Maurice Iwu, the controversial former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has capitalized on the outbreak of deadly and incurable Ebola in West Africa to restate his scientifically unproven and dubious claim that he had found a cure for the virus in a drug synthesized from kola nut.
More than 600 people have died in several West African countries in what is seen as the most serious outbreak of the Ebola virus. The former INEC chair, a pharmacist by training and a former professor at the University of Nigeria, appears determined to exploit the growing alarm over the virus to renew unfounded claims that he had achieved a breakthrough in the treatment of Ebola. But Mr. Iwu has a long history of fraudulent claims.
In 2007, SaharaReporters had written a series of investigative reports exposing gaps in Mr. Iwu's academic and professional background. Our extensive investigative reports ran weeks before the then INEC chief oversaw the 2007 general elections that local and foreign observers described as one of the most fraudulent elections in any part of the world. Among other revelations, our investigative team discovered that Mr. Iwu had forged his bachelor’s degree from Cameroon and fraudulently used the certificate to obtain admission to Bradford University in the UK where he undertook graduate studies.
Following our expose, Mr. Iwu lied to a Nigerian online blogger that he had also received his bachelor’s degree from Bradford University, a claim the institution denied. In an email dated Monday, January 22, 2007, Oliver Tipper, who was then Senior Press Officer for Marketing and Communications at the University of Bradford, stated: “Iwu did not do an undergraduate degree at Bradford. He was enrolled here in 1975 for the Masters degree in Pharmacy, but we have on our records that he studied Pharmacy in Cameroon during the late 1960s before coming to Bradford.”
Since those revelations, Mr. Iwu has never addressed the inconsistencies and discrepancies in his academic profile. A source close to then President Olusegun Obasanjo told SaharaReporters that Mr. Obasanjo was fully aware of Mr. Iwu's fraudulent background. “Andy Uba recommended Professor Iwu to chair INEC, and President Obasanjo decided to choose him because of his questionable background. Chief Obasanjo knew it would be easy to blackmail Iwu to rig elections for candidates handpicked by Obasanjo and his cronies,” said the source.
Those declared winners in the fraudulent 2007 elections included the sickly and now deceased former President Umaru Yar’Adua, and Mr. Andy Uba. The latter was rigged into office as the Governor of Anambra State, but was in office for a mere 17 days before the Supreme Court kicked him out in a ruling that drew nation-wide celebration. SaharaReporters had also written a series of investigative reports that exposed Mr. Uba’s fraudulent certificate claims. We revealed that Mr. Uba’s claims that he earned degrees from Concordia University in Canada, California State University in the US, and a so-called “Buxton University” in the UK were mere concoctions.
On his part, Mr. Iwu has a history of deception, misrepresentation and dishonesty with regard to claiming pharmaceutical breakthroughs similar to the latest one about Crofelemer drug invention. At the 16th International Botanical Conference in 1999, Mr. Iwu made the startling announcement that he had found the cure for the dreaded Ebola virus. He claimed that the cure resulted from groundbreaking research carried out under the auspices of his non-profit outfit, BDCP. He told participants that Garcinia kola extract stopped the replication of the Ebola virus. Mr. Iwu followed his proclamation with a call for more funds. “Our limiting factor is funds,” he declared. “If we have a sponsor, we can do it in no time.”
The battle cry got Mr. Iwu a lot of attention. Soon, he received millions of dollars to fund the development of his ostensible cure. BDCP’s financial earnings outlined in Form 990 and obtained by SaharaReporters in 2007 show that Mr. Iwu received grants and donations in the amount of $425,947 in 1999, $367,870 in 2001, $640,917 in 2002 and $980,771 in 2003—a total of more than $2.4 million.
Mr. Iwu reported in the form that all the monies were spent for the purpose of “medical research on the use of African herb for medicine.” However, till date there appears no mention of further development of Garcinia kola extract to cure Ebola or any significant discoveries beyond some patents, one of which was an “Alkaloids of Picralima Nitida used for treatment of Protozoal diseases” invented by Maurice Iwu et al., and assigned to the U.S. Secretary of the Army, Washington, D.C. The patent, designated 5,290,553, was issued March 1, 1994, before Mr. Iwu’s claims on Ebola research.
Interestingly, no U.S. or European pharmaceutical companies has shown any interest in following Mr. Iwu’s much-touted leads.
In the Form 990 tax documents submitted to the United States Government, Mr. Iwu and his partners deliberately failed to list names of their Board of Trustees. But in the Article of Amendment of Bioresources Development and Conservation Program—completed in November 1994—the body listed five members of the Board of Directors: Professor Maurice Iwu, Dr. Lisa Messerole, Cosmas N. Obialor, Thomas F. Tata, and Dr. Chris Okunji.
Mr. Iwu's questionable lifestyle did not start in 1999. In another 2007 investigative report by SaharaReporters, our reporters unearthed how Mr. Iwu contrived to steal thousands of dollars from Citibank in the US.
