“So we go meet bros Jigga make he show us level shey?” and OC nodded and said with a devilish smile, “Guy see us see money o”. That was the birth of Fastloaners International Loaning and Trading Company. We were ready to join the big league and make some mega bucks, such mammoth teenage dreams and Jigga was our getaway source, my new leader!
Jigga was OC’s elder brother and he was the kingpin at the prestigious HiTech Café or in street terms, THE FARM. He had ‘picked’ two ‘controls’ very early in September and was sure to have a bumper Christmas. So OC and I didn’t want to be left out as we had seen enough already. We wanted in and so, we floated our Company, found a niche and tried to fine tune our business in a slightly different direction.
It was in 2003 (I was 14/15 at the time) when I was prepared for my triumphal entry into the Cartel. I have always been described as smart but not in book terms as my head was komkom. My “smartness” was always in reference to ‘street’ things. I always had this new vista to things, always had the advantageous position and at 14 I was incorporating a firm to liberate the international community by offering ‘trade’ and ‘loan’ deals. At this age, I had learnt what the business world was like (literally) as I knew the importance of strategic partnerships and that was where OC was to come in. He was to be my Director of Operations and his Job Description was simple: ‘bomb’ random clients and get me loan seekers.
Another deal was struck with Lemmycomputer the local tech geek. He was to be my Document Controller and in charge of all my forgeries and paper stuffs. Yours truly became Davenport Clarence, B.Econs, MBA, CEO, Head of Finance, Accountant, Insurance Company Director, Typist, Phone Operator, Bank Manager, and every other person that the new firm was in need of. That meant I had several voices, several phone numbers, several emails, several addresses and several tasks and targets. To think this was done and done very well in 2003 at 14 when there was no voice make over app or the many ‘tools’ cartel boys have this days makes me wonder why I am still broke till date.
We met Jigga and his role was ‘Mentor’ and ‘Guide’. He was to provide us all the soft tools we needed. His line of business was lotto and our new line did not fit into his overall business model. He was however impressed with our new innovation and was willing to help us. Our immediate needs were simple, new data plans, new laptop system, links in ‘Western Union’ and ‘Money Gram’ and so on. He had us set up a meeting at the FARM so he could introduce us to other cartel owners and ‘brand’ us as his ‘puppies’. It was pretty simple or so I would make you all believe. OC was to arrange drinks, I was to arrange suya and the meeting was to happen in the night at 8 pm. Now the problem was that my father was a teacher! And anything beyond 6 pm was midnight in our house. You either entered the house before midnight of slept wherever you were and so, I let my Director of Operations handle the take-off meeting.
In the next two weeks D.Ops had brought in several clients and I was very busy. There was Subod Chanawatra, Bonghard Liane, Chen Chin Hueng, Siyabonga Mhlongo and everyone from every continent that needed a loan. It was amazing how much ‘big’ men needed loans and to what terms they were willing to agree. Calls were always brisk and business like and the 14 year old receptionist would start with “hallos good fellow how may Fastloaners be of help to you?” and the good fellow Mahi would then rant and rant about how he needed a loan at 5% rate per annum with no collateral. Ode buruku. 14 year old would place the new client on hold while he tries to get the 14 year old CEO on the phone, all the while he keeps tapping his keyboard vigorously such that the client believed that it was an office. 14 year old CEO dims voice and starts “This is Davenport Clarence of Fastloaners, I have got three minutes” and Mahi goes on and on and on about his financial distress till 14 year old CEO tells him to formally open a loan request log with the company’s secretary through her email address. Spot the cue Nigerians: email address was firstname.lastname@example.org and how they all fell for it was still a wonder to me. So simple, yet so powerful and it was all my invention.
OK, before I forget, all these events continued into the time I was a student with the famous Ambrose Alli University, best university in the Land at that time by a mile (depending on the area you were looking at the best from). I was enrolled to study Microbiology. The real me would come to class, sit at the back, confuse everybody with my many jokes and still convince them that in the end, I was going to employ Dr. Sakpe as the home teacher for my kids because in my language “the guy bam yagha yagha”. In all these I was supposed to graduate and make a good grade – a first class Hons. I feel so tired of my life knowing how many exams I came to ‘fully prepared’ only to be told the exams were held the previous day! I still marvel at how those naive people managed to convince me that school was for the broke.
