By Ejura Sambo
(Senior Editor, www.xclusivenigeria.com
, Nigeria's global online newspaper)
Babatunde Adegoke was a hunk of a guy. He was a ladies’ man. He held the girl and kissed her. The girl kissed him back hungrily, pressing herself against his firm body. She was on fire. Her name was Dupe Balogun. Her father, Chief Kehinde Balogun, was the director general of the National Electric Power Authority, NEPA. From contracts, kickbacks, and outright theft of public funds, the man had become one of Nigeria’s billionaires, and his daughter had as a result become a millionaire.
Thinking about how loaded she was, Adegoke kissed her more passionately, but he felt no passion for her. She was not pretty in any stretch of the imagination; short, fat and with a face deformed by the garish tribal marks popular among the Ijebus, Dupe was anything but desirable. But Adegoke pretended she was. She was crazy about him, thinking he was the man he claimed to be; but how wrong she was.
They were in the back seat of her 2010 Infinity SUV. The vehicle was parked in a quiet parking lot in a high-end supermall in Ikoyi. Dupe was shaking like a leaf in a storm; she was ready to go all the way. But Adegoke was as controlled as a Buddhist Monk, as he had always been. Dupe mistook his calm composure as a cool quality worthy of emulation, but unknown to her it was all part of his control mentality, his attempt to manipulate her, to own her, to humiliate her when he wanted, and to seize control of her life, and ultimately her money.
“I don’t’ feel like it,” he said, pushing her away harshly.
“Please honey” Dupe cooed. “Just a quickie.”
“I am late for my appointment” he hissed. “Can’t you control yourself sometimes? Must you always act like an animal in heat?”
“What is wrong with an animal in heat, honey? Aren’t we animals?” She asked, confused.
“You are a lady. All I am saying is that you should learn to behave like a lady sometimes,” he lied.
“I am a woman too. A woman needs loving too. So does a lady. Didn’t you know that?” She said.
“A parking lot is hardly an ideal place for making love.” He said, pretending to take the high ground, but lying through his teeth. He had no morals whatsoever; making out in parks, cars, public toilets, cinema houses and what have you was his forte.
“Who said anything about making love? Sex is more like it, don’t you think? Sex; that was all I wanted. I am a woman who knows what she wants; and a quickie was all I wanted. But you have gone to spoil it with your irrational behavior.” She said, re-arranging her clothes. “Most times, I don’t think I really know you.” You never will, he said to himself, but not to her hearing. And when I am done with you and your father, you will not know what hit you, he said in his mind.
“I love you Dupe,” he told the girl, lying his brains out. “I am just in a hurry for my appointment. I don’t want to arrive at the meeting tired and worn out. I will make it up to you later today.” He kissed her profusely on the face, but she did not see his face. She would have seen nothing but hatred there; she would have run for dear life. She would have realized that the man she fell in love with was nothing but a scoundrel. And he was planning her kidnap too. But she could never have known that.
Six feet tall, broad shouldered and impossibly good looking, this 42-year-old son of a bricklayer was every woman’s desire. Adegoke was so good looking that he almost always had his way with any woman he came across. He spoke in the smooth, glib way of conmen, which he was, and got away with it, which never ceased to amaze him. He had no money of his own, having led a wayward life all his life, but no person will believe it. He dressed sharply, rode expensive cars which he seemed to change at will, and lived in an opulent mansion in Victoria Island.
Adegoke was a constant feature at the city’s famous restaurants and night clubs. His face appeared in newspaper society columns and at numerous society parties in Lagos. Taken in by his apparent wealth, suave ways and fast lifestyle, reporters took to calling him a socialite. But they should have called him a con man, for that was what he was.
And he has led quite a cheqered criminal career. Like most career criminals, Adegoke began small, stealing his classmates’ stuff in primary school and then in secondary school and by the time he was in the university, he had become a full blown criminal. At the Lagos State University where he studied Pharmacy, he successfully led a double life, combining his studies with a career as an armed robber.
Several times during a semester, he and his gang would rob students and lecturers in their homes on campus, and when they were not happy with their loot, they robbed homes in Surulere, Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Festac Town, Badagry, Ikeja and so on and so forth. Nobody was any the wiser on campus. With his share of the gang’s loot, he led a lavish lifestyle, and spent money as though his father was indeed the President of the Senate, which he led people to believe.
