By Nnamdi Ojiego
Following Sunday Vanguard’s Special Report titled, FILTHY RICHES: The audacity of ‘Yahoo Boys’, published on October 24 and 31, 2021, an American woman, Ann (other names withheld), who claimed to be one of the victims of growing and disturbing trend of cyber criminality, otherwise known as Yahoo-Yahoo, reached out to our correspondent and expressed her frustration in getting justice in Nigeria.
She accused her estranged husband, Mr. Obinna Ezenwa (Egbueriaku), a former President of Students Union Government, SUG, of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, FUTO, in 2015, and others of defrauding her of about $50,000 (about N20 million in today’s exchange rate). Others mentioned in the alleged romance scam included Vivian Ezechukwu Ginika, who would later marry Ezenwa, and Collins Anthony Obiegbule.
But the principal suspect has denied being a fraudster or scammer, insisting that it was a deliberate effort to tarnish his image by his ‘former’ wife.
Narrating how it all started, Ann said she met Ezenwa on an American dating site, Coffee meets Bagel, in 2018. According to her, their relationship culminated in marriage in a Registry in Owerri, Imo State capital. She added that she didn’t know she was dealing with an alleged member of a notorious cybercrime group, who operate under the cover of love to explore the emotional fragility of would-be victims and fleece them of their hard-earned money while wrecking them emotionally.
An attempt by this reporter to access the coffeemeetsbagel.com website was denied. Further findings revealed that the operators of the dating site have banned Nigeria or IP addresses from Nigeria from accessing the website. The reason for this debarment is not farfetched: Nigeria is alleged to be one of the countries whose citizens are notorious for using dating websites as hunting fields for nefarious and criminal activities.
The American also alleged that she was held in a Lagos hotel during one of her visits to Nigeria until she wired her ex-lover money before she was allowed to leave.
According to her, she lost about $50,000 to him through various means including business investment in a non-existent company, threats, intimidation and coercion.
“My story is just too much”, she muttered. “I am a law-abiding citizen and a retired correction officer. But this man scammed my heart, my soul and my finances. He seized my passport and driver’s license. He lied about his age, made a fake wedding to me, held me in a hotel in Lagos until I wired him money.
“When I discovered who he really was, I contacted his family and because of this, he got mad at me and put up my vital information on the internet, calling me a rapist”.
Feeling used, dehumanized, defrauded, blackmailed and defamed, Ann disclosed she contemplated killing herself when all her efforts through legal means to get justice in Nigeria, including writing to Imo State Police Command, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, yielded no results. She noted that the inability of the relevant government bodies to get justice for her gave credence to boasts by the suspect that he was a ‘big boy’ and would always get off from the authorities including EFCC and FBI.
However, Sunday Vanguard findings revealed that while the EFCC acknowledged her letter but didn’t act on it, the police acted by arresting the principal suspect and releasing him soon after. The findings further revealed that what has been stalling the prosecution of the suspects was the absence of the complainant to pursue the case.
But in her petitions to the Commissioner of Police in Imo and the EFCC dated November 13 and December 8, 2020, respectively, the American had assured the authorities that she would come to Nigeria to testify against the suspects and provide necessary documented evidence including witnesses to support her testimony. She regretted that more than one year after, the suspect is free.
The petition read: “I am writing in regards to the fraudulent marriage and money scam, defamation of character, conspiracy, and threats to my life and my family in the US.
“This was committed by Obinna Peter Ezenwa Egbueriaku, Vivian Ezechukwu Ginika, Collins Anthony Obiegbule and other participants within this crime ring. I am asking for all participants to be arrested.
“I met Obinna on an American dating website in September of 2018. Sometime around the beginning of December of 2018, Obinna asked me to come to Nigeria with the hope of marriage.
“He told me that he would plan the wedding and, when I arrived in Owerri, we would be married.
“After arriving at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Obinna picked me up with a man by the name of Donny.
“He took me to a hotel in Festac, Lagos, named De Santiago Milan. After we got to the hotel, he told me that we needed to buy a vehicle the next day to move around Nigeria.
“When we arrived at the car dealer which he claimed that he knew from his schoolmates, Obinna compelled me to pay for the vehicle.
“I felt intimidated all the while he was choosing a vehicle. He picked out a Lexus 350 SUV and mandated me to pay 11,000 USD to the car dealer.
“I agreed, however, the wire from my bank to the car dealer’s bank was taking a very long time and we had to stay in Lagos for a week to make sure the wire went through.
“While we wait for that, Obinna took my phone at one point, added his friend in the US, wired 11,500 to him and then told me it was an accident.
