If you get emailed by respected Nigerian businessman with a too good to be true business opportunity, then it's too good to be true right? Wrong.
In the less often explored country of Nigeria is a municipality by the name of Lagos. You probably know it, for it until recently was the capital city of the less often explored country of Nigeria. Capital cities enjoy a fame not always befitting of their qualities, purely for the reason of the capitalicity, which I don’t think is a word.
Officially, Lagos has 7.9m inhabitants. Unofficially the figure is estimated by some in the business of estimation to actually be up to 9m.
That’s many people.
That’s a very large municipality.
Yet still more arrive each day, seeking opportunity.
Good opportunity. No doubt they had opportunity where they were before, but it is the bad kind. The die early opportunity. The always be very hungry opportunity, etc etc.
One of the men is called Viktor Abanananhabanjo. Abanananhabanjo is a common name in Lagos and so there is likely more than one Viktor Abanananhabanjo , but there is only one in this story. He has lived in Lagos for the entire time that he has lived. He has never even left the municipality of Lagos. Not even once, by accident. That says something about the size of Lagos and also a little something about Viktor Abanananhabanjo, how much of each you must decide.
Viktor works for the Mustapha family. The Mustapha’s are well known and respected in Lagos. Mr Mustapha is the last surviving member and heir to the family’s wealth.
He has a little problem.
While a very wealthy man, he has incurred the wrath of certain senior members of the municipality of Lagos. He has said some things which, while they are absolutely true and needing to be said, were probably best said by all the cities inhabitants, in unison. Perhaps just before an election in which the people that he said the things about, who deserved to have these things said about them, they could have forcibly removed by the cities people, democratically.
Unfortunately that was not the case.
The case was that he said things that needed to be said, nearly everybody agrees, but, and here comes the kicker, no-one else said anything after he said what he said, nothing at all, not even a nod of agreement. Instead most looked the other way. It went a bit quiet. The people who he said things about heard via other people who heard from other people who really heard what Mr Mustapha said, because they were right there in front of him when he said it.
That was bad. For Mr Mustapha.
As it so happened, the people in charge were looking for a reason to take the wealth of the Mustapha family. Now they had their reason. Verbal treason.
Did you know, and I suspect you don’t, for it something not well know except by those who know it, that Lagos has the most effective city recycling system in the entire world. 99.5% of all the recyclable material in Lagos is actually recycled after use. Nothing is wasted in Lagos because there are many people in its city who need to survive and be fed and clothed etc etc. So any opportunity to make money which provides wealth, which allows them to survive, is greeted warmly and with enthusiasm by Lagos’ inhabitants.
Recycling is one such opportunity.
Because of this opportunity many people, a whole towns worth actually, lives at the cities dump. At any moment a truck may arrive and lift up its hydraulic rear compartment to an angle of at least 45’, ready to drop its trash. When this moment occurs, there will be at least 15 people standing below it, getting showered in trash - hooks and hold alls at the ready to scoop up anything recyclable. Once collected and amassed and sorted and cleaned and weighed and hauled to the relevant area, it is sold to a man who buys such things. Certain people tend to work with certain materials, so there is a metal dealer, a plastic dealer, a tin dealer etc. This person passes their goods up the line until they reach the end of the line which doesn’t really look like the end of a line, but more like a recycling factory.
Because of all the little people passing all the scraps along the lines, Lagos is able to recycle 99.5% of all its recyclable goods. Which is really quite impressive and more than any other city in the world if such statistics are to be believed. Each step in the chain is a person, or 100 people who have all seized this opportunity and survive, peddling the trash of other people. People will do anything to survive. Particularly in Lagos, where population growth has risen to a level that burdens mere opportunity.
You may be wondering how the Mustapha family made their wealth. You may think since I invested so much time with that little anecdote about the recycling of trash, that maybe they were the recycling business. Wrong. They were not. Mr Mustapha’s Grandfather coincidentally also called Mr Mustapha made the families wealth in the beverage business and here is how…
In Lagos it is very hot. It is always very hot. Many people complain about this. Not as many as you would think though, since it’s always been hot and so it’s rather an accepted feature of Lagos life by now. Plus the people of Lagos are resourceful and moaning and complaining is rather frowned upon.
You may have spotted a trend in your ordinary hum drum life, this trend is that when temperature increases, so does peoples desire for beverages. Curious indeed. Mr Mustapha senior recognized this and began selling them (beverages not people, that would be silly) on the side of a dusty road. This dusty road grew to be a popular road as more and more people arrived to seize opportunity in the city of Lagos. Where before it was a quiet dusty road, it ended up being a popular travel route from one ghetto to another. The road itself became flanked by several burgeoning, highly unofficial and lacking in requisite planning permission - smaller Ghettos.
