This is for all the cheesy jokes.
You’re sitting anxiously in front of your computer. Florida weather is looking great, but there’s a storm raging in your mind.
Your new email icon pops, and you rush to check. Spam. Another pop, a newsletter. It’s been over a week and still no word from him.
You dial his number again, the one you’d called almost everyday for over six months. Switched off. You start to ask yourself what you did wrong. Why did he disappear? You playback the last few months, thinking whether it’s something you said or did. You remember the conversations. You remember the afternoon he first told you he loved you. You think of all these things and your heart races, because there’s another lingering question you’ve shoved into the dark recesses of your mind.
“What if he never loved you?”
You read his last mail from nine days ago, “the doctors say if we don’t pay for treatment, my father will die. Do this for me if you love me.”
You start to wonder why he always avoided your questions, like the true nature of his dad’s sickness. You remember all the next-months and very-soons he said about coming to visit you so you can both plan the happily-ever-after.
It takes another week of radio silence for you to admit that your heart has been broken, and your account emptied.
But he’s not yours alone. To someone else, he’s a bank officer. To another, he’s Nigerian Prince looking to give a percentage of his inheritance if only you send a few thousand dollars for processing. Again, he could be someone else’s lover, depending on how the scam leads him.
The thousands of dollars you sent over the past few months is just a tiny piece of the multi-million dollar scam cake.
Back in Nigeria, the story is different.
It’s 7:30 in the morning and you’re trying to make a quick withdrawal at the ATM before heading to the office.
Your name is Wilfred and you write for a fashion website.
Using the ATM shouldn’t be difficult, except there’s a guy standing closely behind you, with his gun pressed to your side.
You have about seventy two thousand naira left in your account after paying all the debts you incurred while waiting for your salary. You can only withdraw twenty thousand at a time, and that’s what this gunman asks you to withdraw. You want to shout thief, so people can hold him down, and beat him up.
But what if the gun is loaded? What if the shock makes him pull the trigger? In your head, your own blood is running down your back, people are trying to rush you to the Lagos Island Hospital, which is just about 15 minutes away without the traffic. By the time you get to the hospital, the nurses will chew gum and act like they’re doing you a favour, walking back and forth while you lose blood.
Then you die, because you screamed thief. Not worth it.
You withdraw the first twenty thousand and pass it to him. He presses the gun harder against your side till you feel the coldness of the muzzle through your shirt.
So you withdraw again, and again. As the machine counts the money, you’re counting in your head how much you’d have to borrow again to get by this month. It’s only the first week.
By the time he’s done, he walks into a waiting tricycle or keke, and off he goes. There are people walking around, oblivious of the fact that you just lost all your money, and you feel so alone.
As you start to head to the office with the little money you have left, you spot a policeman. Good.
You walk up to him, feeling a sense of hope you can’t explain, you tell him what just happened. He looks at you from head to toe, assessing you, and the first thing he says is, “you sure say you no be Yahoo Boy like this?”
You just turn around, frustrated, as he orders you to come back, threatening to arrest you.
“Bring your bag make I see your laptop!”
A market woman nearby consoles you as you walk away. She says you’re dressed like a Yahoo Boy, and that Yahoo Boys always withdraw early in the morning. You look at yourself. You have on a plain white T-shirt, ripped jeans, dreadlocks sitting on your head.
Wilfred is one of many young men in Nigeria, trying to make a honest living even when it doesn’t look so rewarding, but instead of getting encouraged, he gets profiled like a common criminal.
Being twenty-something and driving an SUV that doesn’t belong to your daddy automatically makes you a suspect.
A foreign phone number on your phone’s contact list might earn you harassment. And that is on a good day. Bad days have nights in a tiny dark cell where you get to pee in a corner of the cell floor.
Remember that Nigerian Prince? He’s built a palace now, and he lives side by side with the filthy rich, and sometimes corrupt. He pays 30% security money to his friends at EFCC.
But you see the one who gets harassed every other day because of how he appears? He’s one of a majority of young Nigerians; hardworking, smart and trying hard to make a living in a country that makes it even harder.
So when next he tells you he’s Nigerian and you make the ‘Nigerian Prince’ joke, remember this prince has no palace.