‘These criminals learn new tricks every day. It is unfortunate that many unsuspecting members of the public fall for their tricks, with many having tales of woes to tell’

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There is hardly a week that I will not encounter scammers on a couple of occasions, especially those inviting you to one Whatsapp zoom meeting or the other. Once they introduce themselves, usually with a first name, and start sounding nice, asking after your work, family and health, be on your guard! They will then ask whether you are aware that there is a zoom meeting coming up at so-so time on this or that platform that you both belong to, according to them.

At first, I used to play along with a view to wasting their credit. Either I was driving and they should call back or I was urgently trying to complete a task. They would insist you take time off whatever to quickly check the text message they will soon send to you. Very well, I would say. They would then call back to ask whether you have now checked the text message. Once they realize you are just wasting their time, their reactions usually vary. Some will insult you and hang up. Others will simply quietly carry their nuisance elsewhere.

After some time, I decided to begin to rain fire, hail and brimstone on them. Once I confirm that they are the ones, I will open fire: “You will die sudden and untimely death before the set zoom meeting! It shall not be well with you and the entire members of your family…” Many of them will quickly zoom off without saying a word. Others will exchange fire for fire! One of them surprised me recently: after he zoomed off and I had thought that was the end of it, he called me on my mobile land and complained: “But you are a pastor; why should you wish me dead? A pastor is not supposed to do that!” Such effrontery!

I wonder if there are still mugus out there who fall for this zoom-meeting nonsense. There must be; otherwise, they would not have continued playing the trick on people. There was one particular one that, once he said a word, I knew immediately that he was the one on the line. His intonation always gave him out. At one point I had to advise him to go for voice training if he wanted to go far in his criminal venture; that he should learn to disguise his voice! All the same, he still tried me on a few more occasions. Once I reminded him that he had still not trained his voice, he would immediately switch off. For quite some time now, he has given me a break.

These criminals learn new tricks every day. It is unfortunate that many unsuspecting members of the public fall for their tricks, with many having tales of woes to tell. Do you wonder why they are left to run riot, without the law enforcement agencies being on their trail? The law enforcing the compulsory registration of sim cards and the advancement in technology should help in this direction, but here in Nigeria, what works elsewhere fails spectacularly here.

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Rampant corruption negates great ideas here. Those charged with the responsibility of making systems work are either the saboteurs of the system or the informants and insiders that assist the criminals to beat the system. Ex-bank workers and ex-military men have been found as direct or indirect criminals polluting the system all over the place. Some are so audacious that they sit inside and piss inside!

We still have a long way to go in the fight against crime and criminals. Where corruption is endemic, crime cannot but fester. Where poverty stalks the landscape, those seeking all manner of means, fair and foul, to make a living will spurn sermons of good behaviour. In a materialistic society such as ours, where what matters are riches, however acquired, and not good character, crimes cannot but be the order of the day.

Punishments are rare here; or better still, only petty criminals stand the chance of getting caught and getting punished here while big-time criminals always smile their way to the bank. They soon deodorize and legitimize their loot by running for and winning elections into big political offices to become “Honourables” and “His Excellencies”, thereby acquiring immunity from censure and prosecution. They bag chieftaincy titles and are decorated with national honours. Their tribes have grown over leaps and bounds since the Fourth Republic began in 1999; such that, now, they have a vice-like grip on the leadership of the country: the three tiers as well as the three arms of government.

But since we now operate a democracy, crimes and criminal activities have themselves been democratized in a sense, such that even the lumpen elements have joined the big guys, having some sectors of the crime enterprise ceded unto them, such as banditry, kidnapping, etc while the big guys are in charge of budget padding, crude oil theft, forex round-tripping, etc. Where do we go from here?

Last week, there was an uproar when a post began to trend widely and wildly, accusing some alleged officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency of criminal extortion of money from a Nigerian traveller at one of the country’s international airports. The story appeared outlandish to me but, this is Nigeria, where anything can, and does, happen!