As it grew so did Mr Mustapha senior’s humble beverage stall. To begin with, it was primitive, little more than a black stool and a coolbox, but as the road grew and opportunity smiled down upon Mr Mustapha he upgraded like a motherbitch. His stall turned into a large stall, then a shop, then a large shop, then a convenience store, then a large convenience stores, then finally a supermarket. He invested in other locations and they grew as well and before he knew it, well, actually he always knew because he was in charge of it, but that’s an expression “before he knew it” and so I wrote it, he had more than 100 stalls, convenience stores and supermarkets.
Not bad. Not bad at all. Good word Mr Mustapha senior.
This wealth and success did not go unnoticed. In Nigeria there is much more leniency in what is and what isn’t acceptable business practice. For example in Europe, imagine you are the owner of a Supermarket. You might cuss about the owner of your rival Supermarket. You might send someone round to check the price of his Aubergines and then you might reduce your Aubergines a cent or two until they are lower than his. Then you might make a poster emphasizing how much lower in price your Aubergines are than his Aubergines. Then you’ll probably get back to the unsavory business of cussing a little more and that’ll be that.
In Nigeria, if you were the owner of a Supermarket you’d cuss about the owner of your rival Supermarket as well, even more most likely, but that is where the similarities end. Rather than the Aubergine undercutting tactic, you’ll probably just hire a Witch Doctor to curse him so that unless he closes his Supermarket within 48hrs his penis or something else equally vital will fall off.
If that doesn’t work, because you entrusted the task to a fairly average Witch Doctor you’ll probably just kidnap the rival supermarket owner and then ask him nicely to close his Supermarket. If that doesn’t work, you might cut off his ear, or the ear of his wife. If that doesn’t work then you just cut off his head and take on the bothersome task of running his Supermarket for him and with it the less bothersome task of spending the profits of said bothersome Supermarket.
It none of that works and you think might take too long, just get takes some matches and kerosene from your Supermarket and burn his shit to the ground. Sometimes a message has to be sent, other times shit just has to be burnt to the ground.
Many people wanted to cut off Mr Mustapha seniors ear. Many people hoped that his penis might fall off. Mr Mustapha senior knew this but kept friends in high place. By greasing the palms of these friends in high place, he was able to afford protection from the unsavoury elements of society that encircled him. He didn’t grease their palms with grease either, I can tell you that for sure. He did it with money.
Some people say that money buys you friends. I’d say it’s more apt to say - money buys you protection.
In Lagos, money causes corruption, of that everyone is sure.
This is what Mr Mustapha junior, much more of an idealist than his dear Grandfather, publically complained about. He no longer wanted to grease palms. With neither money nor grease. While he’d sold his grandfathers shop empire already, once you greased a mans hands, he very often expects that you will continue its greasing. When it is dry he may drop by to enquire nicely at first but then not so nicely about when you plan on next greasing it.
He may not like it if you say you will now cease with greasing. Publically.
The vultures were beginning to awake from their slumber and discussing with other vultures if it might be about time they circled Mr Mustapha junior.
He knew this though, and had begun acting fast….
With the help of his trusted associate Viktor Abanananhabanjo, who we will just called Viktor from now on since his last name is pretty long and not that easy to pronounce, he and Viktor had a plan. They knew that his assets were under investigation, that their new enemies would most likely move to seize them, citing some flimsy law or rule that they broken or just because they could and they could because corruption was a real problem in Lagos.
The plan was to move the money out of Nigeria as soon as possible. The only problem was that neither Mr Mustapha junior or Viktor knew anyone outside of Nigeria. Viktor has never even left Lagos, as I mentioned already. They decided their best bet was to use the internet to appeal for kind hearted people outside of Nigeria to assist them. They would make sure they got a percentage of the money as well of course. That would only be fair. Effort should not go unrewarded. Unless it’s effort spent on evil things like murdering. That effort should go unrewarded. Although I imagine for murderers murdering is already its own reward.
What would Viktor and Mr Mustapha junior do once they’d got their assets outside of Nigeria? Well they would sneak themselves out, or they would go into hiding. Safe in the knowledge that the corrupt officials of a corrupt government would not be left urinating the hard work of Mr Mustapha senior right up the proverbial wall.
That was the plan. Plans though, unfortunately, tend to be easier hatched than reared.
