By Tony Ademiluyi
A friend of mine placed a distress call to me to help him clear an embarrassing debt. I explained that I was going through hard times and that I was incapacitated to render the help he so desperately wanted. I wished him luck in his search for a ‘messiah’. The challenges of day-to-day life made me forget entirely about him.
Some months later he called me and I shuddered as I didn’t know what to tell him so as not to sound like a broken record. After five calls, I reluctantly picked up the phone and rehearsed what I was going to say to him. Surprisingly, he sounded very excited and asked me if I had heard of MMM. I replied in the negative and he screamed asking where on earth I had been. It was his new found saviour and he was even saving up to purchase his first car. He urged me to join so as to possibly even fire my employer.
Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to research extensively on this money spitting scheme. My findings revealed my worst fears but more alarming was the fact that the founder, Sergey Mavrodi was an ex-convict whose activities made many commit suicide in his native Russia in the 1990s.
I called my friend to disclose what I saw and rather than scare him, he simply laughed it off. He shocked me by telling me that he was aware of the fact that it would eventually crash but that there was no harm in enjoying the party while it lasted. Moreover, it could be around for as long as a decade if Nigerians united to keep it alive. Didn’t normal businesses fail after a short time? What was the big deal in enjoying this God sent manna? I wished him luck and we parted on a not too good note.
In the weeks that followed, I have been inundated with calls, text messages and discussions on why I should hurriedly join the fray. Some have dismissed me for being too analytical and that I may end up in penury if I didn’t take some blind risks. One thing rings true: There is the knowledge that the Ponzi scheme would crash but the agonies of life in the ‘Giant of Africa’ has created a large pool of irrational people who prefer immediate, short term unsustainable fixes to their challenges.
The House of Representatives ‘rose up to the challenge’ last week by ordering the arrest of the promoters of the scheme by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The speed at which they resolved ‘in national interest’ to put an end to the scheme was a case study of the ludicrousness of a farce.
There was a lot of backlash from the beneficiaries of the scheme who were livid with anger at the ploy by the honourables to meddle into things that didn’t concern them. What was their business in what freely did with their hard earned money? After all, there is a caveat on the website that clearly states that they should only participate with spare money and not with one’s life savings. If they choose without being coerced to part with their funds to strangers, why should the legislators in the green chamber lose sleep over it? CBN and SEC had issued warnings on a number of occasions which didn’t cut the ice; why couldn’t these anti-people lawmakers mind their business? To use the Pidgin lingo ‘Who dem epp?’
Governments exist to protect the interests of all especially the vulnerable. The legislators raised legitimate concerns in a scheme that has previously crashed in Russia, South Africa, and almost collapsed in Zimbabwe and was banned in China. This is not the first time that a Ponzi scheme would berth in the country. There was Nospecto and the wonder banks and many of them have been around even before independence which is fondly referred to as the era of the good old days. They have a right to raise their opposition to something that could lead to financial ruin and possibly suicides when it eventually goes bust.
The problem with the House of Reps ‘concern’ is that beneath the hullabaloo of blowing hot lies a nauseating hypocrisy that has created a wide disconnect between them and the populace.
The House has not come up with progressive ideas that can whittle down the sinister effects of the technical recession – the ever changing terms never cease to amaze me. What bills have been sponsored to create the enabling environment for massive job creation? Erisco Foods threatened to leave the country and relocate to China which would lead to the loss of over 1500 jobs; not a whimper from our dear honourables to avert the looming calamity. The debates in the lower chamber are never about the people’s interest but to selfishly feather their nests. What do you make out of the plan by the same house to purchase cars for each member at the price of 3.6 billion naira in a recession? A breakdown would reveal a whopping 10 million to each member. This is besides their mind boggling allowances, constituency votes, votes as committee members and other humongous perks of office. Even if an honourable planned to secretly participate in the scheme, 10 million naira is far above the maximum with which to play with. Why wouldn’t the battered common man who must have borrowed and begged for a paltry 20,000 naira or less be livid at this brazen attempt to reduce the alerts they get on their phones? The disdain the supposed representatives have for those they are supposed to represent leaves their motives no matter how altruistic highly suspect.
Issuing threats won’t scare the people; it would even embolden to persist with this new found love from faraway Russia that has suddenly showed up like a deux ex machina to fill the void left by the irresponsible government. If hitherto rational people have decided to throw away reason and succumb to the lure of ‘stomach infrastructure’, threats would be counterproductive.
The needful should be done in respecting the social contract that should exist between the representatives and the governed. If human beings are not reduced to beasts, it would create the environment for such a Ponzi scheme to exist in the first place. The idea would have fizzled out long ago for lack of patronage.
It is disheartening that hope is being placed on a highly shaky scheme that can cause more agony than gain but worse that the loudest critics of it are merely playing to the gallery in their attack of it.