How students were conned out of Sh156m in fake college placements abroad

Kenyan currency

About Sh180 million collected from gullible and desperate parents and students over the past year could have been lost in the alleged fake college con scheme.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

At least 1,000 students were looking forward to travelling abroad this month to take up professional courses at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions supposedly under an international student placement programme.

In a matter that is now under police investigation, a Nairobi-based college had promised them placements in universities and colleges of their choice in any country across the globe.

Parents, having forked out hundreds of thousands of shillings each, were proud and hopeful that their children’s dreams of achieving academic and career success were in sight. The future looked bright and the greener pastures that come with the prestigious institutions were in sight.

The heavy sacrifices of having to sell off properties that took a lifetime to accumulate and the gruelling financial burden of hefty loans to fund their children’s international studies were nothing compared to the rewards ahead. For their children’s future, it was worth every penny, many must have thought.

Dingy office

But little did they know they had fallen victim to a suspected fraud scheme run from the dingy office of a dubious college in Nairobi’s Eastlands.

The scheduled travel date has passed and the man alleged to be behind the scheme has disappeared. Enquiries by Sunday Nation indicate that about Sh180 million collected from gullible and desperate parents and students over the past year could have been lost in the alleged con scheme.

The institution where payments were made to facilitate placement of students overseas has also been shut. Now, the handymen who worked in the scheme have been left to face the wrath of angry parents who want their money back, or revenge; whichever comes first and easiest.

At least 1,000 parents are said to have fallen victim to the alleged scam that was being run under an unregistered college located on Outering Road, Nairobi.

This is the story of Kenema College of Professional Studies and a runaway proprietor, who detectives in Nairobi have yet to question despite reports by the alleged victims. The college operates under a company called Kenya Network Markets (Kenema), which is run by a businessman identified as Javan Ochieng’.

It all started on May 24, 2021, when Mr Ochieng’ was hosted during a morning show by a local radio station. He had a lucrative deal for those seeking higher education overseas, making good use of his one-hour airtime. His sweet tongue convinced many. 

“He said he ran a college and they had international partnerships that would help students study abroad. He was very convincing with the offer and since it was on a reputable radio station, we were easily convinced,” Ms Christina Kibet, an alleged victim, told Sunday Nation.

At this time, Mr Ochieng’ had been operating a college at a commercial property along Nairobi’s Outering Road. It is not clear how long the college operated, but residents and parents who spoke to Sunday Nation said it had been operational for several years, offering short business and technical courses.

The radio interview was followed by an intense mainstream and social media campaign that boosted further interest from students and parents. The proprietor appealed mostly to students who did not score high marks in their secondary school examinations. He promised to speed up the application process. Barely two weeks after the media interview, an office was set up at the institution to handle the ‘international student placement programme’. Parents and students would later be invited for an orientation forum at the college.

“There were more than 500 of us at that meeting and the idea was sold to us. We bought it and agreed to sign up,” Ms Kibet said.

Parents say they were promised that once they pick a course, college and country of choice, they would fill out application forms and leave the processing to the school, which claimed to have partnerships all over the world.

According to documents seen by Sunday Nation, Sh450,000 was required to facilitate visa application and academic registration at universities around the world and cater for air tickets. Accommodation would also be provided to the travelling students. “It all looked very promising and many of us were willing to sign up. We started looking for money. We even took loans,” said Mr James Onsombi, a parent, who was allegedly conned.

Documents also show that loans were offered to parents who had trouble raising the money and others issued with letters to help fundraise. Over five months, more than 1,000 parents are said to have signed up.

Financial statements in our possession show that some of the affected parents paid as much as Sh350,000 to Kenya Network Markets, which ran the college.

Interestingly, the payments were being made via M-Pesa mobile money transfer where the proprietor, Mr Ochieng’, was the sole financial manager.

However, in October 2021, some teaching staff at the institution raised concerns over the management of the international studies programme after it emerged none of the paperwork was being processed. An insurer at the school revealed that as soon as parents submitted application forms, they were dumped in the office and abandoned. “Some of us became concerned as there was no movement in the process. Some of the forms got damaged in the process and were thrown out by the cleaning staff. We were in the dark about what was going on and when we questioned the director, he dismissed us,” said an insider, who declined to be named for safety reasons.

By this time, the source claims the institution had collected at least Sh156 million in registration fees. Parents started raising concerns over the lack of progress. At that point, some parents were called to collect travel documents, including visas.

“The so-called visas looked questionable, especially considering none of the students had been called for interviews at the embassies,” Mr Onsombi said.

Sunday Nation received some of these documents that turned out to be nothing more than fakes, created on Microsoft Word. Around last November, Mr Ochieng’ is said to have stopped reporting to work and even paying salaries to his staff and bills for the school. Gradually, teaching staff and students also stopped showing up. “After several months without paying rent for the building where the school was, the owner evicted us,” said an insider, in confidence.

And just like that, Kenema College of Professional Studies was shut down without notice to students or parents. The alleged masterminds of the scheme were not done recruiting and minting money from unsuspecting students and parents with our investigations finding they moved operations to an office in Buruburu.

In April this year, the institution took its dubious programme to a church in Kasarani, where at least 175 parents signed up. The institution is said to have collected Sh18 million from parents in the congregation. The owner then vanished and closed down the Buruburu office, leaving his staff to face the wrath of angry parents, some of whom involved the authorities, making multiple reports at Buruburu Police Station between June 6 and June 17.

An attempt was made to follow up on the progress of the probe, but enquires made to Buruburu station remain unanswered. Daniel Mburuka, the Sub-County Police Commander for Kamukunji, who is in charge of the area, did not immediately respond to our questions. Similarly, Sunday Nation made attempts to reach out to Kenema and Mr Ochieng for comment, but calls and text messages remain unanswered. The institution no longer exists and the building now houses a different private college.

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