Swindlers, Church of Painted Breast and other stories

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 6 Apr 2008

LAST December, the BBC’s news website published a report about how a certain Mike beat a Nigerian scammer at his own game. Mike and his group of volunteers at 419eater.com used their computer skills to fool the con man, Prince Joe Eboh.

According to the story, Eboh claimed to be the “Chairman of the Contract Award Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission, a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.” He wanted to strike some deals with Mike. But Mike told him he worked for a church and could not do any business with people who were not of his faith. He signed the mail as Father Hector Barnett of the Church of the Painted Breast.

Eboh wrote back and promised to join the church. On receiving this message, Mike, alias Father Hector, replied, saying their ministry was founded in 1774 by a lady called Betsy Carrington. This woman, he reportedly told Eboh, spent her first preaching years in the Masai warrior tribe of Kenya. To identify with the people and make them accept and trust her, she had to remove the top part of her clothes and painted the top half of her body and breast with the red Masai war paint. Using image software, Mike made up an initiation picture of young inductees with painted breasts and sent to Eboh. As a precondition to enter the Holy Church of the Order of the Red Breast, Eboh must do likewise.

The swindler removed his dress as instructed, painted his breast and mailed the picture to Mike. Seeing his ugly face with protruding belly on the BBC website made me pity him. He thanked God for the opportunity to be a member of the church and looked forward to establishing a branch in his place. However, he was more interested in finalising his business proposal. The processing fee for transferring the proposed millions to Father Hector‘s account is $18,000. Father Hector told him his church had plenty of money, but that he needed $80 withdrawal fee. The con man quickly sent the money inside a birthday card by courier. Apparently not realising that he had been conned, the swindler continues to send his con mails and saying the daily prayer of the fake church: ”When all above seems a great test, get on down with the Holy Red Breast.”

These fraudsters will never repent. On Thursday that preceded the last Easter, I received an unusual call. The caller hid his identity, but his voice was friendly: “Happy Easter my brother! How are you and how is the family? How is Nigeria?” I told him that nothing much had changed in Nigeria, that we were still searching for a plane (the Beechcraft aircraft that got missing since March 15) days after it disappeared from the sky. “O my God!” he retorted, “when will that country ever grow?”

He later asked if I knew who was speaking. I didn‘t. “Can‘t you decode that from my voice?” he asked. Not being suspicious of anything, I mentioned the name of a friend whose voice sounds similar. He said he was the one and that he was now in London. He wanted me to contact a friend called Engineer John on 08032570806 as soon as possible. John was to deliver a very important message to me on his behalf. I should feel free to contact him anytime on 009447045791619.

I almost called “Engineer John” immediately. But on a second thought, I decided to call the Nigerian number of the friend I thought I had spoken with. The phone rang and my friend picked it. I needed no soothsayer to tell me that 419ers were at work.

Now, I receive their mails on a daily basis. The latest one is from Peter Hammond, the Recruitment Officer/CEO of Hammond Fabrics & Textiles Inc., 5 Russell Square, London. The company, Hammond noted, “Is one of the biggest and most successful textile, fabrics and antique wears company (sic) in the United Kingdom.” And it needs a payment representative in the United States and Canada, who will receive payments on its behalf from clients. The money comes in form of certified cashier cheques or money orders, which I will first cash in my bank, deduct 10 per cent commission and then forward the balance to any of their offices via electronic transfer. There is no need boring you with other details.

Surrounding us are all sorts of criminals, who do even worse than the 419ers. Armed robbers have held and continued to hold the nation hostage. Some civil servants are sharing the common wealth in the name of Christmas bonus. Some politicians use human beings for rituals in order to get power and loot the treasury. Many contractors collect billions of naira to fix our poor infrastructure, but pocket the money and do nothing. The petrol attendant manipulates the pumping machine to short-change the unwary customer.

The entire system is rotten. We have been oscillating between one scandal and the other: Ettehgate; Siemens scandal; Wilbros scam; national ID card swindle; power sector scam; Christmas bonus loot and so on. There seems to be no end in sight. No leader seems to believe in Nigeria. The mantra appears to be, grab as much loot as possible as there may not be any Nigeria tomorrow.

We are undoing ourselves and nobody else. This is why almost every young Nigerian wants to run away from the country. I met a young man recently at Imo Concord Hotel, Owerri. He desperately wanted to leave Nigeria. He asked me how much it would cost him to travel to London to either work or do business. My advice that he should continue with his work at the hotel fell on deaf ears. He enthused that he had just got his passport (as if passport is all that is needed to travel abroad) and his parents really wanted him to leave Nigeria. In 2007 alone, the United States Department of Homeland Security reportedly deported about 50,000 Nigerians from that country.

Nigerians face humiliating treatment from other Western nations. Some are serving various jail sentences abroad. And Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, thinks he is doing them a favour by asking them to serve their jail terms at home. The minister complained last week that Nigerian prisoners abroad had rejected his come-and-complete-your-sentences-at-home application. According to him, Nigeria will demand respect, fair and lawful treatment for her citizens even when they allegedly commit crimes.

Maduekwe gladdened my heart when he was quoted to have said, ”To create the kind of loyalty that Nigeria deserves, we must go back and ensure effective and responsible governance that touches on the lives of the people.” Until leaders at all levels imbibe this exhortation, Nigerians will continue to troop out and commit crimes. And foreigners will always treat us as a people who can do such foolish things as painting their breasts to swindle a church.

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2 Comments »

  1. 1
    torty Says:

    please i’m in lagos, ikotu precisely i need help from the church so that i will get money and also enable me continue my school. Thank you toward a favoreble response.

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