The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life moved to Malaysia in 2013 for school. He talks about how the organised crime scene in Malaysia almost made him go into fraud and why he’s back in Nigeria.
So, when did you leave Nigeria for Malaysia?
2014. My brother and I got expelled from Madonna University, and after my parents got over the disappointment that comes with having both your sons expelled at the same time, they decided to send us abroad to start again.
Why did you get expelled?
For me, a couple of “offences” built up over time to lead to the expulsion. There was a time when I cooked in the hostel, and another time when I was staying in the same room with my brother. There was a rule about not doing that, and not missing church services, which I did.
I see. You’ve just landed in Malaysia. Paint me a picture: Expectation vs Reality.
I remember that a few years before, a friend from secondary school posted a picture on Facebook and the location was “Malaysia”, and I thought “Of all places to go to school, why Malaysia?” And a few year later, there I was doing the same thing. In my head, I was going to the ghetto. I expected it to be worse than Nigeria.
But then I landed at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and took a train from the terminal to the check-in counter. I was shocked. Everything was so advanced. When I left Nigeria, there was no AC in the airports, or maybe they just weren’t working that day. Here, there were air conditioners and the people were nice. Everyone was smiling at us. I remember thinking, “Things are different now.”
What happened next?
A miracle of some sorts. So, the rule was that every student trying to come into the country had to have at least $2000 at hand to settle down. Personal Travelling Allowance. My brother and I entered the country with $50. We were expecting more money from our parents later. For some reason, nobody asked us if we had that money. They just let us go.
Two things that caught my eye immediately were that there was no litter in the streets and speed bumps had lines on them, which was exciting. My eyesight is poor so I never really used to see speed bumps.
Was it easy settling in?
Many languages are spoken in Malaysia, but the major language is Malay. I’m good with languages, so I picked it up fast.
With food, I’m a very picky eater. I haven’t even eaten a lot of popular Nigerian foods. So in my first year, I only ate fried rice and chicken, and noodles and chicken. Nothing else. I lost a lot of weight.
Ouch. Were the people welcoming?
There are three major “races” of people here: Malays, Chinese and Indians. Mixing with people had its ups and downs. Some people were nice, and others were just straight-up rude. I remember my brother and I trying to ask a Chinese guy for directions after we did our mandatory HIV test, and the guy covered his nose and walked away. We definitely experienced our fair share of stigma because we were black. So I stopped trying to mix with locals and got into the Nigerian scene there.
What were the Nigerians like?
Different. I was born in Abuja to wealthy parents, so I lived a sheltered life. But most of the people I met there were hustlers. They had interesting backstories. I was 18, these guys were in their late 20’s. They were also living lives I’d only heard about in stories and seen in movies.
After I got expelled, I became a really strong Christian. I even wore my Shiloh shirt from Nigeria to Malaysia. I hated what I saw when I got there. Fraud, prostitution and all that. The first night my brother and I ever went out, we went to a red-light district with a guy we met at the Malaysian embassy in Nigeria, who happened to attend the same school as us. He wanted to sleep with a hooker. I didn’t like it, but I just went for “vibes”. A few minutes after he went in with one, some Pakistani guy approached us. After some small talk, he asked us where we were from, and we said Nigeria. He was shocked. “Nigerians like transsexuals too?” We were a bit confused. Then he said, “ Your friend just went in with a tranny.”
“No, that was a woman,” we replied.
He laughed. “There are no ‘real women’ in this area. Everyone here is a tranny.”
He hadn’t finished speaking when we heard our friend screaming and running towards us. His pants were almost at his knees, but he was holding on to them for dear life.
It was crazy.
I’m curious. Why do Nigerian musicians sing so highly about the Malaysian lifestyle?
Money. In Malaysia, money doesn’t feel like a real thing. People spend money lavishly. I grew up rich, but I didn’t even know money like this existed.
I remember being at a Nigerian restaurant with my brother and my friends, and this guy pulls up with the latest Porsche Cayenne. Now, there’s a 200% importation tax on foreign cars in Malaysia, so if a car is 10 million normally, you’d have to pay 30 million for it in Malaysia. And this guy was driving the latest Porsche. He went to the bar opposite us and spent an insane amount of money on drinks. We were thinking, “Who the fuck is this guy?” We later found out that was Hushpuppi.
In my first year, I was curious and naive. So whenever I saw a young guy living large, I’d always ask around for what he was doing for a living. Quite often, it was illegal. Dating scams, wire transfer fraud, drugs, credit card scams, you name it.
The people that did gift card and credit card fraud were at the bottom of the food chain. They’d make about $3000 a week. The “dating boys” made about $100,000 every 2 – 3 months. “Wire boys” were making about $500,000 to $1 million every five months. They almost never made less than $500,000. And the “Ali guys” made about $2 million over one job.
They call what they do “Alibaba”. I don’t know what it means, but they used to make millions of dollars. At the top of the food chain though were the guys involved with drugs. These ones made so much money, they would go and spend millions of ringgits on drinks in the club just so they could pour the drinks on themselves. I saw and heard crazy things.
The teamwork required to do all this crime though is insane. From delivery guys to bankers creating fake accounts for single transactions to accountants adjusting figures.
Where were these people from?
Some were Nigerian. The rest were from Cameroon and some other French-speaking African countries.
