Engr. Inu, do you take me for a fool?

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The Independent Online
The letter is postmarked Lagos; it is addressed to me as Greer Germaine, care of my agent. Nothing unusual in that. The address can be found in any reasonably good reference library, even in Lagos, I imagine. No need to get nervous or imagine that somebody has sold my details to a blackbirding or white-slaving ring.

I should not divulge the contents of a letter sent to me in confidence, I know, but confidence is the name of this Nigerian's game, confidence trickery, and I reckon it is time you were told.

The letter purports to come from "Engr. Inu Mustapha". Engr. does not, in this case, stand for "engraved by" but for "Engineer" - I think. Engr. Inu writes, or rather prints out, as follows:

"Sir," - not the best beginning, you will agree - then under, in capitals, "request for urgent business partnership". "First, I must solicit your strictest confidence in this transaction. This is by virtue of its nature as being utterly confidential and 'top secret'." (Alas, Engr. Inu, a little more research might have revealed that you were about to send your secret missive to a journalist who is also that leakiest of vessels, a woman.) "You have been recommended by an associate who assured me in confidence of your ability and reliability to prosecute a transaction of great magnitude involving a pending business transaction requiring maximum confidence". In fewer words, "Someone tells me you are devious, greedy and stupid, with delusions of grandeur."

It is only proper at this point that I confess to a slight anti-Nigerian bias, not because a Nigerian dictator has recently offed a number of dissidents, which included a writer - such misfortunes can befall the nicest of countries - but because I once came upon a large Nigerian youth bawling his eyes out by Lancaster Gate Tube station. He told me he had missed the bus laid on by his college to take him back to Darlington and had no money to get home and no idea how to get there. Amid tearful protestations of eternal gratitude he had showed me an identity card and assured me that I should write to his parents, who were high-ranking officials in Nigeria, and they would not only refund any money I should give him but reward me handsomely for my noble behaviour.

I, imagining him to be a human being more or less like myself, assured him that this would not be necessary. As I was on my way to Covent Garden, it was easy to take him in my taxi and drop him at King's Cross with pounds 20 for the expenses of his journey. I wrote my name and address on a card so that he could return the money, which of course he never did. Now I come to think of it, he probably wasn't at college anywhere, least of all in Darlington, and the people whose names he was bandying about probably didn't exist.

Engr. Inu's ingratiations continue: "We are top officials of the Federal Contract Review Panel who are interested in importation of goods into our country with funds that are presently trapped in Nigeria. In order to commence this business we solicit your assistance to enable us to transfer into your account the said trapped funds. The source of this fund is as follows: during the last Interim Regime here in Nigeria, the Government Officials set up companies and awarded themselves contracts which were grossly over-invoiced in various ministries. The present Military Government set up a Contract Review Panel and we have identified a lot of inflated contract funds which are presently floating in the Central Bank of Nigeria ready for payment. However, by virtue of our position as civil servants and members of this panel, we cannot acquire this money in our names. I have therefore, been delegated as a matter of trust by my colleagues of the panel to look for an overseas partner into whose account we would transfer the sum of US$21,320.000.00 (Twenty One Million, Three Hundred and Twenty Thousand US Dollars). Hence we are writing you this letter.

"We have agreed to share the money thus: 20 per cent for the account owner (you) 70 per cent for us (the officials) 10 per cent to be used in settling taxation and all local and foreign expenses. It is from the 70 per cent that we wish to commence the importation business. Please, note that this transaction is 100 per cent safe and we hope to commence the transfer latest 7 (seven) banking days from the date of the receipt of the following information by Fax: 234-1-4974907, Tel/Fax: 234-90-407309 your Banker's name, company's name, address, Account number and fax number."

I, who bank at a 17th-century institution where clients are escorted into the banking hall by an imposing gentleman dressed as if Beau Brummel had died but yesterday, did not know whether to laugh or cry at all of this. The notion of delivering up my cosseted account to be siphoned off by these blackguards was not so much preposterous as sacrilegious.

Nobody who does what I do and works as hard as I do is interested in getting rich quick; even my lottery ticket is bought, when I can remember to buy it at all, in the name of my college. I once had a dream about becoming a millionaire and spent the whole night trying to work out what to do with my million, which turned into a million yards of red silk and was used to mop up the blood of slaughtered elephants, to my (in the dream) entire satisfaction.

Poor Engr. Inu had no way of knowing how wide of the mark his net had been thrown. But I have heard that the people who masquerade behind such masks as Engr. Inu's have made money out of gullible Englanders, who really did expect barrowloads of hard currency to be shovelled into their accounts from a country that clearly has squandered its vast assets and its considerable credit in ways not wildly dissimilar.