The meteoric rise of one of the world’s largest Ponzi schemes in Nigeria

The meteoric rise of one of the world’s largest Ponzi schemes in Nigeria

AGENCY REPORT FROM CNN
In spite of the government’s warnings against it, many Nigerians
continue to invest in Mavrodi Mundial Movement (MMM), a Russian
company that was responsible for one of the world’s largest Ponzi
schemes of all time.
On 13 December, the company said it was ‘freezing’ all confirmed
accounts. While many that are opposed to the scheme believe the
suspension may be an indication of an imminent collapse, MMM Nigeria
assured its members it was only freezing the system for a period of
one month.
“The reason for this measure is evident. We need to prevent problems
during the New Year season, and then, when everything calms down, this
measure will be canceled,” the administrator said in a message sent to
all members.
In spite of the indication that things may not be in order  with MMM,
Ifeanyi Okoro and some other members remain confident in the scheme.
The founder of the MMM financial pyramid Sergei Mavrodi waves as he
leaves the Matrosskaya Tishina prison in Moscow, 22 May 2007.
Confidence remains
“Even with this minor setback, I still strongly have confidence in
MMM. The government and the press will amplify this but we all know
that MMM is not going anywhere,” Okoro said.
Joe Sanya revealed that he had already invested NGN1 million in the
scheme. While expressing confidence in MMM, he warned that the only
thing that could harm the system is the fear the news would instill
fear in MMM’s prospective members and confirmed account holders.
“The abrupt action of MMM has brought lot of fears and panic already
which could even in itself crash the system. Guiders will have to come
up with a plan to put the mind of Nigerians at ease. I don’t know how
they will do that but it has to be done. We need a constructive
counter move from MMM against the enormous negativity going on via
social media right now or else my one million naira and those of my
friends will be gone.”
Michael Mbah, an MMM Nigeria top  guider, added: “This is a temporary
measure to save the system and saving the system is saving our money.
Our money is safe. By January, the system will be back and it will be
stronger.”
How did MMM successfully convince many Nigerians to look away from the
facts, warnings and experiences elsewhere? The key is understanding
how MMM works.
‘Like a charity’
A member is required to make payments  directly into the bank account
of another member. When this is successfully done, the payer is
qualified to receive three times what he or she paid from someone
else.
The scheme was launched in November 2015 in Nigeria but it got popular
in 2016 and its philosophy is to financially empower its members who
are committed to helping one another. New members are often recruited
into the scheme by the promise of 30% monthly return on their
investment and higher returns when they offer  to assist members that
ask for financial assistance.
When Chibuzor Chukwuemeka, a young Nigerian professional first heard
of the scheme from a friend, he said he thought it was a scam. But
since he joined about four months ago, he has had no regrets.

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“I will tell you that MMM has empowered me financially,” he told CNN.
Isaiah Olasope, a university lecturer, said he joined the scheme with
NGN50,000 (about $158) and was able to make a profit of NGN60,000
(about $190) within two months. He noted that the best approach to
succeeding is via referrals and paying as soon as possible.
“I would have continued, but I stopped after I made more than what I
put into it,” he said.
The scheme is especially popular among new graduates and the
unemployed, and even entrepreneurs like Lydia Aborishade, who said she
was able to get a tangible return.
“It’s like a charity organization where you provide and get help. If
you help someone, you get twice what you give,” she said.

The government: ‘It’s fraudulent’
The scheme markets itself as a charity, which is why it celebrated its
first anniversary with a Humanitarian week held from Nov 13th — 19th
2016 by donating relief materials worth NGN5 million to two internally
displaced persons’ camps in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja.
But the Nigerian government has been unequivocal in discouraging
citizens from participating. Through the Central Bank of Nigeria
(CBN), it urged citizens not to get involved in MMM, calling it
fraudulent.
“We’ve heard about the activities of MMM, but I want to warn you
against it because they are wonder banks that are not regulated.
Desist from participating, because they are fraudulent,” said Hajiya
Kadija Kassim, ‎head, Consumer Protection Department of the CBN.
CBN also unsuccessfully attempted to stop financial transactions
related to MMM and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Nigeria
(SEC) warned investors about the scheme.
Taking it further, Nigeria’s parliament directed security operatives
to arrest MMM promoters , but in spite of these efforts, Nigeria has
yet to officially criminalize MMM.

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A spokesman for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),
Wilson Uwujaren, said they are monitoring the scheme.
The government’s position is unsurprising to MMM participants: they
claim CBN wants people to keep money  in the banks which will in turn
be used to further enrich the country’s wealthiest.
“The CBN we know has not in recent times made people-oriented
policies, most of their policies favor the rich and that is what MMM
has come to do — reduce the gap between the rich and the poor,”
Chukwuemeka said.
Olasope added that the government is against the scheme because few
people still save  money  in banks.
“I don’t think any bank will pay you interest of up to 5% in a month
when you keep money with them, but MMM pays 30%. CBN officials know
that MMM will make Nigerians to stop taking money to banks so their
best approach is to make it illegal,” he said.
Pastors for MMM?
The MMM conversation has been extended to churches, where the official
position varies from one place of worship to another.
At the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), the country’s largest
Pentecostal church, some pastors are allowing MMM promoters  to pitch
the scheme to members from the pulpit. While others are against it,
many are at crossroads.
Pastor Agbede Mayowa, who heads a branch of the church in Lagos, said
MMM is a real dilemma for clergymen. Instead of having a position in
the scheme, he said he is promoting an open conversation on the
subject among members of the congregation.
“I have been inundated with messages and calls on MMM. ‘Pastor, is it
a sin? Should a Christian be involved?’ Personally, I don’t think it’s
a sin even though I have my reservations. Most people however think
otherwise,” he said.
Ibadan-based economist, Lekan Adigun said the wide acceptance of MMM
in Nigeria in spite of numerous failures of similar schemes is not in
line with industry edicts; it preys on the economic recession and
citizens’ desire for quick wealth.
“According to the Alexa ranking, MMM’s is the fifth most visited
website in Nigeria, more popular than Facebook . It has also shown
that Nigeria isn’t really a mobile first nation and getting the
support of the government is overrated,” Adigun said.

A customer withdraws Nigerian naira from an automated teller machine
(ATM) at a bank in Asaba, Delta State.
“I think techies should leverage this MMM craze to promote online
payment  adoption. We’ll be solving two problems at once. We’ll ease
pressure on banks and then entrench online payment if the burst is
well managed,” he said.
Many experts believe that by not banning MMM, the Nigerian government
positions the country as a target for copycat programs.
“It is really unfortunate that even though many Nigerians have lost
money  to similar Ponzi schemes in the past, the Nigerian government
is still reluctant to go hard on MMM.
“When MMM eventually collapses, which will definitely happen, the
exploitation of the citizens will continue under different names. This
is going to be very harsh on the people of a country that is currently
in recession,” said Adigun.
For MMM, experts believe that its next task is to ensure that its
community in Nigeria continues to be its firm advocate and the pyramid
scheme is sustained for as long as possible while for the Nigerian
government, restoring people’s confidence in the banking sector is
essential in addition to finding a way to ensure that activities of
Ponzi schemes are regulated and protecting the funds of participants
— even when they act against government directives.
MMM Nigeria didn’t immediately return a request for comment from CNN.

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