Thanks to Homer for the idea of this story!
It was such a glorious Friday to be alive! It was a luscious late summer morning that was far too pleasant to waste a single moment of by being indoors. It wasn't too hot and there was a strong sea breeze coming in off of the Gulf (Gulf of Guinea) but without much hint of any later rain. As far as I knew I was a free man today with no appointments so I resolved to get an early start to a long weekend and drive down the coast with Ayoka to visit family. Ayoka, the joy of my life just as her name indicates, is my most loyal and obedient friend, my fully restored 1962 Chevy Impala SS Convertible, of course with the classic 409 engine. A most wondrous and sweet ride! It cost a small fortune to buy and another fortune to have it (safely) shipped here but it's the best money I've ever spent in my life.
Instead of the usual Mercedes or Land Rover I have my Ayoka. It makes me distinctive if nothing else. There are 10 million people in Lagos and a few of them even do what I do for a living so it's nice to have an edge. Plus having an old American vintage car makes me a bit more colourful and adds to my reputation for making some order out of our chaos.
Here in Nigeria there are over 500 languages spoken, English is our common binding thread for communication. The British were good colonial masters but freedom is better ... even with all of the problems we now have. Many hundreds of tribes, scores of different ethnic groups, dozens of religions, etc - all fighting for the spoils of modern progress. One controls the oil revenue from the Delta, another controls most of the international freight shipping, another the river trade up the Niger, another coal mining, another tin, others agricultural or manufacturing. Needless to say, there is not a great deal of love between most of the bigger tribes.
My own tribe is a very small and minor one along the mountainous coast next to Cameroon that controls no vital or strategic resources. In size we are definitely among the smaller ones and we hold no political clout in Abuja, the capitol but fortunately we also require very little from them as well. Economically however we exert power far beyond our size of our numbers. In the past and until the end of the colonial era, we were primarily traders, acting mostly as middle-men in the trade between Nigeria and Cameroon and some of the remote islands in the Gulf, especially the strange island of Sao Aynum-Dam. The wealth came slow but steady and we reinvested in ourselves and our tribe many times over. It is important to remember that in Africa tribal loyalty always comes first before national loyalty.
My brothers and I were all able to attend the finest public schools in England, Eton and Harrow. My eldest brother Keyondre (Kerry) went to Cambridge studying international affairs. He is our tribal leader and a Provence Governor. Think of him as our tribal CEO. My next older brother Andikan (Andy) went to Sandhurst and is currently a General commanding all of the military forces in our region. Definitely a most able Chief of Security for our tribe. Both have done well with their lives. They serve the government well and honestly but their first and foremost loyalty is of course to the well-being of our tribe. Fortunately, this poses no great conflict and none of us have any political ambitions.
It is never good to advertise ones success in our country and we are better than most at keeping our affairs quiet and our heads kept down low. Our tribe has kept many secrets for untold generations and we prepare our children well to protect them further. When the next civil disturbance starts it will be between the major tribes and/or religious groups. We will be uninvolved but yet we will still find a way to continue to prosper.
As for myself, I am the youngest son called Raimi (compassionate) but most commonly just called "Ray". I attended Oxford and studied accounting, business, computers and law for handling our tribal financial accounts and business affairs. Think of me as the CFO (Chief Financial Officer). I still oversee those duties but an increasing amount of my time these last few years is now taken up by my outside consulting business that brings us record profits that my smuggler ancestors could have never even dreamed about.
I like to think that I am a handsome man and being not quite yet forty years old I still feel some of the energy and ambition of my youth. Life has been very good to me so far.
As a man of top notch western education and wealth, plus being from a tribe of virtually no political importance, I have become perhaps the best and most prestigious 'mediator and facilitator' in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria and our economic capitol. I've gained the reputation over the years as being honest and impartial — an extremely rare commodity in this city. It is common nowadays for most major deals involving either multiple tribes or foreign multinational corporations to at least pass by my desk for a review.
I'm loyal to my clients and serve their interests well — as long as my fees are paid and I am treated with respect. Do not misunderstand me; I'm not a 'saint' but I very much have my principles. If my client is fair with me then I shall return this trust in full, protecting their interests, money and secrets as if they were my own. If treated with distain or mistrust however, my pride can easily become hurt and our relationship will suffer.
