By Olukorede Yishau
Conmen are not only 419ners who send phoney e-mails promising heaven and earth to the greedy and gullible. Conmen are not only Yahoo boys who reap where they do not sow. Conmen are not also only those who promise old white ladies love in order to have access to their hard-earned cash or those who go into other people’s bank accounts and drain them. They certainly go beyond men who ask for plenty of cash to buy chemicals to wash supposed black currencies into crispy dollars and Pound Sterling.
There are so many conmen in unexpected places. Checklist: conmen on the pulpit, conmen in power, conmen in banking halls, conmen in the newsroom, conmen in deeds and conmen in the markets.
The conmen on the pulpits call themselves men of God but they are really men of god; their god is small and his only motivation is cash obtained by deceit. What do you call a ‘man of God’ who, during a church service, brings out his mobile phone and dials God? The confused man proceeds to ask ‘Is that heaven?’ He then begins to say all manners of nonsense and his excited congregants are in awe of him. They are excited that, finally, their woes are over. He then adds a clincher: He will soon release God’s phone number. Wow! And no one gets up and slaps the madness out of his head.
There is also another one who engages a demon in a shouting match. The demon he employed for his deceit looks like one of those actors in a badly-scripted Nollywood home video. As expected, he defeats the boasting demon and declares the devil a liar when he is actually the liar and devil in human form.
I was flabbergasted the day I saw another clip of a conman on the pulpit who practically strangles a woman with a stiff neck. How on earth can delivering someone with stiff neck involve squeezing the life out of the ailing neck? She collapses and after a few seconds the ‘pastor’ performs some abracadabra and the old woman jumps up shouting Hallelujah. She is healed. Just like that!
Some of these conmen giving our dear Christianity and the Church a bad name charge fees for deliverance from the inability to have a baby, husband and a job. They charge for every human woe. They even charge and do special prayer on passport so that the United States, the United Kingdom and Canadian visas can be received with ease.
The conmen in power are the worst. During electioneering campaigns, they go from Makoko to Ajegunle and other ghettos in the country. They promise better lives for the ghetto dwellers and disappear thereafter. The only time they will be seen again is during the next electioneering campaigns when they will come with rice and money to buy votes. They are deficient in integrity. They make promises they do not intend to keep. They do not plan before getting into power. It is after they get into office that they understand the situation of things, and when they are reminded of their promises, they either deny or begin to explain things that need no explanation.
These conmen in power have made our education nothing to write home about. Universities are no longer great. Students are no longer tutored and mentored by star local and foreign lecturers. Hostels are now bedbug-invested. Our primary, secondary and tertiary health institutions are no longer world-class. Twenty years of democracy has not been able to reverse the brain drain. Only on Monday, a group of friends feted a psychiatrist turned poet who has just been poached to work in the United Kingdom! Until he got the juicy offer, he was working at the popular ‘Yaba left’, where doctors have been abandoned by the government and have been on strike for weeks.
The conmen in the banking halls are those bankers who steal depositors’ money, do insider trading and other sharp practices. There are instances where some bankers have been known to target accounts of dead individuals and they ensure their survivors do not get their savings. I have seen a case of a man whose document was forged by a banker and a fraudster all in a bid to steal his property. The matter is still in court and I hope justice is served.
The next set of conmen belongs to my beloved profession. These guys are blackmailers, pure and simple. When they have a negative story against a popular person, they contact the person and demand payment to kill the story. There are even cases when they do not have any strong evidence to back their allegations but they still insist on being paid or they go to press with a report that cannot be substantiated.
You may wonder what I mean by conmen in deeds. Well, these are men and women who will make you feel special all because they want to keep you on a particular spot, but when chances for growth occur, they work to stifle your development. It is even worse when they now label you over-ambitious among other mundane allegations.
The conmen in the markets are traders who lie for profit sake. They make you believe the goods they are selling to you are at the best price possible. Meanwhile, they have ripped you off. But, they also have categories – the worst of these men and women are the ones who sell counterfeit products as genuine goods, the ones who clean off expiry dates on goods. They are murderers. Only God knows how many people they have killed with expired products. They also remind me of another set of conmen who deserve to be shot. These guys sell chalk as drugs, they sell bad water as pure water, they sell nonsense as herbal medicine and they all smile to the banks.
The agents who collect rent from people and never give them apartments are also conmen. The employer who makes money but denies employees of their salaries and emoluments are shameless conmen. As far as I am concerned, people who wrote books and claimed Mungo Park discovered River Niger were conmen. All those balderdash about some Caucasians discovering places in Africa when our forebears had lived there for centuries were products of fraudulent minds. They wanted to con us into believing we were nobodies. Fools!
My final take: In Ayobami Adebayo’s 9Mobile Literature Prize-winning novel Stay With Me, Yejide says “a mother does not do what she wants, she does what is best for her child”. Nigeria is the mother of these conmen and what is best for them is that she must use the law to clip their wings and turn them on the right path. If they are left to always have their way, they will continue to bring shame to their mother. This also reminds me of a statement by a character played by the great Adebayo Faleti of blessed memory in a movie. The character says: “Sermons alone won’t stop robbers. Only force can curb their activities…It is strenuous rowing and paddling that can get us there.”
There are, however, two sets of conmen the law cannot deal with. They are those who say A and change to B when it matters most and politicians who make empty promises to get votes. With them, watch your back!