He claimed to be a director with Air Peace and could help with job placements with the airline. But as it turned out, Sulaiman Bello was an impostor out to defraud unsuspecting members of the public. Samuel Ajayi reports on how his call to a THISDAY editor led to the defrauding of innocent Nigerians for non-existent jobs

What was supposed to be a complimentary call to the Editor of THISDAY, the Saturday Newspaper, Shaka Momodu, soon turned into a nightmare as an impostor and a fraudster ended up defrauding some individuals close to the editor of N208, 000 through it.

It all started on Friday August 11, 2016. In the heat of production for the August 12, 2016 edition of the newspaper, Momodu received a call on the number on his back-page column of the newspaper. The caller, one Sulaiman Bello, who claimed to be a director with Air Peace, commended Momodu for his stand on national issues and expressed how he always looked forward to his column every other week. After this, the impostor said Air Peace, one of the nation’s newest airlines, was recruiting and asked if Momodu had any relations looking for job and that he wanted credible people to nominate candidates for the positions for which the airline was recruiting.

He specifically asked for three females and two males. And since the situation in the country necessitated that Momodu had more than enough people on his neck looking for jobs, he put a couple of calls to friends and relations, including his brother, who recommended two persons who had been pressuring him to help them get job placements. Another of his friend, recommended one person, while Momodu on his part added two names to bring the total to five. The impostor now requested Momodu gave his contact phone number to them to call him so he would then direct them appropriately. He did as requested confident he had done his bit to help some hapless job-seekers. But no sooner had they contacted him than the story changed. An interview that was supposed to hold in Lagos suddenly changed to Abuja and Kano.

One of the potential job applicants recommended by Momodu’s brother soon expressed doubts about the genuineness of the whole process. According to her, Bello gave her an account number through text message belonging to a certain Mrs. Echesirim Onyedikachi, GT Bank account number 0130304387, for her to pay N104, 000 into to cover her and another person’s ticket costs.

Bello apparently playing on the naivety of the applicants and the fact that none of them knew each other, texted a different account number to Miss Etta Mary Leko, whom he also instructed to pay the sum of N104, 000 into another GT Bank account number 0043553245 belonging to one Mrs. Judith C. Onyenechere, whom he also stated in his text message to be the Head of Ticketing Reservations for Air Peace in Lagos. Unfortunately, when he told them to pay money into accounts to cover to and fro ticket costs to Abuja and Kano, the prospective employees didn’t revert to Momodu to alert him of the development. Of course had they done that, it would have immediately raised red flags. Bello cruelly played on the naivety of these innocent applicants and further asked them to also pay to and fro airfares for two other people he nominated.

In all, two of the prospective employees paid a total of N208, 000 into these accounts which were meant to cover the cost of tickets for four people; two supposedly return tickets from Abuja and the other two supposedly return tickets from Kano with the assurance that Air Peace will refund their monies after the interview and upon presentation of the deposit slips to their office in Abuja and Kano. He then directed them to proceed to the airport to board Abuja and Kano flights respectively. It was when one of victims got to the airport that she discovered that Air Peace doesn’t even fly the Kano route. On calling Bello about the development, he quickly directed her to proceed to take Arik. And of course she smelt a rat and fearing she may have been duped, she immediately raised the alarm.

THISDAY investigation reveals that immediately the money hit the two separate accounts, it was withdrawn within minutes.
Momodu later called Bello, the purported director with Air Peace, who started it all and when he was challenged as to why he was collecting money from those he sent to him for employment, he stated that he would refund the money to the depositors that one of the job-seekers was rude to him. Momodu said he told him to refund it immediately because there would be consequences should he fail to. Immediately after, his number went dead. Surprisingly, on Thursday August 18, the editor tried the number again, this time it went through but it rang out without anyone picking it.

