By Toyin Falola
Nigeria is experiencing economic issues due to poor planning, ineffective policies, poor leadership, and many other factors. Despite the country’s abundant natural and human resources, the inability to use the wealth to turn things around for the masses has led many astray. A significant portion of the country’s wealth is in the hands of a privileged few, which has led to increased vices among the citizens as the means of survival get tighter day by day. The roles that these obstacles to survival have played in every aspect of society have largely contributed to greed and a preference for living a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of others. The alarming increase in ritual killings in Nigeria has placed the nation in a state of shock and fear, as many do not know who the next victim of the tragedy will be. Banditry, cybercrime, and kidnapping are all on the rise and Nigerians are not spared from these vices and other forms of insecurity, even amid severe economic difficulties. In February 2022, the Nigerian House of Representatives recommended that a state of emergency be declared because of the increasing rate of ritual killings, banditry, and terrorism, which have grown to be severe security threats.
Many people are relocating out of the country for various reasons, including economic difficulties, insecurity, and societal issues. Workers are migrating to other nations believed to have better working conditions, just as students leave because of the deplorable state of the country’s tertiary education system. The informal sector is also experiencing such significant movement, and many people are falling prey to fraudulent travel agencies, human traffickers, and other scams because of the desperation to flee the nation as soon as possible.
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Due to the struggles with various family concerns and the environment in which they live, citizens now face a narrow path to achievement. The events that led up to Tobias’s tragic demise are only a few examples of the experiences that youth of his age face, which can either improve or worsen their fortune. Malik is not exempt from the same dysfunctional societal scenario; his route to achievement was made even more difficult by the environment in which he found himself and by the circumstances of his upbringing. Despite receiving some care from one of his parents, he is automatically at a disadvantage because of his surroundings. This will significantly alter what would become of his future.
Malik watched the bullets fly and hit his unguarded friend. He wished he could have helped Tobias. He wished he could have made the bullets disappear or deflect them or even rendered them powerless, but there was nothing he could do. He had always never been able to help his friend much because he also needed all the help he could get. Malik was quite different from Tobias in some ways. He came from a relatively comfortable middle-class family, and like Tobias, his parents were no longer together. His father had enough money to care for his wife and Malik but lived by his philosophy to enjoy himself on earth before death called on him. Therefore, he spent his days philandering.
To properly go about his business, Malik’s father had another philosophy he lived by: “Any child who wants an affluent life should work for it.” With that, he denied Malik access to his money. This attitude disgusted his wife so much that she left to raise their son alone. She did her best, and he finished his National Diploma, but the lack of funds ended his aspirations to continue with the Higher National Diploma. Malik’s frustrations grew when he could not get a job with his qualification and turned to menial jobs to sustain himself.
With pieces of his heart in his hands, Malik called his mother to inform her that his roommate had been executed, but he did not mention what led to his execution. He dared not. Everybody who knew the truth of that matter at best kept their mouth shut lest they risked Sir Mola’s wrath. Malik thought about his ageing mother. What would she do if something bad were to happen to him? She had weathered many storms to see that he became a success and loved him still, despite his few bad habits. Tobias’ death awoke a new fire in Malik. He had to make it, whatever it took.
It was time to ramp up that hustle, but Nigeria is not a good environment to bring prosperous returns. He should leave the shores of Nigeria like his friends who had now become big men and rode in big cars. There was a serious urge for Malik to leave the country as quickly as he could, but he was cash-strapped. His sources of income were his mother and his daily hustle. Both would eventually bring the money he needed, but it would take him years. Malik did not have that kind of time. Something had to be done to his situation, and it had to be done fast. He reached out to some of his friends abroad but got no replies. Wealthy people do not like potential competition.
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However, that did not put a spanner in Malik’s schemes. He reached out to some of his friends who were still in the country but doing better than he was. Many cold replies came his way, but he eventually found a friend, Geeboy, who took pity on him and introduced him to a Shaman. The place and the man looked scary, but not enough to prevent Malik from achieving his goals. After several chants and incantations, Malik was given two options: to take a soap that he had to bathe with at exactly 2 a.m. for seven days or exchange his manhood for a potent money ritual charm. Malik had seen the latter play out many times in movies. Money rituals are not worth it. The soap process seemed not to be complicated. The soap would only make potential customers feel pity for him and bring more jobs to him. It looked decent enough, and even though the money ritual process would give him instant wealth, he settled for the soap. He only needed more money to quickly gather enough funds to process his migration out of Nigeria.
During the first few days of using the soap, Malik saw no difference in his financial status, but he kept on. As the days rolled by, he noticed that people were not troubled to pay him higher prices for his services. Some even tipped him, and clients kept coming back for his service. Just as the Shaman promised, the soap worked wonders, and Malik judiciously used it, so it did not finish on time. Soon he started to make enough to save up for a passport.
At the immigration office, Nigeria was waiting for Malik. There was a long queue of people like Malik who wanted to leave the country to secure greener pastures. After his data was captured, Malik was asked to return in three months to pick up his passport. The words pierced his heart like a spear. He did not have that much time to wait; he needed to be out of the country almost immediately. Malik hung around with dejection pasted over his face till one of the immigration officers asked him what the issue was. He narrated his predicament, and the officer procured him a way out. If he wanted his passport to be released in two weeks, he needed to pay more, which would be fast-tracked for him. Malik was happy to hear this. Paying bribes in Nigeria to have one’s way is not a new phenomenon to him. He left the immigration office after exchanging names and phone numbers with his saviour.
