Worsened by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, about 23 million Nigerians out of the 70 million working population are unemployed. A self-acclaimed international affiliate company, Proways Dynamic Resources, is taking advantage of people’s desperation for jobs to extort them, reports Gabriel Ogunjobi, who presented himself as a job seeker to expose their deceit.
Simon Davies (not real name) is a 29-year-old indigene of a tight-knit community in Osun State. He hustled to study at a public university about 10 kilometres from home. Before completing his undergraduate studies in 2017, he had found a lover, Titilola Adetuberu (not real name), who would graduate a year after him.
They both agreed to begin a family in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State. Davies’ modest upbringing matches that of Adetunberu. As it is with many Nigerians, the lovebirds aspired to get a decent white-collar job in the booming labour market of Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State.
Davies got a teaching job with a private school in 2019. While Adetuberu was wrapping up her mandatory national youth service in 2020, her spouse surfed the internet for jobs and found several adverts on Facebook.
“I thought they were real,” said Davies, preparing to detail his new family’s experience in the world of job scams.
“I once applied for the job. I was called for an interview but had to ditch the attempt after I got the teaching job. I have lways preferred teaching to any other.”
Davies encouraged his spouse to actively look out for opportunities on social media, seeing that he had got an invitation for one in the past.
“I applied for her and she was called for an interview,” Davies told FIJ. “On her own too, she tried a similar job advert on Facebook and got called.”
Double job invitations seemed like a good start for the young couple. But, to Adetuberu’s surprise, both invitations turned out to be an avenue for extortionate marketing agents of the same company to milk unsuspecting job seekers.
“First, we were asked to pay for a pre-employment licence fee that would be used in our job training,” she said.
Somehow, that did not appear a red flag to her because she was desperate for a job. “I paid an upfront fee of N10,000 while a few others that contested the payment were sent out of their office,” she noted. Her spouse interjected, saying, “That can never be me. It’s true we wanted a job. I may not be rich yet, but too smart to fall for fake promises like this.”
Two days later, Adetuberu went to the second place she had been offered an appointment as well. There, in the Iwo road area of Ibadan, she recognised at least two faces among the attendants she had earlier met at the sawmill area. “The same strategy, same people,” she said.
It was at that moment she realised she had been deceived into parting with N10,000 and may have to lose more unless she backed out.
HUNTING FOR JOB
Like Adetuberu, many Nigerians lament being victims of job scams, but most times, they are not able to back their complaints with evidence because of the desperation that landed them in the net of these cunning marketers.
Other victims like Iniobong Umoren, a recent graduate of the University of Uyo, Akwa-Ibom, lost their lives in the precarious search for a job. Through Twitter, a microblogging platform, Umoren was lured to attend an interview for a job in April 2021. The invitation turned out to be an avenue for human organ traffickers to fetch a prey.
The fake employer, Frank Akpan, was apprehended after a voracious search for missing Umoren. The search began from the same social media where Umuren was deceived.
Using Adetuberu’s job search style, this reporter created a Facebook account as Ibidapo Olanrewaju in November 2020 and started subscribing to job offers. In less than an hour, offers rolled in.
Proways and Happuch appeared the most attractive because of their locations, job description and proposed remuneration: a pay range between N100,000 and N120,000.
- EMPLOYER THAT ‘BEGS’ JOB SEEKER FOR INTERVIEW
On November 5, 2020, their text for a job interview read: “We acknowledge receipt of your resume as an applicant and we sincerely appreciate your interest in this role.
“Kindly be informed that you have been invited for an interview with PROWAYS DR LTD. You are to come with your CV, passport photograph and a printout of this mail. Dress corporately and be punctual.”
The venue was 12, Alafia close, opposite Olowotinnfowosaanu Shopping Complex, Iwo Road, Ibadan.
On the three occasions this reporter tested the authenticity of this offer, it proved fake.
At first, a request for the postponement of the interview was made on the basis that the mother of the undercover reporter was sick. Without any hesitation, the request was graciously granted.
“Just reply to that message with a date you’ll like it to be refixed,” said the recipient of a phone call made to the company.
