Did Former UNIBEN VC, Prof. Faraday Orumwense Steal Billions of Public Funds to Buy an Estate in Canada

Did Former UNIBEN VC, Prof. Faraday Orumwense Steal Billions of Public Funds to Buy an Estate in Canada
Did Former UNIBEN VC, Prof. Faraday Orumwense Steal Billions of Public Funds to Buy an Estate in Canada

…And is the Canadian government complicit?

Data available on Friday Faraday Orumwense, 66, on the World Biographical Encyclopedia, identifies him as a mechanical engineering educator. He is also listed on the Marquis Who is Who as a noteworthy mechanical engineer. Educated at the North Staffordshire Polytechnic, and Leeds University, he eventually became Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin, UNIBEN in 2014. Prof. Orumwense had worked as a senior lecturer at the University of Ilorin, Nigeria, 1982-1983; and with the Enugu State University of Technology, 1983-1992. He was a two-term-Rector of the Institute of Management and Technology, Usen, and Dean, Faculty of Engineering, UNIBEN. He is happily married to Francisca Orie (nee Ashien), and they have four children – Osarodion, Osahenrumwen, Odoruyi, and Omorotiomwan.

Just before the end of his tenure as VC, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC received a rather curious petition. Curious because it was from a brother-in-law of Prof. Orumwense, Michael Ashien. In that petition, Ashien alleged that between 2016 and 2017, after he bid for, and was awarded a contract to supply computers to the ICT unit of the University of Benin, the university withheld payment in spite of his several requests. On June, 14, a desperate Ashien was said to have written an authorization letter to the university to pay the sum N92 million (about USD300, 000.00) to his sister, Francisca’s Fidelity Bank Account number 6060253382. The university did so but Mrs. Orumwense failed to transfer the monies to her brother, Ashien on the grounds that he owed her money.

Former UNIBEN VC, Prof. Faraday Orumwense

Seeking information on the matter, this investigation applied to the EFCC for a copy of that petition but the request was denied, citing fears that it would get in the way of an ‘ongoing investigation’. Sources revealed however that in December 2019, the EFCC invited Francisca Orumwense for questioning. She alleged that she had lent her brother some money to supply ICT equipment to the university, and furniture for the university’s library which he had refused to pay back. At the first instance, the VC’s wife was said to have told the EFCC that she lent her brother the sum of N39,500,000 (about USD103, 243) in the first instance, and another N6, 387 000.00 (about USD15,000,00.00) for the UNIBEN contracts. Ashien denied he owed his sister any money and continued to ask to be paid.

Former UNIBEN VC, Prof. Faraday Orumwense

Most Nigerian professors earn an annual salary of N6 million (about USD15, 000.00). How then did the spouse of Prof. Orumwense come about the millions of naira she allegedly lent her brother to execute contracts for the University of Benin? Insiders alleged that Mrs. Orumwense had been a front for business deals involving her husband. Sundry petitions against Prof. Orumwense say that he used his wife as a front to control several of the university’s lucrative business concerns, thereby raking in handsome sums. One of such petitions by an ‘Integrity group’ in 2016, said the source of the former VC’s vast wealth came from the splitting and inflation of contract sums, award of all such contracts to cronies supervised by his wife, and takeover and mismanagement of the university’s businesses.

Former UNIBEN VC, Prof. Faraday Orumwense

One of such contracts – for the laying of Fiber Optics Cables which experts say is worth over N500 million – was for the Ekewan campus of the University to have internet access. Investigations reveal though that the Ekewan campus still does not have regular internet. Even though monies were allegedly paid fully to the contractors, (in clear violation of relevant sections of procurement laws in Nigeria which prescribe only a 25% advance payment to a contractor), only fiber cables (without the optics) were allegedly laid. Presently on that campus, students have no regular power with which to conduct academic and social activities. They pay vendors to get them water.

Former UNIBEN VC, Prof. Faraday Orumwense

Extant Nigerians laws, specifically, the Public Procurement Act, 2007, Section 35(2) says that:

Once a mobilization fee has been paid to any supplier or contractor, no further payment shall be made to the supplier or contractor without an interim performance certificate issued in accordance with the contract agreement.

