A Nigerian based in Canada, Kayode Stephen, has been accused of defrauding several people of millions of naira under the pretext of getting them certificates of sponsorship for care jobs in the United Kingdom.

A home learning website — www.ncchomelearning.co.uk— describes a care worker as ‘a trained professional who supports other people in all aspects of their daily life, including preparing and eating meals, socialising, physical activities, medical support, and toileting support’.

It explained that some care workers work in care homes, and others are employed on a contract basis in patient’s homes, while domiciliary carers travel to different people’s homes in the community.

Sunday PUNCH reports that of the constant wave of young Nigerians surging out of Nigeria in search of greener pastures abroad, especially in recent times, a significant portion of them are actually in search of care jobs in the UK.

For an immigrant who wants to secure such care jobs in the UK, they have to get a certificate of sponsorship, a document affirming that they have been offered employment as a carer in the country.

However, some Nigerians have found themselves at the short end of the stick, after paying Stephen, who used to be based in the UK, millions of naira, and not getting a CoS as the latter had promised.

Thousands duped over non-existent jobs

Indeed, many Nigerians desperate to escape the hardship in the country and seek better lives in the UK have been swindled out of their hard-earned money.

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In December 2023, an agency of the United Nations— International Organisation for Migration— stated that over 1,000 Nigerians had been duped with fake employment letters and other documents.

Speaking in Abuja in December 2023, IOM’s Chief of Mission, Laurent De Boeck, advised potential migrants to be cautious of syndicates that specialised in offering fake employment letters to Nigerians seeking to work in the United Kingdom.

Urging them to seek out proper information before migration, he stated that no fewer than 1,000 Nigerians were currently stranded in the UK, having got visas based on fake employment letters procured for them, only to get to the respective organisations in the UK and then be denied acceptance, because the letters did not emanate from those organisations.

In search of elusive CoS

An accountant trainee based in the UK, Anjola (surname withheld), told our correspondent that she paid Stephen the sum of £12,000 for training as well as a CoS for her boyfriend, who was in Turkey.

She alleged that upon the completion of the training, Stephen gave her boyfriend a fake CoS, which he submitted at the UK Embassy in Turkey in the course of seeking a visa, and was subsequently handed a ban of 10 years from entering the country.

Recalling the incident in a subdued tone, Anjola said, “I am in a dilemma as I was scammed of £12,000 by Stephen, who posed as a care home manager and claimed to allegedly issue certificates of sponsorship after one is done with training. He gave my boyfriend a fake CoS, which he used to unknowingly apply for a visa, and got a 10-year visa ban from the UK.

“He (Stephen) came in as a student from Nigeria, and now, he has absconded from the UK I have reported to the police but he has unfortunately not been found. Meanwhile, he has scammed other people as well, even from Nigeria, of over £100,000, and someone allegedly committed suicide because of his activities.

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“He is still actively defrauding people, as he is still posting ‘CoS available, cars available for export. Let’s deal,’ on his WhatsApp status.”

Narrating how she paid him for the training, the accountant trainee said, “I paid him in six installments. He gave me the account number of a person, who he claimed was his secretary. I later found out that the person I paid to was his accomplice.

“I contacted the bank to make complaints, and I was informed that the account had been closed because it had been flagged for fraud.”

She added that she became worried after the UK Home Office informed them that it needed more time, raising the suspicion that something was fishy about the document.

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“A month and three weeks after the training, he issued the CoS, and told us that we could go ahead and apply for the visa. I remember reaching out to him because an agent was handling the visa process for us, and I asked him for the licence number of the CoS. He told me it was there. But, I told him to highlight the place for me, because I could not see it.

“After my boyfriend applied for the visa, we later got a mail from the Home Office, saying that the application had not been straightforward and they would need more time. That usually happens when one’s document is not complete, and there seems to be something fishy.

“Another email was then sent, stating that he had been banned for submitting a fake document, which was identified as the CoS. I reached out to him (Stephen) after that, but he stopped taking my calls and did not respond to messages.

“He later told the person who referred me to him, Adeyinka Ajayi, that he would give me a refund if I stopped making noise about the issue,” she said.

