…Accused of using their toddler to defraud victims of millions

From Ngozi Uwujare

A couple in Ogun State, 46-year-old Abiola Wahab and Toyin Abiola, have given the heinous crime of child trafficking a despicable new face.
The couple were said to have been on the run for a long time until nemesis caught up with the duo in Obatoko, Ogun State and they were arrested. They are now cooling their heels in the custody of the Special Armed Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Ogun State Police Command, where they are undergoing interrogation.
The couple was alleged to have serially used their three-year-old son, an innocent toddler, as collateral to defraud a long list of victims, from whom they borrowed money or bought goods on credit, which they sold and never paid the creditors.
The Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ahmed Illiyasu told Sunday Sun that the husband and wife allegedly defrauded large-scale distributors of goods.
Giving insight to the modus operandi of the duo, he said that they would visit a distributor, collect goods worth millions of naira, pay in some money and then disappear and never return to settle the debt. He said the couple had duped victims in Oyo, Lagos, Osun and Ogun states.
To facilitate their operation and avoid detection, the police commissioner said that the couple always switched the number plate on their vehicle, which they drove to the business premises of their victims. This way, they were able to make it impossible for the victim who may have copied the vehicle number to trace them.
Illiyasu added that the command had been receiving several complaints about a couple that was duping major distributors and deceitfully taking goods from them on credit but never returning to pay.
On the strength of the complaints, the police commissioner said that an investigation was launched by the command. Through diligent investigation, the police was able to track down the couple. They were arrested during a raid by a team of SARS operatives. The commander of SARS, Supol Uba Adams revealed that the couple was nabbed in a home they built in Ikire, Osun State.
When she spoke with Sunday Sun at the headquarters of SARS, Toyin disclosed that prior to her getting involved in the fraudulent act alleged against her, she had been engaged in distribution of rice.
Her words: “I was into distribution of rice in Ikiru, Osun state. In 2008, somebody duped me of N1 million after I had supplied rice. My clients were pestering me for their money. The case was transferred to State CID Oshogbo and I was arraigned in court. The magistrate ordered that I be remanded at Ilesha prison and adjourned the case. I was nine months old pregnant at the time. I delivered my second child in prison. The day that the magistrate granted me bail was also the day I gave birth. I spent only five days in the prison, and that was why I named my baby Aishat Abiola. The court ordered that we pay off the money within one month, but I could not afford to pay. So I jumped bail.”
She explained further: “Life was so difficult for us, the family of my husband and my own family assisted us and gave us N770,000 naira. We used the money to buy a car in Apapa in 2013. My husband and myself started trading in rice again. We would go to Saki to buy rice and resell. One day, a Customs officer duped us.
That was also when we began to dupe other people. We have duped a lot of people. We would collect assorted drinks and promise to pay but we would not go back again.  “When we go to visit a prospective victim, I would wear a hijab to disguise myself and seem like a pious Muslim woman. I would pay an amount with a promise to pay the balance after selling the goods. But I never went back.”
Also speaking, her husband disclosed that he married Toyin 11 years ago and they had faced difficulties in the course of the marriage. During their alleged fraudulent activities, he told Sunday Sun that they often took along their three-year-old son and pretended that he was sick.
“We used our three-year-old son as collateral in the deal and pretend that he was not feeling well,” Wahab said.
The unfortunate victims would because of the ill-health of the toddler show pity on the couple and allow them to go away with goods while temporarily leaving behind the supposedly sick child in the care of the victim, with the promise that they would come back to collect him and pay for the goods. Craftily, the wife would come back to take the child and disappear.
The couple’s cookie crumbled when they were perfecting arrangements for another duping expedition. As they were relaxing in the comfort of their home, SARS operatives who had been on their trail swooped on them and their child and arrested them. Following their confessions during interrogation, the detectives invited some of the victims, who positively identified the duo, who the police commissioner assured would be charged to court soon.