“After one week, we drove from Lagos to Owerri where we went to a hotel and then to one of Obinna’s friend’s house to stay the rest of my time.
“During this period, Obinna took me to some elders’ house which I now believe that he paid the husband and wife to come and be our witness in a marriage ceremony.
“It is obvious now that my marriage with Obinna was planned to take as much money from me and start his life with Vivian Ginika, to who he was later engaged.
“I asked Obinna why his family did not attend our wedding and he told me that they were all busy.
“Obinna and I briefly talked about having a wedding ceremony when he came to America with my family and friends.
“Before I left for the US, he also made me open a joint banking account with him at an Access Bank branch in 4th Avenue, Festac. To this day, the bank has refused to close that account for me.
“On my return to America, we continued to talk but it was always about money. He needed money for one thing or the other.
“One time, he told me that he had found out that he could invest my money in a company called OPUS.
“I gave him 10,000USD and never received one penny back. He later told me that the company was a ponzi scam. Once, he made me give him money to buy a bus and make money from it. He told me many times that he would pay me back.
“During this period, Obinna told me that he had travelled to Abuja and received his visa and would join me in the US to start our new life together. I always paid for his travels and visa processes because he told me that I am his wife and needed to pay.
“On January 1, 2020, he pressured me to come back to Nigeria. I told him that if he paid my way, I would come. He would not pay my way but I did come back to Lagos in February even during the pandemic and stayed for 10 days. “When we arrived at the hotel, he held me hostage and made me wire him money. At this point, I went into the bathroom and cried. It took 4-5 days for the money to come to his account before he could let me leave the hotel room.
“After leaving Nigeria with a different feeling from Obinna, I started looking into some of his social media accounts and found out that he had met a woman named Vivian Ezechukwu Ginika while he was in school.
“I found numerous postings of how much he loved her and glad she was in his life. I believe that she is an accomplice to this crime of fraud.
“After learning of his relationship with Vivian, I became enraged and started posting on his friends’ social media and when he found out, he became very aggressive and went to the extreme and called my children in America and told them that I raped him when I came to Nigeria. “He told them so many lies and said he was going to have someone hurt me. Obinna also sent many threats of violence to me and my family.
“In September 2021, after being very depressed and suicidal, I found the pictures of Vivian and Obinna’s engagement all over the internet.
“I felt like a complete fool. I realized that I have been scammed. I believe they took as much money as they could from me to start their lives together.
“I believe after adding all the money that I have wired him and taken to Nigeria, it would be at around or close to $50,000.
“I also have many accounts that I used to wire money. I have all the transaction numbers, many pictures evidence and threats that came to me from Obinna or his partners.
“Obinna always told me that nothing would ever happen to him because he was a big man and his friends were big people. Please, take this seriously and get him arrested and I will come to Nigeria to testify against him if need be”.
It’s a family affair – Ezenwa
Reacting to the allegations, Ezenwa insisted he was not and has never been a fraudster in his life, describing the misunderstanding between him and Ann as a family affair.
He said: “It’s just a family issue. You and somebody are in love and something happened along the line, you felt that this person doesn’t worth it and you moved on.
“The person got married and you came back to fight this person. What I’m trying to let you know is that there was no form of fraud and what had happened was within our marriage period before some Nigerians started feeding her with false information.
“She left and for seven months, there were no communications between us and in the eighth month, I got married. After I got married, she surfaced again and started fighting me. That was when she called the police on me.
“This matter has been with the anti-kidnapping unit of the Imo State Police Command, and even the EFCC is aware of it. There’s no form of fraud. I’m not a fraudster.
“As a matter of fact, I was one-time SUG President of FUTO. Ann was a woman I got married to in 2019 and whatever she did was within our marriage. When she came and explained that she wouldn’t like to be entering buses, she bought a car.
“So many expenses were done because she came to Nigeria in 2018 and 2020 and the money spent on her flight tickets for coming here to and fro on two occasions including other expenses like health bills, airfares, marriage processes, preparations and the money used in buying the car was what she said I scammed her of.
“The Attorney General of Imo State is my brother and he’s aware of this matter. Also, the Commissioner at ISOPADEC (Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission) came to the police station with his lawyer.
“We told the police that when the complainant is ready for the matter, she should come with her lawyer and we will go to court; and that was how the whole matter ended.”
Threats to Life
On the threat to the complainant’s life, the former student leader explained that he has been exonerated by the police.
“She sent the threat message to the police and, after investigation, the police found out that I was not the one who sent that message”, Ezenwa said.
“What she does with her Nigerian cohorts is that they will open fake accounts with my pictures and name, chat themselves and screenshot and send across everywhere that I am the one.