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Anjola added that she had made a report to the Metropolitan Police in London, and they stated that they were still working on the case.

Yet another victim, simply identified as Adekoya, alleged that he paid Stephen the sum of £8,000. According to him, he was initially referred to a Nigeria-based lawyer, Peniela Akintujoye, by his brother-in-law, who told him that the latter could help him get a CoS.

“I was introduced to Peniela by my brother-in-law, that he could help my family with CoS. He (Peniela) also told me that his contact in the UK could get me a CoS.

“I told him I wanted the CoS to be for a care home in Birmingham (a city in England). But, he told me that he had already submitted four applications in Birmingham, and was waiting for confirmation. He assured me that it would be out in three days. So, I sent the naira equivalent to my sister-in-law in the UK to convert to £8,000 and give Peniela’s representative,” Adekoya told our correspondent.

“After two weeks, I called him and asked if the CoS was out, so I could proceed with the travel process. He replied that it was not out, so I asked him to refund my money, since it seemed that his contact was not very sure; and he promised to do so. However, he contacted me after three days and said he had another contact that could issue a CoS very fast in Wolverhampton and Manchester (also cities in England).

“After I did not hear from him in three weeks, I told Peniela that if the CoS was not issued after four weeks, they should refund my money. But, that was where the problem started. I later discovered that he gave my money to the same person I had advised him to withdraw the Birmingham application from,” he added.

Couple’s relocation plans truncated

Tosin Ojelabi, a Nigerian living in the United Arab Emirates, also alleged that he paid over N7m to Stephen for the same document to enable him to relocate to the UK with his wife and start a family, but never got what he paid for.

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Like Adekoya, Ojelabi told Sunday PUNCH that he came in contact with Stephen through Akintujoye.

Recounting his experience with Stephen to our correspondent, Ojelabi said, “I am one of the victims defrauded by Mr Kayode Stephen. I got to know him through a lawyer, Peniela Akintujoye. I gave him my hard-earned money so that he could help me get a CoS in the UK.

“The plan was to travel with my wife to the UK and start a family. Since Akintujoye is a lawyer and pastor, I felt that I could entrust him with my money. I paid him a total of N7,162,500. All the money was paid on the same day from two different accounts. As of the time I paid, that money was equivalent to about £6,006.”

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Showing our correspondent the receipts of the transfers, Ojelabi stressed that he felt even more confident because Akintujoye assured him that Stephen had procured CoS for several people through him.

He added, “After about four weeks and I did not get anything, I asked him what the update was, and he told me they were trying to get a CoS for me in Birmingham. Later, he stated that a CoS in Birmingham was not coming, and that they would get for me in another location.

“I was angry, but I decided to wait for another five weeks, yet I still got nothing. I then asked him to give me Stephen’s phone number, so I could communicate with him directly. When I sent him (Stephen) a message, he responded well initially, assuring me that everything would be sorted out soon.”

However, the UAE-based Nigerian stated that he suspected that Akintujoye was Stephen’s accomplice and not a victim.

He said, “I have a strong suspicion that Akintujoye is actually an accomplice, even if he says that he did not take a dime from the money. Throughout the process of waiting for the CoS, he kept defending Stephen and was showing me different CoS’s that Stephen had purportedly procured for some people.

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“He was constantly putting things like that on his WhatsApp status, and misleading people. I believe that as a barrister, what he did was very wrong; it was tantamount to using his platform to give people false information.”

Victims unite

United by their unpalatable experiences with Stephen, 26 of his victims later created a WhatsApp group where they discussed how to recover their money from him.

Our correspondent gathered that more cans of worms were opened when the victims started interacting with one another, as they realised to their chagrin that he had even fleeced more people than they had initially thought.

The middleman

Sunday PUNCH further gathered that many of the victims were linked to Stephen by Akintujoye, and some of them believed that the lawyer was Stephen’s accomplice.

However, in an interview with our correspondent, Akintujoye said he had no idea that Stephen would not fulfil his end of the bargain.

He said, “I am a travel agent, and Stephen told me he had links to secure CoS for my clients. I had actually known him (Stephen) before he left Nigeria, and had done some small businesses with him before he left the country; that was the basis of my trust in him. I did not know that he had become a fraudster in the UK.