It is best not to speak at all of what should occur should you seriously wrong me and become my enemy.
My fees are high — outrageous even but I have no shortage of clients. My reputation of treating all parties fairly and giving good judgments for my fees is well established with the numerous foreign embassies and consulates, not to mention the innumerable tribal leaders. I'm licensed to practice law both here and in the UK but I've only rarely had to set foot into a courtroom but I'm often consulted by clients in both countries on the various aspects of English and Nigerian law.
Nigerian law is kind of a misnomer since actually we seem to have four entirely different sets of contradictory laws.
· English Law which is derived from its colonial past with Britain
· Common Law, a development of our post colonial independence
· Customary Law, which is derived from the hundreds of tribal laws and customs
· Shari Law which had been used long before the colonial administration in Nigeria and used mostly in the predominantly Muslim north of the country.
This leads to significant confusion on many seemingly routine matters but makes me invaluable as an impartial mediator, as I know each of these sets of laws thoroughly.
I'd also like to think I was one of the first to see the potential of making Nigeria the technological Mecca of Africa and in a great many respects I believe we have succeeded. Our tribe has sought to become the most 'tech savvy' and has had many recent great successes, such as making us the high-tech bank for most of Africa.
If the modern computer age has brought prosperity to my tribe then I must also share in the shame of the negative publicity that computer crime has brought our countrymen. Particularly the so-called '419' scammers.
If you have a computer with email you will know all about emails purported to be from some rich millionaire banker in Nigeria who just needs a little help getting his money out the country. Spending a few dollars up front could earn the greedy responder millions in return. It's a scam of course. The only persons getting rich are businessmen hiring roomfuls of kids with computers to blanket the world with their fraud schemes. The '419' name comes from the fraud portion of our legal codes.
The schemes work frighteningly well largely due massive corruption and culture of patronage in this country. Everyone from the lowest street punk to the richest crime lord pays a percentage of their take up the ladder to their patrons for protection, political and judicial. Some '419' bosses have gone to jail recently but this is largely window dressing. These were minor and unimportant people who were either politically expendable or had crossed their patrons.
Every week my office gets phone calls from around the world from victims seeking to regain monies stolen via one of the various '419' frauds. I'm honestly sympathetic but equally frank in stating my extreme limitations for being able to help them. Sometimes my people can get lucky and get some of the money returned and this has given me the reputation of being a miracle worker. As a side benefit my successes in this area have put me considerably in the good graces of several western law enforcement agencies such as the US Secret Service (they, not the FBI, handle US 419 complaints), the London Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) and INTERPOL. This has gotten me a few IOU tokens — someday I might need them.
Giddy-up giddy-up 419's!
Politically I am tied to no political party and have never endorsed any candidate for office, nor will I ever run for any kind of national political office. This gives me the independence to be sort of a 'gadfly' and I can quietly speak out on corruption issues with very little danger of retribution. I have a long and tedious speech that I give potential clients and young law students about dealing with corruption. I call it the 'Iceberg Metaphor' and this is a vast abbreviated version.
Icebergs are huge but they're also 90% hidden underwater. You can only fight what you can see but it's what's hidden underwater that can sink you just like the Titanic. Blowing up icebergs doesn't work very well — it's loud, messy and might just as easy blow you up along with it. Plus cleanup afterwards can be a real mess and cause more problems. My strategy is to chip away at it slowly from the safer less slippery shady side away from the sun and gently encourage the iceberg into floating south towards warmer waters where it can melt away. The danger is that if you chip too much ice away from one side or the climate changes the iceberg can go 'turtle' and roll over in the water — taking you to your doom with it. Civil unrest and revolutions are the worst kind of 'turtle'.
My goal is chip away at the worst and most blatant corruption without destabilizing the government in the process. Frankly, it's a near impossible job but I pick my opportunities carefully and I chip away with usually just the right amount of force and get usually promising results. Our President told me himself once that I was probably the most honest man in Nigeria. Possibly true but if that is so our country is in a sad state of affairs.
If I were from a large and politically powerful tribe I would have been assassinated as a threat long ago. Since I have no political ambitions I'm fairly safe but I do have to take more than my fair share of precautions. I have the full backing of my brothers and my tribe, a large office staff to do most of the routine work and an even larger staff of 'irregulars' that gather intelligence and provide security for me. I also run one of the largest charitable foundations in the city and have helped countless people out of the street and into secure jobs. Most are eternally grateful and provide me with important bits of information off of the street that often proves indispensible.
