This post is inspired by the recent story of “Akwa-Ibom Demon.”
The loudspeakers atop the dirty bus blared again. It had been blaring all evening, registering its sounds above those of the kekes milling about it, dropping and picking up passengers at the tricycle park near the market and adjacent to my office.
“Mma Shea Butter, the solution to your erectile dysfunction, your premature ejaculation and your constipation…!”
I stepped out of the office into the humid evening and walked towards my car, having just closed for the day. I’d noticed the bus earlier when I stepped out to buy a bottle of water, but paid no heed to the message emanating from its roof. Now I listened attentively. I could see two attendants beside its open boot, explaining how the drug (if you could call it that) works to a handful of interested passersby.
“Come for your final cure to your pile…!”
“Mma Shea Butter will ensure your wife is satisfied with your performance in bed tonight…!”
“Other drugs have failed, but Mma Shea Butter is tested and trusted…!”
The list of ailments this miracle drug cures seemed endless, as mentioned in the (obviously) prerecorded message (in English and Ibibio) that streamed from the speakers. I began to think to myself: When did the Shea butter that I know, a plant fat, transform into this all-ailments-curing miracle I’m vaguely familiar with? And more importantly, why do people even buy it? Are people foolish for investing in drugs like this?
The thoughts kept returning to me as I drove home, interrupted occasionally by the sounds of car horns.
ARE WE FOOLS?
I’m constrained to write about the story that broke out barely a week ago about the ‘Akwa-Ibom Demon’ (as he’s now being called) and his sexcapades. I’ve tried not to wade into the matter, knowing that I have neither the necessary information to make an informed conclusion nor the requisite strength to argue out my conclusions.
And no, this post isn’t about what transpired between ‘le smooth criminal’ and his victims. In the wake of the revelation, I’d seen many a Facebook post insinuating that the women were fools for falling for his tricks, for offering financial aid to the one they thought they were going to marry. Surely, they acted foolishly, right?
There are two reasons I can think of for why anyone can fall for a deceit.
1. INFORMATION (OR ITS DEARTH THEREOF)
I’m sure we’ve all witnessed this (my mom is usually the preferred case study): you’re watching a thrilling movie with a buddy. A side character starts walking towards an obvious trap (or a serial killer, depending on your choice of movie.) Your buddy screams at the TV: “Mumu! You’re going to die! Oh Jesus! This one no dey hear word!” And you’re there trying to balance your attention between the movie (and its eventual climax) and your astonishment at the fact that your buddy just screamed at an inanimate object (the TV).
Think about it: the only reason why your buddy would call the character a ‘mumu’ is because your buddy is privy to certain information unavailable to the character. If the character knew there was a serial killer just beyond the next bend, that character would be running in the opposite direction.
Which brings me to my point: We make decisions and choices based on information available to us. A cocktail of hormonal juices coursing through our veins and the fact that our brains are not particularly logic devices ensure that our decision-making processes are always racked with biases. This ensures that our decisions at a particular point are the result of what we need at the time, what (information) is available to us and what biases, born of our life experiences, we’re beset with.
Deceit thrives on this. Politicians, before, during and after the electioneering processes, spend a lot to ensure that the only information you have about them is the information they WANT you to have about them. Why, that’s the goal. Only know what I want you to know.
After the last US presidential election results were announced, I know a lot of friends who went online to call people who voted for Trump fools (curiously, most of them voted for Buhari). But were they really fools? I mean, the only time I can call a voter a fool is when he/she votes for a candidate out of spite (to punish another group of individuals). Where a voter earnestly believes, based on information he’s been furnished with by the candidate’s campaign team and whatever history he/she is conversant with, that said candidate is the messiah—the one to bring an end to the strife in the voter’s life (and, for the purpose of this conversation, ignoring obduracy and intransigence), how in all honesty do we call such a person a fool?
Scammers ensure that as little information about themselves as possible is communicated to their intending victims. If one was to come clean and go all “I’m a scammer, I want to rid you of your life savings”, imagine how unsuccessful his craft would be. No matter how brilliant and intelligent you are, you cannot make do with more than the information you have available on a subject.
The stifling of information is something employed routinely in politics, in religion, in online/social media persona creation and maintenance…And one used by the “Akwa-Ibom Demon” so well.
2. PACKAGING (BELIEVABILITY)
To sell a lie, you must ensure that the one who consumes it believes it is anything but what it is: a lie.
For a scam to succeed, a veritable play on the victim’s psychology, innate needs and bias must be sustained and consistently refined. (This point is self explanatory. I’ll skip details on this.)
ON DUE DILIGENCE
How much of a person can you truly know?
In the introduction of his book, Why We Know What Isn’t So, Thomas Gilovich made a remarkable observation:
“People who are charged with deciding who is to be admitted to a distinguished undergraduate institution, a prestigious graduate school, or a select executive training program all think they can make more effective admissions decisions if each candidate is seen in a brief, personal interview. They cannot. Research indicates that decisions based on objective criteria alone are at least as effective as those influenced by subjective impressions formed in an interview. But then, why do people believe the interview to be informative?”
I happen to work in an industry that survives because of and thrives on due diligence. Customers seeking credit facilities from the company I work in are required to provide everything short of their deceased grandmother’s heads as security. KYCs, KYBs, enhanced due diligence and routine monitoring are conducted ad nauseam to ensure authenticity of credit requests. Yet, occasionally, we have to write off non-performing loans and make provisions for the losses because the customer has absconded with the money or has chosen not to pay back, damning the consequences. Granted, due diligence has helped to reduce instances of fraud in the system, but is it enough? Is it foolproof?
I once lent an online friend some money. He’s an atheist and humanist, someone I’d come to respect on this platform. He promised to pay back in two months. When the money wasn’t forthcoming after three months (and several messages), I reached out to friends who know him well. That was when I got the shocker: apparently, I wasn’t the only one he’d used the same (or similar) lines on.
It’s been five months now. He’s cut off contact.
The only way to be foolproof is to stop loving, to stop giving and to stop voting. Can you really blame the scorned woman for saying she would never love a man again? Can you blame the one that says men are pigs? (An erroneous summation, figuratively and literally, of course, but one that stems from a valid place—a place of hurt).
On the story that Mr. Ini swindled 18 women (and side-stepping the obvious tomfoolery making the rounds that the women were feminists—a stale and contemptible, if not laughable, attempt at ridiculing the movement), I’d noticed with dismay how a lot of friends had awoken to praise him for being smooth and making curious allusions to the size of his phallus. Now, while the story is most probably apocryphal, someone who goes to great length to deceive another person should be treated with nothing short of contempt. There is nothing to praise in the act of deceit. The focus must not be taken away from the perpetrator of the act. It doesn’t matter if the victims were easy to get. Because once a scam has taken place, then it doesn’t matter if two lies were needed to fell the victim or two hundred.
“I am a despicable character if I wake up and decide to deceive my neighbor.” Perhaps if more people recite this mantra daily, we’d have less people being swindled.
Written by Godswill Vesta