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Armed robbers in my bedroom!

By Farooq A. Kperogi The following first appeared in my column in the Weekly Trust of June 10, 2006. I apologize that this week I am c...

By Farooq A. Kperogi

The following first appeared in my column in the Weekly Trust of June 10, 2006.

I apologize that this week I am compelled to share my personal tragedies with readers of this column. In the early hours of Thursday, June 8, a gang of ruthless and mean-spirited armed robbers invaded my room in Abuja. They prized open the door of my bedroom with the fiercest, rawest and most cold-blooded show of crude rage that I have yet seen in my entire life.

The first words the robbers uttered when they gained entry into my room were: “Where are the dollars!” They threatened to kill me and my family if I didn’t produce the dollars they said I had brought from the United States. As anybody in my situation would do, I gave them free access to the recesses of my room. And they thoroughly ransacked and stole everything that came within their sight.

They carted away my phone, my money, including the money I had withdrawn from my bank the previous day. They also took my laptop, which contains so many things that I can’t begin to recall in my present state of shock. The column I had written for this week’s edition is in the laptop. Incidentally, the subject-matter of the write-up is the fraudulent activities of Nigerians in the United States and my first-hand baptismal encounters with bank and airline frauds upon my arrival in Nigeria.

As I write this column a few hours after the robbery, I am still too much in a state of shock and disbelief to afford the comfort to be coherent in my thoughts. And I hope that I will be excused for the rather slapdash and jumbled fashion that my thoughts will be presented in this week.

Of all the personal losses I have suffered in this devil-may-care robbery, it is the loss of my original credentials that troubles me the most. The original copies of my bachelor’s and master’s degree certificates from Bayero University, Kano and the University of Louisiana, USA respectively were kept in my laptop case. My U.S. Social Security card, I-20 forms that I need to renew my visa and to re-enter the United States with, and my U.S. bank cheques were also in the laptop case. So were my admission letter to the U.S. university that admitted me for my doctoral studies and letter of financial assistance from the same school, including my certificate of induction into the Phi Kappa Phi Academic Honor Society—one of the oldest and most respected academic honor societies in the United States.

I had never experienced armed robbery first-hand all my life. Now that I have experienced it, I can only say that words are miserably inadequate to capture the inner dislocation, hopelessness, rage, and emotional torture that are the natural after-effects of this ugly encounter.

Just last week, I lamented on this page that the near-sightedness, ignorance, unimaginativeness and thoughtlessness of the gaggle of bandits invested with the delicate, all-important task of managing the affairs of our country is rapidly pushing Nigerians to the crushing heights of unimaginable suffering and severe deprivation—-and the nation to the precipice of self-annihilation.

What happened to my family and my neighbours today is just a sample of the practical collapse of the Nigerian state, and our consequent descent to social anomie. There is nothing to inspire belief that there is a government in this country.

The robbery went on for one full hour uninterrupted—-as if we are living in some anarchic jungle. And when the police finally arrived—-of course, after the deed had been done—-their presence was heralded by shrill sounds of siren. It doesn’t take much intelligence to know that only two types of people will attempt to catch a thief through an exhibitionist show of their presence: a man who is encumbered with an unbelievably subnormal intelligence quotient or a criminal accomplice who is warning the thief to leave the stage.

I suspected the latter, not least because the robbers were communicating with each other during the robbery in the all-too-familiar lingo of officers of the Nigerian Police.

My suspicions were strengthened when my neighbours told me that they saw four of the robbers in police uniforms. These suspicions were confirmed when I discovered that the robbers left their police boots by my door! They apparently mistook my black cover shoes for theirs—-or, better still, in their haste to steal my shoes, they didn’t have the presence of mind to take away the shoes they had brought along with them. And when a bunch of miserable police officers came to take inventory of the losses we suffered after the robbery, I could detect a subtle, even suppressed, but nonetheless perceptible glee in their eyes as we told them of the things that were stolen from our room.

As my wife correctly observed, the police officers’ main reason for coming to us was probably to have an idea of how much loot their accomplices were able to extort from us—-to help them in their negotiation for the division of the loot. The officers’ excessive, almost unnatural, concern with the monetary value—-or naira equivalent of the monetary value—-of the valuables stolen from me appeared to redound to the notion that the officers merely wanted to have a sense of how much to expect as share from the operation of their co-conspirators.

This suspicion may be entirely inaccurate and misplaced, even unfair. I could very well be paranoid. But how can I help being paranoid when I was robbed by people who wore police uniforms and left police boots in my room, people we pay to protect us? How can I transcend the urge to be neurotic when I have the misfortune of being the citizen of a country where life is short, cruel, brutish and chaotic? How can I afford the luxury to be dispassionate and clear-headed in a country where the faintest evidence of the presence of government has evaporated, where thieves and crooks and despicable beasts are our rulers, and where untrammelled anarchy defines our national existence?

What happened to me this week was just another addition to a long string of personal tragedies that keep elongating since I returned to the country. First, my carry-on luggage, which I was forced to check in at Memphis International Airport in the United States, was missing upon my arrival. And when it did arrive five days after, I discovered that it had been forcibly opened and all the valuables in it—-video, web and digital cameras, portable digital radio, books, even my toothpaste and many other things I will rather not bore you with—-stolen.

In the heat of the intense passion that my discovery of the theft provoked, my brain almost literally shut down, and I was only able to file a complaint on the disappearance of my video and web cameras. I discovered the disappearance of the other valuables after I got home. The airline officers are still investigating this detestable pilferage as I write this column.

Again, sometime in March this year, I sent a cheque to my sister in Lagos by mail. Up to the time my plane touched down in Nigeria, my sister said she had not received it. My first temptation was to conclude that the mail had got lost in transit. So when I returned to the country, I went to my bank—-a major Nigerian bank—-to cancel the cheque. But it turned out that some disreputable vermin had actually intercepted the mail, stolen the cheque, and cashed it without exciting any suspicion—-or so I think for now—- from the cashier who paid him.

The fraudster jerked up the original cash worth I wrote on the cheque by about 100 percent (which added up to a lot of money—-at least by my standards—-that almost drained my entire account), changed my sister’s name and replaced with his, and used a fake Nigerian Ports Authority ID card to confer false authenticity on his identity. (My sister works with the Nigeria Police). The case is still being investigated as I write this column.

I am profoundly disillusioned, crestfallen, and enraged. I don’t know what further tragedy awaits me. Given the rapid succession of travails that have been befalling me since I returned to my country, it is not entirely out of place, I think, to fear for my very life. If I survive till next week, I will attempt to recapture what I wrote earlier this week on Nigerian fraudsters in the United States.

Sometime last month before I set out to visit home, the Cable News Network (CNN) aired a hugely controversial documentary titled, “How to rob a bank,” which essentially chronicled the strategies Nigerian criminals in the Unite States deploy to steal people’s identities and empty their bank accounts—-and many other scandalous frauds that have come to be associated with Nigerians.

Nigerians living in the United States were understandably outraged by what they said was the racial profiling implicit in the documentary. In truth, the documentary made subtle, subliminal extrapolations that suggest that Nigerians, because of the culture of rampant fraud in which they were born and bred, have a natural predisposition for criminality. This broad stroke is undeniably untrue and invidious. But who can blame anybody for calling Nigeria a nation of scammers?

We have a tainted external image because of the high-profile criminal activities of some (perhaps many) of our compatriots abroad and at home.

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