Agony of ex-banker battling with kidney failure

■ Needs N9m for transplant, lost job to health challenges

From Murphy Ganagana and Gyang Bere, Jos

the fear of being snatched away from her beloved husband at any moment by the cruel claws of death is an unpleasant and constant thought that is troubling 40-year-old Mercy Damisa, an ex-banker, as she bears the excruciating pains associated with kidney failure, at her home in Bukuru area of Jos metropolis, Plateau State.
Bonded by fate, Mercy and her husband, Paul Babayo Damisa, met at the University of Maiduguri, where they studied the same course, graduated same year, and were both orphaned early in life. Their blissful relationship blossomed into marriage, which took place in April 2010, at a parish of the Living Faith Church, popularly known as Winners Chapel, in Maiduguri, Borno State. But that seemed to be the end of happiness and joy for the once ebullient, tall and dark complexioned Kogi State-born woman.
In the course of her national service year (NYSC) in 2007, a medical doctor’s diagnosis at the University of Ife Teaching Hospital confirmed that she had hypertension, a medical condition that claimed the lives of her mother and father. The hypertension diagnosis was followed by a series of miscarriages. Then her kidneys failed, and put her life on a delicate balance.
Today Mercy is pained, depressed and miserable but not because of the dashed dreams and hopes of becoming a top flight banker at the First Bank of Nigeria Plc, from where she was compelled to quit because of her health challenges. Neither is she as pained by the inability to bear a child after six years of marriage. Rather, Mercy is being literally crushed by the realisation of sure death, which stares her in the face each passing day if she does not undergo kidney transplant very soon.
Going back in time, Mercy gave Sunday Sun reporter a snapshot of how it all started and what the experience has been since her kidneys failed: “I got married in April 2010, but we don’t have a child yet because of my health condition; I was advised not to conceive after I had three miscarriages and the fourth one was evacuated after six months. My ailment started in 2011, but I didn’t know because I had series of miscarriages, and didn’t know that I had kidney disease until I got to the hospital and the doctor diagnosed the problem. Back then, I was a Teller in First Bank Plc, Nasarawa State, but because of the ups and downs, I had to travel often to Jos to see my husband. Moreover, the mounting stress and my health condition forced me to quit the job.
“Most times I have headache, body pain and muscle ache; sometimes I cannot walk; there are series of discomforts associated with kidney failure. But recently, I find it difficult to walk because the pain in my muscles and the backache are almost permanent; after dialysis, it will subside but before the week runs out, the crisis starts again; I will have to go back for dialysis. When my finances are exhausted, I begin to think of where to get money; at such times, I will ask myself, is this my end?”
Expectedly, Mercy is heavily burdened and frightened. Pale and fragile, she appears to worry less about the childlessness occasioned by her health challenges, as she consoles herself with the fact that her husband and his family had unconditionally offered her their shoulders to lean on. “I don’t have that fear; I believe I will get over this situation by the grace of God,” she said.
But beneath this optimism is a heart-piercing psychological pain. “Once in a while I get worried, but my husband consoles me, saying I should not disturb myself; that it is not my fault, and that we should leave everything to God. He says at the appointed time, we would have our children. There was a time I considered telling him to marry another wife to bear him children, but my husband rejected it immediately, and said that he didn’t want to hear about it. I am pleading with Nigerians to help me pay for the kidney transplant I must undergo to remain alive. A sustainable hospital has been contacted in India. I am tired of the situation. I pity my people because they have been struggling to get money for the weekly dialysis I am currently doing to stay alive. Anytime the money runs out, they are usually tortured psychologically. I want to stay alive; I want to get over this problem,” she pleaded tearfully.
Mercy’s husband, Paul, 42, an employee of NASCO Foods Nigeria Limited, who hails from Ososo in Edo State, evidently shares the pain of his heartthrob, with whom he had walked on a carpet of thorns for her to remain alive.
At some moments when he reminisces on their days at the University of Maiduguri, where they studied Food Science and Technology and graduated same year in 2002, through the period of their marriage and the sudden crash of their joy and hope, a river of tears flows down his cheeks. And he wallows in the fright of a bleak future and self pity.
Just like his distraught wife who lost her parents at an early age, Paul’s father passed on in 1984, and was joined in the great beyond by his mother in 2005. The thought of losing his young wife is what he does not want to imagine, even for a second.
Sadly, that is seemingly becoming a reality as he toils day and night in search of about N9 million required for his lovely wife to undergo kidney transplant in India, without which her doctors have pointedly told him she would not survive.
Hear him: “The problem started a year after our wedding in 2010; she had series of miscarriages which resulted in high blood pressure and eventually led to kidney failure. Since 2011, we have been going for dialysis continuously believing that the issue would be resolved, but unfortunately, the doctors said the only alternative left is to go for kidney transplant, which is very expensive.
“I work in a private sector organization and can’t afford N9 million for the transplant; it is quite high for me to raise. I actually went out to solicit for support, but the money was not enough for me to take her out of Nigeria. Talking about her imminent death, that is a no, no. I don’t want to imagine that. It is painful for you to see your loved one in a terrible situation and you cannot help out; when the problem envelops her, I wish I could assist, but it is something I cannot do. I wish I had the money to take care of everything but in this very situation, the money is too high and I am helpless.
“She started dialysis in April 2011, at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), where she is still running the dialysis. It was JUTH that referred us to India for the kidney transplant. It is really cumbersome; you can imagine my meagre monthly salary and a situation where you spend N20, 000 weekly on dialysis, that is when we go to JUTH, but if we go outside JUTH when they are on strike, like De-Medical, you spend N20,000 per session which amounts to N40, 000 per week; it is really unbearable for us, not to talk of getting N9 million required for the transplant. I tend to feel for her more, because she always felt that she is the cause of the whole problem. I try to encourage her always and I thank God that my family is also there for her. Most times, she assumes it is her fault that she cannot have her own kids and probably she is depriving me from experiencing fatherhood and a joyful home.
“For a fact, it is quite emotional seeing other people with their children and you don’t have one; our younger siblings have gotten their children to a point of going for family planning but we don’t have any at the moment; it is quite disturbing and we have pressure coming from here and there to go for alternative arrangements and that is really overwhelming, but the issue of getting her out of my life is unbearable for me. How I will get money to fly my wife to India for the kidney transplant is my present challenge, because the doctors have said outright that dialysis is not the solution to the problem; dialysis is just a preliminary remedy, not a cure; it is just for the removal of the toxic material from the body; the only solution to kidney failure is what we are battling to achieve.”
While the distressed couple pray fervently for divine intervention, Mercy says she is determined to conquer death in this battle for her soul, and keep hope alive despite her deteriorating health condition. Will she be victorious in knocking out from her mind, the depressing thought of whether her end is near? Time shall tell.

