ON Sunday, November 21, Sunday Olowokudejo, a native of Ikere-Ekiti in Ekiti State, petitioned the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, Ojaja II.
His plea to the traditional ruler was simple: To mediate in an agro-commodity investment dispute between him and Ooni’s ally Gbenga Eyiolawi (Aare Kebimapalu of Ibadan).
Eyiolawi is the chief executive of Titan Farms Investors.
Olowokudejo had believed his investment would be safe since Eyiolawi is recognised by the Ooni, but his presumption failed him.
He was among those who invested large sums of money in the failed farm project run by Eyiolawi but are unable to get their principals and returns.
“I only joined the business and invested my hard-earned money there because I understood they were an agro-commodity trading company and it’s not like other Ponzi schemes.”
The arrangement was such that investors were entitled to about 30 per cent return on investment (RoI) every three months.
“My marriage is just a year old and we have a little baby. We are on the edge of being homeless…,” the email to Ogunwusi, a copy sent to Eyiolawi, read.
How it started
On April 14, 2021, Olowokudejo invested N400, 000 for eight units of shares in a rice project – for a period of three months. This ought to mature on July 14, 2021, with a 25 per cent return. This implies, he was expected to receive N500,000.
While the above investment was running, Olowokudejo made another investment of N200,000 on June 16 for another period of three months. Likewise, the new investment was to mature on September 16, 2021, with a 25 per cent return. In other words, he was supposed to receive N250,000 (being principal, N200,000, and 25 percent RoI, N50, 000).
Rather than claim his RoI from the first investment, Olowokudejo, on July 8, decided to roll over his first capital of N400, 000 and the RoI of N100, 000, which was already due for payment (N500,000). The roll-over was for 10 units of new rice shares.
This investment lasted for another three months and was supposed to mature on October 8, 2021. With the new deal, he was prepared to receive the sum of N625,000 (25 percent of N500, 000), but his investment has remained stuck months after.
“I was waiting to be paid in September for my second investment that is due for payment, only to receive an email about restructuring, that investors capital will be fixed for a period of six months. Then, I had no option than to comply and give them a go-ahead.”
“To my surprise, I got the same restructuring email for the first investment that I rolled over, that is, the October investment payment, while I was waiting to be paid also.”
He eventually disagreed with the idea of rolling over his initial profit because of an urgent need to renew his rent.
The money, he said, was projected for the rent.
He was scheduled to renew the rent on or before November 30, 2021. That was the deadline given by the owner of his apartment.
The November 30, 2021 deadline came but he did not see the money.
One too many
Since the Federal Government refocused on diversifying the economy, mainly through the agricultural sector, Nigerians have witnessed several agric investments that ended up failing.
Reasons for the failure are not unconnected to poor insurance, farmer-herder crisis, post-harvest losses and lack of due diligence, to mention but a few.
On December 20, The ICIR probed how several phony agric investment companies fraudulently deceived Nigerians into failed agric schemes.
Few among those identified in the earlier report were Menorah Farms, SGL Farms, Ajebo, Farmerboy.ng, and Ho Corn, among others.
Aside Olowokudejo, there are 11 others, some based abroad, who also invested in the farm business, according to sources.
Titan Farms confirm N875, 000 investments, failed payment plan
On seeing the email to the Ooni, the firm’s Customer Relationship Manager Ayoola Olaniyi requested Olowokudejo’s contact details for a private conversation.
By December 5, Olaniyi confirmed the two investments – N625, 000 and N250, 000 made by Olowokudejo – and she apologised for the delay.
She explained that the N625, 000 was deposited in an account which was now frozen. She assured that payment would be effected once the account was unfrozen. As for the N250, 000, December 11, 2021, was set as the payment day.
Fifteen days after, no payment came in. Rather, Olaniyi emphasised her initial stand that the CEO’s business accounts were frozen.
“We apologise for whatever your family is going through due to the delays in payment and we accept responsibility for them all.”
The ICIR found that the accounts were frozen by the orders of a court when other investors who could not get their principals and returns decided to follow the law.
Meanwhile, the situation confronting Olowokudejo is not peculiar. There are several other Nigerians who have fallen into similar dubious investments and have been unable to recover both capital and ROI.
The accused, however, acknowledged the default. He attributed the failure to an ‘internal battle’ within his firm. But he did not disclose the supposed battle when he held the firm’s annual general meeting (AGM) in September 2021.
“If we want to keep taking your money, we will continue to take it, but as a business, it would be a foolish move to continue making investments when we have liabilities we are yet to settle…
“So, we rather stick to our status quo and ensure the money in the business generates enough funds to pay you. Delayed but not denied, slow but steady, that way, we are sure of what we are doing as a business entity.”
Attempts by The ICIR to contact Eyiolawi failed. He did not respond to calls and a text message sent to his phone.
On January 12, this reporter also reached out to him but got no response.
Agric ministry calls for due diligence
The Director of Information at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) Theodore Ogaziechi advised the affected persons to make official complaints to the ministry in Abuja.
He also advised that such complaints could be made to the right security authorities such as the State Security Service (SSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Though he acknowledged some of the problems, he emphasised the need for the public to conduct due diligence before investing their resources in whatever investment.
“We have tried to advise the public against it, but I am just hearing about this one. It is when they report that we can know.”
“We have a website they could visit. People should clarify from authorities to ascertain whether the things they are about to invest into are actually true or false.”