It's been fifteen years since I joined the Yahoo Yahoo school. In exchange for a laptop and a place to sleep, we learned how to be online scammers, the most lucrative trade in Western Africa. The Oga, our boss, kept 75% of anything we earned. Crowded into the small rooms were endless rows of young men, some Igbo, some Yoruba, some Hausa, but all of us were Nigerians looking for a way to eat and send money to our families.
As a young boy in Ekulu, my mother and I stepped aside on the
dirt streets to allow the shiny Mercedes and Range Rovers room to pass. If their windows were slightly rolled down, the big boys would nod their heads at me, the sunlight glittering off a gold watch or ring. Every week, they drove to their small desperate villages to bring money and food to their mothers. But they were really here to recruit. When they came to recruit me, I couldn't take another night of hearing my mother crying softly because there was no food. I was ready.
After being told the rules of the scammers school, I was given a list of clients to chat with and a playbook. It was an algorithm, really. If the client was buying into my profession of love, I followed that side of the playbook and kept it going, taking it a higher level and introducing some intimacy. If they were losing interest, I showered them with compliments, dug through their social media and found common interests and passions. I soon got them back into that new love feeling or passed them to the next scammer. We all shared clients and the payouts. Our cut of the earnings were meager, but it was more naira than we had ever seen.
We were only allowed to leave the slum building and log off the laptops on Sunday morning to attend church or visit our families. These few hours of freedom came with the feeling I was being watched, which I most certainly was. I was not watched by the police though, they were all part of it and were paid not to notice. I was watched by the Oga's circle.
I once shared a smoke with an older guy in the school who was
always twitching and had the habit of looking above my head when we talked. He made me nervous and I stayed away from him after that. A few weeks later, after our free Sunday, he never came back. That night, Oga called us together.
"You want to be big boys, yes?" He waited for a response but none of us dared to speak. "That's why I bring you here, to bless you, show you the good way. Blessings are earned, they don't rain down. OTF, the blessings come this way. Do you understand? You no longer have a mother. I'm your mother, father, and your auntie; you belong to me. You belong here. OTF: only the family. Always remember what I tell you. Before every bite you put into your mouth or step you take, your thought must be 'only the family'. If it doesn't help your brothers, you don't do it. You know we have an empty bed today. Remember that. Someone didn't think about the family. There is no blessing for anyone who wants to go another way. Know this: his family will feel the pain of his poor choices too."
No one spoke as Oga walked out of the room. As he approached the doorway, he turned and looked back, "Am I still speaking? Get back online, your brothers are hungry."
Fifteen years in that slum. Fifteen years of clients in the UK, US, Australia, and Asia. My favorites were the Koreans. I just told my lies, asked for money or crypto and they gave so very generously. The Brits and Americans were getting smarter, but they are so lonely for love. They are worth the effort though. Most have plenty in retirement funds, savings, and real estate. I had a woman who cashed out a pension so I could have an emergency appendectomy. With her money, I bought the Mercedes I'm driving now. A man in Australia loved the photos I sent him of me as a fiery redhead so much he left his wife of 30 years. Our video chats and virtual sex using ManyCam made him sure I was the woman of his dreams. We all have fantasies though. His 100K was just what I had envisioned in my dreams. I wonder if he enjoyed Bali even though my flight never arrived?
Fifteen years. I'm the Oga now, but there is always another Oga
above me. I get to keep half of the 75% I earn from my school and all the other click farms I run. But I'm watched more now than when I was the Yahoo boy online for sixteen hours a day. All of us are watched. My partners who help me run the business who are watched by me and my bosses. Amobi oversees the sports gambling, mail order fraud, and the drug dealers. Enofi
runs the smuggling of young boys and girls wanting a better life in Italy. Loosely defined as personal escorts, the money they make is given to the pimps who give it to Enofi. He sends a small amount and writes a nice letter from the youngs people to their families in those pathetic villages so no questions are asked. I spend my days and nights watching the streets, the online chats and emails, and the mail frauds moving in and out of so many hands. Tomorrow, I leave for Italy to be sure everything is being handled there correctly. Do I trust my partners? Hell no, they are the worst kind of criminal-- exactly like the one I see in the mirror every day.