Mr Mustapha, who we’ll just call Mr M from now on since his name is also long, although easier to pronounce, left his generously proportioned master bedroom, in which he mostly spent his days slumbering in his generously proportioned king sized bed, to began descending down his white marble staircase to the lower white marble floor of his generously sized house. A house he had rarely left since he had said those things that he was right to say but should not really have said.
He was keeping a low profile.
He turned from the staircase to his right and passed many items of furniture that I don’t know the names of because I know very little about furniture. Bookcases, chests of drawer and so and so forth. He also passed the head of an antelope which was mounted to the wall. Someone in the family had killed it whilst out hunting. Which is pretty much the only logical place you’ll kill an antelope. After passing this antelope he proceeded into his study, where he found Viktor on the computer as he was so often of late.
“Viktor said Mr M, how are you today?”
Viktor turned from his computer screen to face his employer “Very pleasant thanks sir. How are you?
“Excellent” offered Mr M not really believing it himself, “Please inform me of your progress in acquiring us a foreign business partner?”
“I am working several leads, sir” replied an enthusiastic Viktor
“What do these leads look like?”
“Well, one is shaped like a man. I found him in the garden”
“In the garden?”
“Yes, in the garden.”
“How is he” says Mr M raising his eyebrows in a manner considered quizzical “a lead?“
“He has a friend who knows a man who once drank with a man who came from Belgium. He gave me his email address and thinks he would be willing to assist us.“
“Excellent. Have you emailed this man? “
“Yes, and several more.”
“Can you read me this electronic discourse please?” asked Mr M (he was quite old and not very good with technology or English. He didn’t even have an email address and made something as simple as operating a mouse look like the deep and even more confusing end of quantum physics)
“Yes sir, I will read it now
Dear respected sir began Viktor.
I salute you in the name of the most high God and trust that you found today surrounded in pleasantness”
While he understand very little of it, it sounded mighty good to the aging ear of Mr M and he nodded as Viktor read
“I am Mr Viktor Abanananhabanjo trusted assistant to a Mr Mustapha a prominent Nigerian businessman. Due to corruption and unsavoury elements, Mr Mustapha who is a citizen most honourable, is under investigation by the puppets of the Nigerian Government. Harassed and molested we require urgently assistance in moving our business assets which total more than $1,000,000 US dollars outside of Nigeria.”
“We have only $1m?” asked Mr M
“Actually it’s closer to $999,999 it was very hot on my walk here and so I purchased a Coke to rehydrate my good self.“
“Only $999,999? Oh dear, oh dear, we must hurry Viktor”
“$999,998.55 actually I forgot that after being thirsty I got a little hungry further along the road and purchased some skittles. Sorry sir”
Mr M sighed an audible sigh. “Continue with your letter Viktor”
“I therefore wish to personally appeal to you seriously and religiously for your urgentest assistance. I believe you are a very honest person whom people speak kindly of. Since it is likely to involve some inconvenience on your part, preparing forms and what not, you will of course be reimbursed for your efforts. You will be free to retain 30% of the funds for yourself. You could purchase a larger dwelling or make donations to the church of your god. Whatever pleases you most.”
“Are people outside of Nigeria very religious Viktor?” asked Mr M in a way that implied he already knew the answer
“Yes sir. Nearly all the white people here in Lagos are part of some church and very enthusiastic about religion and encouraging of you to adopt their religion in particular.”
“Are you talking about missionaries, Viktor?”
“Yes, they appear very much on a mission sir”
Mr M sighed an audible sigh. “Continue with your letter Viktor”
“Should you have the good grace and wisdom to assist us, please provide me details of your financial institution and of your person al contact particulars. The rest will be elementary.
Please reply with urgency and treat this offer with absolute confidentiality and sincerity.
Yours with haste,
Mr Viktor Abanananhabanjo”
“Excellent Viktor, how many people have you sent it to?” asked Mr M
“Many tens of people sir. Including the Belgian man“ replied Viktor
“Have you received responses yet?”
I have not, but I have only recently sent the electronic discourse. We must have patience.
“That we must” agreed Mr M.
“Did you send the email all in capital letters to emphasize urgency?”
“Of course, do you think me some kind of internet amateur?” said Viktor sounding hurt at this slight on his person. He did send them in capital letters as well, although here I put them in lower case because it’s hurts one’s eyes to read some many capital letters and I don’t want to do that to you. You probably need your eyes.
“Forgive me Viktor. I did not mean to patronize. One last thing, what was that man doing in MY garden? Questioned Mr M, lingering for longer was really necessary on the MY.