I guess if you think about it I'm the Boss Patron of a fairly large empire that crosses every political, cultural and religious boundary in this county. I try to use my powers for good though and keep my head down and affairs quiet enough to avoid unwarranted suspicion. My tastes are simple and I don't flaunt my money (except for my car) and lead a rather modest lifestyle. This is enough to make me 'uninteresting' for the countless numbers of political informers and backstabbers trying to fight their way up the political ladder to feed closer to where the big money is.
Let them fight and stab each other at the trough — I made more money last year via honest means than they did stealing from the public.
My thoughts were taken off of this most unhappy subject when I got a phone call on my 'office' cell phone.
I actually carry three cell phones at all times, it's confusing but important. My office cell is a fairly secure and specialized phone that just connects to my main business office and is fairly decently encrypted; the encryption scheme is also randomized every week for additional security. I consider it to be 99% secure and safe enough to handle my very confidential affairs but would never use it to plot against the President or plan a coup. My 'public' cell is an off the shelf standard one and used for 95% of my normal business, this is the phone number that is on my business cards. It has no special security protections and I assume at all times that someone else could be listening. My final cell is my 'tribe' one for family business only. This is a custom made throwaway cell with special hardware encryption plus it splits up the signal into 16 different broadcast frequencies which makes recording our conversations for later decryption virtually impossible. This phone is physically replaced with a new one every month using different frequencies and hardware encryption schemes making conversations with my brothers (who have identical phones) at least 99.9% secure. Nothing in the world is 100% secure ... but I'm always trying.
The caller as usual was my secretary Beti (Betty) letting me know that I had an unexpected visitor in my office, a Lady Sarah Bright whom I may have spoken with a few weeks ago. It was 'urgent and critical' that I see her, concerning a '419' case involving her family in the UK.
I agreed that I would come into the office to meet her but that it would take me at least 30 minutes to get there and told her to make the Lady comfortable while she waited. I got a few more facts to refresh my memory (it's pretty good but getting more information is always helpful) and turned the Impala around to head to my office.
She had called me about two weeks ago from London where she said she had gotten my name from a case officer at Scotland Yard. Her elderly aunt (an Alzheimer's patient) had been taken by a '419' scam for the amount of nearly £140,000, nearly $500,000 US and Sarah wanted the crooks caught and punished — by any legal or not quite so means.
She asked if I was interested in handling her case and I gave her cautious encouragement. Money was supposedly no object but I warned her that my recovery fees are high ($1000/day or 33% of the return, whichever is higher). Also once the 'extra-legal' options start to be presented most clients tend to become a bit squeamish. Besides, I don't handle assassinations, even for really bad guys.
She was going to gather some more information and get back with me later. She had done that apparently but I hadn't quite expected her to just show up in my office ... or to be as young and attractive as she was. She was tall, leggy and blonde in her mid to late twenties. She was a little too thin for my taste and her complexion was a bit too palid, even for Brit. There were dark circles under both eyes as if she had either not been sleeping well lately or had been a bit under the weather. Still, there was nothing at all wrong with her that a little proper maintenance couldn't fix.
Upon greeting her I was immediately horrified to learn that she had travelled via normal commercial taxi from Lagos Airport to my office without a bodyguard or any sort of security measures at all!
Oil exports are the #1 money machine in Nigeria, #2 would probably be international shipping, #3 is probably crime & fraud (including the '419' scams) and either #4 or #5 would be the business of kidnapping for ransom. Frankly I wouldn't have placed the odds on a young and very attractive blond western woman making it alone across Lagos any higher than 40%. Either my client was a very brave woman — or a very foolish one. I would need to find out which immediately.
I began our consultation first with a list of what I could NOT do for her. I could not/would not get involved in significant matters of Nigerian politics, break international or Nigerian law or handle 'wet work' or even leg breaking or other 'chastisement'. I was a 'facilitator' or a negotiator between factions only. I could discretely direct her to reliable men who could do those sorts of things for her but at all times my hands must remain clean. I could arrange an appointment with the President of Nigeria, if needed, within 72 hours but it would be a cold day in hell before the Attorney General would ever take my call (the less said about our tempestuous relationship the better). All communications between us must be done in person and while messages could be left for each other via the telephone nothing of a private nature should ever be discussed.
