Lured with offer of living in Canada, but ended up in Nigeria

•How quest for greener pastures for Francophone countries’ nationals went sour

A syndicate operated for about a year in the Obada area of Abeokuta, Ogun State, while promising foreign nationals of relocating them to Canada. In this report, MICHAEL BABATUNDE writes on the discovery of their camp and what appears to be a fraudulent scheme initiated to fleece unsuspecting victims.

PERTURBED by the harsh living conditions and economic quagmire they face in their respective communities, many Africans are usually driven by the urge to find the proverbial golden fleece in other foreign countries. This urge fuels the business of some certain agents that specialise in helping them to fulfill their dreams.

But for a group of nationals of different African countries, who held to that promise of a new lease of life in a North American country, their new destination, as facilitated by their agents, was Nigeria where they got stuck for many months.

About three weeks ago, a camp allegedly operated by a group of individuals who harboured foreign nationals from Cameroon, Niger, and Togo was recently uncovered in the Obada area of Abeokuta, Ogun State.

The discovery sent shivers down the spines of residents who were alarmed by the presence of the foreigners they had been seeing in their area for weeks.

One of the first thoughts that crossed the minds of many residents was that the camp harboured foreign terrorists or sleeper cells set up to threaten the peace of the community and the state. This fear, it is believed, was hinged on the premise that past reports had fingered foreigners who snuck into the country to unleash terror on unsuspecting citizens.

But in this case, the group of foreigners, it was learnt, were desperately seeking greener pastures in another country but were purportedly scammed, brought to and abandoned in Nigeria to live a dejected lifestyle.

According to residents, the foreigners and victims of the scheme were recently rounded up by the police, bringing a sort of relief to the community.

What the data say

In 2023, Nigeria dropped in global counter trafficking rating from Tier 1 to Tier 2 (watch list), according to the U.S State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIPR). The country had held the Tier 1 classification since 2011.

The new rating implies that the country does not fully meet the minimum standards but is making efforts to meet standards in combating human trafficking.

On the national front, the National Agencies for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) disclosed that it has rescued 21,181 victims of human trafficking following 20 years of operations since its establishment. It said it also secured 639 convictions during the same period.

Despite its many communities bordering the Benin Republic, Ogun State has not been classified as a porous state by NAPTIP but the trafficking of smuggled and contraband materials in the axis as witnessed in the past has worried many stakeholders who believe such development will continue to motivate human traffickers to ply their trade in the area unabated.

One year of immigration scams in Ogun

For over a year, the international migration scam operated successfully in Obada Oko area of Ogun State.

The yet-to-be-named group situated on the Olorunnisola street of the Obada Oko community scammed hundreds of unsuspecting victims who sought to pursue a better life in Canada.

One of the residents of the community, Iya Wanke, who spoke with Sunday Tribune said though they had their suspicions, no one seemed to have the courage to approach security operatives.

She disclosed that two of these foreign nationals were first sighted sometime in February 2023.

“When they first came around February 2023, they were just two foreigners that I know of. We got talking because I understood their language. They told me more of them were still coming. I felt it would be good for our community and businesses.

“They told me about their office and even the business they claimed they run –sale of jewellery. They showed me some of the products but I took no interest. They invited me but I didn’t go; my own business will not even give me a chance.

“Their operations were suspicious and one has to be careful whatever it is one is getting into. You should rather mind your business than put your nose where you don’t have the heart to.

“As they said, in the space of two weeks, lots of French speaking people and even people from the Northern part of Nigeria trooped in. No jobs, just roaming around with claims that they were travelling to Canada soon and waiting for their documents to get ready.

“One of the officials of the scheme told me they are highly connected in Nigeria. That was also one of the things that scared me, I may land myself in big trouble if I go and make any report,” she explained to Sunday Tribune.

It was also gathered that many of the victims of the scheme were well established in their various locations, but the quest for improved standard of living landed them in what they never envisaged.

According to Iya Wanke, the victims were made to pay between CFA 1.1million before leaving their home country for Nigeria. Those who were unable to personally fund their trips were said to have sought assistance from parents and other relatives.

When they arrived through the borders, they were lodged in a hotel, while their documents and belongings, such as phones, were seized for security reasons and under the guise of processing their visas.

Each victim brings two others

Residents of the area told Sunday Tribune that victims of the scheme kept on increasing on a weekly basis as each of the victims, it was disclosed, was convinced to bring two other people into the scheme.

The promise was that their visa processing would be fast tracked by their ability to bring in more people for the trip to Canada.

Having seized their phones on arrival, the organisers of the scheme were also said to have initiated chats with friends of the victims, sending them convincing pictures of “good” life and job opportunities in Canada.

