Cash Daddy in 419 land

Wednesday, 28 March, 2012

Of all the bizarre occurrences in these bizarre times, the recent address by Bertie Ahern, the former Prime Minister of Ireland, at an economic forum in Nigeria has to take the biscuit. That this discredited individual could trouser a reported €30,000 from the organizers of the Ogun State Investors’ Forum only amplifies what was spelled out in great detail in the Mahon Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters & Payments. Truly, one needs to count the spoons twice a day now, given the kind of people that are involved in Irish public life.

Still, the disgraced Ahern was an almost perfect person to grace the podium in Nigeria because this is the home of that extraordinary form of deceit, the 419 scam. If you’d like to learn more about the world of 419, the young Nigerian writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani explores it in detail in her first novel, I Do Not Come to You by Chance. As the story opens, we find the narrator, Kingsley, being forced to provide for his family after fate strikes: “Then came my father’s diagnosis. For a poorly paid civil servant to get caught up in an affliction like diabetes was the very height of ambitious misfortune.” Intelligent but lacking in the kind of connections that might lead him to a better life, Kingsley falls in with his uncle, Cash Daddy, the mastermind of countless e-mail scams. “He could probably even talk a spider into weaving silk socks for him,” says Kingsley, describing a man of cunning and charm who sounds uncannily like Ireland’s ex-PM.

Adaobi Nwaubani Before long, Kingsley is enjoying his 419 work and when a particularly outrageous scam succeeds, he’s so thrilled that “It felt as if a gallon of 2,2,4-trimethylpentane had been pumped into my heart and set alight with a stick of match.” Nwaubani peppers her work with the unique idiom of Nigerian English and the book benefits greatly from its energy. The novel also provides food for thought in that a lot of the money embezzled by the scammers is put to use in building schools and funding orphanages. “No matter what the media proclaimed,” says Kingsley, “we were not villains, and the good people of Eastern Nigeria knew it.” Sounds like something Bertie Ahern and his mates might say in defence of their actions in Ireland.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani spoke to African Writing Online about I Do Not Come to You by Chance and the interview is filled with vignettes of Nigerian life that capture its total otherness: “For example, my mother’s sister lost a friend and the proper use of her legs after their car was swept off the road by a state governor’s convoy. It was that governor’s third ghastly crash. He blamed it on his enemies’ juju.” The Irish equivalent is GUBU, and it was coined to reflect the more ghastly aspects of Bertie Ahern’s mentor.

Comments are closed.