“Yoga I believe.” Answered Viktor
“Yes Yoga. But why was he in MY garden?”
“I asked him that myself”
“What did he say?”
“He said I should leave him alone and let him do his yoga.”
“What did you say to that?”
“There was not very much I could say, well, not very much that he would have heard anyway since I had walk away and left him alone to do his yoga.”
Mr M sighed an audible sigh. “Continue with your email sending Viktor”
Viktor continued with his email sending.
Several days passed. Many of his emails were not read at all. Cruelly it seems, certain spam filters protecting email accounts Viktor was trying to email, they decided his message was spam. Spam filters did not look kindly upon the county of Nigeria. They considered that it sent a rather higher % of spam than was altogether necessary. Certainly more than other countries of its size. They didn’t stop all emails heading out of Nigeria of course, they just looked very skeptically over them and with even the slightest provocation, they would whisk them off to the great Internet spam dustbin in the sky, where they would die alone and unread amongst piles and piles of discount med and penis enlarging opportunities.
After the several days had passed, naturally, it became today, which is what it still is as we rejoin the action and once again find Mr M heading for his study.
“Afternoon Viktor” says Mr M as he enters the study to find Viktor staring into the computer screen as usual.
“Afternoon Mr M” replies Viktor, once again turning on his chair to look his respected boss in his respected face.
“I was eager to hear a status update about the emails”
“Yes. I have now received replies” says a proud Viktor “I have two leads.”
“What do the leads look like?” asked Mr M once more.
“Well, I am exploring several avenues. Which is an expression I have learnt since emailing the white man. I learn it when one rather rude white man responded and said if I ever emailed him again he would hunt me down and explore all my wifes avenues with a hot poker while I was forced to watch.”
“Few men have not explored her avenues with their hot poker, or so is the rumour” said Mr M chuckling to himself before feeling guilty and adding “I am sorry Viktor, that was uncalled for.”
It was uncalled for, but sometimes Viktor just made it too easy and you couldn’t resist.
“You are lucky my employment prospects are limited Mr M. Yes my wife has been generous with her time in early years. A little too generous some have said. But now it is only I who walks her avenues. Which are actually very small and compact. More like passages or narrow corridors.”
“Let us move onwards.” Says Mr M and makes a sweeping gesture with right arm to emphasise this visually “Did you receive any positive replies?”
“Yes, one man said he would be willing to assist us if first we would recreate for him a sketch from the Monty Python” informs Viktor.
“Who is the Monty Python?” asks Mr M
“I am not sure. Presumably the witch doctor of his village. This Monty Python apparently he owns a Pet Shop. “
“A noble profession“ replied Mr M and it is so.
“Yes. We must record a video in which one of us pretends to be this Monty Python and the other enquires about purchasing a Parrot.”
“A parrot?” enquired Mr M with disbelief.
“A parrot that is apparently dead” confirmed Viktor.
“Annoying pets” began Mr M “talk more than my first wife. More sense admittedly. But that's not the point. Not much meat on a parrot either once you do get tired of it.”
“Plenty on your ex-wife” said Viktor cheekily and a little louder than he would have intended. He would not normally have been so rude to his boss, but he was still slightly wounded from the hot poker comment of the previous page”
“What did you say?” pressed Mr M aggressively
“I said, plenty of reasons to miss your ex-wife” answered Viktor before giving his best that’s exactly what I said I am in no way nervous smile.
“There sure are. Somedays I regret pushing her down the stairs when I did. Still no use crying over spilt milk” responded Mr M, no longer so aggressively, contemplatively, nostalgically even.
“Her name was Milt, sir” said Viktor
“Ah, so it was Viktor, so it was” agrees Mr M before changing the subject “I did not realize it would be this difficult to give foreign people money Viktor”
“Neither did I sir”
“Do you think all white people are this suspicious, Viktor?”
“My brother who is more experienced in these matters than me, he says so sir.”
“What does your brother do?”
“He runs a charity”
“What sort of charity?”
“Church of the free iPod”
“Church of the free iPod?” Repeated Mr M only much more quizzically.
“My brother he loves music. Like everyone here in Lagos. His dancing feet are legendary in our ghetto. The rhythm stick hit him hard as a child. Well, he wants to share the love of music and so has acquired a number of refurbished iPods from a business colleague. He puts Nigerian music on them for foreigners to enjoy. He has a banner about his charity on many websites where it says “FREE IPOD - CLICK HERE”
“All in capitals I hope to stress urgency?”
“Of course, of course, he is not some kind of amateur”
“People can click and then fill out a form with their name and address and he sends them an iPod. Free.”
