In what seems like a cruel ironic twist, hundreds of Nigerians have been scammed by Russians in the ongoing Russia 2018 football competition who sold them football World Cup fan passes to travel to Russia, leaving many stranded and penniless on the streets of Russia.
Victims and anti-trafficking campaigners say scores of Nigerians have been left stranded in the country after they came into Russia with their official fan IDs with the hope of finding work or plating professional football themselves as promised by the Bogus travel agencies who booked them.
Some others actually came in genuinely to watch World Cup matches but got stranded when their return plane tickets were canceled by the same bogus travel agencies that booked them.
Several victims have shared their experiences like Ismail Olamilekan, 21, and his brother Sodiq, 25, who paid N250,000 (600 euros, $700) each to a man in Lagos for their Fan IDs.
“The man told us that with the Fan ID we could get a job and stay here. But when we got here we discovered that it was a fraud, that he had just collected the money and lied to us.”
The Russian government had tried to make entry into the country easier during the World Cup by providing plastic-coated passes which enabled foreign fans with match tickets to enter the country without a visa during the World Cup. The passes however are programmed to expire before the end of July; the Russian government has no idea where the fraudsters got the the Fan IDs that they sold to unsuspecting Nigerians.
A FIFA spokesman confirmed that the Fan IDs system was implemented by the Russian communications ministry and FIFA was making efforts to identify and curb the sales of unauthorized tickets.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova told a news briefing it was a matter for the consular authorities of the countries concerned because some foreign guests decided to take advantage of the World Cup to become illegal immigrants in Russia and other European countries.
“You can’t rule out that some of the foreign guests, taking advantage of visiting the World Cup, are counting in some way or another, usually illegally, on crossing the Russian border and entering one of the European countries,”
The situation has left many Nigerians stranded Russia in what looks like another MMM ponzi scheme. Victims like the Olamilekan brothers spent almost a thousand dollars apiece for their plane fare to Moscow, asides the fees that was paid separately to the agent.
“In Nigeria I play football. He told me that if I started working I can also start a (football) career in Russia,” Ismail Olamilekan said.
Some other Nigerians, however, found themselves stranded in Russia after fraudulent “agents” who booked return flights for them then cancelled the bookings to get a refund, leaving many stranded at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport; some of them had paid more than a million naira each to an agent for a package that included flights, match tickets and a fan ID.
“We’ve been sleeping on the floor like fools. We’ve got no place to go we really do want to go back to our country. We’ve cried, we’ve wept, but still no solution.” said Alonge Ademola, 35, a cement dealer from Lagos.
Russian charity Alternativa issued a statement through its spokeswoman Yulia Siluyanova that it had helped about 50 stranded Nigerians in Russia and estimated there were about 200 in difficulty overall.
“With globalisation the opportunities for criminals are also increasing. The Fan IDs make an extremely profitable business for them,” said the group’s spokeswoman, Lesson learnt
Nigerians have a bad reputation world over for scamming and scamming activities but perhaps this World Cup experience will make the international community realise that Nigerians are not the criminals the world think they are; in fact the Russians have more experience and panache than the Nigerians who keep falling victims to Russian schemes and scams.