Obinwanne Okeke: Revered Abroad, Unknown at Home

Obinwanne Okeke

For years, Obinwanne Okeke was a hero abroad, until his recent arrest by the FBI for $12 million fraud. He was Chairman/CEO of Invictus Group, a company dealing in real estate across US and Europe. He was even showcased as the new hope for Africa by Forbes Magazine on its front page. David-Chyddy Eleke who went on an investigation to his hometown in Ukpor, Anambra State, writes that he was more or less unknown at home

Ukpor is an agrarian community in Nnewi South Local Government Area, which is situated in a hilly and rough terrain. The road leading to the community from the industrial town of Nnewi cannot be described to be in the best of state. Its indigenes may have waited endlessly for the state government to give it a facelift, and may have become tired of waiting because as this reporter drove into the village, indigenes of the community, mostly men were seen numbering about 20 in one spot, trying to take care of a failed spot.

The flood on the road made it difficult to figure out which part of the road was better to use, to avoid being stuck. The men; who are almost of same age, maybe an age group in the community read this reporter’s mind and spoke up almost in unison; “Go right sir” they chorused.

That simple help left an impression of who an average Ukpor man is. Very accommodating, friendly, and willing to render help, even to strangers. This reporter was on a mission to check up on the background of Mr. Obinwanne Okeke who is being held by the FBI in US over allegation of fraud. Having received such warmth from the indigenes, this reporter felt like stopping and speaking to the group on Okeke, but their number and youthfulness scared him. “What if they disapproved of my mission here? What if they mistake me for a security man? What if their brother, Okeke had been a known benefactor here and they were bent on shielding him? What would be my fate?” these thoughts ran through the mind of the reporter in a flash.

Obinwanne Vs FBI

CEO of Invictus Group, Obinwanne Okeke is said to be standing trial in US on two counts charge. Most analysts have said that he may go in for a 30-year sentence as the two counts for which he is standing trial, wire and computer fraud carry 10 and 20 years maximum sentence each.

It was said that in June 2018, Unatrac Holding Limited, a company which deals in sales of heavy industrial and farm equipment, had approached the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) over a breach in the email account of its chief financial officer (CFO) where a fraudulent transfer of funds was done.

The intruder was said to have sent phishing emails containing a web link, purportedly to the login page of the CFO’s online email account hosted by Microsoft Office 365. Believing the link to be genuine, the CFO was said to have imputed his username and password from where the intruder got full access to the account and sent a fraudulent wire transfer request to the company’s internal financial team.

Acting under the impression that the email emanated from the CFO, the finance staff processed approximately 15 payments between April 11 to 19, 2018, totalling $11 million.

After months of a forensic investigation into the phoney transaction and activities of the intruder, the FBI followed the suspect’s online trail which led them to social media accounts with username @invictusobi allegedly owned by Okeke. The federal agents were able to merge the intruder’s identity with the owner of the social media accounts, and on August 2, the FBI reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Okeke, who was said to be in the US at the time, leading to his eventual arrest.

The Arrest

For weeks, the news of the arrest of Okeke made headlines in major Nigerian dailies. He was also subject of discussion on the social media. This was sequel to his arrest on August 6, in United States of America by men of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over fraud.

The arrest of Okeke was closely followed by the release of 80 more names by the bureau. Out of the released figures, 77 were of Nigeria descent, and said to have scammed unsuspecting Americans of millions of dollars. That further broadened the argument on Okeke who was said to have in one of his suspected fraudulent deals scammed an agricultural and industrial equipment manufacturing company of $12million.

Forbes Backing

Okeke who is also an entrepreneur, besides being into real estate, was also known for his philanthropy, and runs a charity organisation which donates books to children in Africa to aid literacy. He has been celebrated in the United States, where Forbes Magazine, a leading publication in the country featured him on its cover page in 2016 as one of 30 leading black entrepreneurs below the age of 30.

Forbes in the publication had written that young men like Okeke inspire hope in Africa, and following such comments from a highly rated publication, Okeke had delivered papers around the world, inspiring young people to success, and garnering popularity for himself.

Unknown at Home

But, upon arriving at Ukpor community where he hails from, it was a surprise that as popular as he could be around the world, no one really knew who he was. THISDAY moved round the community making enquiries from people of all ages, but none admitted knowing the world celebrated young entrepreneur.

A woman who fries and sells bean cake by the road side in a road leading to his (Okeke’s) father’s house in Ukpor however said that she remembered him as a child, saying that many years back, he once returned home. “He once came back many years back, and he drove a small car(sports car). We know him here as Nnamdi Okeke, but he has not been back for a long time. I am not aware which business he does, and I am not aware if he is training some children in school(scholarship) too. We have not seen him back or heard of him for a very long time,” she said.