Here, because of our experience, whenever government officials are accused of any form of abuse of office, the first thing is to deem them guilty as charged until the contrary is proved. In saner climes, the contrary is the case as an accused person is deemed innocent until the contrary is proved by a court of competent jurisdiction, and not until the person so accused must have had his day in court. In the NDLEA case, the emotive story ran thus:

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“Around 4.30 to 5 pm at the Muritala Mohammed Airport today, officers of the NDLEA arrested and detained an innocent man for no good reason and demanded a bribe of N5 million. Hear the audio voice and see the picture of the man. His mother was robbed in Calabar yesterday at midnight by armed robbers. His 8-year-old daughter was shot by the armed robbers and the girl is in intensive care (at the hospital). When the victim spoke to the doctor on phone before coming to Nigeria, they told him to visit the pharmacy and buy a normal drug (and bring it) along. He bought it from a pharmacy in the US and took his flight. He works in the US and was granted emergency leave at his place of work to come to Nigeria. Can you believe that the NDLEA called it a contraband drug and that even if it is a single pill, he has no right to buy any drug; that only somebody that is licensed can buy any drug and bring it to Nigeria. Listen to this audio. Please share until it gets the attention of the aviation minister, Festus Keyamo, and the NDLEA chairman, Buba Marwa”.

Now, who will read this kind of story and not go for the NDLEA’s jugular? For another, Marwa and the NDLEA remain few of the remaining oasis of decency, decorum and quality service delivery in the aridity of putrid bad governance that has become the country’s hallmark. And, as they say, if gold rusts, what will iron do? So you can imagine the kind of bashing that Marwa and NDLEA got within hours on social media!

But, pray, what is my own? My beef was that the media also did not leave me alone! Remember, I was Marwa’s Director of Media and Publicity when he jostled for the presidential flag of the then ruling party, the PDP, in 2006. So, ever since, some news on Marwa, the media would bounce it off me and I would contact Marwa where I have no ready answer. In this instance, I contacted him and he told me nothing of such happened that involved the NDLEA.

Femi Babafemi, who is the NDLEA’s Director of Media and Advocacy, later effectively blew the lid off a scam that the anti-drug czar knew nothing about. His press statement, titled “NDLEA alerts public on new scam”, ran thus:

“The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, wishes to alert members of the public, especially those who have loved ones abroad, to a new scheme by scammers who impersonate NDLEA officers and call unsuspecting citizens to inform them of the arrest of their relatives at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos or at any other international airports in Nigeria, with illicit drugs upon arrival in the country. After throwing the family members into panic, the scammers then make a demand of millions of Naira to facilitate the release of such persons from NDLEA custody. We have thwarted a number of such bids in the past when the family members called the Agency’s official contacts for help or clarification. At the moment, there is one of such scenarios the Agency has just investigated. In this case, the picture of a Nigerian man based in the US is being circulated with an audio of a purported NDLEA officer negotiating the payment of N5 million with a female relative for the release of the US-based Nigerian purportedly arrested at the Lagos airport on Friday, 22nd March upon his arrival with a ‘contraband’ Just like in previous instances, our investigation has also shown that the current incident is the work of scammers. No NDLEA officer is involved in the audio conversation and the person whose photo is attached to the audio recording being circulated is not in our custody at MMIA or at any of our commands either as at yesterday or any other day. The family members involved in this case are advised not to part with their hard-earned money to scammers. Nigerians with loved ones abroad are also urged to keep discussions on travel plans of their relatives to themselves to avoid the hijacking of such (information) by criminal elements for devious schemes”.

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Can you beat that? Studies have shown that criminals are usually one or two steps ahead of law enforcement. It is only in cases where the law is smart and efficient – with the help of cutting edge technology – that it can quickly close the gap on criminals. Otherwise, criminals will have a field day and crime will fester. The yeoman’s job that Marwa and the NDLEA have done since my erstwhile principal mounted the saddle has been worthwhile and has, appropriately, received the commendation of all. The bashing they got over this scam, for no fault of theirs, is, therefore, unfortunate. Rather than discourage or deter them, it must, however, further energize them to forge ahead to rid the country of the scourge of hard drugs.

I shudder to think what the country would have by now become if not for the wonderful job that Marwa and the NDLEA have done in the last few years. This is not the time for them to relent or rest on their oars!

Happy Easter to all my esteemed readers! You are highly appreciated!

*Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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