Several years ago, I used to live in a relatively quiet Close, just off Allen Avenue in Ikeja, Lagos. While it wasn’t GRA, it was a pretty decent place to be living in for a young family just making their way in life. There were no face-me-I-face-you tenements on the street and several of the single storey buildings were owner-occupied. We had Resident Association meetings once a month and almost all of us knew at least 60-70% of those who lived on the street. Despite Ikeja’s slowly ascending reputation back in the mid 90s and early 2000s as a hub for fraudsters and the closeness of our street to Fela’s commune, our life was pretty staid. I remember the buzz generated when Ade Bendel, the most famous fraudster at the time after Fred Ajudua acquired the biggest house on the street. I had to drive past it to get home daily, and like other residents, would always look towards the house as I drove past to see if I could catch a glimpse of the ‘Superstar’! I saw him a couple of times. Always impeccably dressed with expensive looking glasses and a rather diffident manner. If we had not known who he was, he would very easily have passed for a fast rising bank executive or a really successful entrepreneur. The type our single ladies and their mothers used as prayer points in church when holding on to God’s legs for a husband.
Nothing much happened on our street. At least not until the day we were invaded by a truckload of gun-totting anti-robbery operatives, all of them looking like robbers too. Sam and Juliet, and their young son Genero, had moved into a flat in the building directly across from ours about 6 months before. Probably in their late twenties, they were not very educated but were quite respectful and they conducted themselves decently. My wife was a Women Leader in our church at the time and she naturally set herself on a mission to bring Sam and Juliet to church. She succeeded and Juliet took her like some Aunty in the Lord. Even though we were also in our Thirties at the time, they used ‘Ma’ and ‘Sir’ when talking to us. Sam was away quite frequently and I was made to understand he worked ‘offshore’. Nothing strange in that. When Genero turned a year old, the nice couple threw a party to which we were invited. I met some of their friends for the first time. Not as pleasantly mannered as Sam but alright too. Except for one who stayed a little aloof and whom others treated with some respect. I didn’t like looking into his eyes either. I stayed for about 30 minutes and sensibly took my leave. And that was it until the day the Police showed up.
They blocked the street at both ends and announced that we all should remain indoors. From my window, I could see them leading Sam out in handcuffs with Juliet in tow carrying Genero. The policemen came out of the apartment bearing guns and other items. It was like a movie. Unknown to us (and the other residents) Sam was a member of a gang of deadly armed robbers. His friends that came for his son’s birthday party were all members of the Gang and the fellow I earlier described was the Gang leader. They were wanted from Kaduna to Port Harcourt and even beyond. I was still in shock when they were paraded on TV. I immediately recognised Sam and the Gang Leader. They had been caught because the Leader who specialised in raping the female victims of their attacks had dropped his phone when he dropped his pants during an operation in Kaduna. He had raped a mother and her daughters before they departed and he left his phone behind. The Police had traced him through the calls he made and he was arrested with the rest of the gang. As I listened to the Police reel out their activities, all I could think of was the fact that I had sat in the same space with this people, eating jollof rice and chicken like ordinary humans.
Cyberspace is currently awash with pictures and videos of a fellow called John Lyon! In one of the videos, he can be seen riding around in a SUV, ‘flexing’ as they say and looking like your young man next door who is doing good. In another, he can be seen flashing some cash and encouraging the youths to ‘hustle’ so they can also be rich. In a third and most damning video, John can be seen on his knees in a police station in handcuffs, surrounded by cops as he cries and begs for forgiveness. From the audio, he admits to being a kidnapper but that he had only carried out 2 operations. The Police however think differently as does a victim who, though out of shot, can be clearly heard identifying him as the one who broke his leg. In another image, John Lyon can be seen in church, probably during thanksgiving in deep spirit-enabled worship. At that point, I can only imagine how many sisters would be directing their prayer arrows towards him as their potential husband: young, spirit-filled, good looking, and obviously well off. Even Pastor would have seen him in that situation and decided it was time to activate prayer and fasting pro max! Brother John must not slip through the net and go pick a Sister from another church.
And there are so many ‘Brothers’ John and Sam living amongst us. We are no longer a society that interrogates the sources of wealth of people around us. Even those we know today as having acquired wealth through various crimes are celebrated anyway and elevated to positions of honour in the society. The word ‘hustle’, so loved by the youth of today, is a euphemism for engaging in one criminal enterprise or the other. “The guy na hustler” simply means the fellow is either a criminal or a potential one. If you cannot state in simple English what you do to make money and it has to be slotted under the nebulous heading of ‘Hustle’, your mind is quite likely the devil’s workshop. When you engage in legitimate work, you do not term it ‘hustle’ and you don’t take pride in being addressed as a ‘hustler’.
We need to get back to being suspicious of ‘successful people’ who have no visible sources of income. Any society that celebrates materialism and wealth for the sake of it and not the industry or enterprise behind its creation is damned. When people come into the public and begin to flaunt unexplained and unexplainable wealth, opening night clubs all over the place and doing ‘giveaways’ we should pause and not get carried away. The media should stop allowing itself to be used to legitimise people that should be pariahs in normal societies. Our young ones need to be given new role models that are not defined by how much they have, no matter how they got it, but by how much they have been able to impact the society positively while being able to stand up to scrutiny.
(C) Wale Bakare