•Editor’s Note: Kindly send your donations to Mercy through her account number: GTBank: 0026125683. Mercy Damisa.


Indomitable spirit of blind 72-yr-old agro-pesticide manufacturer

■ Wants to wipe out mosquitoes from Nigeria

By Josfyn Uba and Christine Onwuachumba

It is uncommon to find a man like Chief Pius Chukwuma Okoli, whose life is a paradox. At 72 and blind, Okoli’s burning desire and driving passion is to re-write Nigeria’s story in agricultural production by eliminating pre-and-post harvest losses that result from pest infestation of both food and cash crops.
This is a life-long dream he has committed to his company, Herbex Agro Nigeria Ltd, a business concern that majors in pest control, agricultural equipment and chemicals, to achieve. And he has shown through his track record that it is achievable with ardent support from the Federal Government, which has made the revamping of agriculture in the country the centrepiece of its economic revival programme. Moreover, he believes that the menace of mosquitoes and the malaria burden on the country can be substantially curbed with patriotic commitment of the government and the citizenry.
Okoli has an interesting profile and his story offers lessons about the vagaries of life: a rags-to-riches tale mixed with ups and downs. He has been disappointed and defrauded by people he reposed trust in (including a telecommunication company) and almost got pauperized. But he had always found grace in God to rise up and stage a comeback after each misfortune. He speaks more in this interview with Sunday Sun.

