A staff of Shell Petroleum Development Company, Ezekwugo Joseph, has threatened to sue The Eagle Online over a story in which he used the Police to extort N3 million from a Lagos-based travel agent, Dayo Ayoade.
The Eagle Online had on November 22, 2019 published the story in which Joseph used operatives of the Eagle Crack Unit of the Rivers State Police Command and those of Area F of the Lagos State Police Command to arrest, detain and force Adeoye, the Managing Director of Travel Deals Limited, to pay N3 million for N1.2 million paid into his account and from which the Shell staff’s main agent, Babatunde Ayanniyi, had collected N140,000 to do local bookings for him.
In the letter by his lawyer, James Khanoba, Joseph described the story in which Adeoye narrated his side of the deal, as one sided.
In the letter, he said he verified that Ayanniyi was a staff of Travel Deals Limited, a claim disputed by Adeoye, who described Ayanniyi as Joseph’s travel agent.
Khanoba, like Adeoye admitted, paid N1,257,200 into the account of Travel Deals Limited in two tranches, for which the company, after consulting with Ayanniyi, issued two tickets to Joseph.
Adeoye said: “About a week after (the payment was made), Mr. Ayanniyi came to my office and asked me to issue British Airways ticket to London for Omolola at a cost of seven hundred and fifty five thousand, five hundred and ninety-eight Naira (N755,598.00). On August 19, he was in my office to issue another Ethiopian Airline ticket for Vitalla at a cost of three hundred and fifty three thousand six hundred and two naira (N353,602). The same day, he asked me to issue another ticket for a local flight to Ezekwugo from Port Harcourt to Lagos, but I told him we don’t do local tickets because of the stress involved. He then requested that I send him the balance of one hundred and twenty thousand naira (N120, 000) after deducting the twenty thousand naira (N20,000) that I borrowed him to enable him source for Ezekwugo’s local flight ticket.”
However, when it was time for Joseph to fly, it was to Lufthansa Airways he went, an indication that a ticket for the airline was generated for him but not by Travel Deals Limited.
The ticket also did not bear the imprint of Travel Deals Limited.
Khanoba said in his letter to The Eagle Online, dated November 28, 2019: “On 23rd August 2019 our client tried to check into his departure flight online and after several attempts and a visit to Lufthansa Ticketing office in Lagos, discovered that all the tickets issued to him and his son were fake and non-existent. Due to the criticality and urgency of the trip he had to purchase new flight tickets at huge costs to enable him and his son travel.”
He said the cost of the international and local travels came to N2,226,214 and $2,391, adding: Similarly, our client, at great inconvenience and hardship, had to incur great cost for local trains to connect to towns with his itinerary which the sudden change to his travel plans necessitated as result of the fraud perpetrated.
“Upon our client’s return to Nigeria, he contacted Travel Deal Limited about the fraud but quite unexpectedly received no empathy from the Travel Deal talk more of an offer to make amends. As a responsible and law abiding citizen of Nigeria he reported the case of fraud to the Nigerian Police who in the course of their investigations apprehended the man who hid behind the mask of Travel Deal Limited. It was only after his arrest that the said man offered, in exchange for not being charged for the offences, to repay N3,000,000.00 which our client accepted in good faith even though it was a far cry from the amount the fraud cost him all together as stated above.
“It is therefore quite surprising that a clear case of fraud reported to the police will be cast as ‘connive to extort’ in your publication more so when you made no attempt whatsoever to get our clients side of the story. This is against the basic ethics of journalism and our client sees this as defamation of his character and good reputation among reasonable men and women in society. It is our view that the use of the words ‘connive to extort’ carry the imputation of crime to the character of our client.
“We hereby demand that you cease and desist from further publication of the false and misleading story on your website. We equally demand that you retract the said story and issue a public apology in writing on your website to our client within 7 days of receipt of this letter. TAKE NOTICE, that should you fail ti retract the false, defamatory and totally misleading story and issue the apology as appropriate our client shall take steps to protect his right to a good name and reputation without further recourse to you.”
Adeoye, who spoke extensively with The Sun on the development, said: “On July 22, 2019, one Ayanniyi Babatunde Daniel of Range Travels came into my office to make enquiries about my discount tables for sub-agents and he expressed his willingness to do business with me. He told me to do travel reservations for one Mr Joseph from Lagos to Winnipeg on Lufthansa; Ottawa to Winnipeg for his son on West Jet; Lagos to London return for Omolola on British Airways and Abayomi on Ethiopian Airline. The reservations were made and were immediately forwarded to Babatunde Ayanniyi via WhatsApp. I had earlier given my GTBank account number to him to enable him make payment once his client gives his approval.
“Later that evening, an unregistered number called me and introduced himself as Ezekwugo from Port Harcourt and wanted to know if he’s speaking with the MD of Travel Deals Limited. I answered in affirmation and he told me his agent (Babatunde Ayanniyi) gave him my number and account. I called Ayanniyi and notified him of the call from Ezekwugo and he confirmed that he gave him my details. Shortly after, I got an alert of seven hundred thousand naira (N700, 000) from Mr Ezekwugo. I immediately called the two of them to notify them of the payment. The agent (Ayanniyi) told me that more payment will still be made as his client (Ezekwugo) will be traveling with members of his family.
“The following day, July 23, I received another payment of five hundred and fifty-seven thousand, two hundred naira (N557, 200.00). I again notified Ezekwugo via text message and also called Mr. Ayanniyi to let me know the tickets to be issued, as I will not be responsible for any increase in fares. He told me he would liaise with his client and get back to me and even confirmed that more payment will still be made.