“This is the same story she has been telling everybody that I threatened to kill her and her family. What’s my business with her? Why will I threaten her? How will I leave my business and family responsibility and be looking for whom to kill?
“This is one year plus that she has been tarnishing my image.”
He, however, alleged that it was Ann who has been threatening him and his family and vowed to arrest her anytime she came to Nigeria.
“There are people she is using to operate in Nigeria now. Those people are calling and threatening my parents, siblings, friends with hidden numbers.
“I’m picking up everybody that is involved in this matter including Ann. I will arrest her anywhere I see her and also arrest anybody who is involved with her matter because the life of my wife and family is at stake.”
When asked if he properly divorced his American wife before getting married to his latest wife, he responded in the affirmative. “Yes, I have divorced her. She is no longer my wife”, Ezenwa affirmed.
“This woman we are talking about had married three times before marrying me. He married a man from California, her second was from Germany while the third was a Yoruba man she met in Georgia.
“She has not divorced any of them except the first man. It was after we got married that I discovered these things because when she went to file for my visa, the embassy told her that she could not do anything like that because she was still married to two people – the German and Nigerian guys. That’s when I discovered she had married three times before marrying me”.
Fake Divorced Papers
But a lawyer, Chidera Emeruem, popularly known as Barrister Slash, who was initially contracted by the complainant, faulted the claims by the suspect that he had properly divorced his wife, alleging the divorce papers were forged.
In a chat with our correspondent, Barrister Slash said: “The suspect purported to have dissolved the marriage with his wife. But like I pointed out to the police, the documents were forged. “The judgment order dissolving the marriage was forged. The judgment was purported to have been given by a particular judge under the hand and seal of another judge, which judges were retired and no longer judges in Imo State Judiciary as of the time the judgment was given. “So, as far as I’m concerned, the marriage has not been dissolved”.
The lawyer also said the case has not been discontinued.
“What happened was when the young man was arrested following a petition to the police from his wife, she contacted me and I went there and wrote a statement to the police on her behalf.
“I then asked her to give me an authority in writing to represent her in her absence.
“I also encouraged her to come to Nigeria to testify against the suspect. But she said she was scared and not sure she would be safe when she comes to Nigeria as her husband has threatened her before now. I told her that she would be safe but she didn’t believe that.”
Meanwhile, Sunday Vanguard sought to know from the Imo State Police Command and the EFCC the status of the case at their respective offices.
I’m a clean slate – Imo PPRO
Imo State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Mr. Michael Abattam, said he was not aware of any such matter as he was new in the state, stressing that it would be difficult to ascertain the status of the case because there were over one million of such cases at the command.
“Presently, I don’t know where the case was reported, I don’t know who’s investigating, and I don’t know the parties involved”, he said.
“As it stands now, I’m a clean slate, I don’t know anything about it. So I cannot start looking for who’s investigating the case because we have a lot of offices here”.
The police spokesperson requested that our correspondent visit his office at the command’s headquarters, Owerri with details of the case to enable him to direct the journalist to the appropriate office to get answers to his enquiries.
However, our correspondent who visited his office several times did not meet him on the seat and several calls put to his phone line were neither answered nor returned.
Matter on course – IPO
Meanwhile, Sunday Vanguard was able to get in touch with the Investigating Police Officer, IPO, handling the case. The officer, who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, also confirmed that he was still handling the matter.
“It is a reported case of fraud, a scam. The suspect was arrested and detained in protective custody”, the IPO said.
“In the course of investigation, he pleaded some alibi which was investigated as at then. At a time, he was given administrative bail with a reliable surety which, whenever he is called upon, would come to the office.
“But then, there was nobody coming to stand for the complainant. I was the one who advised the woman who is abroad to contract an attorney over there to stand for her.
“The woman asked me to assist her and I gave her a number of a lawyer, one Barrister Slash, who works with one of the prominent law firms in Owerri.
“It was the lawyer who detected some errors in the file that even assisted us in doing the job. At a time, she could not procure a lawyer, so the boy was granted bail.
“What I want the woman to do is to procure somebody who will come and stand for her so that when we go to court, the case will not fail. “The suspect is at my reach to get him any time and there’s no need of bringing him to the office every day when I’m not yet prepared to take him to court”.
EFCC Keeps Mum
When contacted, the spokesperson for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, requested that a copy of the petition and acknowledgement email be forwarded to him via his WhatsApp line.
But as of the time of filing this report, subsequent efforts to get him to speak on this issue were unsuccessful as he neither replied his WhatsApp messages nor answered his calls.