I don’t know what I was thinking.
In short, I wasn’t thinking, I was young and foolish. That’s what. I began my journey as a Surulere boy. When I finished school at Stadium High School all I wanted to do was travel abroad.
All my friends were scamming people and travelling; for some, it was through the internet. After school hours, we, I mean my friends and I would gather at the cybercafés in and around Surulere and begin to write mails to oyibo women and many of them fell for our stories; this was in the late 1990s stroke early 2000s.
Let me tell you this, we didn’t think it was wrong, it was a game you play, you could win or not and then you get addicted to it and you keep playing until you win.
Winning means we convince our victims to transfer money and we used it to start processing our visas to travel abroad; who wants to remain in Naija?
When I got enough to travel; I was already in my early 20s doing odd jobs. I told my aunty, the one I was living with that I was travelling to Cotonou. I dare not tell her I was going abroad to America. I just told her my friend was bringing in a car from the border and I wanted to accompany him.
America indeed is God’s Own Country; when they say to you that when you die, you’ll go to heaven, America is where they are referring to!
I stayed with a friend’s friend in Brooklyn; Bennie, that’s his name. Is that his real name? Of course not, my name is Charles, is that my real name? Of course not. When you are in the business of gbajue, a pseudo is the way to go.
I began to hustle about one month after I landed in Jand. You can’t afford to be loafing around, that place is not for lazy people. I got a job at a Deli…in the kitchen, peeling bags and bags of potatoes and onions and washing dishes. Back breaking job especially during winter. Half of my pay went to Bennie for the apartment I and several others shared with him and the half to help me get by.
Was I sending money home? To who? My parents are divorced, my father has many wives, many children he doesn’t care about and my mother is with her third husband. I was taken to live with a childless aunt who treated me like scum. So who would I have sent the money to? Money that wasn’t enough for me?
Ok, so after a while, I got back into the business of writing letters to ladies; after work, I would not sleep but browse the net for chat rooms. I would enter and check out profiles of women then begin to chat. So that’s how I did it.
Since I already have an American address, it was easy to hook up with plenty of women. America can be lonely, I swear. There are hundreds and hundreds of women looking for love and companionship in America.
And look at me, fine black boy, mo singbonle, I mean, I am well built, rugged, I can deliver the ‘goods’ and that’s what many women want. After a few misadventures, I found the trick onhow to handle women in America. If they cooperate, we will have a nice time, if they don’t, I would call them, threaten to expose them or blackmail them; many were married and they didn’t want people to know what was truly going on, so they would pay.
By this time, I had quit my job at the deli with their chicken change and was now involved in Card fraud. Big time!
Fi yen si le, (leave that one) it’s not robbery. Boys must survive. It’s not robbery, until you are caught! I moved from Bennie’s apartment, got my own. It’s actually easy to rent in America, you pay monthly or you do mortgage but for me, I preferred the monthly, that way, no one could trace me and when I use credit cards, I buy big stuff!
That was the beginning of my undoing. When you are born poor, and you suddenly see money, you lose your head! Girls fell for my fabu; they wanted a black hunk, someone who splashes gifts on them. I had these and more. I lived big. I bought big choice cars, big houses, had large parties with heavy gbedu (music)!
Then I fell into the hands of Rochelle, a real akata babe. She was fierce, raw, she wanted to dominate me, she wanted my undivided attention and to be honest, I liked the babe and she was in on the kind of things I did. But she got caught with one of the cards I gave her.
At first, she didn’t rat on me. To be honest. But they put pressure on her and apparently, they had been looking for me. So I was the deal she made with them, squeal on me and get a reduced sentencing.
That’s how the game ended for me after 17 years of operation! At my sentencing, I was charged with conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and interstate extortion. The judge accused me of breaking and wrecking the lives of women and humiliating them and sentenced me to 27 years in jail!
I was angry. Mo bi nu gan! See, I am not saying I did not commit a crime but 27 years, ba wo? I am in my 40s already and by the time I am done, I would be in my 60s but they will also deport me back to Nigeria after my jail term.
How will I survive? The sentence is too harsh, abeg.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)