According to official documents obtained by SaharaReporters from the Circuit Court of Montgomery, on August 10, 1992, Mr. Iwu’s son deposited a bank check drawn on the United States Treasury Department in the amount of $5,000 payable into his father’s Citibank checking account (Acct. number XXXX2549). Instead of crediting Mr. Iwu’s checking account with a $5,000 deposit, Citibank erroneously credited his account with a $50,000 deposit on August 11, 1992, an excess of $45,000. Mr. Iwu, who noticed the error on August 17, 1992, acted immediately to transfer the sum of $20,000 into his savings account on the same day. Three days later, on August 21, 1992, he transferred the remaining $25,000 out of the checking account into the same savings account. On the same day of August 21, 1992, Mr. Iwu withdrew $35,000 from his savings account and converted it into a cashier’s check that was then transferred to London through Chevy Chase Bank in Maryland to National Westminster Bank in London. The $35,000 was then transferred to Bioresources Development and Conservation Program (BDCP) in Nigeria “to pay for expense connected with the International Congress being hosted by BDCP.”
According to BDCP financial statement prepared for the event and signed by Dr. Chris Okunji, the conference treasurer, the transferred amount of $35,000 was recorded in the document as “donations from overseas through Prof. Iwu”.
Prior to traveling to Enugu for the conference, Mr. Iwu was approached by the bank to repay the excess amount credited to his account. He told the bank that he had completely spent the money because he thought that the money came from one of the grants he had applied for. This was before Mr. Iwu testified in court that he brought the overage to Citibank’s attention immediately he noticed it.
Before Mr. Iwu was dragged to court, he and Citibank had reached an agreement on a repayment plan both verbally and in writing. In a letter dated December 23, 1992 and addressed to Mr. Iwu, Mr. Ruppert, a vice president of Citibank, acknowledged Iwu’s initial payment of $5,000 and outlined the agreed repayment plan. The plan required Mr. Iwu to repay $10,000 in January, 1993 and the balance of $30,000 in March 1993. But Mr. Iwu stopped repaying and left for Enugu to facilitate his BDCP conference.
Upon returning from Enugu, Mr. Iwu was informed by Citibank of the lapses in payments. A letter by Mr. Ruppert dated March 18, 1993 stated in part: “on February 3, 1993 you called and left a voice mail message indicating that you had just arrived home from an overseas trip and you would not be able to make the $10,000 payment until the end of February 1993. To date we have not received this payment.” Mr. Ruppert continued: “your unwillingness to commit to a satisfactory repayment schedule implies to us that you do not intend to repay your debt.”
A defiant Iwu reacted by refusing to repay as agreed. On March 29, 1993, he wrote to Mr. Ruppert that “I was never indebted to you and that this whole transaction arose because Citibank messed up my project account which I operated at the bank.” In the same letter, Mr. Iwu stated, “I have been away to Europe and Africa since December 18, 1992 on previously scheduled travel in connection with my work. I returned to the USA briefly in the first week of February and promptly informed you of my inability to make any payments to you by the end of February and that I was traveling. I discussed with you during the meeting, I will pay $5,000 on or about November 15, and make subsequent payments in February, May, September and December 1993. If, however, I receive a reimbursement from UNIDO (based on the request I have submitted) then I will pay the entire amount in full by March 1993.”
Mr. Iwu made additional payments that totaled up to $17,000 before being dragged to court by Citibank seeking reimbursement of the remaining $28,000.
Following nearly two years of litigation, both parties reached a settlement agreement and mutual release on February 22, 1995 that mandated Mr. Iwu to repay the said amount. The details of the agreement stipulated that Mr. Iwu would make a first repayment to Citibank in the amount $4,000 no later than March 10, 1995, and then a second repayment of $4,000 on April 15, 1995. The remaining $20,000 owed was to be repaid through monthly automatic debits of $750 into a new checking account that the court ordered Mr. Iwu to open no later than March 10, 1995. The debits were said to begin March 10, 1995 to be fully repaid in May 1997.
SaharaReporters could not ascertain whether the amount was eventually repaid. Our correspondent placed calls to Mr. Iwu's son, Samuel Iwu, but he never responded.
In a separate development, SaharaReporters discovered from official documents obtained from the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County that on October 19, 1998, Mr. Iwu and Mr. Okunji, serving as president and treasurer respectively to the BDCP, received a $25,000 loan on behalf of Bioresources Development and Conservation Program Inc. from Riggs National Bank. Mr. Iwu, who acted as the personal guarantor for BDCP, failed to repay the loan within the stipulated time, again leading the bank to file a lawsuit.
Interestingly, on December 4, 2006, Mr. Iwu’s son, Samuel, presented a cashier’s check drawn on Chevy Chase Bank in Bethesda, Maryland in the amount $25,619.08 for repayment of the loan. It is curious that the loan was suddenly repaid after Mr. Iwu assumed office as chairman of INEC, raising questions about the source of the funds.
Following the scandal of his term as INEC chairman, Mr. Iwu has sought every opportunity to shore up his battered image. One of his strategies appears to be to inflate or fabricate his role in developing new drugs for diseases, especially one as deadly and alarming as Ebola virus.
He has also tried to portray himself as a devout Christian. At the end of his tenure at the commission, Mr. Iwu had become so rich that he singlehandedly built and donated Saint Michael’s Catholic Church in Umakabia in Ehime Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State. The huge cost of the cathedral provoked condemnation of church officials who enthusiastically accepted the “gift” without asking how Mr. Iwu made the money.
A professor of pharmacy told SaharaReporters that Mr. Iwu’s attempt to claim that he knows of a cure for Ebola was “a highly unusual practice.” He added: “Professor Iwu ought to know that before announcing that a drug can cure a disease, the drug should have gone through series of tests and lab trials, in this case, Prof. Iwu’s claims has not been through any test since he made a public claim about his so-called discovery in the 90s.”