They say you can’t cheat an honest man, and I agree. Be it far from me to think of myself as an honest man, but I have learnt that if you want something for nothing, you will be sold nothing for something.
Here is my story.
Between the wind coming in the window and the patchy network, I had to press the phone close to my ear and raise my voice to have any meaningful conversation.
‘Is that Franque?’ The voice at the other end asked.
‘Yes.’ My forehead creased.
‘Hey Franque, kedu?’ The tone of familiarity and the igbo softened my features.
‘It’s me Mike Ibe.’ The voice continued in my ear. ‘How are you? E don tey o. Shebi you remember me for #86 Moradeyo street?’
The name Mike Ibe did not exactly ring a bell, but going by the address he gave, we clearly went way back; I have not lived at that address in over ten years.
‘How you dey now?’ I forced some enthusiasm into my voice to cover my embarrassment at not remembering him.
‘What have you been up to?’ He asked me, and then continued without waiting for my reply. ‘You remember I was working at NEPA before? Well, I lost my job…’
There you are! I thought, expecting a plea for assistance.
‘…but thank God I got a job with Etisalat.’ I felt ashamed of my earlier thought.
‘Hello? Hello?’ I looked at my phone and saw that the call had dropped. He called me right back.
‘So Franque, what do you say you’re doing now?’ He asked.
‘I’m in aviation.’ The line cut again and when he called me back I told him I was on a road trip which accounted for the wind and poor connectivity. I promised to call him when I arrived at my destination, but I forgot my promise to call Mike back; I forgot all about the phone call.
Mike did not forget. He called me the next morning, and the morning after that. On the third morning, after missing his call, I felt bad enough to call him back.
‘What is the matter with you?’ His thrust caught me on the back foot, and I found myself apologising before I could get sufficiently indignant to cuss him out and hang up on him.
‘It’s okay,’ he said in a conciliatory tone after my apology. ‘So, do you want me to speak in English or Igbo?’
‘Anyone you are more comfortable in.’ I said.
‘You see,’ He began. ‘I now work with Etisalat, and we have been getting complains about our network, so to boost our servers there’s this thing we use. When you see the mast, at the top there is a red beacon. Under this red light there is something like aluminium like this. They call it power indicator ring.’
In my head all I saw a Green Lantern ring and power lamp.
‘I used to buy it for my company Etisalat, but now they have awarded the contract to one man in Abuja with connections. He contacted me to show him where I used to get it from, but I am out in the field in Benue state now so I cannot take him there and I have been postponing our meeting.’
I checked my phone and the number was not even an Etisalat number, then I wondered how Etisalat would source for components in Nigeria and have an employee do that. The scam gave off such a stink, each time I spoke with Mike I gagged.
But I let my curiosity drive the conversation.
‘So what will you now do?’ I asked, concern in my voice.
‘See, can you speak with him and tell him you are the supplier? You see, the part is ₦250,000 per packet but I used to tell my company it is ₦270,000. If this man knows the warehouse that I get it from and the real amount, my job may be on the line. So please, can you help me? Atink is God that wants us to help each other.’
I was quiet for a moment in order to give the impression that I was contemplating his proposal. Then I agreed to act as his front.
The scheme was not too elaborate. I was supposed to call the real suppliers to get a quote from them, then call Mike back who will then speak with the contractor to give him my number. The contractor was to call me back from Abuja, and if we agreed on a price, he would fly into Lagos on the next available flight.
Mike sent me a text with the product specification and the suppliers’ contact details:
Company name is>suntek eng co ltd ayobo. Product name is>power indicator rings spn 1.8amps store manager elder David Adebayo tel 08162866715.
I googled the product and was led straight to a Nairaland post. It confirmed what I already knew: it was a scam. That did not stop me.
Mike also sent me the contractor’s details:
Chief Dr Philip Onoja tel 08115732858.
I played along and Dr Onoja, pleased with our agreement, jumped on a plane and flew into Lagos. Before he left, after he had boarded the plane, he called me to say he would not part with the cost of 50packets of the product without confirming that it was the 1.8amps model. He wanted a sample when he arrived Lagos.
I called Elder David who said it meant he could not tear a bag open without the highest assurance that I could, and would, come back for the entire consignment – a bag contained ten packets and, once broken, was useless unless the buyer was taking all ten packets.
I talked tough and reminded him he did not exactly need any assurances from me since he had done business in the past with my partner.
I then called Mike. He played the intermediary and guarantor role well. That was when he asked if I had enough money to cover the cost of the sample – since he was ‘in the bush in Benue and there is no internet banking here.’
‘How much is this sample sef?’ I asked.
‘It’s ₦250,000 nau. Anything you have spent, for recharge card or this sample or transportation, just document it as expenses. When we receive the money you will first remove that before we will share the rest 60-40.’
‘Oh, only the one? Small matter, I can take care of it. I’ll need an account to pay into though.’
When he spoke, I felt the sticky wetness of his drool down my ear.
‘I will ask Elder to send you their account number.’
Elder David then sent me a ‘customer’s account number to make things easy.’
GODWIN O IKUK, ACCESS BANK 0011807344
I waited ten minutes then called back to say I had made the payment.
Elder called me a couple of times to say they were yet to receive confirmation of payment and could I send them the teller number?
‘It’s internet transfer I did. Maybe it’s the bank’s network.’
‘Okay o. I will tell our accountant sha.’
About one hour later Chief Onoja called to say he had arrived Lagos and since I was not at the airport to meet him, he was going to make his way to the hotel.
‘Which hotel sir?’
‘When you check in please text me your room number.’
‘Okay. See you then.’
Mike called me then, urging me to go to the bank and ask them to post the money quickly.
‘I don’t understand. I should go to the bank and ask them to expedite my internet banking transaction?’
‘So what are we going to do now?’ He asked.
At this point I was tired of the game we were playing.
‘What you will do now is, you will not call my phone again.’ I put some steel in my voice. ‘You will not call me again if you do not want to be arrested. I will let this stupidity go this time, but the next time you call my phone…’ I was going to add ‘I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you’, but the Brian Mills in me died.
‘BastardImbecile!’ Mike yelled into the phone and hung up.
I doubled over and laughed till I had tears in my eyes.