When did you first venture into business?
I got into small time business when I was a policeman. I knew that I had a knack for business and that I wasn’t going to be in the police force for a long time because it wasn’t financially beneficial. I spent a short time and eventually started a haulage business. Once I started, I realised that it was a good platform for me to make money and I ran with it. It was a very successful venture.
How has the experience been so far?
Life is about the good and bad sides. I have had both sides of it in my business life. Naturally, my weakness lies in trusting people easily with anything and that has cost me so much in life. The last experience was so bad that I am yet to recover from it. I got swindled of a large sum of money, massive enough to turn a prince into a pauper.
I was swindled to the tune of N184 million. It started when I was awarded a contract by a top government official at the Federal level. The contract came after they bought my products and found them useful. And in order to raise funds for the execution, I sold all the 15 shops I had at Alaba International Market, and imported 20 40-feet containers of the product valued at N184 million. I had offices in Jos, Plateau State and Funtua in Katsina State. My plan was to send the consignment to Jos but one man from Ogbomosho, a retired lecturer (name withheld), who had lived all his life in the North, offered to partner with me. Out of naivety, I imported these products and sent all the 20 containers to him. The outlet he was supposed to open was not opened. He took the goods and vanished. The loss was unquantifiable, especially in the light of the properties I sold to raise capital for the project. When I had those 15 shops at Alaba International market, I was making about N4 m in a month but I lost all to a bad business decision.
Did it end there?
While I was still trying to grapple with the setback, fate brought me some relief. One of the telecommunication operators approached me with a proposal to erect a mast in my compound.  But again, I didn’t know that it would turn out to be another ugly experience.  After our negotiation, we arrived at a conclusion that the company would pay me about N3 million for a period of five years.
Then, I traveled to Owerri. While I was there, my son telephoned me to say that the management of the company came with a document for me to sign. Since I wasn’t around, I authorised him to sign on my behalf with the aid of my lawyer. I ended up being short-changed. I did not know until after a long time.
From the business deal, I was supposed to get N27 million, but they only paid me a paltry sum of N3 million. Aside from that, I engaged the services of a lawyer to help me pursue the case but it hasn’t been fruitful, too.  Up till now, since six months after, I haven’t heard from the lawyer.
How do you survive now?
The mainstay of my business is the franchise from Guarany, a Brazilian agro-technology giant, of which my company is the sole distributor of its range of products. It includes sprayers and pumping machines in fumigation technology and pesticides. I got succour, however, when a contract I had with Mushin Local Government Area was renewed after two years and my company, Herbex, was allocated the entire Mushin LGA. I truly appreciate all the people who helped facilitate the deal. In spite of all these setbacks, I have marched on. I have continued to import the products and Herbex has outlets nationwide.
I am a major distributor and I manufacture and package the insecticide called Pecocide. It comes with a type of pump from Brazil that no one can adulterate. Before I grew to become the businessman that I am today, I started as a small-time trader the hard way. I learnt the basics of survival on the streets of Lagos. And that has always been my bible.
How do you now manage your business considering your situation?
It has not been easy at all. I am hopeful that my sight will be restored somehow by the grace of God. However, what I need most to run my business is my mind, brain and honest people around me. If I could be defrauded when I had good sight, what else can be done to me now that I have lost it? I have all my records in my head and above all, I thank God for all the people around me from the second-in-command to the cleaner. They have all been good to me. I can call them my best friends. In spite of the frequent misfortunes I have faced as a businessman, I have vowed that nothing will distract me. Not even when I borrowed money and lost it. At 72, the only thing that bothers me is my sight. If I regain my sight, I can do anything and I am doing everything to regain my sight.
How do you plan to move your business forward?
I have written a proposal to the Minister of Agriculture to invest in businesses like mine because we have all the materials needed here in Nigeria. I have been producing pesticides since 1999 and they are all locally produced. Apart from that, I have decided to bring in state-of-the-art machines for the next generation of killing pest. With that, in no distant time, the menace of mosquitoes will be history in the country.
As a seasoned businessman, what do you think one needs to start a business?
Having a good idea is the first thing and it is key to success because if you don’t have an idea of the business you want to do but you have all the capital in the world, the money is wastage. But where there is an idea, the availability of capital is an added advantage. I started my business with nothing. I started by selling the idea to people and they tried me with little cash. I made my gain and expenditure from that token.
At 72, what has life taught you?
Talking about what life has taught me, I think nothing is worth dying for. If the wealthiest men could die and leave all their riches, why should I worry over anything?