Why MMM returned and what it’s future is
By Anthony Opara
Late last year the debate was whether the Mavrodi Mondial Movement, MMM which swept Nigeria like wide fire was a Ponzi Scheme of just a peer-to-peer donation network out to improve the individual economic fortunes of Nigerians especially given the recession that was just then rearing its ugly head.
For the traducers of the scheme it was another Ponzi scheme emanating this time from Russia to fleece Nigerians. They pointed out the failures of the scheme in places like Zimbabwe and South Africa. The proponents argued that MMM also known as the money box was not a Ponzi scheme in the sense that there was no central account and that there also no company to which people paid money to and that Nigerians were just helping each other and that money was just being paid into their pockets.
While the shouting match went on both in social media circles as well as within the mainstream media the Central Bank and the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Company NDIC issued warnings to Nigerians to be wary of the scheme as the operators were unknown to government and the agencies that regulates the financial institutions. The CBN even went as far as holding radio and television talk shows to educate Nigerians on the dangers inherent in Ponzi schemes. The participants and some Guiders of the scheme also went on the war path defending the scheme. Youtube was filled with testimonies recorded by participants on how the system has changed their lives.
It was in the midst of this written and oral jousting that One Chidi touted as the number one Guider in Nigeria organized a very lavish wedding which became the talk of the town. Then there were talks that the government had perfected plans to arrest Mr Chidi as the scheme according to the rumour mongers was illegal. It was said that the Directorate of State Security (DSS) as well as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were also getting ready to shut down the scheme. The EFCC was the first to issue a disclaimer saying that they had no business with the scheme and that Nigerians were free to use their money the way they deemed fit. The DSS didn’t even bother to issue a statement on the matter as there were more serious to contend with in the polity.
By November there were signs that all was not well with the scheme said to be founded by a Russian Professor of Mathematics and Programmer Mavrodi who was then said to be have given another Nigerian Pastor in South Africa Arthur Mbanefo a kind of franchise to set up the scheme in Nigeria. The story which at some point assumed the stuff of legends had it that Mr Mbanefo now spoke to Chidi to represent him in Nigeria and the rest is history. The scheme offered participants 30% of their investment in local currency and 50% in bitcoin the reigning crypto currency in the world. The operators said the scheme was not an investment as as people provided help or HP when they contributed their money into the scheme and Got help or GH when they reaped the benefits of their investments. Onn the log in page of every participant a disclaimer was clearly written warning members to use their spare money. They warned that the scheme was a means of encouraging members to put smiles on the faces of their fellow citizens and not to get rich but it appeared Nigerians obeyed this only in the breach as many even borrowed money to throw into the scheme in a bid to make money. There were stories of those who said they threw the money meant for their wedding into the scheme and lamented their plight when the scheme went into what the operators called a pause mode.
In November it was clear that all was not well as the number of participants defaulting in their obligations to pay when they were peered to pay other participants. When the complaints which were initially muted became high and got into the social media the operators denied saying that there were millions of MMM members and that GH cannot be greater than PH, they added that what happened was people panicking over the stories in the media to the fact that the scheme was a large scale that would soon fold up as it did in South Africa and Zimbabwe. It was battle royale in the media to as it were set the records straight. The operators accused the government of trying to scuttle an idea that was in the business of setting youths free from economic slavery. The traducers on the other hand insisted that the scheme was fraudulent as there was nothing to show how the money being shared was being made as there was no product behind adding that what the scheme was doing was making Nigerian youths indolent but the operators counted saying that the various betting companies were the ones making the young people believe they can win big at sports betting without doing anything but to predict which team will win a match played in western cities whilst in MMM one at least invests to reap benefits.
It later became clear that all was not well with the money box when the operators announced a kind of pause mode for the scheme saying it would resume in January 2017. The announcement set up alarms in several cities as there were loud lamentations of people who started regaling those who had time to listen how they lost huge sums of money to the scheme. Gradually it emerged how many people including Pastors who used church funds to invest as it were to the scheme. Pastor Mattew Ashimolowo was said to have lost N50 Million or that the members of his church lost the huge to the scheme. He was one of the few prominent men who bared it all, others bore their loss with stoicism to avoid a scandal but Pastor Ashimolowo who is more British in outlook and lives in London has a British outlook. Britons are not wont to hide what should be disclosed. Others shared their loss in secret. A Lagos businessman said one cannot disclose a loss in such a scheme as it will make people refer to him as a Dundee. They can flount the money made from the scheme but will not allow people know the source of the money.
The major issue in this story is what happened when the MMM scheme returned as promised on Jan 13th , a day ahead of the 14th announced. People expected a return with a bang. After the announcement of the return many thought it will be business as usual so many filed claims on their money outstanding since December 2016. Their first shock was when they could not get a kobo of their Mavro, the name of money for the scheme. Whilst the scheme was on Holiday the operators promised 50% on any amount used to Provide Help (PH). Some die hard participants threw in lots of money hoping to reap the 50% on the return of the scheme. They were shocked when it was announced that the maximum of 1000 would be paid out until the scheme stabilized. A top Guider of the scheme in the Festac area Moses Ofili told the Difference Newspaper that he was confident that the scheme will stabilize and that all promises made would be paid adding that the scheme had sufficient members to weather the storm. A newly inducted Guider Kehinde also supported the view of the top Guider adding that the money that would circulate among participants will everyone smile again. That has not happened and this is March. At the beginning of the year the top Guide and his wife had travelled out of the country to Malaysia where they are still until now. Their friends defended the newlyweds stating that the trip was just an extended honey moon which they couldn’t take after their wedding due to the issues that bedeviled the scheme. Not many Nigerians will forget the famous twit of Mrs Chidi where she pleaded the participants of the scheme not to loose hope as the upgrade that led to the pause mode was to make the scheme stronger and deal with some issues threatening to destroy the scheme like the upload of fake proof of payment without any payment made. This was causing sleepless nights to both the participants and the operators.
Truly, millions of Naira and several millions in bitcoins passed through the hands of participants, One Nneka, an Aba, Abia State participant told the Difference Newspaper how she made at least 15 million before November adding that her brothers and people in her team made at least 10 million each. She also stated that she bought a piece of land in a choice location while her brothers bought cars and land adding that MMM turned the lives of many people she knew around in Aba. Nneka said she was now waiting for the rebirth of the scheme, avowing that it would surely come back stronger.
The Difference Newspaper interviewed several participants of the scheme and there is a common agreement that the scheme was good to Nigerians but that it was destroyed on account of panic and scare mongering whilst Nigerians contributed in no small measure due to greed. Many told me that they have since moved on to other platforms or moved out completely even as some other schemes like MMM were not better in the long time. A Lagos based banker confided in this reporter that she had participated in MMM at some time but had to leave when it became clear that the scheme will crash. As a banker she noticed that GH was getting higher than PH so she told herself it was time to move on and she told a few of her friends also. While some took her advice, others chose to wait it out only to then lament the loss of their money. There were others who said they made so much money such that even when the scheme crashed they gained more than what might appear like loss. For this category they will return to the scheme as soon as they came back, they are the ones I refer as die hard MMM participants.
In Part two of this piece I will look as what the Mavrodians did to bring back people to the scheme and the role of MMM wanna be’s in the slow stability of the scheme. Its clear that as usual with Nigerians once an idea starts everyone jumps into this just as is being witnessed in the sports betting business with all manner of scam artist making Nigerians part with their hard earned money.
CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele