Hundreds of investors have petitioned Benue State Police Command and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over an alleged case of fraud and mismanagement of over N900m by operators of Denkol Farms, a failed agricultural investment scheme in Makurdi, the Benue State capital.
The aggrieved partners accused three directors of the scheme namely Denison Tsekohol, Fidelia Adasu Agera and Shenge Michael of stashing away their money and attempting to hoodwink them into believing they lost their rice, livestock and groundnut investments to flood in August 2021.
The development is coming in the wake of similar failed Ponzi investments such as Ovaioza Farm Produce Storage Business, Chinmark Group and Eatrich Farms, which has got Nigerians worried about the proliferation of the dubious schemes.
Founded in late 2020, Denkol Farms headquarters is located behind Living Faith Church in Mbaikya area of Makurdi.
The operators had lured thousands of investors via social media promotion in the late 2020 with mouth-watering returns-on-investments.
The PUNCH gathered that the partners were swayed into parting with huge payments running into N850m under a contractual agreement that the company would remit 25% ROI and initial capital at the end of every four months for rice investors while those who released funds for eggs would have their capital released after a year.
Months after the scheme took off, Denison, who has rechristened himself the ‘billionaire farmer’ further created a Whatsapp group where he lured another set of over a hundred partners into coughing up their hard-earned money running into N50m m for Egusi and groundnut storage investment.
He named the storage group ‘Denkol Farmers Cooperative Society Limited.’
Investors’ money lavished on parties, frivolities
As the business platform flourished, the expectant investors watched helplessly as some anomalies began to play out.
In the second quarter of 2021, two of the co-owners – Denison and Shenge – were reported to have had lavish weddings with guests leaving the party with enviable souvenirs.
As the tension mounted, the billionaire farmer was said to have also ordered an estimated N40m rice processing machine without consulting with his investors.
A source told our correspondent that being the sole signatory to Denkol Farm’s account, Denison went on a spending spree that saw him establish a multi-million naira make-up studio for his young bride, Zuleikha Ishaq, beside Empire Suites, a popular hotel, along David Mark bypass in the heart of Makurdi.
“He also opened a shop for his mother, invested heavily in his father’s farm and bought several lands in Apir area all in the name of an estate within the space of five months,” he said.
According to him, Denison’s father, Tsekohol Atibee, has become the toast of other farmers in his Ikorgbajr community in the Gwer East Local Government Area of the state.
The straw that finally broke the camel’s back came in the third quarter of 2021 when Denkol Farms started defaulting until it discontinued the payment of RoI to her investors.
Investors seek explanation to alleged scam
The development led to an outrage, especially from people who were long overdue to cash out from their investment.
One of such investors, Obasi Elijah, lamented his misfortune “Why did he keep collecting money from unsuspecting investors up till September? I still paid in N1.2m as of 20th September when it was obvious he has been having issues from July.”
“I have millions there just like many others who invested their school fees and house rents. But Denison kept on collecting even way beyond September, despite knowing he had problems.”
Denison was, initially, quick to attribute the problem to sun-drying challenges and disease outbreaks among his livestock in an email that he wrote to the partners on 13th October 2021.
The email read, “Dear investor, sincerely, we apologise for the delay in paying your due cash out. Those who have been with us for some time can attest to our prompt payment, we paid within 24 hours to 72 hours.
“Considering the nature of our business which is agro-trading commodities and the state of the economy post COVID, we are faced with a few challenges. At our rice processing section, we are having difficulties in sun-drying our parboiled rice due to consistent rainfall, this has been the case for a few months now.
“This has brought about a delay in meeting up with customers’ orders. From our pig section, we had disease infestation on the farm that led to the mortality of our mature pigs, this made us sell off our pigs at a lower rate in order not to have a total loss.
“We can’t just sit and complain about our losses or difficult days. We have mapped out plans to recover from our losses and to continue making sales to enable us to pay our investors as promptly as possible.
“The festive season is here, by next month, Christmas and New Year rice orders will start coming in, which we hope will help us clear the pending cash-outs. We know it’s wrong to give excuses at this critical time,
“We understand you invested with a project in mind, especially for your personal needs, We can not lie to you and hide these facts from you. We only plead for more understanding and patience as you have been in the past. We apologise for the inconveniences this may cause you and we are deeply sorry.”
Conned by 26-year-old Benue varsity graduate
As excuses piled up, the partners soon discovered that what they originally thought was a plant-harvest-and-processed agro investment scheme was actually a grand ponzi scheme orchestrated by an overambitious 26-year-old lad and his cohorts.
To cover his track, Denison released a series of emails and photos showing ‘collapsed fences’ and struggled unsuccessfully to convince the investors that a strange and unprecedented storm destroyed everything, ranging from livestock to bags of rice and other grains on his farm around August 2021.
When he realised the partners would not have any of it and were already threatening to visit his abode in Makurdi, he and his team retreated and went into hiding.
