BY: JUDE BELA
Young Nigerians are among the world’s most negatively stereotyped people. It is common to attribute undesirable traits, characteristics, and qualities to them some of which include internet fraud, laziness, and violence. This makes it difficult for them to be easily accepted or trusted overseas even when they have no records of crime or have done anything questionable. Back home the case is no different, young Nigerians especially those who are making a decent living or have become millionaires out of sheer hard work and resilience are still treated by the government law enforcement agencies with suspicion, and many a time they are harassed and persecuted for no just reason. The story of Jude Bela, a millionaire YouTuber, and Entrepreneur, is one example of the many troubles young Nigerians face for being young and rich. Jude, in this edition of Tales BY Young Nigerians, narrates his experience of how he was arrested and detained by the Economic and Financial Commission (EFCC) on mere suspicion of fraud and how he lost his YouTube channel and his sources of income dwindled as he engaged in a legal battle with the EFCC to clear his name.
A very good friend of mine had trusted me enough to invest in my first-ever attempt at entrepreneurship. We started a restaurant together and it was all fun in the beginning. We were redefining what the food business was in the University, but the sad truth was, we weren’t making any money.
The idea was to make food deliveries on campus. No one was doing this at the time, you know, and even with the little resources we had, the operation was going well.
The business was taking its toll on me no doubt, I was working round the clock every day, but I enjoyed it, every bit of it was fun for me.
However, working so hard and having no money to show for it was frustrating for me as well.
My friend, on the other hand, was having a good time, he was bankrolling me.
So, one day, I sat myself down and decided to learn whatever it was my friend was doing to earn himself money. This was when I was introduced to YouTube.
When I created my first YouTube channel, I didn’t know what I was doing. Everything was strange. No idea how to tell a story, no idea how to use a camera, not to talk of editing. So after a few days, I quit. But hunger brought me back.
This time, I decided to learn by copying. This was when copyright, reused content, and channel takedowns were not too common. So I copied whatever my friend was doing on the platform. And it worked.
The channel blew up. The numbers were crazy. Makes me want to cry when I see my current view count and start to compare it to those times when it was just re-uploaded content.
Anyways, the channel is no more, so don’t ask why I don’t upload there anymore.
As my channel blew up, so did my social status. I got a car, bought properties, and after graduating with lots of money in the bank, I got married to my Secondary school love. But before our wedding, we started another business. This time, a supermarket.
The business was doing well, this time, we were making money from the business. This was when I decided to invest in media. I started a brand called BTV. Hired a few wonderful people and surrounded by friends, we thought we were going to make it big.
But to me, something was missing… I wanted to create this buzz around what we were doing.
So after speaking with a few friends, I started a challenge called the 1 Million Naira challenge, where people would discuss and debate on a certain topic, we would select the winner who will become 1 Million Naira richer.
This, to me, was a way of giving back. I thought I was doing something great, I thought I was helping my community.
That’s my story… Or part of it.
But what happened next unraveled my whole experience and threw me into a dungeon. Where I’ve stayed for over 3 years.
It was 8 AM on the 8th of March 2019. I had worked all through the night, so getting up early wasn’t in my plans that day. But my phone had other ideas.
When the phone rang, I was angry I didn’t put it off before going to bed, but when I saw the name of the caller, my eyes brightened up. It was from the bank. However, the message quickly changed my mood.
“Do you quarrel with anyone?” the caller asked. I hesitantly said No, because I didn’t know where this was going.
“Have you exchanged words with anyone recently?, please think carefully” The caller insisted.
So I asked what was going on. This was the moment I was informed that the EFCC has ordered all the banks to freeze my account and to arrest me should I visit any of the branches.
I woke my wife who was sleeping peacefully beside me and I said to her, “babe, there’s trouble”.
We had just started construction on a property and payment was due for the contractor. And now I can’t access any of my accounts.
I placed a call through to my lawyer and told him to expect me. When I got to his office and narrated the whole information I had just received to him, he was angry and asked me, “what do you want to do?”
I told him I wanted to go to their office that same day and confront whoever gave that order to freeze my account, I wasn’t going to run from a fight knowing I did nothing wrong.
But he advised against it, because that was on a weekend, and he didn’t want anything that would make me spend a night there.
I didn’t listen. So I went home and printed all my payment slips from google Adsense. Got all my documents together and I went to see another lawyer.
But she said the same thing. She wanted us to pay them a visit on Monday morning.
After a few consultations, I followed her counsel and we waited.
It was the longest weekend of my entire life. My temperature rose, and my blood pressure was rising. I questioned myself again and again. So many thoughts flashed through my mind. I remembered asking myself if it was possible to have committed a financial crime without knowing it. This was the beginning of my trauma.
I couldn’t wait till 8 AM on Monday. I wanted all these to be done and over with so I could return to my normal life. Little did I know that this was my new normal.
I didn’t want to drive myself that day, so I called the manager of my supermarket and told him to come to drive us to the EFCC’s zonal headquarters. He was already aware of the situation so they had instructions not to open the business until this was sorted.
After kissing my wife goodbye, we drove to my lawyer's residence where we picked her up, and off we went to the EFCC’s office.
This was my first time as any form of a police officer. I had seen movies where people are interrogated by law enforcement, and never in my life had I imagined it would be that tough and tense.
My lawyer told me repeatedly to relax and just tell them the truth about what I do. So, I did.
When we first got there, I saw some familiar faces from my banks. 3 of them. And I greeted them because they all knew me at this point. I didn't think it was any of my business what they had come to do at the EFCC, after all, they were a financial institution and this is the agency in charge of financial crimes. So I didn't read any meaning to what was going on.
But there was more to it.
I should have known, because my lawyer whom I have come with to defend myself, also represents one of the big banks that had frozen my accounts. One of her associates from her law firm was there that morning with some documents from the bank.
I had no idea how connected it all was.
When the EFCC officials started questioning me, they seemed friendly at first. They said they wanted to know me. But the more I told them about myself and the business I was into, the more questions they seemed to have. They were just never satisfied.
This was when it occurred to me that these guys were fishing for something.
Thinking about it now, I regret telling them anything at all. Because if they had something incriminating on me, they would have said so.
We were there answering questions for over 5 hours. I was tired and I told them I wanted to go home. This was when they brought out a file and told me to write my statement. And that everything I write could be used against me in court.
So I said, wowowo, what the hell is going on here? Am I being charged with some crimes?
It was at this point the investigating officer said they were investigating me for fraud and money laundering. And that I will have to cooperate with them so they can help me.
He said, they had obtained an order to remand me in prison, but before that, they would love to go search my house for more evidence.
I was boiling inside. I was terrified. I had no words to say. Then he brought out the documents that my banks had submitted to them that morning.
This was when it made sense to me that my banks were now working with the EFCC to shake me down.
They wouldn't let me make a call, they just drove me in their van with guns to my house like I was some criminal they were taken to prison.
Watch the video orread part two of the story.