UncategorizedWEEKEND ARENA

The story of Nigeria’s most notorious con man

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Naija is a unique place. One thing being a Nigerian teaches one is to be smart, or at least, believe that one is. With the economy getting tougher and tougher as the days go by, Nigerians are also re-strategising on how to cope with the encumbrances. Man must wack and how a man wacks, does not matter, so long as he does not get caught.

It did not start today. It was there some one hundred years ago, when men, parading as magicians, would gather at market squares and charge money for people to watch them perform their ‘magical acts’, only to show how their magical objects would ‘catch’ metallic items like razor blade and ‘refuse to catch’ another metal following their incantations . And the ignorant audience would clap and pay more money, not knowing that magnets attract metals and like poles of magnets would not. The magicians would urge them to bring anything metallic and see how their ‘magical item’ (magnet) would ‘catch’ it.

It was there when I was a boy, fresh in the secondary school. I remember seeing one advert in Prime People magazine by one Alhaji S Sule, who claimed to have powers to make people rich with what he called Golden Leaf. You would order the leaf from his base in Lagos, put it in a plate, cover it with a white handkerchief and place it at a junction, after mentioning the amount of money, not exceeding N1000 so the power does not lessen. According to Alhaji S Sule, by the time you return to collect the plate the next morning, that amount of money you requested, would be waiting for you. The price of the leaf was N100 (cool money then) payable via postal order. My friends and I, four of us, saw it as ‘opportunity to hammer’, and contributed towards the investment in the hope that we would be earning N950 (N50 less than the benchmark) every day. We had calculated how much we would be worth before we got to Class 2. That very day, we sneaked out of the boarding house, immediately after the morning devotion to go pick our bounty, the plate was exactly the way we left it. No money inside. We wrote a letter to Alhaji S Sule, complaining about our disappointment. Surprisingly, he wrote back, telling us, it was a mistake on our part, hinting that we may have done something that needed to be atoned for. He suggested in his reply that we needed to order the Golden Leaf Oil for N300 to restore the power. We were determined and contemplating on how to contribute more money for the oil, when one of the prefects, (he later became the Deputy Group MD of one of the top banks) noticed that something was not right about our movements in the dormitory and raised the alarm and the bubble burst, leading to serious spanking and the reality that Alhaji S. Sule was fake, a pseudonym that bought into the legitimacy of a magazine and our naivety that whatever appeared in print was real. Only God knows the number of school boys, the criminal may have duped and how much he was making on a daily or weekly basis from cashing those postal orders.

Has this trend ended today? No way. In fact, it has penetrated very unusual corners and sectors of our daily lives. Today, there are Alhaji S Sules in churches, in mosques, in schools, in investment companies and mostly in politics. In churches, they are the ones ‘selling miracles’, sometimes performing more miracles in one service than Christ did the entire time he was on earth. Taking advantage of the emerging technologies, they are the ones who slid into your inbox a few minutes after you accepted their friendship request on social media to chat you up, most times with poorly-worded proposals. They are the ones who break into Whatsapp chat groups and begin to advertise 20k investment that yields N50k in 30 minutes with the names of trusted members of the group, whom they have stolen their identities. Some of them pose as customs officers and the moment you accept their friendship request, they come full blast with a tempting price list of household commodities. Some gullible people are falling prey to these schemes, which is why, in my opinion, they are still engaging in them with fierce fervour.

The hopeful part of this kind of scamming is that it leaves options for one to choose whether to walk away or not, but the Alhaji S Sule we see in politics, leave us all with no options at all. Once they wriggle their way into positions of authority, everything bad begins to happen. Poor infrastructures take the toll because, for them, the money earmarked for road construction is the benefit from their scam. Insecurity heightens, because money meant for acquisition of weapons should end in private pockets. Workers are owed salaries. Elections are manipulated and monies meant for development purposes are diverted to bribing judges for judicial victories. The beautiful thing is that we know these Alhaji S Sules in our various locations and the best we can do for the next generation is to collectively send them away from the corridors of power.