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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 October, 2003, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Fraudsters on the streets of Lagos
By Anna Borzello
BBC correspondent in Lagos

I received my first real insight into Nigeria last Saturday, when a taxi pulled up alongside me on the street.

Lagos market scene
The preacher and the taxi-driver scam is common on the streets of Lagos
The driver lent out and said, with some urgency: "Madam I am carrying a Big Man, a famous Tanzanian preacher and he has to get to the Metropolitan Hospital. Do you know the way?"

It was quite a dull weekend, and I was happy for the distraction. I told the driver I was new to Lagos and couldn't help.

However, a passer-by overheard our conversation and he came over and explained that the hospital had moved.

The Tanzanian preacher was sitting in the back of the car and he rolled down the window to thank us.

He was, he said, in Nigeria to lead a gospel meeting. But right now he needed to get to the hospital for a blessing ceremony. At this point, the passer-by became very over-excited.

"I know you," he said, "I've seen you on television. You're famous."

The preacher was thrilled to be recognised, but then, growing quiet said in a serious voice: "When you get home you must purchase oranges and bananas and give them to the children in your compound."

He then shook both our hands, thanked us and drove away.

Unsettled

I continued along the street, and the passer-by fell into step beside me. That man is famous, he said, he has very strong powers. And did you hear, he added, he told me not to travel more than 50 kilometres, which is a strange thing, because my father is in hospital in Ibadan and I wanted to go.

Lagos street scene
Better to walk than get enticed into a taxi
I assumed I had misheard, because of the preacher's accent. I was also concerned the man would be too superstitious to visit his dying father, so I patted him on the back, and told him not to worry.

But the passer-by was still unsettled.

Why, he asked, do we have to give fruit to children? I have to know the answer, I have to understand.

And then he had an idea:

The road winds around, he said, and the preacher will be coming back any minute now, on the way to the hospital.

'Christian goodness'

It seemed a bit far-fetched to me, but, sure enough, just then the car appeared on the road, and the passer-by leapt out to flag it down. The car pulled over and the Tanzanian preacher lent towards the open window and asked us whether there was a problem.

I need to know, the passer-by said, why we have to buy oranges and bananas and give them to children.

"Do not be concerned," said the preacher. "The answer is simple, Christian goodness."

Then he paused, and looked intently at the man: "You," he said, "are the first-born son."

At this point, I decided to leave, only because I wasn't keen on having my fortune told
"You are right," the passer-by said.

"You," he said, "have a father who is in a land dispute with a widow."

"Are you God?" gasped the passer-by.

"You," he said, "have a father who is in hospital with a paralysed leg."

"Oh my Lord, how do you know?" asked the passer-by.

"Because," said the preacher, "I am a man of vision."

Fortune

At this point, I decided to leave. Only because I wasn't keen on having my fortune told.

But the passer-by wanted me back.

"Come here," he said. "The preacher wants to tell you your future."

The preacher looked up at me in expectation. But I said: "No, thank you," and walked away.

It must have been clear I was serious, because the passer-by leapt into the car, shouting at the preacher.

The whole drama of this fraud begs a simple question. Why go to all that trouble, why create an incredible story, rather than simply pick a pocket or snatch a bag?
I have to come with you to the hospital. I must hear more.

Then the car sped away with the driver, the preacher and the passer-by inside.

I was reeling from the drama. I couldn't believe I'd seen a man have his life predicted by the side of a road in Lagos.

Street theatre

I told my compound guard, who looked amazed, and the compound manager, who warned me never to get into cars with strangers. Then, I rang up our office manager, Nnenna. I thought she would be as astounded as I but instead, she laughed.

"They're fraudsters," she said. "It's always a preacher, it's always a taxi driver and they always work in threes."

She told me how the men would entice me into the taxi, tell me a terrible fortune, and then convince me to part with money, to reverse the prediction.

The same thing had happened to her a few years earlier when a car pretending to be a taxi picked her up, and a preacher-passenger told her she would lose a leg, unless she left her bag in the car and stood by the side of the road to pray.

The whole drama of this fraud begs a simple question. Why go to all that trouble, why create an incredible story, rather than simply pick a pocket or snatch a bag?

I don't know the answer. But what I do know is I was treated to a marvellous, creative piece of street theatre, albeit with a mercenary purpose.

SEE ALSO:
Nigerians rap against fraud
15 Aug 03  |  Africa
Police warn of e-mail fraud
19 May 03  |  Northern Ireland


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