regulation stipulates.
The story started around 2016 that the grant is coming from World Bank, being called Bottom-up project, which was later disclaimed by World Bank. But the Bank had quickly dissociated itself from the scheme.
Following the disclaimer by World Bank, SEM backtracked and claimed that it is not from World Bank but from world charity donors, whose address and location remained a mystery till date.
It was said that Development Bank of Nigeria was also involved in the scheme. However DBN now runs a flash disclaimer on their website https://devbankng.com. Surprisingly, SEM and its allies, backtracked this initial claim, but some of their partners still have it on their websites.
Social Exchange Market (SEM) parades itself as NGO as it claims and seen on their website http://socialexchangemarket.org.ng/) with RC number 53-0242652, but check on CAC Registration (Public Search) website revealed it as Limited Company with different RC 1482556.
As revealed on CAC Public search, SEM which had been operating ever since 2016 only registered in March 2018.
In last September, SEM reportedly launched their official website, where it was discovered that the Board Members names listed were fictitious and unconnected as revealed by Wikipedia and other sites. But as soon as some concerned individuals raised a red flag, SEM removed those fictitious names.
Donald Olorunkeyede on the run
According to informed sources, the whereabouts of Donald Olorunkeyede had been unknown since August. He had not been sighted in the public. It is believed that he may have travelled to Germany just as sources revealed that he has sold his house located at Mandala, Abuja, plus other properties and cars.
The said grant has no known source, in which the gullible pride themselves by citing security reasons for not disclosing the donors. It has never happened in the history of the world, that an international donor will hide their programmes from the government and the people. It is a well-known fact, that such programmes will be available on the donors’ websites. It is no more news that World Bank, CBN, and DBN have disclaimed this scheme. In addition, while some NGOs and MMFOs are identifying SEM with International Development Association IDA (member of World Bank), Bill Gates (Gates Foundation), The Global Fund, UNICEF, Diamond Bank, Zenith Bank, etc, with respect to their replies to my enquiries, all of these organisations have also stated that they know nothing about Social Exchange Market.
In Abuja, unscrupulous successors of MMM having a field day
Sergey Mavrodi, the Russian ex-con whose MMM scheme fleeced Nigerians of billions of Naira before he conveniently disappeared and sent out ‘news’ of his ‘death’ undoubtedly left Nigerians with inspirations for well thought out Ponzi schemes.
For instance, GetNaira, which claims on its website, https://getnaira.org/home/ that it is “trusted and secure” offers six packages ranging from the N5, 000 Plastic Package to N200, 000 Diamond Package. You bring or as they say, ‘provide help’ of the value of your chosen package and you are promised a receipt of the exact amount from two others, making it a 100% profit within one day.
However, the SEM tactic has been working phenomenal wonders from Abuja to Makurdi, Maiduguri, Kaduna, Kano and other towns and cities. Last Wednesday, when The Nation on Sunday paid a visit to 12, Dan Suleiman Street in Utako, Abuja, where SEM had its headquarters, a security guard at the six-flat residential apartment stated that one of the inquisitive victims from Maiduguri had just left.
With two armed policemen standing guard and the EFCC seal on the office, the freight train of reality has barreled down the tracks, bringing in its wake, much sorrow and disappointment to most subscribers to SEM’s wonder business who had dreamt and fantasized about state of the art cars and houses.
A high-level source in one of the security agencies stressed that the unending spate of organized fraudulent activities that are thriving through the social media are of deep concern.
“With a few words online, these people easily lure in thousands of desperate Nigerians, using greed and some tricks of believability to convince people into parting with scarce money,” he said while noting that the more the security and law enforcement nab such persons, the more they seem to proliferate.
Findings indicate that many people come across these wonder businesses in Whatsapp groups set up for completely different reasons.
Just this week alone, a Whatsapp group to which one of our reporters belong had repeated offers from a scheme that calls itself Reward Pack and another one named Infinite Cash.
Reward Park claims to be working with UNESCO, a United Nations body set up for objectives that are extremely incongruous with that of a fast cash Ponzi scheme.
