Conmen defraud ministers, presidential aides

THE PUNCH Newspaper-Ihuoma Chiedozie

As the debate over President Umaru Yar‘Adua‘s prolonged absence from the country continues to rage, conmen are capitalizing on his ill-health to defraud ministers, presidential aides and other top government officials of millions of naira, SUNDAY PUNCH investigations have revealed.

The modus operandi of the fraudsters is the presentation of appeal forms to top government functionaries soliciting funds for the purported purpose of organising prayer sessions for the President within the country and in Saudi Arabia.

Sunday Punch findings indicated that the group did not discriminate on the religious background of their intended victims, as they approached both highly placed Muslims and Christians for monetary donations to facilitate the prayer sessions.

Already, many top government functionaries have fallen victim to the machinations of the faceless group.

However, luck may have run out for the fraudsters as most government officials have now realised that the purported prayer session was phony.

A source who is a top government functionary in one of the agencies under the Presidency, disclosed the activities of the group and to our correspondent.

Pleading anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter, since he himself also fell victim to the fraud, the source narrated how the group visited him and requested money to enable them to organise a prayer session for the President in Saudi Arabia.

The source said, ”They booked an appointment with me through my secretary, I really didn‘t know who they were but of course I was disposed to receive them when they said they were organizing prayers for the President.

”When they arrived, we discussed at length; they let me in on what they have been doing, how they have been organizing prayers across the country.

”I was impressed with all they said. Then they informed me that they were travelling to Saudi Arabia, in fact to Jeddah, to hold prayers for the President.

”It was then that they asked me to support them financially; they did not request a specific amount but they explained that they needed funds to cover costs, including visa fees, flight fares, hotel accommodation, feeding, all the logistics.

”They also explained that they will be in Saudi Arabia for some time, so it was clear that they would need some substantial amount of money.”

According to the source, it was at this point that the group showed him a list of other government officials who had already made contributions.

The list showed that many government officials had already been approached by the group, and had equally responded positively to the appeal.

The source admitted that he also made a contribution, after which the group said prayers for him and left, promising to get in touch once they arrive in Saudi Arabia. However, he refused to disclosed the value of the contribution.

True to their promise, according to our source, a person claiming to represent the group called him, purportedly from Saudi Arabia, a few days later, to announce that the prayer mission had successfully arrived in the Gulf nation.

However, the group made further appeals for financial support.

He said, ”After thanking me for the earlier gesture, the man who said he was calling from Saudi Arabia informed me that he and his group are having some problems with accommodation and transportation.

”He even told me that some of their group could not travel to Saudi Arabia because of inadequate resources available for the trip.

”He then informed me that two members of the group would be coming to see me in the office the next day, and pleaded that I should provide more funds to assist their mission.”

It was at this point that the government official decided to share his experience with some of his colleagues.

He explained that he was not surprised to find out that some of his fellow government officials had also been approached by the group.

However, he was astonished to realise that the group was fake.

”I called some of my colleagues; of course some of them admitted knowledge of the group, having been approached for financial assistance to support the prayer sessions.

”But I was shocked to discover that the whole thing, the group, their prayer mission, the whole story was just fraud. It was shocking indeed!”

Asked what convinced him that the group was fraudulent, he explained that some other government officials who were approached by the group earlier had gotten in touch with a top official in the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia to authenticate the group‘s claim that they were in that country to pray for the President.

The enquiry had revealed that, not only was the group non-existent, no such prayer session was being held in Saudi Arabia.

Also, the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia was not aware of any such group of Nigerians that arrived in Saudi Arabia from Nigeria during the period in question.

Reflecting on the incident, the source expressed regrets that some Nigerians could capitalize on any situation to rip-off their fellow citizens.

Although he refused to disclose the names of the other government functionaries on the list, he noted that it contained the names of some ministers and presidential aides, as well as heads of some government agencies.

The source refused to disclose how much he contributed, and the amounts given to the group by other government officials whose names appeared on the list shown him by the group.

But he noted that the fraudsters must have indeed made ”some millions” of naira from the various donations made by the the government functionaries they approached


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