A Step Ahead
The Godfathers of Scam: Learning How To Detect and Avoid Scammers by Mark Neboh, Sam Iroanusi Publications, Lagos: 317pp
Reviewer: Michael Jimoh
Any scammer worth his pip will tell you the key to a successful job is to always be a step ahead of the fall guy. From the moment you send your proposal, the follow-up letters and mail to when he actually arrives, through airport formalities, stays in hotels, visits to offices with bogus staff and tour-around to inspect whatever catches his fancy, everything will almost always have been meticulously planned and prearranged to the last detail.
The result is fairly easily predictable. The would-be victim, mugu in local parlance, will be hard put not to believe there is, indeed, a deal. Thereafter, conmen aka 419 literally lead their victims by the nose before ‘prosecuting’ them to the finish. How do they do it?
That is what Mark Neboh seeks to answer with The Godfathers of Scam: Learning How to Detect and Avoid Scammers. His effort is not wasted. Though written as fiction, it is as real as some of the dubious transactions involving real life crooks that have become the stuff of legend.
Readers still remember the sensational escapades of incomparable scammer Maurice Ibekwe. After making several big kills, he used his loot to smooth his way as lawmaker to the House of Representatives where, incredibly, he became the chairman of the House Committee on Police Affairs before he died ignominiously.
There was also Emmanuel Nwude whose windfall running to hundreds of millions of dollars led to the collapse of a Brazilian bank. Notorious conman, Fred Ajudua, got a reprieve from jail on compassionate grounds because of ill-health.
These are just three out of a phalanx of pitiless conmen whose only aim is to grab the victim’s money, flaunt it in the most indiscreet and flamboyant way, buy up the necessary security apparatus to shield them from possible reprisals by victims, run through the entire booty in a matter of days or weeks and then look out for who to bait and dupe once again.
There is this popular belief among scammers themselves that mugu will always fall, which probably accounts for their ostentatious lifestyle. You know they are around once they’ve made a hit – in popular restaurants and hotels, clubs and parties.
They wear the most expensive clothes and shoes, complete with costlier accessories. In fact, there is no end to their swag. That is part of the allure to potential victims, and the ruse never fails to work its magic.
The motley cast of characters in The Godfathers of Scam avail themselves of such stratagem, courting and wooing victim after victim, bilking them of millions of dollars. Chief Kunta Opepe, is the kingpin of a scam syndicate in the book. There is his second in command, Kimbo. There is Ojo and Alhaja Salewa, Sarah and others. Though later wooed to join the gang, Dankho is an exception. A legit and ambitious entrepreneur, Dankho succumbs in the end because of his perpetually indigent condition.
For others, the motivation is greed, so with the mugus. The first of them, Costillo, an American, had already concluded plans on what to do with the expected windfall from what he hopes to receive from the scammers. Of course, he never suspected that he was about to be milked dry. It was no different with the second victim, Khalid, a Syrian, the third, Rudolph Schmidt, a German, and the fourth, Hiroshi, from Japan.
Apart from the expensive SUVs and lavishly furnished hotel rooms, the scammers use another common ruse as old as man – looking direct into the eyes of the victims to establish some sort of sincerity. There are also the high class whores who, besides entertaining the mugu, also monitor them closely and watch them round the clock.
What immediately strikes the reader is the astonishing combination of greed, stupidity and naivety exhibited by the victims, and how easily they are taken in. Costillo, a wealthy man in his own right, is still surprised at the number of expensive cars in Chief’s compound. It is all part of the set up, which the victim does not suspect. Invariably, the only genuine person or thing in a typical ‘job’ is the mugu himself and his dollars.
Caught out the first time, you would naturally hope that victims would have learnt their lessons. It is not true. Again and again, one victim may even be passed around from one conman to another and back again, to be milked ever more steadily.
In the scam artist’s lexicon, payment never ceases once it has begun or, to use a local parlance, mugu go always fall. After defrauding one such victim effortlessly, Chief and his team call him “grassroots mugu.”
Victims have been known to take their lives. Others go mad. Entire family fortunes have been wiped out and destinies of generations of victims altered. Also altered are the lives of the scammers themselves. Chief tries and fails to run a Pentecostal church he founded.
His singular objective is making money. A pastor argues otherwise. Chief fires him immediately. Next, he makes a stab for the number one citizen of his community. He succeeds but drives the community to a near war situation.
Dankho, the only sane one among the criminal lot, is poisoned. Sarah dies of AIDs related illness. Alhaja Salewa ends up in jail after being set up by her husband and colleague. The bad end for most of the characters is the reason for the rider, Learning How to Detect and Avoid Scammers. It is the author’s moral lesson in the book and the vehicles for this message are Sarah and Adams.
Nebo’s fictional account is as gripping as the real life stories told about the legendary Nigerian 419. The characters are a motley crew of saints-turned-sinners, hardcore criminals, career female prostitutes, avaricious Pentecostal preachers and soiled spiritualists, bent officials in ministries, customs, immigration and the police.
Born to cheat would have been a more apt title for this book because the cast of characters have only one aim, to swindle, swindle and swindle till the second coming of Christ. But their greed gets out of hand. After each windfall, Chief underpays his colleagues. Those who know scammers well insist it is so in real life.
While Neboh’s story engages, the same cannot be said for the structure. It is loose and told rather haphazardly. A more expert author would have written the story more organically, stringing the incidents piece by piece and so build it to its final denouement. This is not the only oversight.
You notice the errors right from the prologue. Instead of wreak havoc, there is wreck. Later, you have the author insisting that “Dankho was brought up in the African family tradition that upheld the truth, Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, respect for elders and love for neighbours.” Oh Gosh! Elsewhere, Caeserean is spelt “ceaserian.
Prepositional inaccuracies crop up here and there like thorns on a grassy field. For instance, there is “what should be paramount in out mindset” and ”you enamoured me…” instead of “I am enamoured of you.” “Pressurised” is most often used as an industrial term and not the same as to pressure somebody into doing something or taking action.
There are enough hooplas to make readers feel hard done by. Still, Neboh can be forgiven, at least for fictionalizing a scourge that has more than sullied Nigeria’s rep.