Inside Nigeria's booming fake naira business
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Inside Nigeria’s booming fake naira business

Efemena Sowho



fake naira - Inside Nigeria's booming fake naira business

This appears to be an unusual times in Nigeria; a time of whistle blowing. So, it was, on February 13, when a former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, alarmed Nigerians on the existence of a huge percentage of fake naira notes in circulation in the country.

Mailafia, who made the disclosure while speaking at the opening session of a three-day public hearing on the 2017 budget appropriation process in the National Assembly, put the percentage figure at 20.

The topic of the lecture was: “Public Finance in the Context of Economic Recession: Innovative Options.”

Though, Mailafia seemed to be saying the obvious, the pronouncement coming from somebody who should have the facts, made it more authentic.

He was saddened that concerned authorities pretend not to be unaware of the enormity of the issue, which, according to him, was detrimental to the growth of the economy.

Mailafia said with such magnitude of fake monies in circulation, original currencies become scarce. He then thundered: “Bad money chases away good money.”

However, the seeming missile did not come as a surprise to many, it nonetheless rattled the financial authorities. And the CBN expectedly reacted.

The apex bank did not deny the fact that there is, indeed, fake currencies in circulation, it only stated that the 20 per cent quoted by Mailafia was exaggerated.

It went on to put the percentage of counterfeit naira notes in wrong hands at less than one per cent. In a statement issued by Isaac Okoroafor, CBN spokesman, the bankers’ bank described the claim as “spurious and uniformed”.

Okoroafor said: “While we acknowledge that no currency in the world is immune from counterfeiting, we make bold to state that the rate of faking in Nigeria has been very minimal due to appropriate policies put in place by the bank.

Indeed, our records at the bank clearly indicate that the prevalence of fake notes in Nigeria from January to December 2016 was less than one per cent (0.0014%) or 14 counterfeit pieces out of one million bank notes.”

In spite of this discrepancy, the public have their experiences. For instance, many often complained before now about withdrawals of fake naira notes from the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) across the country.

A sources in one of the new generation banks, who does not want to be mentioned, told Saturday Telegraph in confidence that though notes loaded in ATMs are carefully sorted, it is not unusual for a few fake notes to be slipped in among the already sorted cash by unscrupulous employees.

Another bank source also claimed that dubious officials intentionally liaise with the criminals to sneak in some fake notes among those to be loaded into the ATMs. “At the end of the day they would share the loot together.

This has been happening and they are smart about it. That is part of the criminality and fraud within the banking system,” the source said.

A journalist, who preferred to be identified simply as Tony, was a victim a few months ago. He recounted his ATM experience to Saturday Telegraph.

“It was a Friday, I had withdrawn N20,000 in N1,000 notes from an old generation bank’s ATM at Okota, Isolo, which I intended to keep at home to take care of my family for the weekend.

“But, about 2pm when I was about leaving for the office, a cousin phoned from the village asking for N10,000 to complete an assignment he was handling for me.

So, I took out of the money that I withdrew from the ATM that morning and drove to the bank’s branch at Oshodi to make a deposit into my cousin’s account.

“I was taken aback when in counting the money the teller pulled out a single note and drew my attention to the fact that it was a counterfeit. I was sitting right across the lady in the bulkroom and so there was no doubt that the fake note was from the bundle I brought.

I tried to explain to her how I came by the note but she had already perforated it. I had no choice but to replace it with two other N500 notes,” he said.

There are many other stories. Not too long ago a witness revealed how CBN syndicate runs a fake currency scam at the Ibadan branch of the apex bank.

Edwin Ennah, a retired Head of Currency Processing and Disposal Unit, said that he discovered that some people were replacing cut newspapers and lower denominations with N1,000 that were supposed to be destroyed.

Testifying before Justice Nathaniel Ayo-Emmanuel, Ennah said that since he reported his discovery in 2013, no investigation had been conducted by the branch.

He added that his inquest had revealed that there were 11 boxes which were supposed to be containing N10 million each of N1,000 denomination, totalling N110 million; but, were replaced with either lower notes or newspapers cuttings.