Posers arising from the above include the following: did most contractors (including Michael Ashien) that carried out contracts with the University of Benin under Prof. Orumwense – Tonyparker & Associates, Brightstar Nig Ltd, Swag Nig Ltd, Gousame Nigeria Ltd, and FSS Martins – meet procurement conditions before they were awarded the contracts? Did they make a 10% security guarantee as required by the above laws before they were awarded contracts?

This investigation sought answers to these posers vide the Freedom of Information, FOI Act request sent to the registrar of the university. Upon receiving no response after the stipulated time frame allotted for responses for FOI requests, our reporters got in touch with Lillian Salami, professor of home economics, and Vice Chancellor, and Dr. Benedicta Ehanire, current Public Relations Officer, PRO of the university. Ehanire said as university PRO, she had no access to such information as we requested and therefore unable to assist with making any available to this investigation. Even though the VC promised to help with a list of all contracts and sums carried out by her predecessor, she was to eventually stop responding to our numerous calls, preferring an assistant, ‘Segun’ to tell us she was always busy at meetings.

Former UNIBEN VC, Prof. Faraday Orumwense

The National Universities Commission, NUC as well as the Budget Office of the Federation of Nigeria in Abuja, did not respond to FOI requests sent to them at the time of filing this report.

Taiwo Olawoyin is a senior procurement specialist. In a workshop on procurement organised by the Edo State government September 10, 2020, he said issues like misrepresentation of facts, inducement, collusions, coercion, and obstructions, often compromise the bidding process for award of contracts. “The type you refer to appears to be a conflict of interest with relationships”, he said when asked if a procurement entity like UNIBEN can influence a bidding process in favour of a preferred contractor.

Further allegations against Prof. Orumwense were that he had illegally acquired an estate in Canada with monies filched from a flawed procurement system in the University of Benin. Our enquiries to the Canadian Embassy in Nigeria had drawn blanks. First, in a letter dated Friday July 24, 2020, 12:34 a.m in response to our email inquiry, its Lagos office in Nigeria told us that “as a preventive measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the deputy High Commissioner of Canada has reduced operations to essential and emergency services only”, and therefore unable to respond to our query.

Former UNIBEN VC, Prof. Faraday Orumwense

The Abuja office of the Canadian Embassy too declined to accept an FOI letter, and instead directed our investigative assistant to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other visits by reporters to the Canadian Embassy in Abuja drew blanks as well: officials were adamant that the deputy High Commissioner, Chief of Station, Press Attaché, and any embassy staff, had all returned home to Canada as a precaution against being infected by the COVID-19 disease in Nigeria.

This investigation reached out to the Canadian Embassy in Abuja repeatedly through the “contact us” page on their website, and to Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister, PM, for help with this investigation. As of the time of making this report however, there had been no response from any of them.

Irregular channels however revealed that there seem to be two properties in a name related to Prof. Orumwense located in Ontario, Canada. The first, located at 1, Upminster Way, Nepean, ON K2J 5H2 with R Orumwense – is described as ‘off market’, and listed as a ‘school’ with nearby ‘schools’ like Mother Theresa High School, Universal Driving School, and Ecole Elementaire Catholique Jean-Robert Gauthier.
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The other property at 11 Upminster Way, Nepean ON, K2J5H2 is listed also as ‘off market’ and owned by an A. Orumwense. The other properties on that same block seem to have shortened versions of Orumwense:
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A list of names with shortened Orumwense as ‘ORUMS’ on the names directory in Ontario, Canada

Even though our investigations reveal that there are over 50 Nigerians in the US, Canada, and the UK with the Orumwense surname, those listed against the highlighted properties appear to have direct links with Prof. Orumwense. For instance, owner of 11, Upminster Way, Nepean ON, K2J5H2 is an Audrey Odoruyi Orumwense said to be corporate services department assistant at the reputable law firm, Gardiner Roberts, LLP.
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A transcript of Audrey Odoruyi Orumwense apparently related to Prof. Orumwense

Available information on this Audrey Odoruyi Orumwense say that she has also worked as corporate database project clerk with Gardiner Roberts LLP, and lives in the Toronto, Canada area. Odoruyi Audrey Orumwense attended the University of Oklahoma College of Law from 2015 – 2016. Prior to that, Audrey Odoruyi Orumwense was a legal intern with the Nigerian Army from October 2013 – July 2015, was an attorney at the University of Benin from September 2014 to July 2015. The website of Gardiner Roberts, LLP, did not yield any information on Audrey Odoruyi Orumwense however.

