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Fraudsters on the prowl

By Babatunde Ayedoju

“ O ti wo one chance” (You have fallen victim of one chance). This is a statement that many people in Nigeria have heard at one time or the other. The word “one chance” as used in this context is different from what a grammarian would interpret it to be. “One chance” literally in English is like saying “one opportunity”, as both opportunity and chance have very similar meanings.
However, on Nigeria streets, when somebody falls a victim of “one chance”, it means the person has been defrauded. One chance people are fraudsters who walk around the streets and crowded areas, taking advantage of unsuspecting passers-by. Some of them also operate in commercial vehicles and at ATM stands.
Their major tactic is to spot a potential victim and engage him or her in a conversation. The moment the person is engrossed in the conversation, the fraudster will strike. Money, phone or any other valuable item within the criminal’s reach will suddenly vanish. By the time the victim will realise what happened, it would have been too late.
This particular crime has been going on for long in many Nigeria cities. Places such as Lagos, Abuja and even Akure the Ondo State capital have more than a score of perpetrators of this evil act. Funny enough, they are not hidden but carry out their activities in broad daylight, yet a lot of them seem to get away with their crime, most of the time. People even seem to be used to hearing stories about them. This is evident in the way some laugh and just lament briefly when they hear the story of someone falling a victim in the hands of these fraudsters.
Anybody who walks on the streets regularly or makes use of commercial vehicles has either fallen a victim or has heard about this unlawful activity.
My first encounter with them was in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital in May 2017. I was traveling to Akure from Kogi State and I passed through Ado-Ekiti. As I alighted from the vehicle, I crossed to the other side of the road with the aim of getting another vehicle that would convey me to Akure. While I was crossing, a young man joined me and asked for direction to a particular place. He mentioned the name of the place in such a way that I could not decode it.
“I don’t know the place; I am a stranger here” was my response. “Please, I don’t know the way; that’s why I am asking” he stated in a tone that could evoke pity from any compassionate person. I insisted, “I am a stranger here”.
By the time we crossed to the the other side of the road, I observed him closely and discovered that he had rings on all the fingers of his left hand. That was very strange to me.
Almost immediately, he left. Another person approached me and asked, “What was that unfortunate fellow asking you? He was asking you for directions?” I answered in the affirmative and he kept cursing the other young man. Who could have known that he was an accomplice?
Then, an elderly woman called me from behind and I approached her. After she had quizzed me about where I was coming from, where I was going to and I had answered her, she warned me to leave that place Immediately. Otherwise, they would strip me of everything I had.
I speedily left the place for the motor park where I got an Akure bound vehicle. I had my God to thank for rescuing me that day.
Much later I had another encounter with these folks in Edo Lodge area, Akure. A man on a bike greeted me as if he knew me. In order not to be anti-social, I responded. He came back with the bike man and told me he was a barber. He said that his shop was nearby. This man offered to give me his phone number. In a matter of minutes, my phone had changed hands and they speed off.
Since then, I have had several other encounters with them. However, I got to realise that I am not the only one who has had an experience with these people. In the city of Akure, you find them in several places, especially around the market. Notorious spots include Olukayode area down to Old Garage and Arakale axis (around Ecobank).
The story of a young man named Bukola was a pathetic one. He had just withdrawn some amount of money from the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) and some guys met him, as if they had been waiting for him. They led him to their meeting place nearby and stripped him of all the money. “I was surprised. Everything happened as if they had used a spell on me” was his sad testimony. According, to him, part of their gimmick was that they did some magic in front of him, to make him scared, so that he would cooperate with them. Having been emptied of all his money, he was left without any other option than to trek from Arakale to his house in OKE-IJEBU.
Elizabeth Ade was in the market to do some shopping when a young man suddenly approached her and began to make some incoherent request. She said she quickly removed her shoes and threatened to beat up the young man if he did not leave her alone. She also accompanied the threats with some curses that were enough to make the rogue disappear.
Another lady who identified herself as Ife said she was standing at the roadside early in the morning when she suddenly noticed a stranger nearby. The man moved closer to her and said in Yoruba “Ma ja o”, meaning “Do not fight”. She quickly shouted “Look here, all I have here is not more than N200 and I have only N1000 in my account”. As if chilled water had been poured on his body, the stranger walked away. “Bad business” the strange man must have thought.
While most of the people I have interacted with on this matter believe that people who perpetrate this evil usually cast a spell on their victims (some actually parade strange objects that look like charms), almost all of them believe that the safest thing to do is to ignore and possibly walk away from anybody who approaches you and begins to ask you irrelevant questions (be it in the market or anywhere else).
The market is a crowded area and people who engage in this kind of act hardly wear any uniform or carry any obvious means of identity. Therefore, the safety rule remains “watch”.

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