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Mavrodi Mondial Moneybox, a Ponzi scheme known simply as MMM, on Friday opened for business after one month of break, but investors in the scheme have remained stranded as they still cannot access their funds.
In the message, the scheme’s founder, Sergey Mavrodi, said because of the likely deluge of requests from participants, payments would be gradual and have limits.
He also said it would prioritise payments to participants with small amounts, which were not specified, and that big investors would have to wait longer.
“Please, be prepared to wait for a couple of days. We are certain things will then calm down, and the system operation will return to normal.
“We’re the ones setting limits, so it’s completely under our control, and we are not expecting any emergencies in principle. Have no fear and go on about your business as usual.
“As the system is socially oriented, we will make paybacks to the poor and the economically disadvantaged in the first place; it means to the members with small PH (Provide Help) amounts. The richer can wait. Moreover, we’ve warned you repeatedly to only provide help with amounts that are not critical for you.”
With about three million Nigerians involved in the scheme and huge investments at stake, the freezing of the MMM’s accounts a month ago had sparked fears that the ponzi scheme had crashed.
Meanwhile, some investors have expressed their frustrations as they might have to wait much longer to recover their much needed money from the scheme.
Some of the participants told Saturday PUNCH that their funds that were tied down in MMM were meant for various uses including purchase of goods, payment of tuition, debts, rent and others.
The fears and frustrations are further heightened by MMM’s declaration that it would introduce bitcoins as the new mode of payment ahead of its comeback, which some participants of the scheme have described as confusing.
For example, Frank Bunna who deals in computer accessories at Olugbede market in Idimu, Lagos, said he was stranded as he had invested all the money for his goods in MMM.
The Igbo trader, who was looking dejected when our correspondent visited the market, said his future was dashed as he expressed disappointment that he would not be able to get his money back today (Saturday).
He said, “This is my life! How will I live? I invested N2m! Look at my shop, it is totally empty. I invested the whole money for my business on this MMM; I even borrowed N300, 000 that I added to it. I spent six days in the hospital as soon as I heard the account was frozen. I am hypertensive so my blood pressure shot up when I heard the news. To hear that I would not be paid immediately means that I am dead.”
Another Lagos resident simply identified as Korede, who invested over N500, 000 in the scheme, said, “There is going to be crisis in my home. I borrowed my wife’s N300, 000 to invest in the scheme. I didn’t tell her, but I guess she’s suspicious now.
“I promised to return the money December ending, but couldn’t. That was when MMM froze our accounts. It appears that there is going to be some delay before I can get the money. I just hope my wife will forgive me in case this thing fails. To be sincere, I am afraid.”
An undergraduate of the University of Benin, Benin City, Edo State, who identified himself as Chiboy because he did not want his parents to know he invested his tuition and money meant for his dissertation in MMM, said he had been left stranded since December 2016, when MMM was suspended and desperately needed his money back.
“I had thought that I would be able to get my money back immediately MMM reopened but from what I heard, it would not be possible. My mother will kill me. I don’t even know what to do,” he said.
A teacher in a private secondary school in Egbeda, Lagos, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the bursar of the school had invested N1.5m belonging to the institution in the scheme before the scheme was suspended last month.
According to the teacher, when the bursar could not provide the money, he was sacked by the school management and asked to sign an undertaking to return the money when MMM reopened on Saturday, January 14.
“The bursar has since been arrested and in his undertaking, he had said he would get the money back immediately MMM resumed operations. But with this development, it will take some time before he can get paid, and that is if he gets paid at all,” the teacher said.
A travel agent in Lagos, who identified himself as Mr. Oduntan, lamented that he has been going through difficulty after investing N900, 000 meant for paying his rent in MMM with the hope that he would get about N1.2m in return.
Oduntan said he was desperate to recover his funds as his landlord had been on his neck since then.
Also, a banker in a new generation bank in Ikeja, Lagos, told one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity that three of her colleagues were sacked for introducing some customers to MMM.
According to the banker, his colleagues were sacked after the aggrieved customers officially complained to the bank manager that they were stranded because they had invested in MMM, which was introduced to them by some employees of the bank.
The source said, “The customers said they needed their money back. They blamed some of my colleagues for introducing them to MMM and the bank had to sack them.