The other R. (Rejoice) Orumwense, alleged legal owner of 1, Upminster Way, Nepean, ON K2J 5H2 appear to have studied at the Evergreen British High School before continuing her education at the Delta State University, Abraka Campus, and the University of Benin, Nigeria.
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1, Upminster Way, Nepean, ON K21 5H2 listed against Rejoice Orumwense as owner

To ascertain that both Orumwense identified as owners of both properties, and to establish that the abbreviated Orum is somehow related to Prof. Orumwense, our reporters approached the Nigerian Embassy in Canada. The embassy said that by extant guidelines, the high commission is only responsible and in charge of all property belonging to the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Canada, but not those of her citizens because “both privacy and property laws in Canada do not permit diplomatic missions the privilege of making enquiries into private ownership of property by citizens”. The phone numbers on properties ascribed or subscribed to both ‘Orum’ and ‘Orumwense’ in Canada rang out.

To establish the veracity of ownership of the prior mentioned properties linked to Prof. Orumwense, an application was made on behalf of this investigation to the Land Registry Offices 4 of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services located at Court House, 161, Elgin Street, on the 4th Floor, Ottawa, Ontario, citing clause 165(2) of the Land Titles Act of Canada. Their report is reproduced here:

Rejoice Orumwense, 545 Belmont Avenue, W803 Kitchener ON N2M5G7

A search for the property on the Ontario Land Registry (https://www.onland.ca) yielded no results. This may be because the property’s record predates electronic filing.
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A. Orumwense, 11 Upminster Way, Nepean Ontario, Canada K2J5H2

A search of the Ontario Land Registry (https://www.onland.ca) generated a hit (PIN 04596-6061)
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The Parcel Register Document confirmed that the property is owned by Augustine Osawaru Orumwense
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A. Orumwense, 80 Jolliet Avenue, Vanier Ontario, Canada K1L5H2
A search for the property on the Ontario Land Registry (https://www.onland.ca) yielded no results. This may be because the property record predates electronic filing.
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CAVEAT

Note that there is an Augustine Orumwense who is a Canadian government official – http://www.goc411.ca/en/106107/Augustine-Orumwense.

Double check that the owner of 11, Upminster Way, is a different Augustine Orumwense.
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indicates that even though the properties linked to Rejoice Orumwense, 545, Belmont Avenue, W803 Kitchener, ON, and A. Orumwense, 80, Jolliet Avenue, Vanier, Ontario, Canada ‘yielded no results…because the property record predates electronic filing’. That linked to an A. Orumwense, of 11 Upminster Way, Nepean Ontario Canada K2J5H2 actually ‘generated a hit’ (PIN 04596-6061). “The Parcel Register Document confirmed that the property is owned by Augustine Osawaru Orumwense who is a Canadian government official”, the report from the Land Registry Offices 4 of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services said. A double check though on this Augustine Osawaru Orumwense reveals that he lives on a different location at 930 Carling Avenue, (CEF Bldg 3, Ontario, Canada, and different from the A. Orumwense of 11, Upminster Way, Nepean Ontario, Canada K2J5H2.

The Canadian Real Estate Association, CREA, says that average cost of buying a home in Canada is $480, 743.00 (about N150 million). If so, both listed property in the Orumwense name would cost almost a million Canadian dollars (about 1billion naira). It does seem however that property located within the Nepean community with the ‘Orum’ surname was a cover for part of the estate allegedly owned by Prof. Orumwense, and from money suspected to have been laundered while serving as Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin. At prevailing prices cited by the CREA, the cost of owning that estate would be something close to N7 billion (about USD18million).

A report by the Vancouver Magazine dated May 10, 2019, Why Criminals look to Canada to launder their money through real estate, said that some $5 billion was laundered through British Columbia’s real estate market in 2018 because of “Canada’s weak money laundering laws (that) make it an attractive spot to park ill-gotten cash”. The report said that people in corruption-prone states who seek to hide their sources of wealth can’t just buy a big house in their community, so they often look to cache it abroad.

