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03.04.2021 Justice How NNB Capital & Investment Limited’s Billionaire Promo Ended in N138m Heartbreak for 30 Winners

Published 3rd Apr, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

When Gabriel Okpoma received the message that he had won N2 million from the Better Life Billionaire promo, he was ecstatic with joy. Each time he texted BLB to 5453 on his MTN number, N200 was deducted from his airtime. On average, he was spending N40,000 in a week, and by the time he was chosen as a winner he had spent over N300,000 playing the promo. But two years later, he has spent more money trying to recover his winnings from NNB Capital & Investments Limited!

On August 10, 2019, NNB Capital & Investments Limited, a subsidiary of Eczellon Capital, launched the Better Life Billionaire Promo (BLB Promo) with the promise of creating 30 new millionaires in the country. Gabriel Okpoma was one of the participants; he won N2million. But he and many other winners are yet to receive any money and are owed a total of N138million.

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FROM N5MILLION TO N2MILLION

The Director of the Campaign, Celestine Achi said during the launch, “the BLB Promo is not only novel in its idea but also its prizes are unprecedented, as participants stand the chance of being one of 10 people to win N5 million each, every week or the lucky winner of the N200 million grand prize in the 13-week campaign”.

Okpoma was therefore surprised to be told that his prize money was N2 million and not N5 million as he had thought. This made him sceptical of what was going on. Unknown to him, BLB Promo had changed the modalities of the game after three draws. The changes were approved by both the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) and the Lagos State Lotteries Board (LSLB).

BLB Promo was marketed as a promotion of investment education and financial literacy and had permit from both NLRC headed by Lanre Gbajabiamila and LSLB with Bashir Abiola Are as CEO. However, the failure of NNB Capital & Investments Ltd to pay the winners of the promo has not yielded any action from both bodies.

According to the LSLB, “Upon notification of grievance or petitions on any gaming related issue, LSLB will investigate the reports and where necessary invite the disputing parties for amicable resolution. Grievances are usually resolved within 14 working days.”

According to a local publication, NNB Capital & Investments Limited used the licence of Sponge Nigeria Limited as a special purpose vehicle to drive the promotion across the country. On June 6, 2020, the NLRC slammed a N10m fine on Sponge Nigeria Limited. In a series of tweets where it quoted its Director General, Lanre Gbajabiamila, the letter to Sponge Limited which is said to have been sent on May 27, 2020, the NLRC said: “Your continued failure and/or refusal to pay legitimate winnings is a flagrant violation of the National Lottery Act 2005 (“Act”) and Regulation, and Operational Terms and Conditions, which were duly signed by you on 2nd August 2019. By accepting NLRC permit for the BLB promo, Sponge was legally bound to conduct its affairs with all due propriety and protect participating stakeholders. Under express terms of the signed Terms and Conditions, Sponge promised to ‘ensure that all prizes and monies due to prize winners are redeemed in full.'”

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A FUTILE TRIP FROM ONE END OF NIGERIA TO ANOTHER

The order by the NLRC prompted Sponge Nigeria Limited to invite the winners to their office on Isaac John Street, Ikeja, G.R.A to claim their winning. Okpoma left his heavily pregnant wife in Warri, Delta State, looked for money, and went down to Lagos in October 4, 2019. There he found close to 30 other BLB Promo winners, some coming from as far as Yobe State. The 30 winners were constituted from the second draw up to the sixth draw winners.

At Sponge Nigeria Limited they were told that technical issues had come up and they won’t be able to be paid on that day. They were then advised to return to their homes and the money would be sent to their account. The second draw winners were issued checks of N2 million while the others signed an ‘Acknowledgement to Redeem Prizes’ form with the assurance that on November 2, 2019 the money would be transferred into their accounts. The winner from Yobe State had taken a flight from Abuja and was extremely disappointed.

The second draw winners who had been issued cheques of N2 million were in for a surprise. When one of the winners went to lodge a cheque at the bank, he was told the account had no money in it. This was going to be a long fight and the NLRC and LSBS who were supposed to fight for them weren’t doing enough.

DUD CHEQUES! NO JOYS STILL FOR WINNERS

Another meeting was held this time by the NLRC and the BLB Promo winners in Abuja, the country’s capital. In their Whatsapp group, they contributed money for those who would represent them in the meeting. The representatives from Sponge Nigeria however failed to show up at the meeting. This was the clearest sign that the monies owed to the winners was definitely not going to be paid.

The winners came together again and wrote a petition to the NLRC, setting up another meeting where they were told that Sponge Nigeria didn’t make the expected earning from the lottery and therefore couldn’t pay the winners. The winners came together and agreed that if they could all be paid N500,000 each they would close the case. This was supposed to bring a conclusive solution. The NLRC agreed with the winners and asked Sponge Nigeria to pay the money.