Upon discovery of a mix of cut newspapers and lower denominations in the boxes sent by a new generation bank, Ennah asked the bank to send their representatives to witness the inspection of their boxes.

But, to his surprise, the bank declined response until he reported the matter to the CBN office in Abuja.

A DVD seller in Lekki, Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State, also ran into trouble over unlawful possession of N15,000 fake N1,000 notes, a few years back. Chinedu Oneli, 37, after his arrest allegedly confessed to the police that he buys fake naira notes at Alaba International Market, Ojo, Lagos, and surreptitiously exchanges same for original notes through bus conductors and traders.

According to the police, nemesis caught up with the suspect, who claimed to be from Imo State, when he went to buy a tin of milk with one of the fake N1,000 note at a shop owned by a woman at Jakande Estate, First Gate , Lekki, Lagos.

The trader, it was gathered, discovered that the N1,000 note the suspect brought out to pay for the tin of milk was fake. And while pretending to be looking for change for Oneli, she allegedly alerted some youths in the area about the development.

The youth were said to have confronted the suspect who simply took to his heels. He was pursued and caught. During interrogation, he allegedly confessed that he bought the fake currency notes at Alaba Market. Oneli told the police: “I have been doing the business since 2010.

Zida Ozegba, a trader at Alaba market, normally sells N8,000 fake notes for original N1,000 and N16,000 fake notes for original N2,000.

“I exchanged the fake notes for original naira through bus conductors and traders. I will board vehicles and give the conductors N1,000 fake notes for a journey of N100 and they will give me N900 change.

Before I move around Lagos the whole day, I must have finished spending the whole fake notes in my possession and make enough profit.”

Two men who were alleged to be members of a syndicate that produces fake naira notes were equally arrested by the police on Oluwakemi Street, in the Ojodu Abiodun axis of Lagos State.

The suspects, Hope Ihesiaba and his brother, Ifeanyi, were arrested by the Isheri Police Division on a tip off by a woman, who sold foodstuffs in the area.

When the operatives got to their houses, 80 pieces of fake N1,000 notes, two laptops, a sledge hammer and a cutlass were said to have been recovered.

Apart from the two suspects, two friends of Ifeanyi, a lady identified simply as Ijeoma, and a man identified only as Paul, were arrested by the police for allegedly receiving and spending some of the fake notes from the suspects.

Ihesiaba said: “I do not produce fake naira notes. I have a friend who does that. His name is Odiyi, and he sells in a market in Aba. I gave him N28,000 real money and received N80,000 fake naira notes. I knew the money was counterfeit but I did it to help myself.

I needed money and I was tempted to collect the notes.” In another revelation, operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in Borno State, paraded a man said to be circulating fake naira notes among unsuspecting traders in markets within the metropolis on February 16, 2016.

State Commandant of the Corps, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim, confirmed in Maiduguri that there had been complaints of increase in circulation of fake naira notes in the town.

He said: “Based on an intelligence gathering, our men were able to arrest a circulator of fake naira notes in Maiduguri.

The suspect was approaching shop owners to make purchases with the fraudulent pieces of Nigerian currencies.

Wrappers of N1,000 notes totalling about N500,000 was used for a transaction by the suspect to defraud a shop owner.

The suspect was not involved alone. He was doing it with other collaborators.” Another syndicate of international fraudsters who specialises in the production of fake Nigeria currencies and circulating them within and around Borno State was also arrested about the same period.

According to one of the arrested fake currency kingpins, Adam Ajid, the counterfeits were produced in Cameroon and smuggled into Nigeria.

The suspect said a bundle of N100 notes of fake N1,000 costs N11,000 while he sells them to fraudsters at the cost of N16,000.

The suspect and his group arrested at different occasions were caught after tip-off from informants. Over N4.5 million worth of fake currency, all in crispy N1,000 notes, were recovered from them by the police.

