Romance scam is prevalent in Nigeria but is rarely documented. The country accounts for the 2nd highest rate of dating fraud in the world, with an average loss of £10,700 per victim. Comparatively, a staggering sum of £12.1 million (over N11.3 billion) has been lost mostly by women to male perpetrators.
On a fateful evening, Elsa, a 25-year-old entrepreneur, fell for the oldest wooing trick in the game. When a man wants to converse with a lady, he pretends to know her from somewhere. Depending on her mood and response, he continues with his frolic.
Well, Elsa must have been in a good mood when Iriodalo Emmanuel Obhafuoso (Odalo) contacted her because she responded nicely. It was April 17, 2022, and Odalo had sent her a Twitter (now X) direct message:
“Heyy, did you attend MMAS by any chance?”
“Hiya, I’m a bit unsure what MMAS is,” Elsa responded.
“Lol, then it’s definitely not you. You look like a primary school classmate who used to tease me about my glasses so much; Murtala Muhammed Airport School,” Odalo cleverly said, asserting she doesn’t know of him but at the same time introducing an interesting detail about his past.
It was a clever bait, and Elsa bit as any curious person would. Elsa continued the conversation with him, and they chatted every single day since then. When Odalo was convinced Elsa was fascinated by him, within a week of their conversation, he hinted that he had something to tell her. Like Lord Baelish, he didn’t reveal his issue immediately, but when asked, “How are you,” he typically responded, “I’m not fine. I haven’t been fine.”
The eventual bombshell
Elsa cared about what Odalo had to say, and in the evening, she asked:
“Oya, are you ready to tell me what’s wrong?”
Odalo replied that he was very ill and had a heart condition.
“The right side of my heart is swollen. It became pretty serious over the past few days,” he said.
He claimed he was in pain, the pills he had been taking weren’t helping him much and he needed surgery worth N3.3 million to remove “blood clots and reduce swelling.” He further claimed that he had most of the money and needed N200,000 as balance (A manipulative strategy skilled scammers use to make victims feel at ease by acting like they have money and only need a few sums).
Again, his tactic worked and Elsa asked for his account details, which he provided swiftly – in two minutes.
The account details he sent was: “0768696473, Access Bank, Obhafuoso Emmanuel Iriodalo.”
Romance scam in full effect: The beginning and end of billing
The moment Odalo sent his account details was the beginning of Elsa’s spending in a bid to get him healthy. Elsa crowdfunded almost N30,000 for him on Twitter, but it was barely enough to cover his alleged health expenses, so she also sent him some of her money. She had sent over N397,000 before she realised she was being scammed.
“Sixty thousand naira on April 29. That was the first money I sent (I also sent) N26,000 on April 30. There was N20,000 on May 1st, N225,000 for the balance of surgery, and N66,000 for drugs on the 6th of July. There were some 1k sprinkled here and there,” Elsa recounted.
One morning in July, he expressed his love and gratitude to her:
“I love you. Thank you for being by my side this past couple of months. I really appreciate you.”
‘Every day is for the thief but one day is for the owner.’ The unveil and confrontation
During the course of the relationship, Elsa had always felt something was not right, but she couldn’t pinpoint it until one day, a mutual friend of hers and Odalo reached out and informed her Odalo was a scam artiste. After the revelation, Elsa waited for Odalo to confess his fraudulent nature to her, but he never did. Suspecting he may never be honest, she confronted him. Upon the confrontation, Odalo apologised.
However, Esther stopped sending him money immediately. She also tried to forgive him and stay friends, but she eventually blocked him as more secrets were unveiled. Since Elsa had previously put out a message on social media sourcing funds on his behalf, she deleted the message. She informed people not to send money to the posted account any further. She also exposed him as a con artist.
“He was in my DM too”: Multiple women decried
Odalo appears to use social engineering effectively. He targets women in their 20s who have “entrepreneurs” in their profile or are vendors on Twitter and sends them direct messages. He has contacted over 20 women who fall into the young and rich category. Some of the women he contacted and who shared their stories can be found here, here and here. One of his female friends, Gloria, after learning that he needed “heart surgery,” sent him N10,000.
Diving deep: What’s Echocardiography, and does Odalo truly have a heart disease?
To gain Elsa’s and some of his victim’s trust, Odalo sends an “Echocardiography Report” as evidence that he has a heart disease.
According to the National Library of Medicine, Echocardiography involves using ultrasound to evaluate the structural components of the heart in a minimally invasive strategy. The procedure allows the clinician to obtain real-time sizes, structure, and function of the heart during the cardiac cycle.
However, the HR Manager of Lutron Medical Centre, Lotachukwu Ezeanom, revealed that although the report possibly emanated from their centre, the details have been altered. She further highlighted that the conditions diagnosed do not require surgery.
“Now I don’t give anybody anything”: The ripple effect of Odalo’s actions on his victims psychic
Elsa was embarrassed by the ordeal and has experienced severe mental and emotional stress. She said:
“The incident happened over a year ago, but then, I was actually very ashamed to contact anybody. Even till now, when the story has come out, everybody has been like, ‘How can you be so foolish to give someone your money?’ “I also lock my DMs. I don’t accept DMs from anybody. I am also very cautious when a guy messages me,” Elsa said.
For Gloria, who sent Odalo N10,000, she said:
“People like this (Odalo) make you question being a good person.”
Dr Ola Ibigbami, mental health specialist and public health advocate, advised that victims who have suffered from romance scams can deal with the aftermath by focusing on their well-being, noting red flags for future occurrence, and surrounding themselves with supportive people.
“Seek your well-being first by taking time out to heal, spend quality time with good people, not necessarily the opposite sex, believe that other relationships will come with good benefits, and have a checklist of what you really want in a relationship and don’t compromise!,” said Dr Ibigbami.
Amidst the mask and lies, who is Odalo?
Odalo seems to be a chameleon with many faces. It is not certain who he truly is, as he shares different stories with multiple women. However, according to public records, Odalo is from Edo state, Benin. He was born on March 9, 1997, and attended MMAS from JJS 1 to JJS 3. He then attended Uniben Demonstration Secondary School (UDSS) from SS1 to SS3.
His occupation appears to be a “scam artist”, and he wears a turtle neck, which is fast becoming “the symbol of fraud”.
(Famous con artists like Elizabeth Holmes Ana Delvey, Simon Leviev, Gloria Igberaese, and Muyiwa Folorunsho have all worn and posed with similar blouses.)
Like some of his predecessors, the 26-year-old dreams of being on the Forbes list, and his favourite colour is black. He finds the dark shade endearing “because it hides and creates a smokescreen for things.”
Although it’s been a year since Odalo scammed Elsa, his target of vulnerable young and entrepreneurial women for sinister purposes continues.
We hope this report sheds light on his dark motives and that no other woman becomes his victim.
Simbiat Bakare is an investigative journalist and women’s rights advocate. She resides in Lagos, Nigeria.