“One of the customers complained that the money he had put in MMM was meant to roof his house and that his planned relocation to the house has had to be delayed because of that. Another one said the money he had invested in MMM was meant to pay his debts while another said the money was meant for his wife’s business.”
Another banker working in a commercial bank in Akute, Ogun State, also said one of her colleagues was sacked for investing N2m he had loaned from the bank in MMM and was unable to pay back the loan.
A barbing salon operator in Ilorin, Kwara State, Adejare Lawal, who spoke with one of our correspondents on Thursday, said he had invested money belonging to some of his colleagues, which was from their contributory scheme, in the investment.
According to him, he invested around N350, 000 in November, hoping to get a profit of at least N80, 000 by the second week of December before accounts were frozen.
“This is the biggest risk I have taken in my life and at the moment all I can think about is how to get the money back. I was the one coordinating the barbers’ association’s contribution in my area and I invested it in MMM.”
In Oyo State, an estate agent, Mr. Funso Ogungbade, said he had invested the sum of N3.5m, part of which was from the rents he had collected from tenants on behalf of some landlords, in MMM. “My target was that by Saturday, everything would be sorted out but as it is now, I cannot get the money back soon. MMM is saying that it will start by paying the people with small funds and that it will also put a peg on how much we can get,” he said.
A student at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, simply identified as Wole, said he had invested N50, 000 into the scheme a week before it froze all accounts.
Another MMM investor, who simply identified himself as Olayinka, said, “I’m desperate to recover my money. All my investment has gone into it,” he added.
Olayinka, who lost his job over a year ago, said he had invested N700,000 that was paid to him as entitlement in MMM, given how profitable the scheme was before it collapsed.
He said, “I have been counting down since the day MMM announced the closure. Everything I had went into it so I am seriously stranded.”
Another MMM investor, Miss Janet (surname withheld), said, “I lied to my brother to lend me money to pursue my Master’s programme. I’ve not been working for some time, and he was the one who advised me to go for a postgraduate degree. So, when I asked for money, he gave me N150, 000.
“With the way it was booming, I invested my N600, 000 in it, including the money I had saved from my previous workplace. So, I’m in a fix as I’m talking to you.”
Our students invested school fees in MMM –VC
On January 11, 2017, the Vice-Chancellor of Osun State University, Prof. Labode Popoola, told journalists that the school’s authorities would publish in national newspapers names of students who owe tuition, claiming that some of them had invested the money in the MMM scheme.
Noting that the affected students had owed since their enrolment, Popoola said it had come to the knowledge of the school that most of them were enrolled in MMM.
He disclosed that the cumulative debt being owed the school by the students was N2bn.
He said, “We are aware that parents of most defaulting students had given them their school fees and it was revealed that the students had diverted the monies into the MMM scheme.”
Confusion mounts over bitcoin
Findings by Saturday PUNCH showed that more Nigerians have been searching for information about bitcoin on the popular search engine- Google.
For instance, between Thursday and Friday, search for “where to buy bitcoin in Nigeria” on Google Nigeria rose by 200 per cent, according to Google Trends.
Search for “MMM bitcoin” rose by 150 per cent; “What is bitcoin all about?” rose by 160 per cent; while “meaning of bitcoin” rose by 60 per cent.
One of the participants who spoke with Saturday PUNCH, Bunna, said he had no idea of what bitcoin meant and that the more he asked questions about it, the more confused he got.
“I don’t know what bitcoin means. Don’t even bother explaining how it works to me because many people have tried and they left me more confused,” he said.
“Once I get paid, I don’t even want to be part of any MMM again. God knows that nothing in this world will make me do this nonsense again. While other people were celebrating Christmas, I was in the hospital. Even now, I have yet to recover, so why do you think I would want to do this kind of thing again?”
Wole, a LAUTECH student, said, “Another problem now is the introduction of bitcoin to the platform. I have yet to fully understand how it operates. I will read more about it so as to know how to go about withdrawing my money. I just hope the system wouldn’t crash.”
Speaking about the bitcoin option recently introduced, Janet said, “Whether bitcoin or no bitcoin, I want my money, possibly today (Friday).”
Chiboy said he had only heard of bitcoins and was not interested in “such things.”
Olayinka said, “They wouldn’t dare introduce bitcoin at this time. But if they do, we are at their mercy. I just want my money back.”