Alleged $45m Fraud: Allen Onyema, Nigerian Billionaires And The Rest Of Us

“I stand to be corrected, but there is no one to look up to here. Our Pastors and Imam are driven by greed and lust for money that salvation has now been reduced to barter. Our lecturers base course grading on the purchase of their books and handouts. Our activists and comrades are up for grab to the available politician. 

It is Onyema today, who is next tomorrow?”

It was ENRIQUE PERRELLA – the publisher of Airways Magazine based in Miami Florida – who first raised the alarm about the suspicious business transaction of Air Peace airline in September 2018. 

Enrique argued that it is somewhat financially impossible for an airline like Air Peace who is relatively unknown in international airways to order for 10 brand-new Boeing 737 Max 8s valued at $1.17billion. And in spite of the criticism he faced by Nigerians on the report, he maintained that such fund is available only to few big international airlines and for a local airline to possess such financial strength, something was amiss. 

As at then, Air Peace has 19 fleets of aircraft comprising of 13 Boeing 737-300/500s, two Embraer ERJ-145 and two Emirates Boeing 777s, one 777-300(ER) (5N-BUU) and a -200(ER) (5N-BVE). All acquired less than five years of operation. 

But before Enrique’s report, many, who followed the quick rise of Air Peace knew deep down, somewhere in our subconscious mind that something was not right in the manner the Airline operates. It is the usual gut feeling you have about something, but you are unable to provide concrete evidence to back it up. I mean, an airline came into existence without a merger, news about a joint venture, prior news of acquisition and all of a sudden, it is having the highest number of aircraft in the industry.  

On November 22, the United States Department of Justice confirmed our worst fear. Allen Onyema, the founder of Air Peace airline alongside the company’s head of finance and administration, Ejiroghene Eghagha, were indicted for bank fraud and money laundering. 

Mr. Onyema was alleged in a 36-page indictment document – spanning several years of investigations – of “defrauding financial institutions the deposits of which were insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, that is, Wells Fargo Bank and JPMorgan Chase Bank NA.” Onyema was also accused of using his Foundation: Foundation for Harmony, for money laundering. 

A warrant of arrest was issued against him by the United States District Court of the Northern District of Georgia on November 19. Mr. Onyema has now been declared wanted for fraud in the value of $45million. 

The irony in all this is that, a few weeks ago, Onyema was the beautiful bride in Nigeria. Like Invictus Obi – the alleged internet fraud Wizkid who was celebrated by Forbes at one of the most successful under 30 businessmen and became a poster child of what dedication and youth energy represents – Allen, in those moments was the signature of true patriotism. 

He was hosted by the House of Representatives at a special plenary and recommended for the national honour, his patriotism was echoed in the corridors of social media and pages of newspaper. He became a national hero. 

Not that Onyema didn’t deserve the accolades showered on him, he stood up for Nigeria when the safety of our fellow countrymen was threatened in South Africa, but many now can see that perhaps, his sudden patriotism may have been from the pages of Pablo Escobar’s playbook. 

But Allen is not alone in this. Nigeria is a coven of scam artists, with little or no mentors. Those who we wake up singing their praises and looking up to for guidance today, we wake up the next day unravelled in their true glory of fraud and scam. In fact, many who we look up to in society – from business to leadership – none of them can truly swear before Amadioha or Ogun that they made their money through clean ventures without cutting corners. Nigeria is a big scam bag, with nearly everyone doing the crime and waking up the next morning to shout hosanna hosanna. 

Someone said recently, that the reason why it is difficult for most of our billionaires and rich men in the country to mentor the younger generation or talk about the secret of their wealth is because if they divulge such secret, they will be behind bars and if they mentor anyone, such fellow will end up becoming a criminal. 

Hardly does anyone who own a booming business in Nigeria achieve such height by hard work and honest practice. It is an entire network of organized crime, cutting corners, policy manipulation, government patronage, trade monopoly and money laundering for political actors. 

I stand to be corrected, but there is no one to look up to here. Our Pastors and Imam are driven by greed and lust for money that salvation has now been reduced to barter. Our lecturers base course grading on the purchase of their books and handouts. Our activists and comrades are up for grab to the available politician. 

It is Onyema today, who is next tomorrow?

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