When two weeks started to draw close, things did not seem right. The officer was unreachable and was no longer returning Malik’s texts. He dashed to the immigration office to check what was going on. No matter how much Malik yelled the full names of the officer and described his features, nobody could recognise him, and the only answer they gave to Malik was that there was no record of such a person. Malik had been duped. People watched him cry like a baby, but he did not care. He had just lost a lot of money. He was later whisked to the Comptroller’s office, where he was reprimanded for being so gullible as to pay a bribe to an individual whose identity he could not verify. He, however, took pity on Malik and told him he would see to the early release of his passport. Malik immediately stopped crying and was about to put on a happy face when the Comptroller mentioned that he would have to make some payments to that accord. He took his time to think about it. This could not be a scam; after all, it was the Comptroller’s office.
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After deciding to risk it and make payments, Malik was left with little money, which meant he would have to double his hustle to secure funds for his visa and flight ticket. He made the payment and hoped for the best. Exactly a week later, Malik was called by the immigration office to come and pick up his passport. It was a happy day, and he pranced all the way home. All that was left now was to buy his visa and flight ticket. Money was the key factor, but he did not have much, and the soap given to him by the Shaman had finished, so he reached out to him again. The visit to the Shaman was a bitter-sweet one. Malik was told he could not have the soap again lest he runs mad, but he would have some good luck come his way and should make sure to use it as it would make him rich. He persevered and kept at his work, although it was not moving the way it did when he had the soap. When his frustration was about to reach its brink, Malik got a call for a job guaranteeing him big pay. He quickly accepted it, following the Shaman’s advice.
Malik linked up with some guys and successfully kidnapped a bus full of passengers. They lived in a thick forest for three days, collecting ransom and releasing their captives. The Shaman had predicted right—Malik made big money from the evil machinations. He reached out again to Geeboy and told him about his travel plans. Geeboy quickly called up a travel agent who would not only take care of the visa process but also get his tickets and help him put his money in a foreign account so that when he got to his destination, he would have something to survive with. Malik could not be happier. He thanked his friend and prepared to meet the agent.
Glorious was that day when he met the agent. The meeting occurred in the agent’s home, with his wife serving them beer and fried meat. He spoke all the right English that Malik wanted to hear to keep his mind at rest that his money was safe with him. He had no reason not to transfer all the money to the agent and go home to have a sound sleep. In a month, he should be out of the country and be chasing his dreams in a saner clime. The day arrived, and Malik and Geeboy went to the agent to pick up his documents. They knocked on the door but got no response, and the agent was not taking his calls.
Malik almost had a heart attack. Had he been duped again? He was about to burst into a thunderous crying session when a horn was heard at the gate. When it opened, it was the agent and his family. He apologised to the two men and handed over Malik’s passport with a stamped UK tourist visa. Malik was bound to leave the country the next day. He thanked his friend and left for the airport at the first break of dawn the next morning, even though his flight was slated for noon. He did not want any hiccups in his travel plans.
As the hours passed, Malik became very anxious and kept checking the time, which seemed to be intentionally slow that day. Eventually, it was time for him to check in. But he was not cleared as his documents were invalid. He needed the words to be repeatedly said before he understood that he could not travel with the visa he had. His obvious ignorance also made the officers at the check-in counter let him go without asking security to take him in for questioning. Malik called the agent immediately, and when he could not get him on the phone, he ran out of the airport and made his way to the agent’s house. He was sure it was an honest mistake on the agent’s part, which would be rectified as soon as possible, and he would be on his way out of the country.
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He met a locked door and stood there still dialling the agent’s number, which was now returning a “the number you have dialled is switched off” response from the operator. Still contemplating his next move, Geeboy’s landlord called his attention from the balcony and asked if he did not know the agent and his family had left for Dubai the previous night. Of course, the landlord must be hallucinating on some cheap dry gin, Malik thought and made nothing of it as he dialled Geeboy’s number. His friend was shocked to hear from him at that time of the day and instantly knew something was wrong. Malik told him what the landlord had said, and Geeboy asked for a few minutes to quickly make a call. Not quite three minutes after, he confirmed to Malik that the agent had truly left the country, apologising profusely and claiming his innocence.
Malik’s first reaction was to laugh. He thought about all the Nollywood movies he had watched and how every scene that had played out with him all day seemed like a well-acted film. He pictured Lateef Adedimeji in that role, the expression on his face, and his voice as he cried. Malik laughed and then cried as reality set in that he had been properly scammed. The good thing was that he had heeded his mother’s instruction not to tell anyone he was travelling out of the country until he had settled in at his destination. So, his house was still there, and none of his neighbours knew that he would have been touching down in London at the exact time he unlocked the door to his one-room apartment that night. Malik returned home defeated, and the wells of his tears dried up.
Two days later, he received a call from Geeboy to be a part of another job that would guarantee even bigger money. He knew then that las las, everything would be all right for him.
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.