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“Based on his assurances, I gave my clients his bank accounts to pay into. I also gave him about £58,000 for 10 CoS. Unfortunately, and perhaps not surprising to him knowing what he set out to do from the outset, he did not deliver even a single CoS out of the 10 I paid him for.”

The lawyer added that when the document was not forthcoming, he requested a refund from Stephen, who he said claimed that the monies were with the care homes. He also said that Stephen failed to provide any evidence of payment to the care homes.

“I also requested that he should put me on call with the said care homes, so I could speak with them personally, but he blatantly declined,” he added.

Akintujoye added that he suspected that Stephen’s girlfriend, Saratu Jubril, was in on the crime, as over £70,000 was paid to her account at the behest of her boyfriend.

Long road to justice

Akintujoye further stated that to get justice for the victims, he had written petitions to different law enforcement agencies. According to him, some of those who paid for the CoS were on the verge of being deported, because they needed to renew their visas, and they had given all their money to Stephen.

He said, “We have petitioned the Nigeria Police Force through the Inspector General of Police, Interpol, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, UK police, his former school — the University of Lincoln (in the UK), and the new school he has gone to (CAN College, Canada); as well as the Canada Anti-Fraud Centre.”

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The lawyer added that the National Cyber Crime Centre of the NPF had extended a letter of invitation to Stephen.

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A copy of the invitation letter dated January 2, 2024, and sighted by our correspondent read in part, “The Nigeria Police Force National Cyber Crime Centre is investigating a case of Advance Fee Fraud and Obtaining by False Pretence, in which your name prominently featured.

“In view of the above, you are requested to interview the Director of the Nigeria Police Force National Cybercrime Centre…”

The letter, which was signed by a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Usman Imam, directed Stephen to present himself at their office on January 16, 2024. However, Sunday PUNCH gathered that the invitation was not honoured.

Akintujoye also said he had been going through mental turmoil, as the alleged victims had been piling pressure on him and demanding a refund.

Promise for refund not fulfilled

One of the victims, Ojelabi, claimed that out of the over N7m he paid to Stephen, he (Stephen) refunded only N1,500,000 before going incommunicado. Akintujoye also said that out of about N90m paid by his clients to Stephen, only N6m was refunded.

However, when our correspondent reached out to Stephen over a month ago, he claimed that he was in the process of refunding all the funds that were paid to him.

Admitting that the victims indeed paid him to get certificates, he claimed, “But, my contact messed up the work, and I have started refunding them.”

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He thereafter sent receipts of the payments he claimed he made to the complainants.

But Akintujoye told Sunday PUNCH that Stephen was only trying to be clever by half.

“In my opinion, his (Stephen’s) approach to scam is that he would take a lot of money from people, later refund a part of it and keep the rest. By giving some of the money back, it would seem like he did not defraud the person.

“But, as long as the monies were diverted and not used for the purpose they were meant for, it has an element of fraud. Up till now, he has not provided any proof of his payment to the third parties he claimed to be dealing with.”

When our correspondent informed Stephen that the victims wanted their funds back in full and asked him to give them a specific timeline for the refunds to be made, he said, “They are getting refunds already. That is what I am explaining to you, but I cannot be specific on an exact time.

“However, I can keep updating you as I send the money to them. I am not employing delay tactics. I could not do anything before, but I have started returning their money.”

Stephen later told our correspondent that the victims were not being patient. He claimed that rapid changes in the immigration laws in the past few months had reduced the allocated slots employers in the UK got, as a means of regulating the inflow of immigrants into the country, hence, reducing the duration it took to secure a certificate of sponsorship from a UK employer.

He said, “Nobody was scammed. A few locations had delays, and that is why I have not been able to deliver. I am in talk with my clients, but clearly, they are not being patient.”

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However, when Sunday PUNCH reached out to the policeman handling the case, ASP Victor Okeshola, he directed our correspondent to the Force Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, as he was not authorised to speak to the press on the issue.

But, calls and messages put through to the FPRO were not responded to as of the time of filing this report.

In a similar vein, calls put through to the spokesperson of the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, did not connect, and messages sent to him had not been responded to as of press time.

Source: Sunday PUNCH