For weeks, the aggrieved investors trolled Denkol Farms and dragged its owners on Facebook and other social media platforms. When the partners realised it had little effect on them, they escalated their wrath to individual Facebook and Instagram accounts where they warned other people to stop investing money in the shady agric scheme.
An investigation carried out by The PUNCH revealed that Denkol Farms was neither registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission nor insured with the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation as claimed by Denison.
Also, many of the farmers and agric cooperative societies that our correspondent spoke to claimed they are not familiar with the outfit and the owners.
Protests, trolling on social media
A disappointed partner of the scheme, Ogundijo Timileyin, expressed concerns that he found it unbelievable how some unremorseful Benue youths in their late twenties or early thirties like Fidelia and Tsekohol could carry out such a dastard act without the fear of God.
“I sincerely think Benue is becoming a Yahoo state. Seriously, Benue State Government needs to do more by creating a law that will deal ruthlessly with anyone caught giving the state a bad name,” he said.
An agric farmer and pharmacist identified as Jeffery Ochy also unleashed his anger by calling out Tsekohol and Adasu on Facebook for allegedly manipulating him into committing N15 million in the failed scheme.
He wrote on his Facebook, “This is not a call out but a serious warning to both of you to do the needful. I give you guys this month to refund my N15m and all the people that gave you guys money through my influence.
“You can see this as mere threats but failure to do the needful may result in heavy disaster. Both of you might not live to tell the story, not even your state governor will stop me when I begin my trouble in Makurdi. I don’t even have time to take you to the police or any security agency,” he threatened.
Despite the threats and anger, Denkol Farms kept raising vague hopes and dishing out phony dates on how it planned to liquidate the remaining assets and pay off aggrieved investors.
When their plea fell on deaf ears, both Denison and Fidelia devised a means to subtly block and unfollow investors, who criticised their actions, inaction and continued silence on social media to buy time for themselves.
Aside from snubbing his rice investors, the young con artist also abandoned the Groundnut and Egusi Storage group on Whatsapp and bolted with the hapless partners’ investments.
A victim of the storage group, Monica Apochi, told The PUNCH that “We all in this group have invested in groundnut storage. I believe we have been misled. This period is the time for selling groundnut as the price peaks this period. I reached out to Mr Denkol and Mrs Fidelia to either sell the groundnut or waybill it to me because I have some emergencies I need to solve with money. It’s been weeks and I’ve heard no response.
“This proves my earlier suspicion that no groundnut was purchased in the first place. Please we will welcome any suggestions on how we can get our money.”
Her view also mirrored the mood of a certain Esther Aduonye, another groundnut investor.
She said, “I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that Denkol disappointed us. I reached out to him too as regards the groundnut and paddy rice but he didn’t respond. I’m nowhere close to Benue. How can we get our money or products?”
Ponzi operators float private businesses months after uproar
While Denison seemed to be the butt of the trolls, Fidelia Adasu Agera, on the other hand, has quietly moved on with her life without giving a hoot or any sign of remorse.
The young lady, who runs a show tagged ‘Bumper Harvest’ on Radio Benue 95.0FM, had earlier opened three Facebook accounts at the inception of the scheme and also engaged the services of her younger brother, Adasu Robert Ralph Jr, whom she later made a director at Denkol Farms, to promote it.
A number of victims who confided in our correspondent revealed that long after the team suspended production and sold investors the infamous lie of ‘Flood destroyed our farms’, Fidelia has continued to retail the remaining bags of rice using a private account covertly.
One of such screen munched transactions made available to the reporter carries a UBA account number 2044289672 with the name ‘Agera Fidelia’ while another account bears ‘Terdoo Samuel Gbuusu, UBA 2183109017.’
“Let the EFCC investigate all their personal and relatives’ accounts, not only the company’s own. They should check all those that Denkol farms transferred money to from August 2021 till now.
“When Denison lied that flood washed the farm, one of their closest workers told me that the flood didn’t affect anything in the farm that it only deprived them of sun-drying their Paddy rice. Even Fidelia confirmed it and I have most of her voice notes for future reference. The flood only damaged his fence, that’s all,” the victim who identified herself as Aniel Gold said.
A younger sister to Reverend Father Adasu Termulun Charles, a young Catholic priest at St James Seminary in Yandev, Gboko area of Benue State, Fidelia had since abandoned two of her phony three Facebook accounts and rebranded the third to reflect her new flourishing business – Fidnen Coconut Water and Fidnen Coconut Oil, which she has started marketing with similar passion that she used to lure Denkol investors.
The last time the agro-entrepreneur posted anything related to Denkol Farms and Coco Mama rice on her Facebook page, which comment section she locked to avoid trolling, was on September 16, 2021.
The last post read, “The idea is simple, CocoMama rice, a product of Denkol Farms should be seen everywhere and consumed by Nigerians. We want to be among the top 5 best homegrown rice brands in Nigeria before 2025. We are moving it gradually. Currently in Abuja. Meeting rice dealers and closing supply deals.