The Lagos State Lotteries Board (LSLB) and the winners had a separate meeting in which LSLB asked the winners to take N120,000 as compensation. It was after this that they came on social media to complain about what they were going through. The CEO of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Babatunde Irukera, came across the complaint and asked that a petition be sent to the FCCPC.

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Around this same time, an online platform, The Nigeria Lawyer, contacted Okpoma, after he tweeted his experience. The publisher of the platform told Okpoma that the NLRC called her not to publish anything again on social media or on any digital news outlet stating that they were working on the issue and would make a press release. It was in this press release that Sponge Nigeria was fined N10 million and ordered to pay the BLB Winners.

When Irukera came across Okpoma’s tweets again he asked if Okpoma had been paid. Irukera issued a letter of compliance to NNB Capital & Investments Limited. The NLRC contacted the winners that same day the letter of compliance was issued and asked them to collect their money the next day in Abuja. This cat and mouse chase seemed to be a game the authorities were playing in collaboration with NNB Capital & Investments Limited. In Abuja, the winners were told they would only be paid 25 percent of what they won despite publishing on their website that money will be paid in full.

FIJ checked out the website of the BLB Promo but it seemed to have been taken down. The BLB Promo had also been issued a permit from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). When the winners contacted MTN on Twitter, MTN responded by stating they were unaware of such promo and the promo was not supported by MTN.  This was going to be the beginning of many denials that were to come, and Okpoma himself would receive emails that contained veiled threats.

The 25 per cent deal was taken by many of the winners who had at this time lost hope of getting back any money at all and had decided that half bread was better than none.

Okpoma told FIJ: “Even till now, those who agreed to take the 25 per cent have not been paid.”

The introduction of the 25 per cent payment had led to a split in the Whatsapp group.

SHATTERED HOPES OF A TWO-TIME WINNER

Rita, a two-time winner of the BLB Promo (N5 million in the second draw and N2 million in the fourth), was issued an open cheque and a certificate of investment and was told by the Director of the Campaign, Celestine Achi, not to present the cheque at the bank because there was no money to be paid to the winners.

For the past two years, since they were told to hold on, Rita has been waiting, going to the draw centre at the Ikeja office, more than five times, and visiting the LSBS more than twice. She, like many other winners, refused to take the N120,000 compensation suggested by the LSBS.

When she won the lottery, Rita was ecstatic. She thought it would play a big role in solving some of the family challenges she was dealing with.

“When I won the lottery I was so happy that it would be a relief for us because I was having some challenges in the family,” she aid. “But I have not gotten anything in return after the whole stress I passed through in going up and down concerning the case.”

She doesn’t think the NLRC is doing enough, considering it licensed NNB Capital & Investments Limited.

Okpoma, who had been at the fore of fighting for his money, received an email from Simisola Muniru, the Senior Legal Officer of the Lagos State Lotteries Board, who stated that they took “a strong exception” to his claims that  “LSLB defrauds or gives licence to companies that defraud”.

She also warned: “Kindly refrain from casting aspersions on our GM and Lagos State Lotteries Board as a whole as we will not hesitate to take actions against you without further recourse to you.”

Another email by another legal officer of LSLB, Kemi Adebiyi, stated that Okpoma’s acton did not bode well for the amicable settlement of the issue. She also said in the email: “You are also directed to delete your posts as regards the petition on our social media page, failure to do so will be met with appropriate necessary attention.”

Okpoma and many others hope that, somehow, they would still be paid their money and that the regulatory bodies would be more proactive. Okpoma told FIJ that even FCCPC no longer responds to their messages.

EVEN PROMO DIRECTOR IS OWED!

When FIJ spoke to the Director of the BLB Promo campaign, Celestine Achi, he said: “I think the winners themselves are not taking the right action. I have told them to take these people to court. They won and they deserve their pay, and if the regulators can’t do what they have to do, the right thing is to go to court.”

Achi said he himself was still being owed, and the vendors such as the printers he introduced to NNB Capital are also being owed as much as more than one million naira.

“At a time they even felt I was supporting the winners, meanwhile all I wanted was just fairplay. ” he told FIJ. He explained that out of all the portals deployed for the promo, the telcos failed to deliver at their end, resulting in more wins and less play.

Achi told FIJ that his job was to announce the winner in the live programme and hand them over to NNB Capital, from where the cheques and investment certificates would be processed and given.

“They (NNB Capital) stopped telling me things, believing I was the one pushing the winners to fight them. If they had settled amicably with the winners I don’t think this discussion would still be going.”

Achi had equally advised some of the winners to take the case to the Nigerian Stock Exchange since NNB Capital was a special purpose vehicle that Eczellon Capital deployed.

FIJ reached out to the Managing Director and CEO of Eczellon Capital, Diekola Onaolapo, but at the time of filing this report, no response was received.

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Published 3rd Apr, 2021

By Socrates Mbamalu

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