• Saturday, February 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Agrilet fails to pay investors, its CEO moves to start new companies

Agrilet

When Agnes heard about Agrilet in 2020 and considered investing with the company, which claimed to be bridging the funding gap in agriculture, she decided to make a visit. She contacted the company, owned by a certain Victor Yunusa and went to Lafia, Nasarawa state as her own way of conducting due diligence.

Afterall, she was about to commit a substantial part of her life’s savings to the company. She was taken to a farm on the outskirts of the town, shown crops and houses for farmers.

“In retrospect, they could have used any house,” she now says. More than two years after, the company has refused to repay the N6.5 million she invested. N4 million of the money was in fact, from her severance pay following her disengagement from the airline she worked due to COVID-19 and its impact on the aviation industry. The remaining N2.5 million came from three pensioners that were her relatives and she was investing on their behalf.

Not only did she fail to get the promised returns, her principal has also remained unpaid till today. “I lost everything. The only money I had (left) was to pay the people I had invested on their behalf,” she says.

But she is not alone. Like her, several people invested in what was supposed to be a crowdfunding platform helping farmers with the funding to produce food. The company, they say collected up to N400 million.

“Please assist me with my payment so I won’t lose my wife,” read a message on the company’s Telegram group, posted by a man who was trying to raise money for his wife’s surgery. “Kindly find attached, the hospital bill I am to pay for,” he further wrote, but he only got a generic response that his case, like others, was being looked into.

Another investor, Kingsley (who asked that an alias be used), also invested N6.5 million in Agrilet in two investment cycles. The first was on 9th February, 2021 when he paid N1 million for a Sesame farm investment at 25 percent returns after seven months. Then on 16th February, 2021 he made another payment of N5 million through his GTB account for a poultry farm at 20 percent returns after four months. When the first payment was due in June, the company sent a general message to its investors that it was having difficulties making repayments. Then the stories and promises became the norm until all communication ceased.

“It affected me a great deal. At some point, I went into depression,” he says. When his first child was to start secondary school in September of that year, paying the fees became a nightmare.

Also, for Agnes who says she has a special needs child whose care costs a lot of money, the money she had invested was the family’s lifeline since her husband’s business had also crashed during the pandemic.

She recalls that when her payment was due, she found out some other people were paid but she was not. She contacted Victor Yunusa, the company’s owner and according to her, he said maybe they forgot and she will be paid within two weeks. Those two weeks turned into two months and two months have now turned to two years and she still hasn’t been paid. Yet, the company at the early days of failing to pay was still advertising for more investments.

The investors also claim to have found out that Victor Yunusa had a brother David, who worked in a tier-one bank and was at the same time acting as signatory to Agrilet’s bank accounts with that bank. It was reported to the bank as not only a conflict of interest but one arising from alleged fraudulent activities by a company that had refused to repay investors.

An investigation was said to have been conducted following which David Yunusa was supposedly dismissed by the bank, a claim BusinessDay could not independently verify. But after the incident, Victor, the CEO was said to have threatened that investors would not be paid again having “done their worst” by getting his brother fired.

It was also alleged that Victor had at some point earlier, admitted to using the funds for other purposes including real estate. BusinessDay tried reaching him for comments but phone numbers provided were not connecting and an email sent last week has not been replied.

But he appears to have moved on to new ventures. A search revealed that his newest business is Nelsa, described on its website as, “an intuitive platform that seamlessly manages your restaurant operations, streamlines your payment processing, and provides actionable insights, empowering you to thrive in the competitive food industry with ease.”

His LinkedIn profile also lists him as co-founder of Nelsa since January 2023. On another website for startups, his profile shows he is CEO/co-founder of Foodable.ng, which is to provide procurement services for restaurants and hotels.

He also claims to have built Covibes, a music sharing and studio booking platform for musicians in Africa that raised $100,000, but nothing is known of what has become of the supposed business.

“At this point, we have gone through the police and EFCC,” says Agnes, but no results have come out of these. “Whether you do your due diligence or not, if people decide that they are going to steal your money, they will steal and there is nothing you can do about it.”

But Victor Yunusa continues to live large, his distraught investors say. When he got married in May 2021, it was said to be an elaborate celebration. They also claim he had an elaborate birthday celebration this year, with status updates shared on WhatsApp for the viewing pleasure of distraught investors.

“The way Nigeria works now, scam is celebrated, cheating is celebrated,” says Binta, an investor who requested anonymity. She had invested N740,000 in Agrilet, and convinced her husband to also invest N1 million. Both have not been paid in over two years.

She says the money came from her savings and cash gifts she got after childbirth. “Thank God I have an understanding husband because it is something that could have affected the marriage,” she says, but she still expects to get justice and her funds returned.

Kayode Agbedejobi, partner, KP Legal Practitioners that was engaged to take up the case told BusinessDay that he wrote a demand letter to the company, which was received but not responded to. The matter was then reported to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Lagos but later transferred to Abuja, saying, when “they found that the farm was in Nasarawa, there was the need for them to transfer the file and all of their findings to the Abuja office for them to continue the investigation there.” He says he continued to follow-up until the case suddenly stalled.

It was also claimed that another group of investors in Agrilet had used the police to arrest Yunusa but he somehow slipped through in what investors allege was connivance and corruption by the police.

BusinessDay reached out to Dele Oyewale, EFCC’s spokesperson to know what happened with the case at the agency’s end but his promise to do findings and provide feedback was never fulfilled. Not even after a follow-up call.

“I guess the reason why this keeps happening is because of the slow justice system,” said Agbedejobi.

Additional note: The names of victims are used as aliases at their requests, especially for those who felt their anecdotes revealed personal information