Is the government doing anything about it?
As far as I know, they’re cashing out. I know a guy that paid 70 million naira in one day because he was caught with drugs. It was just a normal police bust on the road, but he had to send that money to Nigeria, and then someone in Nigeria made calls and greased the palms that freed him that same day.
Someone randomly advised me to always keep 5,000 ringgits handy for immigration. He thought I was a fraudster because I’m Nigerian.
What about other Nigerians that were not into fraud?
There were clean Nigerians, but you’d struggle to find them. The people that were meant to be the good ones in society turned out to be disappointing. The first person I lived with was the choirmaster of the church I attended. He was a fraudster and he was making good money from fraud. On December 25th 2014, we were on our way to church for Christmas Carol together when he got a call. A deal had come through, and he’d just made $60,000. In one breath, he turned the car and headed to the pick-up location. It was cash. We didn’t go back to church from there. We went straight to the club. I haven’t stepped my foot in a church since then.
I often heard that pastors were using church accounts as a front for money laundering. The lie: someone made a huge donation to the church. Case closed. And they’d get their huge, fat cuts. Many of these criminals paid their tithes. They didn’t joke with God.
As a young man living through all of this, did you have anybody you could turn to when it got overwhelming?
There was a popular man from Guinea who took particular interest in my brother and me. When we had housing issues, he took us in. He was super nice. He saw potential in us. I was a computer guy, and my brother was a street smart guy and a really good driver. We thought he liked us because we were skilled, and he took us in to be his sons but he had other plans.
This sounds like the beginning of an action film.
One day, he told my brother to drive him somewhere. It was pretty far from our town, and they went alone. When they got there, my brother waited in the car while some men stacked the trunk with loads and loads of cash. Obviously, my brother was scared, so he asked why the man didn’t just receive the money in his bank account instead of doing something so dangerous. The man dismissed him and said he didn’t have a bank account.
On their way back, there was a huge roadblock due to terrorism scares, so heavily armed policemen were thoroughly searching every single car passing that checkpoint. Every time my brother says this story, I laugh because I would have done the same thing he did at this point. He got out of the car and started walking away. He was going to pass the checkpoint by foot. He wasn’t about to get caught with that much money in the trunk of his car. But the man called him back and persuaded, promised and reassured him that nothing would happen. When they got to the checkpoint, the police let them go without searching them. Till today, he doesn’t know why nobody stopped or searched them. On their way home, they got stopped by a different set of policemen patrolling, and the man from Guinea simply got out of the car, went in the trunk, took out a few wads of money, threw it in their hands, got back in the car and had them drive off.
When they brought the money home and counted it, it was over a million dollars. In cash. Right in front of me. I wanted to run mad. In the next few days different cars would pull up to our compound and some men would come in, take a cut of the money and drive off. It was all so organised. There was no shouting or hollering. It was like something out of a mafia movie.
The man from Guinea gave us some money too. My brother and I bought a MacBook and did some clothes shopping with my cut. Good times.
I was not prepared for that.
He was a really kind and generous man.
Did the pressure get to you?
Almost. In 2015, some guy with information about a bank in Bangladesh came up with a way for us to hack the bank and get $4 million. The Guinean man heard about it and quickly created a team. I was the main hacker. My cut was going to be $700,000. At this point in my life, I was super poor and $700,000 didn’t seem like a bad idea. The Bangladeshi guy also assured us that the amount of money we’d be taking would not be enough to raise a strong investigation because the bank wouldn’t want to scare its customers by letting the general public know that it had been hacked over a measly $4 million. It was a no-brainer.
Long story short, I pulled out of the deal because every major stakeholder was coming to meet me in secret to tell me to stab the other guys in the back and do the deal with only them. I would obviously get a much higher cut, going into millions of dollars that way. I didn’t want to get myself involved in a messy situation like that so I just backed off.
When did you get back to Nigeria?
In 2019, I was 24 and I was making good money, so I decided to come home, start a tech company and leave again. I’d learnt Artificial Intelligence as well, so I knew I was going to be hot cake.
Nigeria wasn’t what I thought it was and that’s why I’m still here. The poverty here is bad, but the work culture is terrible, and the people want to make money fast.
In my first startup, I hired a few fresh graduates and paid them really well. We went out on weekends and generally acted like friends. I left Nigeria for a conference for two weeks and nobody went to work for those two weeks. When I asked them why, they were extremely rude. It was like they’d forgotten I was their boss. It was so disappointing.
Because of my plans to drop a tech startup and leave, I was already working hard to get my Canadian permanent residence so that I had somewhere to go once my business here was blooming. I threw all that in the trash. I realised that the work to be done here is much more important than my comfort or wishes to settle outside Nigeria.
Nigeria is a tech goldmine and I’m looking to tap from it.
Do you ever think of going back to Malaysia?
If you check for “Malaysia Immigration busts” on YouTube, you’ll see videos of people jumping from tall buildings because they’d rather die than come back to Nigeria with nothing. Many of the people there have lost their way. They don’t have skills and they’re not willing to pick up skills. It never ends well for them. I remember hearing the news about the arrest of Hushpuppi and his gang, and I wasn’t even a bit surprised. A few of those names were familiar to me. I’m glad I didn’t get sucked into that type of lifestyle and I sure as hell don’t flirt with the idea of going to live there again.
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