“Hurry up, register for the United Nations Assistance Program under the auspices of the World Organization (UNESCO). Welcome, to sign up for the Financial Assistance Program of $400 per month for needy groups .
“All the expenses of the file are paid. Register quickly on the official website of the foundation via the blue link below – http://reward-pack.com/unesco/ “ they stated.
The Infinite Cash group followed a very similar pattern in soliciting for victims. “Welcome to Infinite Cash where you turn your $3 into $150 in 7 days or less. “Presentation will come up shortly but while you wait you can sign up with the link below, study the site and join Infinite Cash Whatsapp group support for any question; https://infinitecash.club/?sponsor=chukssmart” it stated.
Aside from those mentioned above, scores of similar schemes are out with juicy promises, attracting both impoverished and greedy Nigerians in thousands like bees seeking nectar.
Markets, shopping complexes and churches are among the places where subscriptions to these schemes continue to spread but numerous traders, teachers and civil servants are prominent among those who have found their places of work to be fertile grounds for converting others.
Not too long ago, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovered over Two Hundred Million Naira, from some of the promoters of a pyramid scheme named Swiss Golden Investment and it was supposed to serve as a serious warning
The EFCC arrested a Russian and two Nigerians involved in promoting it after the Commission had received petitions from thousands of complainants who alleged that they invested in Swiss Golden and ended up without receiving the ‘profits’ or recovering their capital.
Lack of employment opportunities, the greed lure of easy money and exciting promises in the realms of fantasy help ensure that people persist in partaking of the wonder investment offered by the likes of SEM, even in spite of warnings from government.
For instance, on July 16 this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the federal government agency mandated to regulate and develop the Nigerian capital market strongly appealed to Nigerians not to invest further in Ponzi schemes .
According to SEC’s Acting Director-General, Ms Mary Uduk, it had become extremely necessary to make such warning in order to protect shareholders and other investors from fraudsters and promoters of Ponzi schemes .
“The purpose is also to ensure that you do not fall victim to the antics of fraudsters who purport to be able to double any amount of money you make available to them as investment value; these fraudsters or promoters of Ponzi schemes are the false prophets of the investment environment, they are the ill wind that blows no good and at whose sight you must flee..
“They are to be avoided; this is one message you must take home to family , friends , relations and acquaintances in order to save them from the agony of loss of their hard-earned money, “ she said.
Yet at the moment of writing this report, baseless optimism still surround the ubiquitous but similar Ponzi schemes.
The term ‘Ponzi scheme’ emanated from the name and unsavory activities of Charles Ponzi (March 3, 1882 – January 18, 1949), an Italian swindler and con artist who operated in the U.S. and Canada. Born and raised in Italy, he became known in the early 1920s as a swindler in North America for his money-making scheme, promising clients a 50% profit within 45 days, or 100% profit within 90 days, by buying discounted postal reply coupons in other countries and redeeming them at face value in the United States as a form of arbitrage. At a time when banks’ interest rate was 5%, Ponzi succeeded in attracting patronage using the tricky principle of simply ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.’ His scheme worked by paying earlier investors using the investments of later investors.
His was only a refinement of schemes operated by earlier con artists including William F. Miller, a Brooklyn bookkeeper who in 1899 used the same scheme to take in $1 million. Ponzi’s scheme ran for over a year before it collapsed, costing his “investors” $20 million.
Yet in many parts of the world, various schemes based on the same principle of robbing Peter to pay Paul have persisted, with all coming to an end with significant losses for ‘investors’ while the promoter simply disappears out of their reach.
In recent times, Nigeria has witnessed several pyramid schemes whereby the promoters merely generate returns for older investors through funds paid by new investors, trying to sustain the cycle for as long as possible until the bubble eventually bursts. In spite of repeated pattern of folding up, a few wonder banks had amassed billions of Nigeria in few Nigerian cities in the past. A few others came in the form of ‘investments’ and here, Planwell that was based in Edo state and which operated between 1991 – 1992 along with NOSPETCO, a Lagos state wonder investment that emblazoned several fuel tankers with its name to further hoodwink ‘investors’ was very vibrant in Lagos state around 2002– 2007.