THISDAY however ran into luck upon visiting the traditional ruler of the community, His Royal Highness, Igwe FCN Onyimadu, the Nwajiaku IV of Ukpor who welcome THISDAY to his palace. Though he said he does not know Okeke, but admitted that he started making enquiries about him after the news of his arrest broke in the community.

“I am the Igwe (Monarch) of this community, so I am supposed to know him, but I do not. I doubt if anyone really knows him here, but from my enquiries, he is the son of a former lawmaker, who represented Nnewi South in the Anambra State House of Assembly, Hon Ossy Sam Okeke. His father had four wives, and from my enquiries, this boy was from the last wife who I think is from Imo State. Whoever told you that he has been engaging in philanthropy or been donating books here did not tell you the truth. He may have been doing that all across Africa as we read, but not here in Ukpor.

“His father’s house is at Nzagha village, and I can direct you to go there, and you will see that he has not also impacted on his own people, because you will not see any new structure there, not to talk of having children under scholarship.”

Okeke’s Father’s House

THISDAY decided to check up on the relatives of Okeke in Nzagha village, Ukpor, but it turned out not to be a simple task. A little away from the communities market, known as Oye Ukpor, and driving down to a road leading to Nzagha, it became clear that Nzagha wasn’t a place one would hope to drive cozily into. If the roads in Ukpor were hilly and bumpy, the road to Nzagha was hillier and bumpier. The light rain of that Monday even aggravated the condition of the road as it was also slippery. A commercial motorcycle operator opted to take this reporter to the place, yet it wasn’t such an easy journey as we trekked most of the time to give the motorcyclist room to navigate some bad spots.

Contrary to the obscurity of Okeke in the community, his father, even though now late and was said to have died over 10 years ago was still very well known. A mention of the name Ossy Sam Okeke in Ukpor would make the eye of even a 10-year-old brighten.

He was an influential politician in the area who represented the people in the Old Anambra State House of Assembly, and was even said to have also been elected for the same position when the new Anambra State was created in 1991.

HRH Igwe Onyimadu told THISDAY that the late Hon Okeke championed most causes in the community. “At some point, he had even nominated a king for the community’s throne, and also taken him about to be crowned. They almost succeeded because they were issued with certificate, but the people did not want his nominee, and the nominee eventually died in very mysterious circumstance”.

Though the road to Hon Okeke’s house looked like a farm path, but his house though old depicts some level of opulence for a politician of those days. A massive one storey affair, with a car park big enough to take two cars in the front of the house as was the reigning pattern then. But for a man who was said to have four wives and 16 children, the entire compound was empty and a graveyard silence pervaded it as one walked in.

While some parts of the house were dilapidated, some other parts also showed recent facelift. A woman who claimed to be wife of one of the sons of Hon Okeke, Obinwanne’s brother who spoke to THISDAY refused to state her name. She admitted to hearing of him, but didn’t admit ever meeting him. She declined further comment, saying that her husband who is his brother stood in better stead to answer questions. On whether there was any form of scholarship or free distribution of books by his brother in-law as he was associated with philanthropy and charity works, the lady said she knew of none.

Failure is an Orphan

As a popular saying rightly goes, success is a friend of all, but failure is an orphan. Back home in Nigeria, many people including people in government have condemned the actions of the young entrepreneur, to the extend of saying that he and the 80 others who are on the FBI wanted list do not represent what the youths of Nigeria stand for, in his community, he has also been denied by his own people, with many saying that his actions may have been influenced by his long sojourn abroad.

The traditional ruler of his community said, “I urge people not to use this young man as a yardstick to judge an average Ukpor youth, because our people are predominantly farmers, and are known for hard work. If anything, I would say he may have picked up that habit in the white man’s land where he lived, because he does not represent what our youths stand for.”

Onyimadu said an average Ukpor youth is known for hard work, referring this reporter to the village to assess the youths of his community, who he said he was proud of. He said Okeke’s father had several other brothers, one of whom he said was also a genuine businessman in America. He dismissed Okeke as an isolated case in the community, saying that save for his arrest, he was not know, let alone being said to have brought home the proceeds of his suspected crime.

Another youth from the community who refused to disclose his name said, “You cannot use Okeke to judge us. It is true that he had the opportunity to travel and study in Australia or America as we have heard, but with this case of fraud, he can be said to have mis-used his opportunity. I am a trader in Onitsha, I may not have made so much money, but I am happy with what I am doing because no one can come and say I have defrauded him.”

As for the President General of Ukpor community, Mr Emmanuel Nwachukwu he said, “I don’t know why you are calling me now?” he said. “When he won awards and was celebrated in America, you did not call me, so why now?” he asked. He told this reporter in a telephone chat that he was not ready to talk on Okeke.

Although they stressed that they wouldn’t have wanted any part of his ill-gotten wealth, for his community, the cliche that ‘charity begins at home’ clearly did not mean anything to Okeke.