The evening before the newly scheduled date, this reporter phoned again, asking to be allowed to stay with his recuperating mother. The same call recipient was still willing to fix another interview date.
“Go to the inbox where you got this invite and request for another date,” she said. “You will only have to reprint the last slip you receive and bring along with your CV.”
This process was repeated for Happuch Consulting, which the same company had disguised as, and the feedback this reporter received was similar.
In a country where over 23 million Nigerians out of 70 million working-class population are competing for limited job opportunities, according to 2021 statistics from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS), applying to work as a sales manager with a bachelor’s degree unrelated to economics cannot not be as easy as Proways made it seem.
These two signs gave out Proways as a fraud, but the third was even more convincing.
On November 20, Stanley Chikezie was spotted in front of the Olowotifowosanu Complex looking stranded as he held his mid-size brown envelope under the armpit.
Since this reporter appeared like a job seeker, he asked: “Are you around here for a job interview too? Please where is their office?”
Chikezie had secured an appointment with Happuch Consulting Company, while this reporter’s invitation was from Proways, but the venue for the two different interviews was the same.
This was another proof the whole arrangement was fake. But Chikezie did not know this.
At the entrance was a man who later identified himself as Sebastian Ebonhor, a top agent of the company. His job at the entrance was to check the reference number on the slip and dish out a single warning before allowing visitors in.
“As soon as you enter, you are to be on your own because you came here alone. You are not allowed to speak to anyone inside,” he said with a grin plastered on his dark, oblong face.
“Non-compliance means eviction.”
Describing their practice, Adetuberu had earlier told this reporter: “They operate like a cult. They have mastered the craft of secrecy to keep people from being persuaded against their gimmicks.”
His words were now getting clearer.
STRATEGIES TO EXTORT YOU
Grandiose terms are a feature of the range of tricks used by Proways to extort money from job seekers. The first is the delay tactic.
Within 45 minutes of waiting, the reception was at full capacity. Over 40 individuals were seated to write a 15-minute verbal reasoning test. Scores were never given, but, incredibly, no one was told to go home for failing.
Afeez Akinyoade, the Chief Executive Officer of the company, started a lecture. The 40-year-old communicated fluently in Yoruba and English languages and endeared himself to his audience, entertaining them with Fuji songs. In fact, he flaunted the nickname ‘Osupa’, a nomenclature given to Saheed Okunola, a popular Fuji musician.
“Now, there is another test to be done,” he said while switching his countenance to appear serious. “It is not hard, but it is the part where we know those who deserve to take this job.”
Continuing, he said: “If you are yet to understand what this job is about, be on your feet.”
Five out of over 40 people rose and they were immediately shown the way out. Chikezie was one of those five people.
Those few ones were the tares among the wheat, according to Akinyoade, and they must be uprooted. “They are not ready to work and they will still not allow those willing to do so.”
IT’S A MARKETING JOB TO SELL DRUGS!
In the first class, there was no mention of any kind of multi-level network marketing; it was just what they called the mental adjustment of the poverty mindset to wealth.
In the second class, however, people were lectured on wealth creation. The lecturer referenced Robert Kiyosaki’s cashflow quadrant and motivational quotes from his book, ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’.
The applicants were also given an assignment to distinguish between multi-level marketing (MLM) and pyramid schemes.
Having paid at least N2,000 upfront for a licence, hundreds of applicants gathered from different batches of screening done in November were now used to punchlines, such as “business is like a wheelbarrow; nothing happens until you start pushing”.
Akinyoade told the story of his father standing by him when everyone, including his mother, derided him because he lost a job.
Akinyoade, now married to Subair Fatimah with three children, lived in Akobo, one of Ibadan’s most expensive residential estates. In this testimony, he accrued wealth through Proways.
“A lot of people are poor today because they missed an opportunity five years ago and are currently living in regret. Nigeria’s economy is not friendly to 90% of Nigerians and your salary can never be enough. You need help! You need to pay bills and build investments so you don’t work all your life,” he said.
“Many people were lamenting the fall in the rate of a naira to a dollar during the coronavirus lockdown, but I was jubilating because I was making more money.