But the Ponzi schemes and their pyramid systems ‘democratized’ participation and eventual loss across cities, towns and villages of Nigeria. The blossoming use of Whatsapp and its chat group facility around 2016 inadvertently boosted the pyramid schemes.
iCHARITY CLUB, which claims to be ‘an international network of donors which works with a peer to peer model’ required new members to donate to an upline and thereafter, receive from others down the ladder of the pyramid scheme. Ranking high to become the 71st most visited website in Nigeria, it later dissolved into the ether.
GIVERS FORUM required one to register and then express intention to ‘provide help’ and then, your input grows with some interest as you go along. It became a massive hit in 2016 until the bubble burst early in 2017.
CLARITTA came to fill the vacuum that was being created by the uncertainty that precluded the death of MMM. In their Member-to-Member Donation and Referral Platform, a member brings some amount and within seven days, he is ‘matched’ with four donors, each of whom brings a similar amount of what he had donated. Claritta was very short-lived as it appeared that the giddying numbers of participant outweigh the promoters’ capacity.
TWINKAS rebranded and launched twice or thrice on the same Ponzi principle. Eventually, ‘donations’ from numerous participants disappeared the usual way.
GET HELP WORLDWIDE worked along similar patterns until its website suddenly went offline.
SWISS GOLDEN was another hugely ‘successful’ con game that lured participants with ‘investment in real gold’ and claims of being present in 196 countries across the world.
The information on its website explains the ‘investment’: “To become a client of the Internet – shop, it is necessary to register and make an Order. In the Internet shop an invoice will be issued for you and the purchase price will be fixed for 24 hours.. It is required for you to pay for the ordered bars within 24 hours and send a copy of your payment by e-mail or to attach to a message on our web site. If payment confirmation is not received within 24 hours, buyer’s order is cancelled. “
ZAR FUND, created by a South African, Hannes Jordaan became one of the biggest pyramid schemes in Nigeria. It operated with a 6-level referral system based on participants’ ‘donation’ and then moved into a more opaque world of crypto currencies, making participants to open Bitcoin wallets via the platform. It unraveled around December 2016, leaving its participants in the lurch, with many of them enduring a bleak non-festive season while being weighed down by debts and unfulfilled expectations.
ULTIMATE CYCLER was also aggressively promoted in Nigeria. The brainchild of an American, Peter Wolfing, it used a model whereby a new member, Mr. A pays N12, 500 and later, four newer members pay N12, 500 each into Mr. A’s account. To enable participants hasten things up, a member could come in with N37, 500. It tactically faded out like MMM and others by deviously having a glitch on its website, leaving it unresolved until it dawned on participants that their ‘investment’ is gone forever.
MMM, the king of them all, needs no introduction anywhere I Nigeria. The three Mavrodis started it in 1989, branded it as MMM Global in 2011 and in 2015, it came into Nigeria as ‘Mavrodi Mundial Moneybox’ with an aggressive online campaign that turned its website into Nigeria’s 5th most visited website.
Its mouth-watering returns were too tempting for millions of Nigerians but in December, 2016, pandemonium took over as its investors funds dissolved into the ether. In March 2017, the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Commission (NDIC) estimated that Nigerians lost approximately ¦ 18 billion to Ponzi schemes in 2016, with more than half being taken by MMM alone.
Strangely, it is a relatively safe bet that with the right words, unscrupulous persons are still generating interest with schemes crafted like SEM and others.
Mouthwatering partner’s reward
The reward SEM purportedly promised its partners may have fuel appetite by those who got involved in the mess. The Chairman, the Secretary, and five Directors of an NGO were expected to receive N100milion each including N21million Intervention Fund to each outlet. Little wonder those chairmen and coordinators were so blinded by greed that they couldn’t smell something fishy.
Further investigation by The Nation revealed that many of these partners paid millions of Naira to get certified as SEM outlets, in expectation of N21million reward for their mobilisation of 1000 applicant per outlet.
SEM under lock and key
The Nation gathered that SEM office had been locked for over two months now. However, SEM handlers spread the news that EFCC is responsible for the closing of the office, ostensibly to deceive unsuspecting members of the public. But an impeccable source from the agency disclosed that EFCC had no hands in this said claim.
