“I came to realise 419 was a pretty unsuccessful business model…”
The phone rings. Who the hell calls at 3 a.m.? Something terrible must have happened. Unknown number. Even worse. An unfamiliar voice on the other end of the line. Who is this? The question has to be repeated three times before an answer comes: ‘Which of your friends or relatives abroad would call you at this hour?’
419. No need to continue the nocturnal conversation.
Let me come out and say it. Nigerians have disappointed me.
Before coming to this country for the very first time, I religiously studied all known strategies of fraud and deceit. Nigeria is the kingdom of deception, I had been told. Fearful Europeans recounted the conniving ways in which Nigerians are known to swindle the rest of the world’s population, the most common being the sending of e-mails impersonating the desperate heirs to a late father’s/husband’s/uncle’s billions in need of a temporary European bank account. Imagine setting foot in that country of scam artists! Before you know it they’ll have their hands on your money or you’ll find yourself signing contracts transferring your fortune—and that of your family and the three generations after—to a Cayman Island postal box company.
Determined not to get scammed, I prepared myself for the worst. I was not going to be one of those gullible oyinbos. Intent not to trust a single Nigerian soul, I was ready for the confrontation.
How disappointed I was once I arrived in Nigeria!
I met strangers in Ibadan who spent nights by my hospital bed when I was taken ill with severe food poisoning. I befriended Lagosians whom I now trust with my extra set of house keys (as I have a tendency to misplace keys). A girlfriend offered me the use of her Nigerian bank account when I couldn’t yet open my own, and not a single kobo of mine ever went missing. In Sango market, after I bought tomatoes and didn’t realise I’d paid too much, a saleswoman ran after me with my 100 naira change, ‘Madam, I can’t take your money o.’ And I found a two-bedroom Mainland apartment with a landlord who insisted on a tenancy law-abiding contract—even though I still had to pay the two-year rent outlawed in the Lagos tenancy law.
Meanwhile, not a single 419’er has made any believable effort to scam me.
The few times people have tried to pull tricks on me, I saw them coming from miles away. The eyes of the taxi driver clearly read, ‘Would she fall for it?’ when he initially asked for 5,000 naira to take me from Abuja airport to Immigration. The waiter at the hotel bar where I was waiting for a contact dabbled with my change just a little too long for me not to notice he was handing me only half of what he owed. And the stranger’s late night phone call was another example of underwhelming scamming talent. I mean, seriously. What did he hope the victim’s reaction of such a con attempt would be?
‘Yes o, Uncle Henry in America! How you dey? You wan’ send me money? Thank you o, this na be my account number. I need to send you money first? Abeg, tell me quick-quick for where I go do the transfer!’
I came to realise 419 was a pretty unsuccessful business model when I was staying on UI campus in 2009. To check my email, I used to frequent a cybercafé on the ground floor of Agbowo Shopping Complex, across from UI campus. The place was filled with young men sending thousands of messages to what they hoped would be ‘scammable’ white folk in the West. They spent all day sending emails; every day of the week. Realising this was not the only place in Nigeria where such massive attempts at deception were taking place; I concluded the swindling tactics couldn’t be very effective. If they were, much greater numbers of people would fall for them.
I am on to you, Nigerians. Of course, as with any people, there are crooks among you. One could even argue that because there are so many Nigerians, the number of crooks might be considerable. But that doesn’t change the fact that the large majority of Nigerians do not fall into the scammer category. And that I have met more of you whom I’d trust with my house keys than those who have tried to rip me off.
The biggest scam you have managed to pull is leading the world to believe that you are such big scam artists.