Upon graduation, the young man dabbled into marijuana and cocaine business. Fancying himself as an entrepreneur, he bought a trailer load of marijuana from a secret farm in Uromi in Edo State where they were grown, and transported the cargo in the dead of night to Kano, where there was a ready market. The policemen he ran into at check points were always ready to look the other way as long as he had a wad of naira notes for them. The cops knew he was and what he did. They kept him under a close leash, shaking him down from time to time when they were broke.
He soon got tired of the stress that came with the business, and dappled into cocaine smuggling to Europe and America. He made several trips to London, New York and Atlanta. It was always easy at the Nigeria side of the border: the customs officers were always happy to do business with him as long as they were handsomely rewarded. His problems usually came up in Europe and America, where the authorities had elevated the fight against cocaine smuggling and sale into a very serious business.
Several times he was nearly nabbed at the JFK International Airport in New York and at the Heathrow Airport in London. Several times, the bags of cocaine he had ingested into his stomach, and secreted away into all kinds of crevices in his body almost spilled and killed him. He made a lot of money, but squandered them as well. The same cops, who visited him from time to time when he was dealing in marijuana, continued pestering him. They would tell him they were not at his residence to arrest him, but to get their own share of his loot. He soon got tired of the high-risk job. He was delivered from the business by the coming of 419, or Advanced Fee Fraud.
The notorious 419 kingpin and rogue lawyer, Barrister Fred Ajudua, had introduced him to the business. “This is the sweetest business in the world. This is scam. All it needs is brain power, which we have in abundance. What we will be doing is scouting for foreign addressees of any kind, to which we will be sending letters purportedly coming from the offices of government ministers, top officials of the Central Bank and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and offering all kinds of sweet deals. And because they think we are stupid, they will be falling for this like a pack of cards. This is the real deal, my friend.”
And so it turned out to be. Before his very eyes, Adegoke watched as 419 became the hottest business in Nigeria, attracting professionals from the broad spectrum of the society. Soon, it would become the only viable business in town. All over the country, especially in the cities, young men and women, and old men too, set up offices with fax machines and telephones, to dupe foreigners.
Adegoke was in the thick of it. He joined Ajudua to set up an office in Surulere, from where they sent out thousands of letters on a daily basis. The business was run like any normal business, with secretaries, receptionists, accountants, and the field officers who scouted for addresses and spent days and nights writing and posting thousands of letters. They were divided into shifts, and operated with precision. But unlike other normal businesses, they spent a lot of money on security and bodyguards.
When an unsuspecting or crooked foreigner bought into the fabulous but fake deals contained in these letters bearing official seals of one top government officer or the other, they would lure the fellow into parting with small amounts of money purportedly to facilitate the deals. Of course the deals never were consummated because there were non-existent, but before the foreigner would have wizened up to this fact, he or she would have parted with hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions in many cases.
Many were to Nigeria and murdered in cold blood after they had been fleeced of all their belongings; many were bankrupted in their home countries; many committed suicide after falling into financial ruin. But for Adegoke and his associates all this meant nothing; 419 was only a game of wits, as far as they were concerned.
As the Nigerian government began to crack down on 419 activities, and awareness grew world-wide about its operation, the industry became less and less profitable. Adegoke, who was never a thrifty businessman, soon found himself going broke; he had actually made over N500 million in a matter of four years, but he had blown the money on a fast life and lavish lifestyle. Sometimes, during his sober moments when he thought about it, about how he made over N500 million from his 419 enterprise and frittered it away, he found it difficult to believe. It seemed as though it was unreal; or perhaps surreal. He knew some of his associates who had made more than N3 billion from 419; some had invested well, but most of them appeared to be broke.
The advent of the internet and emails had come as a boost to 419. It created a new breed of Nigerian businessmen called ‘Yahoo boys’ which was 419 in a new, modern, technology-driven mode. These new computer savvy 419ners, used ‘email extractors’ and other such high-tech devises to extract email addresses from the internet and all kinds of websites world-wide. But like most of his contemporaries, the old brigade of 419 entrepreneurs, Adegoke who was technology and computer illiterate failed to jump onto the new ways of 419 enterprise. The industry was taken over by young, computer-savvy men and women, who spent all their time in cybercafés spread throughout the country, crawling the World Wide Web, sending out hundreds and thousands of 419 emails to any email address they come across. Preying on the emotions and ignorance of many, these ‘yahoo boys’ use dating sites, social networking sites and other websites to entrap and defraud foreigners from around the world. Adegoke has tried to re-launch his 419 enterprise, enrolling in a computer education class to learn the nitty-gritty of internet and Microsoft word. But the business had become an all-comers affair, like all technology-driven enterprises.