“Many are buying now to test it first. Benue Rice will convince them to buy more after this phase. Kudos to all our investors. You people made it possible and we have a lot more to do together. Let’s feed Africa.”
She has since embraced her hustle for coconut water and oil.
The last of the trinity, Shenge Michael, has equally abandoned the Denkol vision to float a ranch named ‘Shenghait.’
When he was accosted by our correspondent, Shenge dissociated himself from the fiasco, saying he had left the team before the alleged scam took place.
This is even as he swore that his flamboyant wedding was not financed with investors’ money.
“It’s funny linking my wedding to Denkol farms. Really funny! Since I left Denkol, I have never entered any of their board meetings nor do I have access to such information. Anything I am telling you now about Denkol may be speculations because for over a year I have not attended their board meetings.
“But to clarify things, Denkol Farms did not at any time give me money for Ranch or invested a penny in my company. When I started the Ranch, some even felt I wanted to compete with them.
“My reason for leaving was simply because my personal company Shenghait was not living up to expectations and my management team asked me to choose one for the other (either to remain with Denkol farms as operations officer and be removed as CEO Shenghait or resign with Denkol and focus on the ranch). Of course, I chose to come back to Shenghait.
“My company was already on the ground before Denison approached me to co-found Denkol farms. Sometimes one can catch a vision in a vision. And as at the time I left Denkolfarms, they were discussing a supply Business of over 1million bags of rice… I can tell you that their rice machine was coming in, all was good with lots of high hopes.”
Shenge, who confirmed that he had also been invited by the EFCC to explain his role in the drama, disclosed that he found it disheartening how the investment platform went awry.
“They told me that they are aware I left before that happened and have checked my accounts too so they just wanted to see me and ask me certain questions. I don’t know what happened to them. I personally feel so pained.
“Denkol Farms did not give me one cent to establish our ranch. We are still just building it and this challenge of business has almost stalled its progress. They (Fidelia and Tsekohol) said no funds as the company account has been frozen. Salvaging the situation is what is important now,” he said.
All efforts made to reach Fidelia proved abortive. Unlike Shenge, she barred our correspondent’s line and further blocked him on social media.
However, when he left her a message on Whatsapp to publish the story without her contribution, she instantly replied, “Not a problem at all. Thank you for the publicity. Who knows help may come from that. Won’t that be great to trend over something I am not guilty of?”
Police, EFCC react to petitions from aggrieved investors
As the hide-and-seek game continued, aggrieved partners have inundated the Makurdi office of the EFCC and Benue State Police Command with loads of petitions.
Another victim, Patience Agbocheni, bemoaned “The issue is we have to map out a way to get him physically because he is always on the run. We visited the farm and on another occasion sent a lawyer there. On both occasions, Denison wasn’t seen in person.”
When contacted, the State Police Public Relations Officer, SP. Anene Sewuese Catherine confirmed the report but said the case was still being investigated.
“I understand that they have a lot of cases in court and are promising to pay. They also said that they have placed people on instalment payment beginning from April,” she said.
When our reporter called again at the expiration of the April deadline, Anene said that she has sent for the divisional police officer handling the case to update her.
She, however, noted that the case had not been taken to court.
The EFCC, on the other hand, has invited the operators of the investment scheme to appear before the commission.
The Advanced Fee Fraud unit of the commission admitted that it received a petition written by a Makurdi-based lawyer, Kelvin Iorzenda, on behalf of aggrieved investors against Tsekohol Denison for breach of trust and obtaining money under false pretence.
The petition read, “It is our client brief and instruction that Mr Tsekohol Denson who is the MD/CEO of a ponzi scheme and fraudulent company known as Denkol Farms Limitedsometime in 2020 / 2021 held himself and the company out to be running an agro scheme, which investments was opened to all interested persons who would invest a certain amount of money and receive a certain ROI on how much they invested at the end of the investment period.
“That Denison Tsekohol and his company Denkol Farms via various posts on Facebook and his Whatsapp status convinced a lot of investors who got swayed by his sweet adverts and jingles on all his social media handles.
“Our client and several other unsuspecting persons across Nigeria paid huge sums of money ranging from N120,000, N200,000, N500,000, N1m, N3m and N5m respectively into the UBA Bank account no 1022553927 for Denkol Farms.”
The statement further noted that aside from Denkol Farms official bank account, the suspect also makes use of a Zenith account in the name of Denen Tsekohol and a Fidelity Account Number 4011419469 for ‘Denkol Farmers Cooperative Society Limited, which he deplored to swindle the groundnut and egusi investors on Whatsapp.
Among other things, the petition called for the immediate arrest and prosecution of Denison and his team after a thorough investigation by the EFCC.
This is even as the investors demanded that the commission helps in liquidating the ponzi scheme and company named ‘Denkol Farms, saying they both pose a menace and danger to the society, especially to unsuspecting Nigerians.
As of the time of going to press, The PUNCH learnt that the principal suspect in the ponzi scheme racket, Tsekohol, had been detained by the commission.