According to the Vancouver, mansions and whole floors worth of condominiums can act as a kind of bank account in brick and mortar form, with the purchase made by a numbered corporation, incorporated in Canada by an offshore lawyer, and owned by layers of shell companies in various tax havens. International money launderers would leave the properties vacant to drive up their prices. Trying to rent the properties out exposes beneficial owners to anti-money-laundering screens, and partly explains why the properties in the name of cronies of the respected former VC are empty, and phones just ring out.

Apart from monies filched from an irregular contracts awarding system, there are suspicions that Prof. Orumwense funded the alleged purchase of this estate in Canada through lapses in the university’s staff payment system. Investigations reveal that lapses in the University of Benin’s payroll system get up to as much as N800 million (about USD2million) monthly from ghost workers. These monies are largely unaccounted for, and are spent at the discretion of the VC. Consequently, the federal government of Nigeria seeks to replace this irregular system with an ‘Integrated Payroll Personnel System’, IPPIS, because it would cut off the ghost workers and block leakages within the system.

The IPPIS is a department under the office of the accountant-general of Nigeria. It is responsible for management of the federal government’s employee records, payment of salaries and wages to FGN employees, deductions of taxes, and other third-party payments. Information from the IPPIS says it seeks to “have a centralized payroll system that meets the needs of FGN employees, helps the government to plan and manage payroll budgets by ensuring proper control of personnel cost”.

Prior to the expiration of the tenure of Prof. Orumwense, the federal government had always paid a bloated staff wage to the University of Benin, and the excess of USD2 million monthly accruing from that bloated wage bill allegedly often entered the pockets of the VC. This investigation sighted certified true copies of personnel budget for the ‘Federal University of Benin City, of 2011, 2012 and 2013’, and the ghost names of dead, retired, or sacked staff still on the roll. This lapse has not been corrected and the federal government only stopped this kind of payment through a nominal roll prepared by the university to the government, seven months ago.

A global financial integrity report titled Illicit Financial Flows to and from Developing Countries: 2005-2014, published May 1, 2017, indicate that Illicit Financial Flows, IFFs, from developing and emerging economies kept pace at nearly US1 trillion in 2014. According to the report:

(i) Illicit financial outflows from sub-Saharan Africa ranged from 5.3% to 9.9% of total trade in 2014, a ratio higher than any other geographic region studied.

(ii) Total illicit financial flows (outflows plus inflows) grew at an average rate between 8.5% and 10.1% annually over a 10-year period.

(iii) In 2014, outflows are estimated to have ranged between $260 billion and $970 billion, while inflows ranged between $1.4 trillion and $2.5 trillion.

The scenario at the University of Benin, Nigeria, and indeed most Nigerian universities, is typical of tactics that most money launderers from developing countries employ to siphon money abroad (see diagram below).

Prof. Orumwense has denied any link, or connection to, or ownership of any property in his name in Canada, or anywhere abroad. He declined to identify Audrey Odoruyi Orumwense and Rejoice Orumwense, owners of the buildings (estate) in Canada as his children, wards, or relatives, preferring that our reporters do the asking. “These allegations that I own property abroad in the name of my children are all lies…please do not allow people to use you to tarnish my reputation and name”, he said to our reporter on Tuesday, September 2, 2020 at 10:45 am.

The University of Benin, Benin City, is a federal government-owned university founded in 1970 with Knowledge for Service motto. Fondly called UNIBEN, it is a public research university with estimated 75, 000 students, two campuses – Ugbowo and Ekewan. It is currently being run by Prof. Lilian Imuetinyan Salami and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as Vice Chancellor, and Chancellor respectively. Based on data collected by Times Higher Education, the University of Benin did not rank among the best four in Nigeria. What makes the case of the University, and indeed that of most Nigerian universities tragic is that first, they are run by elite educated in universities abroad where educational facilities are top-notch.

With the benefit of such education, the expectation is that these elite would bring the benefit of their years in these universities in the developed countries to bear on the institutions they run. Two, the ‘indigene factor’ concerning the employment of most VCs in Nigeria stipulates that heads of these institutions come from the locale where the institutions are domiciled, again with the expectation that the onus to develop these institutions would fall on them.

In spite of the above though, this investigation was unable to establish that money actually changed hands between Prof. Orumwense and Canadian officials with which he bought a vast estate in Canada in the names of his children and family members. There are no bank documents confirming claims made by this investigation, and until we establish that, this will be an ongoing investigation.

A HEDA Investigation

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