Back at the FARM, I was getting close to picking my first ‘control’ close to the end of November of my first year. That was barely two months after my firm started. Already I was being talked of as the next big ‘Popsy’. Guys twice my age were already queuing up to learn the ropes from me. I needed to make twenty of such collections so I could be weaned off Jigga and that meant ‘100 percent’ clearance. Mathematically, that meant I would have remitted 5% of all my earnings to my ‘mentor’ 20 different times before I left his tutelage, and getting my first ‘collection’ after two months was glorious. I could be free in less than a year and at 15 I could be the leader of my own cartel. Lofty!!! The first mahi remitted $200 as Insurance fee after the many ‘lender/loanee’ agreements and that fetched me about N24,800 at the time. The N800 was for the Westi Baba as his HP. N1200 was for Jigga, N2400 was for office boys, N4800 was for Director of Operations and the rest was for Davenport Clarence (me of course!). Such stringent office arrangement and everybody was happy, there was structure, there was foundation and there was business.
The mode of ‘treatment’ for clients followed a well arranged routine and we could almost predict how many ‘controls’ each client would remit. So, there was room for short term and mid-term plans and in all these, I was central. Each treatment meant new documents and Lemmycomputer was always on point.
By the end of December that year we had pulled six controls. By that time, I had made…well, nothing big. My account balance was nearly zero, I had two ‘timbolo’ one bling bling and one Sagem My X5 phone. If you were as old as I was in that era, you would agree that Sagem My X5 was a tech phone. Infrared? Yes. Bluetooth? Yes. Polyphonic ring tone? Yes. Big screen? Yes. All this was music to the ears of the girls around me then. I did get a few girls with my phone and timbolo shoe… (What was I even thinking?)!. But AAU girls are hard to get sha, you needed Sagem, timbolo, bling bling and some money to buy GT rice…yes this was HARD by Ekpoma standards!.
At home, I had to raise my cartel game. My father was a ‘legit’ con man. He could bobo you into thinking he would buy you a padded Benz 190 in your next semester if your grades were first class. Till today I still think my old man is a secret agent with plenty monies stashed in the Cayman Islands. I could never outsmart him no matter how hard I tried. When you say ‘I’m hungry’ in our house, he looks at you like ‘you eat too much’. Then if you say ‘mummy no worry I don beleful’ he looks at you like ‘this boy don de chop for outside’ so I had to be super smart. No talk of cartel things in the house, no fine clothes, hold your Nokia 3310 strong every time so that Sagem for the babes and bling bling was strictly for outdoors. At 14/15, even though you were scared of the repercussions of outing yourself, you still wanted to show you had some ‘assets’, you wanted your siblings to taste some of the juice and give you some respect. This ambition birthed my first ploy to ‘get out’.
It was close to my sister’s birthday and I could not resist buying her stuff and making her feel good. After all I was Davenport Clarence, the international CEO. The plan was to gradually tell my dad I had a rich pen pal. For three weeks, I would just chip pen pal into any discussion in the house. “Ehen Daddy I have this myspace friend o he is very close to me, he tells me many things about America” My father would just nod like “see this olodo” and after this had gone on for several weeks, I was ready to declare that my pen pal friend had sent me some ‘small’ money. I declared it one afternoon and from the looks of it, my father was happy for me. I rushed out to buy shirts, dresses, perfumes, shoes, cakes, foods, ice creams, and everything else. All the while, my father was ‘happy’, too ‘happy’ self.
At night, the devil visited my old man; he summoned us all for family meeting. Everything that we had not eaten was brought forward with a list of what we had eaten. My mother brought everything we shared for her and thought she had eaten into the parlor as evidence. I was dying many times over with each question!
Slightly dimming his eye as he glanced through his list of summons with a sardonic smile he started; “Ehen boy what do you say pen pal is…?” My mind did a backflip. Apparently I had to mentor my father in this business or face the risk of being disowned.