Victims: How Kuje prison inmate defrauded us millions of naira
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.
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.
According 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 unsuspecting Nigerians was not really a new scam. He disclosed that it has been in existence for long. He explained that criminals, who are involved in such crimes are, “usually smart, intelligent, tolerant and patient. They take time to carry out research on prospective targets and software, in order to know how it works. They take time to study their prey.”
He also said that these criminals have various ways of carrying out these cybercrimes or generating fake bank alerts. While revealing that some of these criminals can access software on the internet, which helped them in the scam, he said that some of these cyber thieves work with insiders in targeted companies and banks. He further said: “Some of them work with sophisticated hackers. These hackers can hack into a bank system and know the existing balance in a customer’s account.
Before, such cybercrimes could be carried out by just a single person, but not anymore. Today, they are many. Cybercrime has become sophisticated. Some send such bank alerts without outstanding balance; such criminals have limitations.
There are those that can send an existing outstanding balance, even though such money is not in the account. Those are the sophisticated ones.” He noted that such criminals do not work on random targets. These criminals would need to know and have access to the original amount in the bank account, before they can be able to generate a fake bank alert that would show corresponding outstanding balance. “Maybe they hacked into a victim’s email. They can start directing the victim’s messages.
They can start receiving the victim’s email messages. Once they direct the emails, they start monitoring the victim’s account. They don’t work alone. It’s difficult to work alone. They engage other people in such scams in other to avoid being caught,” he added.
He explained that for someone not to fall victim, the person needs to first realize and understand that such scams exists. “These criminals can hack into banks and manipulate the system to state or do what they want. It’s all about having the right software. We have different kinds of hackers. They are named by colours. We have white, black, green, red hackers. These hackers have the ability and capability of hacking into a computer system. The white hackers are the good ones.
They are often invited by banks and corporate organisations to attempt to hack into their computer system, so that they can know the loopholes and cover such loopholes. We also have the black hackers, they are the bad ones. They can break into a computer system and cause financial havoc. There’s another set of hackers called the script kiddies; they can’t design programmes, but they buy programmes to use and are taught via internet.”
On Ezenwa, he said that the inmate probably has access to servers of companies that he defrauded. He revealed that if such companies had exchanged emails with Ezenwa or any of his partners in crime, it would be possible to hack into their system. “These cybercriminals have international connections. It’s an international organized crime. There’s no sophisticated criminal that doesn’t have international connections,” he said.
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