“Following a tip off, our Special Anti-Robbery Squad personnel arrested the suspect with bundles of N1,000 notes in three different serial numbers to the tune of N4, 515,000 strongly suspected to be fake,” the police said.

Ajid, who admitted to the crime, said he became an agent for his suppliers after becoming bankrupt in his business due to the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency. “I am an electronic merchant, buying wholesales from Alaba market and selling in Cameroon,” he said.

“It was when my business went down that I decided to join the fake money sales. I was introduced into it by one Mallam Abdullahi who is a Cameroonian that I knew during my business trips to Cameroon.

Since then, he used to sell a bundle of N1,000 notes to me at the rate of N11,000, which I resold to known fraudsters at the rate of N16,000.″

As if in competition, the Sokoto State command of NSCDC, paraded two suspects with fake N3 million currencies on October 27, 2016.

The State Commandant, Babangida Aliyu, said the hoodlums were arrested at the Tudun-Wada area of the state with N1,000 fake denomination notes.

The culprits, 50-yearold Aliyu Dahiru, who hails from Potiskum in Yobe and 30-year-old Adamu Abdullahi from Dandume in Katsina State, were in Sokoto to spend the fake notes, and had already spent N300,000 before luck ran out of them. Same year, the Sokoto State Hisbah Commission arrested a local government councillor, allegedly with fake U.S. dollars.

According to its commander, Dr. Adamu Bello, the councillor (names withheld), was arrested when men of the commission raided a house allegedly used for prostitution at Gandi, a village in Rabah Local Government.

“The councillor was arrested with fake $500 and N1,000 notes. As at the time of arrest, he was wearing amulets which he claimed were used for protection,” Bello said. Also in Rivers State, the police arrested three suspected fraudsters in the state for circulating fake naira notes, on October 19, 2016.

The suspects, including a woman named Helen Okeke, were said to have been arrested by operatives from the Rumuepirikom Division of the State Police Command.

They were alleged to have photocopied N500 and N1,000 denominations of the Nigerian currencies and were arrested when one of them identified as Ogah, attempted to deposit the money in a bank.

Nemesis also caught up with two suspects who were found in possession of some fake naira notes in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, recently.

The two suspects, Ademola Abiodun, 28, who resides at Ajiboye street, Ile- Epo, Lagos State and Ajarat Sulaiman, 30, of Ajilogba, Aso area, Ifo, Ogun State.

They were arrested by men of the NSCDC, Ogun State command. The Command spokesman, Kareem Olanrewaju, said that attention of his officials on surveillance was drawn to a mob action around Vespa bus-stop area of Ifo, in Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State.

According to him, “the first suspect, Abiodun, male, 28, bought food from a vendor hawking food around Vespa bus stop. He paid the food vendor with a N500 note,which was a fake. This brought a hot argument between them, thereby attracting other people.”

Abiodun claimed to have collected the fake naira notes from another friend of his, when he assured him that he would spend them, despite the fact that he knew that those notes were fake. Exhibits recovered from the suspects include two phones and 14 pieces of fake N500 notes.

Bureau de Change operators are not left of this uncanny business. On November 22, 2016, N1.7 million was discovered to have been exchanged with fake dollars. Usman Nafada, a Bureau de Change operator, had connived with an accomplice to swindle Abdullahi Uba, of the sum at the Obalende area of Lagos during the course of changing some dollars to naira. Uba had approached Usman, requesting to change some naira to American dollars.

“About 30 minutes after, the complainant discovered that the notes were fakes. He ran back to Nafada, but he denied knowing of the fraud. He took the victim to where he changed the money, but his accomplice had disappeared,” the police said.

Two other men were also arrested in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, while trying to buy some dollars with fake naira notes.

It was gathered that the suspects mixed real and counterfeit naira notes amounting to about N2 million.

Luck ran out on them after the Bureau de Change operator noticed that of the N2 million presented to him, only N50,000 was real naira notes.

The operator, who was identified as Sani, raised the alarm which resulted in the arrest of the two suspects.

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Updated on February 8, 2019 at 11:56 am

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