For those too young to remember, and those who have forgotten, this is a recall of PLANWELL days and my personal experience. It is hoped you would notice an uncanny “sameness” in modus operandi and tragicomic trajectory with the MMM route.

While not discouraging those who want their lives to be MMMed for good, my objective is to share my experience and hope a lesson or two can be learnt. You should please excuse my use of live names of folks, some on this platform, to bring the story home. While it is not to embarrass them, it is hoped they could corroborate (or refute, where appropriate) and hence enable some of us make a sound judgment of a go-no-go hue on the ongoing MMM conundrum.

A group named PLANWELL opened business in Benin City in the early 90s. They began as a Christian group canvassing ‘investments’ that yielded about 100% returns in about 3 months. Mouth-watering proposition! A lot of folks started with little amounts and they reaped bountifully as promised.  Some ‘logical minded’ colleagues in Benin Brewery and I couldn’t understand what sort of investment would yield such stupendous returns in such a short time space.  While we were asking questions and expressing unbelief and involving ourselves in intellectual acrobatics, our colleagues and junior staff (as we called them then before the arrival of modern sophistry) were buying motor cars and motor bikes from the proceeds.

Jones stands out on this as he was the first employee to buy a personal Mercedes Benz 200 (flat booth). It was rumoured that this was a Planwell harvest and the news spread like a harmattan wild fire. Everyone dived into Planwell.  I recall other financial miracle houses sprang up and a particular one at Uselu in Benin City was called, appropriately, Money Tree Foundation!

They displayed exotic cars and you were allowed to choose the car or cash if you invested a ridiculously small amount compared to the market value of the brand new car. So people invested and began to salivate, rather, hallucinate about themselves being the talk of the time when in a few months they would start to drive the most exotic cars around Benin City! Some sold their houses, others took bank loans, and some stole from family and friends and offices and tithes and offerings in order to invest in Planwell and Money Tree.

At this stage, my staff in the brewery began to tantalise me with their returns. I remember one supervisor called Joshua in brewhouse who came one Saturday with N30,000 just collected from Planwell and he asked me, “Oga, why are you busy speaking grammar while others are collecting money?” At this time, my monthly take home pay including shift allowance was around N4000 or so. To put this in context, my ANNUAL HOUSING ALLOWANCE was in that region as well. So you can understand my becoming a reluctant victim very slow to volunteer to be slaughtered. But with Joshua’s taunt and my financial status, I just had to take the plunge – to make things better. But I had no savings. With the serious returns expected in a few months, all that would change. Or so I thought.

I reckoned that the best way to get a reasonable amount to invest and make a killing was to take a car loan. It was company guaranteed and was available at Union Bank and you could get it quickly if you visited the bank and had a friendly talk with a couple of relevant staff. I didn’t think I should enjoy this alone. So I recruited my closest friend – Sam O – with whom I joined in 1990 as management trainees and who I had met at UNIPORT about 1982 while I represented UNIBEN at a National Association of Biochemistry Students conference. He is more circumspect and thorough than me. It took a while for me to convince him. And I had a CBN friend called Vincent who was an agent of Planwell. He could never allow me get involved in anything that would hurt me, I surmised.

Sam agreed, albeit reluctantly. We applied and got the loans, about N40,000 each repayable in 4 years, en-cashed same  and gave to Vincent in a Ghana-must-go bag and he gave us a filled card stating that we had invested those amounts in Planwell. We heaved sighs of relief and then hope, and greed, took over! This was on a Friday.

By the next Monday, we started to hear of defaults in payment to folks whose time was due. This had to be a joke! Or a dream! Or a dreaming joke or a joking dream. Or all of the above! Little sweats started to form on our foreheads as we began enquiries asking in muted voices, “have you heard Planwell is not paying this week’s winners?” My previously ebullient staff investors and harvesters started to avoid my quizzing eyes trying to seek if they knew what I didn”t. Will Planwell be well?

As the state and beyond began to feel the heat and citizens, government officials inclusive, were getting restless, the Deputy Governor, a reverend gentleman, made a broadcast where he said as a chartered accountant he did not believe there was any investment that could genuinely yield 100% returns in 3 months. The scheme was a scam, he said. He told citizens to avoid Planwell and avoid the inevitable sorrow that was bound to follow.

Three days or so later, the same Deputy Governor- my good friend and course mate- came out on Bendel Television to say he had made a mistake. The business of Planwell had been investigated and found to be genuine and investments were safe. Citizens should have nothing to fear, he affirmed. More people poured in their money. Notice that the wily Governor then played Pontius Pilate and kept away from the fray. He and the Deputy probably got back their investment and profit and “thanks for helping sir”.

Finally, Planwell shut down. We were told after some weeks to go to a different office in a nondescript part of Benin City- Okhoro – to open files to confirm our claims with evidence of lodgements and two passport photographs, etc, etc. Folks began to queue for days on end to submit these requirements.  Then you heaved a sigh of relief once they accepted your files. Some had to bribe to get their files accepted!

This is about 24 years since we submitted those files and we are still waiting for feedback. Well, my company was very efficient in deducting what employees owed. On our car loans; Sam and I, they never failed to deduct. For the next four years they deducted loan amount and interest efficiently every month. It felt like cutting a pound of flesh and we bled every month. Sam and I. Sam, if you are reading this, I am not sure I had the time to apologise for misleading you that year because we were both bleary eyed and broke. We had to pay the unplanned loans off before applying for car loans to buy our first tokunbo cars – my VW Santana and your Nissan.

Now, MMM is showing signs of déjà vu. I stayed away from the profit and the plague.
People lost houses; some lost budding friendships while some lost their lives (via suicide) in the Planwell debacle. People appear to be passing the same route twice.

And government is, seemingly, helplessly looking on.

Austin Isikhuemen is a manufacturing

consultant and public affairs analyst.

Do you have a ponzi scheme experience, good or bad, that you would like to share? Please, do in the COMMENTS section

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