“The truth is your responsibility can never be reduced until you are dead. But I have good news for you. All you need to do is wake up and face your challenges. Embrace a new mindset and believe in yourself.”
After the get-rich-quick lecture, Akinyoade moved to the actual deal: marketing of products, such as drug supplements and creams, that have become difficult to sell in Nigeria because of the poor economy.
Classes were held every Saturday from the first meeting until the day of induction for unsuspecting applicants who bought into Akinyoade’s marketing brand.
Proways was finally unveiled as an affiliate of Neolife, one of the three companies that merged to form Golden NeoLife Diamite (GNLD) in 1958. GNLD is an international networking and multi-level marketing company with a global support structure around the world, including Nigeria.
Like GNLD, NeoLife’s agents rise to different levels, such as 1 Ruby, Sapphire and 5 Diamond Director, which Akinyoade had now assumed to become a distributor in Nigeria. The more their agents were able to sell the drugs and refer more customers, the more the referee stepped up.
Akinyoade advised any of his ‘new employees’ who had temporary jobs not to quit until they were convinced the marketing business could sustain them.
“You can even work with us (not for us) from anywhere in Nigeria. All you need to do is to key into the package and keep marketing,” he said.
Over a hundred of these applicants were inducted at the Ibadan North East Local Government Secretariat on December 15.
Akinyoade was also on Agidigbo radio FM to advertise his products.
A REFUND AFTER BEING SCAMMED?
Ten months after this reporter first went undercover to Proways, he returned to see if he could be refunded his N22,500 since nobody tried to reach him for the “induction package” or follow him up as an inductee.
Insisting that he had received a job in Ondo and might not do Proways’ biddings again, this reporter demanded to be reimbursed, but Akinyoade said “it’s unlikely you will get a refund”.
“What we can only do is to try to check your record and see if we can get your record back and sell some products in your package and refund N10,000,” he said.
“In any case, call me later in the week so I can let you know how that turns out.”
Unsurprisingly, he stopped answering calls from this reporter.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS, WHAT THE GOVERNMENT DOES
According to Samuel Atiku, a development economist for the International Budget Partnership, a US-based think-tank, the strategy used by multi-level marketing in sourcing their staff in Nigeria is illegal.
He blamed the government for weak regulations.
“Unfortunately, the Nigerian government that should regulate marketing firms has not been able to rise to the occasion because it is also culpable in the abuse of labour laws,” he said.
“At federal, state and local levels, the government owes salaries of workers without recourse, which is also contrary to the labour laws.
“The standard practice is that there must be clarity in the job description before you can engage job seekers for employment, but those MLMs parading themselves as recruitment agencies are doing otherwise, which is illegal.
“In other countries, such as Ghana, this is punishable. But Nigeria is not prosecuting this.”
Atiku referenced Section 7 of the Nigerian Labour Act, which provides that a worker should have a written statement that specifies the rate, manner and period of payment of his salary.
Section 15 of the act also provides tha “wages shall become due and payable at the end of each period for which the contract is expressed to subsist, that is to say, daily, weekly or at such other periods as may be agreed upon.
Akinyoade’s Proways flouted this labour law.
Atiku added that the “huge burden of employment in Nigeria became an opportunity for the MLMs like GNLD to abuse the circumstances and in fact treat job seekers as slaves”.
He implored the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) to advocate for strong regulations in the course of recruitment, both in the public and private sectors.
When FIJ confronted Akinyoade with allegations of fleecing unsuspecting job seekers, he denied any wrongdoing.
“ I do not advertise jobs. I have never advertised any job. My company is registered under the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), and I have my office where I train people on how to build their businesses,” he said.
“The issue of payment comes when a person must have shown interest in partnering with us. Such a person will be clearly told about the fee for the seminar and given his or her package. Someone may feel he/she has been defrauded when he expects that the company will help him sell the products in his package but that doesn’t happen.”
Akinyoade completely denied getting applicants from Facebook. “I can beat my chest that it is not true,” he said. “I am more than willing to face anything on that.”
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