She nodded her head and agreed to my terms.
She then presented her case to me, a seemingly simple and straight forward 'recovery' case to regain as much of the money taken from her aunt as possible. My fees were established and she signed my contract without complaint and paid me $5000 cash up-front. This also caused alarm bells to ring in my head.
There are five very long established rules that the wise play by when doing any sort of business in Nigeria:
NEVER pay anything up front for ANY reason.
NEVER extend credit for ANY reason.
NEVER do ANYTHING until the check clears.
NEVER expect ANY help from the Nigerian Government.
NEVER rely on YOUR foreign Government to bail you out.
It is those rules #4 & #5 that keep me in business and will allow me someday to send my own children off to a top foreign college or university.
She gave me all of the information that she had collected and it was comprehensive and unusually detailed. This set off another set of internal alarms.
I gave her a listing of all of the 'trustworthy' private security firms that specialized in providing bodyguards for foreign visitors and refused to let her leave my office until she had made arrangements with one of them to protect her for the remainder of her stay. I promised that I would review her files and have a decisive best course of action planned for her no later than Sunday evening and I made arrangements to meet her at her hotel for dinner that night.
Once she was safely passed off to the care of her guards I got down to work. I made a number of phone calls to get my info-wranglers tuned up and ready to gather some more detailed information for me but the entire case was blatantly obvious. The materials she had gathered did almost everything except name the '419' crime boss particularly responsible. She had detailed logs of actual physical IP's rather than the usual protective layer of proxies that made locating the actual computer used for the scam child's play. Within an hour I knew who was running that particular computer '419 sweatshop' and who his patrons were.
This information also sent up some additional red flags. The sweatshop was a relatively new one that had only started about a month prior — odd that they could hit on such a large major score on their first attempts. Also the 'boss' was of a more traditional variety who usually worked the drug smuggling business and had little to no experience with high-tech crime. Further, this crime boss was more or less an upstart 'independent' and from a very minor tribe with no political connections and no major player of a patron for protection. If we needed to squash this boss down like a bug, no one would care or protest ... or probably even notice.
As I started to receive call-backs over the next day from my various sources, including a friend from Oxford who is now a DCI at Scotland Yard, the final pieces of the puzzle for this case all pretty much came together. A few minor details were missing but I had enough information now to act with some definitiveness. I gave both of my brothers a quiet fill-in on the potential political ramifications of this case and got a tentative go-ahead for my primary plan and for two likely emergency alternatives that I would prefer not to use but could if the situation warranted it.
Our Sunday night dinner went about the way I expected it to. I started out by placing an item on the table that looked just like one of my cell phones (but wasn't) that would scan the area for electronic devices or microphones. It showed green, so we were probably safe and I began to fill her in with what I had learned so far.
I told her that I had identified the perpetrator of the scam with 99% accuracy but there would be 'complications' in retrieving any money. First of all, the head boss was a bit of hard case that made his reputation in the drug business by being especially ruthless. There was virtually no likelihood that a polite request for repayment would be honored, as would any other political or legal tactic we could use to put pressure on him. He ruled his gang by terror, so if he were seen to back down he would create internal trouble within his organization.
Electronic theft (involuntary repayment) was equally unpromising — too bad, especially since my teams of experts were unusually skilled at this sort of recovery and we've had some significant successes. If money was located in a bank with electronic access we could get to it. This boss didn't much believe in banks at all and liked to keep his loot hard at hand — probably in case a fast escape was needed. I've always thought this old fashioned and silly. Gold, especially lots of it, is really too heavy to carry with you when you're running for your life. Even suitcases of cash can get fairly bulky. My own personal accounts are in privacy friendly banks spread around the world ... you never can be quite sure if you have to run in a hurry what direction you'll end up going.
Lady Sarah didn't seem too surprised at this news and showed none of the disappointment I would have expected from most of my previous '419' clients. In fact she next brought up on her own the third and final option, use of para-military force. She wanted this crime boss 'squashed like a bug' — immediately if not sooner.