Today, Adegoke was living on past glory. He had sold all of his houses and cars save for the one he drove, and spent all the money. He never could understand where all the money goes. They always seem to go so fast. Sometimes he wondered how his father and mother who were desperately poor and raised a family of six children on little or nothing would say if he told them he had made and lost over N600 million. They would think he was insane, that is what. And perhaps they would be right. Perhaps he was really insane. He was broke and desperate, but nobody was any the wiser. Many of his 419 associates who found themselves in the same tight spot had taken to the booming kidnapping business in Nigeria.
It was at that point in his life that the desperate Adegoke, used to living the good life, decided to burnish his act. His next victims would be naïve, rich, love-struck and trusting women looking to settle down with the man of their dreams. Adegoke’s weapon: love and a promise of marriage. His goal: to make as much money from his innocent, love-struck victims until his scam was uncovered. He became a thief of hearts; a 419 lover. Adegoke prospered in his new enterprise. It was easy finding innocent rich girls and women in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and elsewhere in Nigeria to manipulate into falling in love with him. He usually told them he was the son of the President of the Senate, Mr. David Mark, and they would believe him. His father was insanely rich as everybody knew; and as his first son, so was he, or so he claimed. He flashed money, rode a flashy Acura MDX jeep, dressed in very expensive clothes, and lived in an opulent mansion in Victoria Island. Everybody took him for what he claimed to be.
The truth however was that besides the clothes on his back, the man was penniless. Everything he owned, or claimed to own, was borrowed from his 419 friends. His friend and benefactor Barrister Fred Ajudua, the 419 kingpin, allowed him to borrow everything he needed. Ajudua was a consummate scam master who prided himself as the father of Nigerian 419 industry; he was happy to support any enterprise which had anything to do with scam.
Adegoke milked his victims for all they were worth, and dumped them when they became smart to his scam and stopped giving him money. Dupe was his current victim, and she was not any the wiser. Like others before her, her main attraction to Adegoke from the get-go, was her father’s immense wealth. Her father, Chief Kehinde Balogun, the director general of the National Electric Power Authority, NEPA, was a billionaire many times over. It was his money that Adegoke wanted; some of it, not all of it. Adegoke was a welcome guest in the home of the Baloguns. Why wouldn’t he be? They assumed he was truly the son of the Senate President David Mark, and that he was born by a Yoruba wife. They assumed he was one of them; a scion of one of the elite families in Nigeria. They would have had one of their big and fearsome German Shepherd dogs chase him into the Atlantic Ocean had they known he was nothing but a poor man, born of a bricklayer, and now as broke as a church rat.
Adegoke had made money and seen money. He had seen fabulous castles owned by his friends such as the rogue lawyer-turned scam artist Ajudua and Ade Bendel, the Lagos-based 419 kingpin and socialite who attended Otaru Grammar School in Auchi, Edo State and who conned foreigners of billions. But nothing had prepared him for the jaw-dropping opulence that was the Ikoyi home of Dupe’s father, Chief Balogun, the director general of NEPA. The mansion was a golden edifice; almost every chair, bed, table, curtain, cutlery, and rug in the mansion was made with made with gold and of gold. He had never seen anything like that all his life. And the cars in Chief Balogun’s football field- like garage were the most expensive cars in the world, and there were dozens of them; perhaps up to sixty. And Dupe told him they had hundreds of such mansions across major cities in Nigeria, and abroad.
It was at that point that Adegoke thought about kidnapping his lover Dupe for ransom. Chief Balogun had money; lots of it. He would be happy to pay for the life of his beloved daughter Dupe. It seemed the best career move for him at that point in time. He contacted some of his 419 associates in Abia State, the headquarters of the kidnapping industry in Nigeria, who were happy to be recruited into what looked to be a very lucrative kidnapping job. And it promised to be a very easy one too. As it turned out, it was as easy as ABC. A small team was assembled, and put on the alert. All Adegoke did was to take his girl friend to Umuahia, the Abia State capital, purportedly for a weekend of sex, sight-seeing, and more sex. The kidnappers simply walked into their room on their second day, and seized Dupe. Adegoke had conveniently stepped out for a while.
