Security agencies, Judiciary wade into N125bn fraud at Arena Complex

Ogunsakin Mustapha
10 Min Read

The Nigerian Army,  the judiciary and the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) have launched a massive probe into allegations of  N125 billion fraud over  “Arena”, the large shopping complex owned by the Nigerian Army, and located in Oshodi, extending to the Ikeja Cantonment.

The complex is currently under a 24-year concession agreement with Woobs Resources Limited is subject of litigation both before a Federal High Court, and an Arbitration Panel presided over by a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud SAN. Other members of the panel are Mrs Dorothy Ufot SAN, and Mr Tunde Busari SAN.

Investigators from the Police, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria(Bankers Committee) are separately examining allegations linking a businessman Mr. Whoba Ogo, a lawyer, very senior officers of the Nigerian Army, bankers and a security firm, among others, to the crimes. Investigators, it was also learnt, have also linked the crime to a major foreign exchange racketeering involving some commercial banks in violation of CBN FOREX regulations.

Sources close to the ongoing investigations revealed that security agencies are discovering evidence of money laundering, advance fee fraud, forgery, stealing and criminal conspiracy and conversion of over N125 billion against Ogo and the other suspects.

There are however reasons to believe that Mr. Ogo may have fled the country for the United States of America(USA) as investigators have not been able to trace him within the country.

It was also learnt that the N125 billion and counting, is the property of a firm, Woobs Resources Limited whose Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Arc. James Onyemenam, has already petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the EFCC.
Onyemenam has also filed and won suits against Ogo at the Lagos Court of Arbitration and the Federal High Court of Nigeria while another suit is pending at the Court of Appeal.

EFCC and NPF,  sources on oath of anonymity reported that very senior politicians and high-level government functionaries have been procured to extinguish the ongoing investigation or scuttle this matter by every means, which with the benefit of hindsight may not be unconnected with the delays noticed with securing justice from the courts through enforcement of court judgment. Already the issues are yet to be resolved after 12 years, and despite judgements of a court of competent jurisdiction.

In two of the petitions that prompted the investigation, Onyemenam urged security agencies to get to the root of the matter. He identified Ogo as his former business partner and minority shareholder, who connived with several accomplices to unlawfully remove him from the firm, to clear the way to defraud the company.

Onyemenam, an architect, said the fraud was committed in the course of the company’s execution of the 24 years concession to design, finance, construct and operate a modern market (the Nigerian Army Shopping Complex – The Arena) at the Ikeja Cantonment, Lagos.

In his petition, he told the IGP and the EFCC, the petitioner claimed that Ogo in connivance with several accomplices, including bank officials criminally converted the money belonging to the company and has been using same to acquire properties in Nigeria and abroad. According to him, Ogo absconded with his family to Texas, the USA over 23 months ago immediately the EFCC commenced its investigation in May 2021, from where he has continued to carry out his illegal activities.

The CEO appealed to the IGP to direct investigation into the case with a view to arresting and prosecuting the suspects, if the investigation finds them culpable.

Onyemenam, a majority shareholder in the firm, made the allegations in a May 18, 2023 letter to the IGP titled “Complaint of criminal conspiracy to wit: money laundering, advance fee fraud, forgery, stealing and criminal conversion of the sum of N125 billion and counting, property of Woobs Resources Limited against one Whoba Ogo and others.’

He said: “Mr. Whoba Ogo (a director and minority shareholder of the company) and I entered into a Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) by which we agreed to use the company as the joint venture vehicle to bid for and execute The Arena project for the Nigerian Army;

“I am aware that as from 2009 to date the suspect Whoba Ogo and others have conspired amongst themselves together and with the company’s banks to criminally convert the sum of N125 billion and still counting using the same to acquire properties all over Nigeria and abroad.

“As the majority shareholder and Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the company, I hold 275,000 shares out of the company’s issued share capital of 500,000 shares.”
He explained that the Nigerian Army granted the company a 24 years concession to design, finance, construct and operate a modern market (the Nigerian Army Shopping Complex – The Arena) located at the Ikeja Cantonment, Lagos on a Build, Operate and Transfer basis”.

The Arena, with all its infrastructure, is expected to be transferred back to the Nigerian Army at the expiration of the 24 years and 2 two years construction moratorium. It was also noted that the financing of the project was carried out with borrowed funds from his banker, Messrs. Oceanic Bank International Plc (now Ecobank Plc) and other creditors (ie. contractors and consultants).

He added: “I got a final award dated 6 March, 2015 from an arbitration tribunal.” The tribunal Award, seen by our correspondent in the petition, decided that: The Joint Venture between Mr. Whoba Ogo and James Onyemenam is valid, enforceable and subsisting. Onyemenam is the holder of 275,000 out of the 500,000 fully paid up shares of the company.

The resolution by which Mr. Whoba Ogo purported to remove James Onyemenam as Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the company is contrary to the Joint Venture Agreement and is consequently set aside.

James Onyemenam remains the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of the company. Sterling Chambers (Barristers and Solictors) remain the Company Secretaries of the company.

The petitioner noted that furthermore, the Federal High court in Lagos in a judgment delivered by Justice Faji on 27th April, 2020, dismissed Ogo’s application to set aside the arbitral award and granted his application for the enforcement of the said Award as well as perpetual injunction restraining Whoba Ogo from obstructing his contractual rights.”

He accused Ogo, one Victor Ukutt of Victor Ukutt and co, Col Kingsley Umoh and his security company of illegally taking over The Arena since October 2011, saying they are still perpetuating illegalities in the management of the Arena, “in clear violation of the aforementioned court judgment. The revenues generated from the Arena since 2011 are being criminally diverted to other private purposes.”

He alleged that the suspects fraudulently opened several new bank accounts without the Board of Directors’ resolution so that they can divert the company’s funds, changed the mandates of the company’s accounts with several listed banks of which they are joint signatories without the approval of the Board of Directors of the company.
It is indeed suspected that some bank officials are in collusion with the the alleged suspects in illegally operating accounts without the appropriate mandates from the directors of the company.

He said Ogo, his wife and Ukutt were illegally diverting proceeds from the Arena using shell companies to launder the proceeds of their crimes.
He alleged that it is from the proceeds of these illegal transactions that Mr. Whoba Ogo and his wife Safiya Ogo acquired the following properties listed in the petition: Sandworth Court Arepo, Sandworth Court Ajah, Sandworth Court Karu, L’arcade Mall Owerri, L’arcade Guest House Owerri, Sandworth Garden, Owerri, A parcel of land located at Ibeju Lekki, Land located at Ibeju Lekki containing 488 plots, Plot 87 Oyediran estate, Yaba Lagos, Block 80 Flat 2 Glover estate, Ebute Metta Lagos, 30.63 hectares of land located at Ibah, Lagos, 4808 Coventry Lane, Arlington TX 76017 Texas, USA and Pent floor apartment at Lekki Phase 1, amongst others.

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