“About a week after, Mr. Ayanniyi came to my office and asked me to issue British Airways ticket to London for Omolola at a cost of seven hundred and fifty five thousand, five hundred and ninety-eight Naira (N755, 598.00). On August 19, he was in my office to issue another Ethiopian Airline ticket for Vitalla at a cost of three hundred and fifty three thousand six hundred and two naira (N353,602). The same day, he asked me to issue another ticket for a local flight to Ezekwugo from Port Harcourt to Lagos, but I told him we don’t do local tickets because of the stress involved. He then requested that I send him the balance of one hundred and twenty thousand naira (N120, 000) after deducting the twenty thousand naira (N20,000) that I borrowed him to enable him source for Ezekwugo’s local flight ticket.”
The Sun went further: The trouble began on September 26. “An unregistered number called me and introduced himself as Inspector Dominic from Port Harcourt. He asked if I know Ezekwugo; and why did you issue him a fake ticket? He asked. I told Inspector Dominic that though I didn’t know Ezekwugo in person, we had spoken twice on phone and I didn’t issue any ticket to him. I further told the Inspector that the two tickets I issued from the payment Ezekwugo gave me were in favor of Jenmi Nikky Omolola and Vitalla on the instruction of his agent, Ayanniyi Babatunde and that the balance of his money has since been transferred to Ayanniyi, his agent. Inspector Dominic later sent me snapshots of the purported fake tickets. I told him that what he sent to me did not originate from me as they did not even resemble my company’s ticket format.
“Shortly after, I called Ezekwugo to intimate him of what Inspector Dominic told me but was surprised when he affirmed it. When I questioned why he didn’t notify me when he realized the ticket given to him by his agent were fake, he had no answer to that, but instead insisted my company has been used to defraud him by his agent.”
It occurred to him that he had a problem on his hand when Ayanniyi Babatunde, the travel agent that came to his office to do all the negotiations suddenly became unavailable.
“He initially refused to pick my calls and when he eventually did, he was so evasive, claiming he was not around,” he said.
Arrest and detention
The first trouble came four days later when Ayoade realized he could no longer conduct an online transaction.
He continued: “On September 30, I realized my GTBank account was frozen and I had to go to GTBank to enquire why the restriction on my account. To my surprise, the bank’s Chief Security Officer (CSO) showed me some documents from the Inspector General of Police office approving my arrest on sight. I followed him to the Police station hoping that the issue would soon be resolved since I knew I had not committed any fraud.
“We met the DPO who took us to the Area Commander and after so much going back and forth, I was detained and locked up in the cell. Due to my ill health, I was moved from the cell to stay behind the counter overnight. My health got worse the following day and was taken to the hospital (Cottage) on the order of the DPO and was handcuffed to the bed. I was treated for asthma. In the course of the treatment, it was discovered I had developed high blood pressure. I was moved to the police station again on Thursday morning where I spent the day and night behind the counter before Inspector Dominic finalized his paperwork and we proceeded on the trip to Port Harcourt.
“We were to move by road but I was made to buy flight tickets for the two police officers that came from Port Harcourt, namely Inspector Igwe Dominic and Sergeant Oludare Olamide.
“We got to Port Harcourt that same Friday, I wrote my statement with the police and later met one Mr. Chukwukaelo Ogadinma who claimed he was Ezekwugo’s personal assistant. Ogadinma insisted that I must pay N3.5 million before I could be granted bail. It was later discovered that Ogadinma is a staff of Shell and was employed by Ezekwugo to further confuse and give verity to the allegation against me. To further intimidate me as well as extort money, Ogadinma boasted of the huge sum of money he had paid the police to see to my arrest and insisted he must recoup the said amount before my release. All appeals to release me fell on deaf ears.”
The steep price of freedom
Ayoade was ready to refund the said amount if only to avoid staying longer in a cell with hardened criminals.
“But my proposal to be responsible for the N2.2million which was the cost of the fresh ticket Ezekwugo claimed he bought fell on deaf ears; Ogadinma insisted that I must pay that money or remain in police custody. Already I was locked up in the cell with criminals and couldn’t imagine spending another night there.
“When all pleas fell on his deaf ears, a friend of mine, Jide Akinuli transferred N3 million to Ogadinma; upon receipt of the payment, which he confirmed via online banking, Ogadinma asked the Police to release me. After all the necessary paperwork, I was released on bail later that Friday night.”
Police’s contradictory story
In hindsight, it appears that Ayoade was framed.
When contacted the Police Public Relation Officer of Rivers State Command, Deputy Superintendent of Police Nnamdi Omoni pleaded ignorance of the incident.
“You need to get your facts right, I have contacted the leader of that team and he assured me that such a thing did not happen,” Omoni asserted.
On the contrary, an impeccable source at Area F, Ikeja, Lagos, where Ayoade was first detained before he was handed over to the detectives from Operation Eagle Crack of Rivers State Police Command, confirmed to Saturday Sun that detectives attached to that department, led by one Dominic, took him to Port Harcourt on November 4, 2019.
Ayoade insisted on his innocence, pointing to the disappearance of the travel agent who started the fraud. “I reported the matter to the police in Lagos and since then, Babatunde has disappeared,” he said. “The amount that was paid into my account for the transaction is N1.2 million, but the police in Rivers State forced me to pay N3 million. I want the police to give me back my money and to also produce Babatunde who escaped with their money. I have proof of payment and the phone number of all the policemen responsible for my arrest.”