After about an hour on the sweltering Enugu street, I ease my car into the parking lot of a national bank. At this branch, I have an account in which I hold funds for Amobi, Enofi and me. I need to make a withdrawal, so I have some of my own cash for my trip. I never granted Amobi access to the account, but I did include Enofi just in case something ever happens to me. He isn’t always of the same mindset as I am, but he is reasonable enough to take care of things and stay discreet.
I walk through the tall glass doors into the air-conditioned grand entrance of the bank. Inside, there are gold or chrome plated finishes on grand furnishings everywhere I look. And people call me a thief! Banks are the biggest criminal organizations on earth. Their sole purpose is to keep people in debt so they can hold onto a person’s money and invest it for themselves. Everyone working here is well dressed and attractive. It's like they want their customers to believe if their money is in beautiful hands, it will be safe.
I slide my card into the ATM. Glancing to my sides and behind me, I cover the PIN pad before entering my number. I push "check balance" first like I always do. What the...this can't be right...I exit out and repeat the log in and check again. No way...
Greeting the young woman at one of the clerk’s desks, I ask to see my account balance and make a withdrawal. She politely asks my name and within seconds provides me with my balance.
“What did you say?” I lean forward and quietly ask.
She repeats the amount and I sit back, stunned. “Are you sure that is my account?”
She repeats my name and address back to me. “Is there a problem?”
“No, that's me, I just, well, I guess I hadn’t checked on the balance for some time since I have accounts at other banks. I just didn’t remember how much I had saved. And, of course, with your fine institution’s interest rate at such a generous level, one can’t help but be successful,” I offer my compliments to cover my shock.
“Of course, sir. We do intend to be competitive for the business of
successful men like yourself,” she smiles, ever the loyal employee.
I fill out my form for the withdrawal and am promptly presented with an envelope of funds. She asks if there is anything else she can do for me. I politely decline and wish her a good day.
I am shaking as I walk to my car. There is an extra 50 million naira in the account. How can this be? I just gave a detailed accounting and balances to my superiors yesterday. As soon as I'm inside my car, I lock the doors and just sit staring ahead. After allowing my heart to slow enough that I can’t hear it beating in my ears, I open my banking app on my phone. I hate doing any banking on my phone, but I don’t have my laptop with me. It’s always such a risk here in Nigeria to do business on a phone, especially using open Wi-Fi. But this situation can't wait.
I scroll through the transactions. Small amounts, no more than 6 million naira at a time coming in from various places in the UK. There are also some from Greece, South America, and the Philippines. They are all small and spaced only days apart. Only once are there two deposits listed in one day, but those are from South America and the Philippines, so it may have been due to the time difference. I expected all of these amounts though. Wait, here it is. Five credits posted of 10 million naira each. From an account in Milan. Milan? Milan, Italy? No way. Who would be sending us money from Milan? We only do business in Naples, where we have connections to protect our investments. Son of bitch! Enofi...he handles all of our Italian business. What is he thinking? He is going to get us killed.
I look up from my phone and rest my throbbing head on the back of my seat. That's when I see him out of the corner of my eye. Enofi is walking into the bank. I watch and wait. I'll sit here for as long as it takes. My head is throbbing just thinking how I'm going to kill him. After a few minutes, I see him standing at the bank's door with one of the smartly dressed bankers. I check my balance on the bank app, still open on my phone. Now the 50 million is gone.
Enofi is shaking hands with the banker. I make my move. He slips his sunglasses on and opens the door but stops as soon as he sees my car blocking the sidewalk to the lot.
"Get in," I stare at him and he knows he has no other option.
He stands still with his head low. He slowly looks up, runs and slides his body across the hood of my car and takes off in a sprint. He's fast, but not as fast as my car. I pin him to the cement wall at the side of the bank lot. His face turns white as at least one of his femurs shatters. I push lightly on the gas pedal to keep him against the wall and slam the Mercedes into park. Walking up to him calmly, I grab his stupid face and tell him to look into my eyes. His face wrenched in pain, he looks up.
"Only the family, Enofi, only the family. You are dead man." I pull away and he slumps to the ground. My men are waiting at the edge of the lot and stop alongside my car as I am leaving.
"Leave the money on his body, the Oga will want to see it." I leave them to do their business in the lot. One of my men enters the bank to collect the security video and the other throws Enofi into the back of the car.
Easing out into traffic, I hit the button to close the Mercedes' dark tinted window. I must get home to pack for my trip. I'll take over the business in Italy until I can find someone who understands the importance of family.