I have a friend who’s working in Nigeria for a European company like, say, P & G. After some difficult two years of learning by doing (and not dying while being robbed by a militant gang somewhere in the middle of nowhere) he has now come to the conclusion that Nigeria actually does have to offer more and, at least for him, even Lagos, the place he would not have wished on his worst enemy only two years ago now seems to hold a certain attraction, despite occasional ammunition depot explosions right next to his window.
However, whenever I proposed to pay him a visit he said, ‘listen, mate, no need to, really. Let’s meet in London when I’m on vacation. You can die a happy man without having ever been to this place.
Fair enough. So for me, as for millions of others, igeria will remain a country struck and progressively torn apart by the discovery of Oil, Religion, Ethnic strife. And, of course, a country widely known for its Industry of “419” spam, the reason for this post, and – although not all spammers are from Nigeria or even use Nigerian aliases in their emails – something the Nigerian government is embarrassed about and has accordingly promised to eradicate, most recently at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.
The notorious “419” spam asks people to advance money to a person identified in an email (or fax) in order to receive a much larger sum for their help in the safe transfer of embezzled money to some offshore account. It’s obviously not the kind of industry people have in mind when they speak about economically empowering Africa.
But for all efforts, this kind of spam is going to be around for a while. That’s actually not too hard to predict, as there are only two major reasons for this spam to exist anyway: Greed and Stupidity. Both vices have reportedly been a steady companion of humanity, so it’s hard to believe any verbal or even actual efforts on the part of the Nigerian government are going to eradicate the incentives for this kind of crime. Nor are the continuous efforts of Dutch police.
Of course, the victim’s stupidity can never be a justification for a crime. But it helps a lot in explaining it, don’t you think? I mean, who, if weren’t for greed having switched off any remnants of a rationality, who would buy into an offer like the following? Annotated for your reading pleasure… [Oh wait, let’s make this foolproof… NOTE: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPHS ARE A QUOTE FROM A 419 NIGERIAN SPAM EMAIL. ONLY FOR DOCUMENTATION! THIS IS NOT A REAL PROPOSITION!]
[“friend”? Oh look, you don’t remember my name but, hey, you want to entrust me with $52 million. That sounds like really serious offer, c’mon…?]
I am HAJIYA MARYAM ABACHA, wife of the late Nigeria Head of State,
[ah, thanks, now I remember. Yeah, didn’t we have a great time after your husband’s funeral… But as you know, I’m ‘friends’ with the wives of so many military strongmen I usually tend to forget them after a while. No offence…]
General Sanni Abacha who died on the 8th of June, 1998
[now that’s a lot of detail to back up your story, and if it weren’t for the BBC I would have almost believed you…]
while still on active duty. l am contacting you in view of the fact that we will be of great assistance to each other’s likeness developing a cordial relationship.
[and I almost thought you meant ‘friend’ when you said friend…]
I currently have within my reach the sum of FIFTY TWO MILLION US Dollars (US$52,000,000.00)
[thanks for the verification and your trust, but as you’ll certainly remember I’m not that good with the digits. So don’t be mad if I lose a zero somewhere along the line…]
cash which l intend to use for investment, like Real Estate Development or import/export business specifically in your country.
[Oh, now I’m a little disappointed Hajiya, you don’t remember my name, and now you don’t even remember where I come from. Now I think I might start sulking…]
NB: Because of the security being mounted on the members of my family, l have decided that this transaction be kept in utmost secrecy, remember to include your private Telephone or fax number for easy communication.
[You lost my number – again??? Can’t you be a little more responsible with these things. Now I’m going to get enourmous amounts of stupid spam…]
You can also contact my trusted friend and family attorney, barrister Richard Lithuli and is email address is email@example.com
[Wow, and you do have a fake email address. That’s so great. You know what? I do, too. But I’m not sharing ;)]
Update – Just saw that Brad DeLong also has a recent 419 Spam post. It’s called “419 Spam as Literary Art”. Alas, my little oeuvre above does not fit this category… have a look.