The military option, specifically a targeted night raid on his home designed to take out the boss and his top staff and empty out his large safe (assumed to be full of ill-gotten cash), was certainly do-able ... but would be out of my hands. I'd still collect my share of any funds recovered but I couldn't be anywhere near where the bullets would be flying. Still, this where my experience as a facilitator came into play.
I provided her with three business cards for different sorts of 'security' companies that could and would handle this sort of operation. A more reliable but expensive company that used mostly western trained mercenaries, another much cheaper company that used strictly local talent and a last group that had some of both. She chose the expensive western mercs, saying that she'd prefer a fast hard kill with fewer screwups (and witnesses). I didn't disagree but this told me a bit more about my mysterious client.
We finished up our meeting and I agreed to contact the security company in advance of her meeting with them to pave the way, so to speak and we parted with arrangements not to contact each other again until after the recovery mission was complete.
I made a few more discrete inquiries and had more than a few of my own 'observers' watch the estate of the crime boss, which was in a slum area along the river. The takedown was quick a few nights later and achieved at least as much success as had been hoped for. The Lady would get all of her aunt's money, even after my hefty fee was taken. The muscle suffered few casualties and was paid off and got a nice bonus from all of the guns and military grade weapons stored at the estate. A lot of bullet ridden bodies appeared in the river but that is far from uncommon and was remarked on by no one. Bodies are found floating in the delta river waters every day and the local people have long learned to stay out of the affairs of the great and powerful.
Plan "A" had done entirely as hoped without any hitches whatsoever but it was no surprise at all when things suddenly shifted into "Plan B".
Yes, I had watchers keeping an eye on the Lady Sarah all along and frankly I had expected her to somehow evade making final payment on my fees. I was polite and understanding when she 'temporarily' put me on hold to settle our account the morning following the raid and we agreed to meet for in my office at Noon the following day. It was no surprise at all when she didn't show.
She hadn't checked out of her hotel but her money had very definitely also gone with her.
It took another 24 hours but by then I knew exactly what was happening. She had been regularly slipping the leash of her security handlers (meeting a person or persons unknown) and had done this once too often and had gotten grabbed in broad daylight in front of her hotel, according to witnesses. She had now been 'kidnapped' and was being held for a significant ransom. In fact an enormous one of $10,000,000 according to the videotaped ransom demand I received the next day.
Lady Sarah had not discussed her husband with me but the facts were easy for me to discover even at the early stages of my investigations on her. She had been married for just six months to an American multi-millionaire worth at least seven hundred million, much of it in cash in the bank. She was still a British citizen so this complicated things a little bit as both the US and UK Consulates would need to be coordinated with. This would be petty cash to him under nearly all circumstances but still he would not be delighted to receive my phone call.
He was not, to say the least. In fact, he was rather rude to me on the phone and hung up on me twice while I was explaining the story. He assumed that since I was Nigerian, this HAD to be a scam. Idiot. It took a couple of days for the Consulates to contact him and give him the details. Grudgingly, he called me back after my references checked out to say that he would be on the next flight to Lagos from New York and would meet me in my office.
Still, I was more than a little perturbed by his callous behavior.
This was not the first time I'd been appointed as the intermediary between kidnappers and the family. In fact this was becoming an all-too regular part of my normal business now. I would coordinate the communications, 'prove of life' and usually even handle payment arrangements. In 99% of the time arrangements would conclude satisfactorily and would not require police involvement. My fee for satisfactorily resolving a kidnapping was 10% - 5% each from both the buyer and the seller.
This time I had a very bad feeling that this would be one of the bad 1% cases. I made a few more extremely discrete inquiries and had the last pieces of information I needed just before her husband, Oliver's plane landed and hoped that he would be in a better frame of mind. I planned to meet him personally at the airport with a limo and full team of my own security guards. The way things had been going so far I was unwilling to take any future risks.
Frankly, I was sorry I had wasted the effort in making the best possible good first impression upon my reluctant client. He was a hard man of middle years used to giving orders and having his instructions followed to the letter without complaint. His manner was curt and frankly condescending and his attitude towards me was little better. To him, I was a glorified servant and was to be treated as such and resented being in the position where he had to reply upon me, an outsider, for assistance. He was good at giving orders but showed little enthusiasm for listening to my advice.
My dislike for the man grew with each moment I spent with him.