On days they were meant to take their pictures, victims were said to dress up for the occasion.

Sunday Tribune  learnt further that friends of the victims that fell for the trick and paid their agents in their home countries were sent to join their fellows in a hotel while awaiting the day their visas will be approved and moved to Canada.

When they get to the hotel, one of the organisers usually dresses up like someone preparing to travel to Canada as well, as part of efforts to gain the trust of the victims. Another ploy they use is to get close to the victims by way of language and common nationality.

They will be together till they appear stranded after which they get invited to the office where their ‘documents are being processed.’ After such visits, they will be moved to one of the rented apartments where other awaiting travellers are accommodated.

At the office, they are informed that their friend who invited them is coming to pick them from Canada and they are required to bring two people from their home country to join them.

However, in order not to arouse the suspicion of the neighbours in the community, the scammers deliberately spread information that they were into buying and selling of jewellery to cover up their dubious tracks. Therefore, when the foreigners started flooding into the neighbourhood, residents believed they were jewel traders.

As a form of their introduction into the system, some of the victims were made to buy some ornaments at exorbitant cost.

It was also gathered that all efforts made by some of the well-meaning residents to provide an escape route out of the scheme proved abortive as many of the victims hung onto the hope of a promised Canadian trip.

“No one goes into that building (office) and remains in his right senses. It is as if they have used charm on them because some of them are graduates; they have businesses but are here living like slaves. Even when you advise them, they will prefer to remain there rather than go back home,” Iya Wanke added.

Police Public Relations Officer in Ogun State, SP Omolola Odutola

Rescue and stolen generator

A source, who extensively narrated her direct encounter with the victims, said she got close to those involved in the scheme when she got a call from her relatives in Togo that they discovered their children were getting scammed under the pretence of a trip to Canada.

“I became close to these people because I understood their language. This eventually got me more involved when they were arrested because I was translating for the police.

“Last year, I received a call from Togo that they are scamming their children from Togo and they heard they were in Nigeria. A picture of one of those taken was sent to me. I found the person whose picture was sent, he has become so lean but I didn’t notify him because I feel it is dangerous but I kept close watch.

“I attempted to help some of them escape this scheme but it seems something has been done to them. They can’t leave even if they want to,” the source who sells fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) in the area.

According to members of the Obada Oko community, the foreigners were suspected when three generators were reported missing in a couple of days.

“We went to the police to report and also made our suspicion known. Some of us at a time thought they may be terrorists but they have not constituted any threat,” one of the residents, Tunde Liadi, told Sunday Tribune.

Police thereafter detailed some officers to the scene where they reportedly arrested those inside the house. The policemen were later led to their office.

On sighting the police, members of this scheme, suspecting that their game was up, fled.

The foreign nationals met at the rented apartment and the head office were taken to the police division for interrogation.

It was during interrogation that police reportedly uncovered that they were victims of visa fraud.

There may be more

While the organisers of the scheme reportedly fled on sighting the police, residents say some of the foreigners are still in town as they had rented several houses in the area and elsewhere.

Unconfirmed reports are that only about 14 of these victims were found and have been reunited with their families.

A signpost on the street housing the foreigners’ apartment

What security agencies say

The Police Public Relations Officer in Ogun State, Omolola Odutola, was quoted by reports to have confirmed the incident, while dispelling rumours of terrorists’ involvement.

She allegedly clarified that the arrested individuals were unsuspecting Togolese nationals who had been misled with promises of immigration to Canada.

In one of the past reports, the PPRO was quoted to have said: “CP had been briefed, and has since directed that they be brought on Monday to be handed over to Immigration service.

“They are unsuspecting Togolese promised to be taken to Canada. They are not terrorists nor criminally minded based on preliminary investigation.

“The mastermind is gathered to be in jail presently in Togo, please.”

But when Sunday Tribune called the Police Public Relations Officer for an update on the case, she denied any knowledge of the case.

“The command didn’t release any statement on that. I don’t even know what you are talking about. The story did not come from me,” Odutola told Sunday Tribune over the phone.

The PRO of the Ogun State command of Immigration, CSI Oyekanmi Olukoyejo, was also contacted. He disclosed to Sunday Tribune by phone that the command cannot say how the investigation is going.

“Those people were not brought to us. Probably when they finish their investigations they will let us know, but what happened after the report, we don’t know,” he said via phone call.

He later told Sunday Tribune that the command was not officially informed on the development, adding that he only saw it in the news.

“As the PRO, I only saw that wile scouting for news,” he said.

“Immigration didn’t receive messages from police at all. Neither did they bring them to us,” he added.

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