Mediating for SEM
Expectedly, some of the National Coop/NGO apparently convinced that things might still turn out well are not resting in their oars as far as the grant is concerned.
The Nation gathered that they held a meeting held on Thursday 22nd November 2018 at Refiners’ Church beside Tile depor Deidei town Abuja by 2.30pm, ostensibly to review the whole issue.
According to our findings, the meeting was declared opened by a certain Rev Dr. Sunday Onobumeh which was chaired by Prof. Nkanta.
The chairman said, it is a landmark in the history of Social Exchange Market Project that the agency had returned to Bethel (Refiners’ Church), which he claimed was where the Altar of Prayer for Social Exchange Market was laid.
Among the controversial issues addressed by the Secretary some of which were highlighted just as they outlined the sanctions that would be meted to any member who perpetrated such act henceforth.
The Nation also learnt that there Donald A. O, the Country Director, SEM was not physically present at the meeting but he had a proxy in person of his personal assistant, a certain Miss Precious, delivered his messages.
According to her, Comrade Donald is not happy with the way and manner things are going particularly the issue of EFCC, even as she assured that Comrade Donald is coming soon to open the SEM office and other modalities will follow.
Comrade Donald, she informed, asked her to collect list of chairmen with their bank name written in each Coop/NGO letterhead and particularly those that wrote petition to EFCC and with a mandate that the letter must be submitted latest by Monday 26/11/18 before 4pm to the secretariat.
Investigation by The Nation revealed that some of the main partners of SEM include but not limited to the following: Bethany Human Development Centre.(NGO) https://bethanyworld.org.ng/, with address at 7, Olubi Road, Okunola Abass Estate, Off Favors Road, New Bodija, Ibadan, Oyo State. Ishiba Development Empowerment Centre (NGO) http://www.ishibadcs.org/, with address at Suite 2, Havillah Eden Shopping Center, Beside FMC Bank Kuje FCT, Abuja just as we have Sunlight City Foundation http://www.sunlightcityfoundation.org.ng/ with address at 100 Liberty Road, Flat and Ladder B/S, Ibadan amongst many others.
Tales of woes
Investigation by The Nation revealed that a lot of victims of the SEM scam have been living in regrets just as many of them have considered suicide attempts in view of the humongous debts they incurred in the course of enrolling in the Ponzi scheme.
One of the victims in a chatroom group which was made available to our correspondent lamented his state of penury.
“I packed out of my rented office in the night because of the shame of some people asking me questions. Oga, the landlord has tried, I must appreciate him. The money expired August.”
Another lamented, “The most painful part about the place we rented is that, I have to return the structure to the normal paint I met it. All this was caused by the policies from our National coordinator. God please tell Bar Donald to act fast before I do something stupid to myself.”
Beneficiaries of the SEM grant
Investigation by The Nation revealed that the first sets of disbursements made by SEM to some beneficiaries took place in Abuja.
According to a video of the ceremony posted on YouTube and Facebook, Goodtidings Bible Church International, an arm of Dayo Olutayo Ministries, Abuja, was the venue where the first disbursements were made at a programme tagged: ‘Access to Divine Revelation/Angelic Intervention Services.
Among the roll call of beneficiaries include: Yomi Adesokan who received N200,000, Afam James Oliseh got N150, Robertson Jenifer who also received N200,000 just as Lilian Anyim Ugorji, Clement Ohanaeme, Abass Yemi Abdulsalam got N150,000 respectively.
Waiting for Godot
Just like the characters in Samuel Beckett’s famous play, Waiting for Godot realised too late the futility of waiting, it does appears that the desperate wait for the return of Barr. Donald Olorunkeyede by the over nine million victims of what has been described as a major heist by a syndicate in Nigeria in recent times after the MMM episode, may also not happened.
As to be expected, this development has further heightened the growing level of animosity amongst the distraught subscribers of the now infamous SEM grant.
But who really is Donald olukoyede, the man who has caused a lot of Nigerians sleepless nights and sent many to their early graves, who died as a result of incurring debts they lost to the SEM scam?
Don’t miss this space. The story is just beginning…
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