Dupe was frightened out of her wits, and scared for her life. Blindfolded, she was driven in darkness to a remote village, over what appeared to be miles and miles of journey across un-tarred and pot-holed roads. At the village, she was thrown into a dungeon, which from the outside looked like any of the normal mud-houses in the village. Inside the dungeon, Dupe met about twenty other abducted people, waiting to be ransomed. It seemed the villages knew about what was happening, since the kidnappers seemed to consult with the traditional ruler from time to time.
They also seemed to be working with the police as police officers came to check up on them from time to time, and to discuss with the kidnappers. Dupe and the other hostages were fed on bare necessities, consisting usually of bread and watery beans, and water. Some of the hostages had been in the dungeon, they said, for up to seven months, as their people made stringent efforts to come up with the money the kidnappers wanted.
The hostages were subjected to severe torture and beatings three times a day both to break them down and intimidate them, and to send a message to their relatives that they meant business. Sometimes they were beaten while the kidnappers were in negotiation with their relatives. Dupe was not spared the meanness of the kidnappers, who were constantly smoking marijuana, drinking beer and spirits and snorting cocaine. They smelled like death, looked like death, and talked like death.
Dupe was beaten mercilessly day and light, with the others. All her body was sore, and ravaged by whips, sticks, boots, and punches. She feared that she would be raped, and repeatedly too, for she was the only woman among the hostages, but so far raping her appeared not to top the kidnappers’ agenda.
On the fourth day of her incarceration, the kidnappers told her that her big day had come. They would be calling her father, and would be putting her on the phone so that he would know that she was alive and in their hands. The telephone conversation was brief and to the point.
The big, muscular ape who appeared to be the leader of the hoodlums, and whom they called ‘Sarge’ made the call, using her cell phone. Cradling the phone in his large hands, he told her father:
“We have your daughter, and we need N800 million if you want to see her alive again,” he said calmly as though he was discussing about some real estate opportunities. “You have 24 hours to put the money together. Do not go to the police; do not involve any security operatives. We shall slaughter your daughter if you do, and before then, we shall rape her almost to the point of her death.” Dupe, nearby, gasped in horror.
“Please do not touch her,” her father cried.
“We shall not, if you do exactly what we say.”
“But N800 million is a lot,” he protested. “I am a mere civil servant.” The big, muscular ape gave Dupe a dirty slap, and as she began to scream, he grabbed at her now grimy, disheveled hair and began to pull it with all his strength. She began screaming like a maniac. She thought the monster was going to sever her head from her body. At the same time, her father began screaming on the other end of the line.
“What is happening? What is happening? Please leave her alone! Please do not hurt her. I will give you what you want.”
“That is better Chief Balogun,” said the ape. “Please don’t provoke me any further. Please don’t tell me you are a mere civil servant anymore. I will take it that you think I am stupid. We both know you are not. You have been NEPA’s director general for the past eight years. We both know you are worth at least N500 billion. We only want a few change from your fabulous wealth; N800 million is chicken change to you, Chief. Don’t make me hurt your daughter again.”
“I will do anything you want, please. Please don’t hurt her again. I will get you the money. Just tell me how and where you want it,” the chief pleaded.
“No tricks, no police, remember?” Asked the leader of the bandits.
“You have my word. Please just tell me how and where you want the money,” the chief pleaded earnestly.
“Now listen carefully,” said the ring leader as he told Chief Balogun what to do.
And so that was how Dupe was ransomed. The next day, she was set free, driven blindfolded to the meeting point where the exchange was going to take place but with a warning from the big, muscular ape: “You are free to go, but do not think about ratting on us, or setting the cops from Abuja after us. We will come after you again, and this time we shall not be looking for money; it will be your life we are after. If we got you the first time, we can get you again. Please don’t forget that.”
Dupe did not forget that. She could not get the hate-filled, bloodshot eyes of the ape and his filthy breath from her mind. She could not get the beatings and torture out of her mind. Needless to say, nobody outside the Balogun family needed to know about the abduction, and nobody was any the wiser. Nobody in the family, not Dupe, not her parents or siblings, had ever heard again from Adegoke, her former boyfriend, whom they now suspected of masterminding the abduction. A discreet inquiry by the chief had revealed that he was not the son of the Senate President as he had claimed. Clearly, he was only a con man.
By Ejura Sambo
(Senior Editor, www.xclusivenigeria.com
, Nigeria's global online newspaper)