“How many people have requested an iPod?”
“One. But that was him. He was testing the form. Now his house completely full of refurbished iPods. He sleeps with them in his bed, he has so little space that even his oven now contains refurbished iPods. No-one seems to want his iPods.”
“I would like an iPod, Viktor”
“You are ineligible. You are Nigerian. You love music. Just this morning I caught you hipthrusting around the kitchen whistling to the Sex Machine.”
“You saw that? Then I am Guilty as charged……So, then, what do we do? The Monty Python video?”
“Right now I have only one other lead. It’s a man who would also be willing to enter into our business arrangement, let me read you his email, it seems a little strange to me” said Viktor and took a few moments of browsing around in this inbox before he located this email. When he did he began reading
“Dear Ireallyreallywannabanjo” began Viktor, “already, see, he got my name wrong“ he said sounding a little hurt.
“That must be on purpose, Abanananhabanjo is a common name” said Mr M
“I thought exactly the same” continued Viktor “so, then he said I was so excited to receive your letter. No really, it had been a bad day for me, by Mum who I loved more than life itself had just been squished to death by an elevator in free fall. I was sad. I considered suicide. But then out of nowhere, bam, lady luck kissed me right on my pecker – I got your email. It’s not every day that a respected Nigerian businessman emails you with a very easy way to make a life changing amount of money.
It’s not every day at all. Oh no, wait, it is. It is every day. Every fucking day. You Nigerians, you really wealthy people who are hoodwinking us all by living in your little mud huts and eating only ants, yeah you, spending your days emailing the world about all this money you have stuck in various bank accounts but that you can’t get access to for a reason that makes about as much sense as me stripping naked, covering myself in peanut butter and going dancing down the high street.
If I had a $ for everyone really, just $1.
I’ll tell you what I’ll do respected sir, I’ll help you out and give you my bank details if, and only if, you first chop off your penis and shove it up your ass. As a sign of good faith
John Doe” finished Viktor who turned once more to face the respected face of his respected employer, who by now was sporting a rather confused look
“While I am not familiar with the white man’s normal style of communication, I agree the tone of the mail does seem a little unordinary” agreed Mr M
“I thought so as well. Slightly mocking perhaps” said Viktor in agreement of Mr M’s agreement.
“I understand that the distance between us and he means we cannot merely shake hands on the deal like normal. But asking you to removing your male member and shove it up your ass? That seems a little drastic.”
“As a sign of good faith apparently.”
“Let’s leave this lead on the maybe list for now.”
A moment or two passed in which neither men said anything much. Viktor looked mostly, but not exclusively towards his shoes. Mr M around the room and out to the head of the Antelope in his hallway.
“Do you think it would be this difficult to give money in this manner to Nigerians?” asked Mr M after there had been enough silence.
“I was wondering that as well. I did some research last night in my local bar. I put $1 on the table and asked who wants it?
Every single person in the bar raised their arm” informs Viktor
Both men laughed a knowing laugh. Lagos.
“I thought maybe that was a fluke. So I tried again and put down another $1 and asked again.
Every single person in the bar raised both their arms this time. “
“It was not a fluke?” asked Mr M.
“I don't think so” said Viktor.
“Then what happened?“ asked Mr M once more, having not yet had his fill of this tale.
“I lost consciousness. I was hit about the head. The $2 were taken from the table along with $7 more from my pocket. Plus my shoes. After that I lost the motivation for further research. “
“Not the only thing you lost” joked Mr M.
“Correct, I lost $9 and my shoes. Although actually I wanted to talk to you about that. Can I borrow your shoes?”
“Yes. I guess” confirmed Mr M after a few moments contemplation.
“Thank you. I did already. I wore them last night while out researching. They are clean and presentable and give one the confidence to enter into official research“
Mr M sighed an audible sigh. “Oh. I think I would like to return to my bed, I am not getting any younger” which was true, but then is true of us all, apart from Bejamin Button who presumably is the exception that proves all of ours rule.
“One last thing, can I borrow $9?”asked Viktor in a manner closer to pleading.
You wish to do more “research”?
No, I wish to repay the man I borrowed $9 from that I used while researching.
Mr M sighed an audible sigh once more “was that man, by chance, me , Viktor?”
“Unfortunately so, sir” replied a sheepish Viktor who looked to the ground and at this moment resembled a small boy fearing a scolding for having got a hole in his trousers while playing football.
“Make the arrangements for the Monty Python Pet Shop video Viktor” said Mr M before sighing one last audible sigh and trudging back upstairs to continue his low profile.