Between 2018 and 2019, Comfort Ogunlade, founder, Tush Farmer Global Ltd., an agricultural investment company in Iwo, Osun State, asked people to invest in the planting, harvesting and selling of cucumber, with a promise of 70 percent profit in five months.
There was also the offer of buying plantain from southwestern Nigeria, and then selling it in Lagos and Kwara State. The plantain business investment was expected to fetch the investors a monthly 10 percent return on investment.
The company also promised to return investors’ capital in the event of a negative occurrence. However, three years down the line, over 300 investors have not got the promised capital and profit. The company is also said to have raked in about N400 million.
SALES REP DECEIVED
“In 2019, I started as a sales representative at the company, marketing its business offers to prospective investors. This came with a target for every salesperson. The company gave us the impression that it was in cucumber farming, and buying and selling of plantain in large quantities,” a former employee of the company, who asked not to be named, told FIJ.
The former Tush Farmer worker, who is an indigene of Iwo, said Ogunlade was so secretive that none of her employees knew where the cucumber plantation was or when and where she planned to get the plantain she claimed to deal in.
“However, along the line, we discovered that the company was nothing near what it pretended to be. By the time we discovered this, hundreds of millions had been invested in the business by the investors we had approached,” she said.
“And, of all the staff, just one person was not an indigene of Iwo. Because of this, it was easy for us to convince other indigenes to invest in the business. Unfortunately, in the end, it was as if we were indirectly responsible for the loss of hundreds of millions of Naira by our fellow indigenes, with nobody to hold accountable.”
INVESTORS REFERRING OTHER INVESTORS
Oluwaseun, an investor, told FIJ he invested in the business and also encouraged someone else to do so.
“I paid for two slots of cucumber in August 2019. A slot went for N96,000. That means I paid the sum of N192,000. I also referred someone else that same year, and he invested the sum of N500,000. We were supposed to be paid in December 2019,” she said.
AN IMAGINARY FLOOD
However, two days to payment, Tush Farmer sent out an email to all its investors, stating that its farmland had been flooded, and that it could not meet up with payments for that period.
In the email, the company also said it was ready to pay investors’ guaranteed capital, in accordance with the contract.
“In the mail, Tush Farmer also proposed another venture to us, promising that we would get a 100 percent ROI on our initial investment, if we chose not to collect our capital but wait till March 20, 2020. The proposal looked good to many, and we agreed,” Oluwaseun further said.
RUDE AND NONCHALLANT
On March 19, 2020, a day to the new payment date, Tush Farmer reached out again, appealing to investors that they could not make payments as promised.
“This time, she was very rude and nonchalant. She even had the guts to tell her customers that they were stressing her. Eventually, when we demanded to know when she was sure she could pay, she told us ‘June’. But in June, she again failed to pay us. After this, she promised August and still failed to pay,” the investor said.
COURT FREES HER, BUT EX-EMPLOYEE SAYS ‘SHE IS GUILTY’
The aggrieved investor also said a few people had collected ROIs from the company in the past, but a great percentage were yet to receive a dime.
In August 2020, a few investors who were tired of the company’s excuses prosecuted Ogunlade, and this led to her arrest by the police. However, in January 2021, after spending close to four months in detention at Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID) Alagbon, Lagos, Justice T. J. Agbona of the Igbosere Magistrate struck out the three counts of monetary fraud against her.
Three investors had charged her with the theft of N30 million, being the sum total of their investment. FIJ gathered that over 300 investors were affected and that the company received up to N400 million.
“If, as a former member of staff, I am saying she is guilty, I am not talking out of bitterness; I am stating it as a matter of fact that she is guilty. The question we should ask is, where did she keep all the money collected from all the investors? She has already given us, her former employees, a bad name among our fellow indigenes,” a former worker at Tush Farmer said.
‘ARTICULATE AND ELOQUENT’ WHEN CONVINCING INVESTORS
Another investor, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said she was getting 10 percent of his investment capital monthly but it stopped.
“I am also one of the affected investors. I even had several conversations with her before investing. Eventually, I paid N450,000 for five slots in the plantain scheme,” she told FIJ.
“Initially, I was receiving the 10 percent monthly returns as promised but, later, the payment stopped. She was very articulate and eloquent when convincing investors that despite all the crisis, you would still feel you were in excellent hands. She even organised forums for investors during that time.”
She said despite owing the capital and the promised return on the initial plantain investment, Ogunlade convinced her to invest another N1.5 million in a proposed corn and charcoal business on February 5, 2020, with a promise of 50 percent ROI.
“Since her release, no one has seen or heard from her. All the monies owed investors have not been paid. We don’t even know whether she is still in the country. One of her customer care officers said she has run away,” she added.
The victim told FIJ that Ogunlade did not have a fixed ROI for investors.
“The agreed ROI actually depended on what an individual investor agreed on,” she said.
FIJ placed several calls to Ogunlade’s phone line, but it was not reachable. Text messages sent to the phone number also got no response.