In a petition to the Assistant Inspector-General (AIG) of Police for Zone 2, Momodu expatiated that the number the Bello used to call him was an Airtel number 07082596928. Using his extensive contacts, Momodu was able to establish that Onyedikachi’s account was domiciled in Matori in Mushin, a sleepy suburb of Lagos, she lives in 63/65 Temitope Street, Ilasamaja, Isolo, Lagos, while for Onyenechere, the account was domiciled in Owerri while the owner of the account lives in No. 43 Area N Zone, World Bank Estate, Owerri.

Momodu stated that he was surprised at the rapid turn of events and how an attempt to help some innocent job-seekers had ended in a tragic loss of scarce resources. According to Momodu, it was Bello who was calling (Momodu) to remind him of the employment opportunities and quickly nominate applicants before entries close. According to him, his last call to remind him was on Monday August 13, 2016.

“On Monday morning (August 13), he again called to remind me of his request. After he hung up, I made a couple of calls to my friends and my immediate elder brother to ask if they had anyone looking for a job and ready to work in an airline. They sent me three names to add to the two I already had. I forwarded the names to Mr. Bello’s phone in a text message. He called to acknowledge and told me to give his number to the job-seekers to call him so he could brief them on how to proceed for the interview.

Moments later, one of the persons, Leonard Ihechi Blessing recommended by my elder brother, called that Mr. Bello asked her to pay N104,000 into the following account domiciled in Matori, belonging to Mrs. Echesirim Onyedikachi, (the purported) Head Of Ticketing Reservations Air Peace, Abuja who will issue her a to and fro ticket from Abuja for the job interview. And that she had borrowed the money and paid into the account as instructed by Bello. I quickly called others not to pay any money into any account as directed by Mr. Bello, but unfortunately, one Miss Etta Mary Leko had also paid exactly the same amount into a different account, belonging to Mrs. Judith C. Onyenechere”, he narrated.

THISDAY was able to contact one of the owners of the accounts. She was asked if she works with an airline or if she had ever worked there. She said no and it was then she was told that her account was being used to defraud people with the promise of getting them jobs with an airline. She flared up on phone and she hung up. Later, the same number called back and this time, it was a male voice who claimed to be the husband of the woman. He said truly, his wife was the owner of the account but that his wife did not work with an airline. When asked why money that was paid into the account was withdrawn almost immediately, he could not provide an answer.

Later, Onyenechere, who also goes by the name Chioma, said she did not know Bello too but had developed a relationship with him because he had indicated interest in real estate since she is into real estate and had communicated for a while without actually meeting each other. However, Bello told her to send her account details as someone would pay money into it to buy air ticket and he (Bello) would direct her who she would pay the money to for the air ticket. According to her, Bello initially sent a UBA bank account number and she tried to pay the money into the account but the account was blocked. It was later he sent another account name, Onyia Lilian Chika, a Diamond Bank account number 0034227289. It was this account she finally paid the money into.

In fairness to Air Peace, the airline seemed to be unaware of the scam being perpetrated in its name. In an advertorial in the PUNCH newspaper of August 16, 2016, the airline said it wished to “alert the general public to the activities of some unscrupulous elements using its name to defraud unsuspecting air travelers and job seekers.” The airline claimed the “fraudsters have also resorted to putting out fake advertorials soliciting applications from desperate job-seekers who are usually instructed to make payments into personal accounts in order to secure non-existent job offers.”

The airline dissociated itself from these advertorials and stressed there was no recruitment currently going on in the airline and that even if there was, the airline would never ask potential job-seekers to make payments in order to get jobs. In the same vein, the airline also restated the same message on his official website which reads partly thus:
“Our attention has been drawn to certain notices and/or publications on some internet websites & public forums where some individuals and/or groups claim to be representatives of Air Peace Limited with an aim of defrauding unsuspecting members of the public by requesting for monies to be paid into their private accounts for.

We hereby alert the public that such notices and publications are clearly fraudulent and should be ignored. Our company is not associated in any way with the people publishing fraudulent notices or with the activities described in them. Members of the public are therefore advised to disregard such messages. Please take note that only information on our website is authentic and interested members of the public should visit our website.”
As the police close in on these fraudsters, perhaps they would have realised by now that they have bitten more than they could chew.