Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.
― James E. Faust
Chinedu hurls himself through the crowded roads in Alaba Market, brisking through grabbing hands, and whisking his head right and left to fish out which outlet is exactly honest and good enough to buy a phone. His phone had been stolen a fortnight before, and he had borrowed 70,000 Naira from a famous “loan app,” using his girlfriend’s phone and details without her knowledge.
“How far, bro? We are from the same village; are you not from Aba?” The right guess it is. Chinedu finds someone from his village, and they see each other as brothers, the trust coming instantly. Everything continues from there.
“Jesus! What is this?” That was Chinedu’s reaction when he got home, opened the well-sealed pack of his new phone, and found four wraps of fufu carefully placed and sealed. He had been boboed. Chinedu’s brother had given him zobo and duped him! Do you think he trusted too quickly? Or since he had practically stolen from his girlfriend, would you retort, “Ole gbe, Ole gba?” If your phone is stolen during a Sunday service in that most elegant Cathedral, located in Abuja, is it not a case of God having forgiven the thief as a sinner and rewarded him with a gift, a sign of His blessing?
In the two previous series, I wrote about men and women in high places and those who sit in the holy of the holiest but with unholy hearts. The pastors who kidnap your wallets and sleep with your wives. I have talked about the instrumentality of zobo and bobo in political and religious circles, emphasizing their readiness to use their sharp bobo claws to feed on people’s gullibility. The politicians who arrest your progress in the name of change.
But bobo is not only an act of the pulpit; the pew is also the master of the act, and the citizens are much more bobo men and women just like the politicians. I mean, Chinedu’s newly found “brother” is neither a politician, Imam, Pastor, nor an Ezemuo. Many have and can become tycoons in the bobo and zobo markets, depending on who can sell it best and make more. This series addresses those bobo and zobo masters who are no better than those discussed in the previous two series, and as always, I promise not to bobo or zobo you in any way. My fear is how you won’t bobo me!
After reading this piece, take a walk through Dugbe, Bodija, Alaba, Kontagora, Sabon Gari, Onitsha, and other popular markets in Nigeria to concretize what you are about to read today. Then you can ask what happened to the old stories about how a farmer could leave his tubers of yam on the roadside for sale, and even when he was not there, he would get his complete cowries or pennies for the goods because buyers would drop the monetary value of the goods next to the stack. I did not read this in story books—I experienced it in real-time in Ibadan in the 1950s and early 1960s when I, too, bought corn and bananas and left the cents. The farmer also valued his or her customers and would not put substandard goods on sale, nor did anyone in the community think of stealing the goods or the money. These stories are true: they demonstrate that the old communities thrived on trust and honesty, and their people were seen as united in faith. We have killed those communities and, with them, a culture of honesty.
Sadly, we cannot say the same for contemporary societies anywhere in the world. Dishonesty and corruption have eaten deep into the Nigerian system, and it is not because the politicians are corrupt, even though they are the ones we talk so much about. Most people are corrupt, dishonest, and full of bobo and zobo to serve around. If we then must salvage our society from these damning issues, incidents like those around Chinedu and the grassroots zobos and bobos must be cut out. This is why I ask you to visit some of those markets to make these points register well with you.
We must talk about Iya Solo’s bobo measurement cups, or those “Congo” cups with the tops slightly cut off at the top for incomplete grain measurement, in order to sell more cups in a bag of rice, beans, or other food items. About the price, the market woman will never forget to tell you how “things are costly” and that because she developed a liking for you, the profit she will be making from the transaction is just 50 Naira. Mama Solo! Why the zobo?
She zobos you about the quality of the grains, saying a little measure will fill your pot. Ewa oloyin, my delicacy, is mixed with brown beans, both of which will cook at different speeds and produce a different taste. You may eat dog and donkey instead of cow meat when you buy suya. When you take home a light-skinned woman, by the time she removes the wig and the powder, you confront a goat with multiple colors—red face, brown neck, and dark body. A shameless man confronts a shameless woman, bonded in the romance of deception.
We must also talk about the Omo Nna’s “Luic Vitton,” “Abidas, Varsace,” “Chaenl,” “Nkie,” or Pumba’s (sometimes with the Puma cat in the logo walking rather than leaping) merchandise branded in the corners of his room with prints and dyes. Omo Nna is ready to sell at a bogus price while telling you bobos about his containers on the sea from France; meanwhile, his factory is his room. Or should we talk about Musa’s fake Apple wristwatches with the small and half-eaten mango logo? It is hilarious, but it is the reality in the market, and much more is happening on the streets and on the internet.
Obviously, bobos and zobos are worse in the e-commerce, affiliate, and online marketplaces than in the physical markets. Prices are canceled as old prices, and items are discounted as if the outlet is offering a limited-time bonanza; however, the supposed bonanza price is slightly higher than the original price. Stories of “what I ordered versus what I got” never stop, as many online vendors deliver substandard products packaged otherwise. What about the fuel stations that rig measurements and hoard petrol, especially when there is scarcity, causing the populace so much pain? During fuel scarcity crises in the country, pump prices spike and rarely fall when supply is normalized. To make matters worse, at one point, many fuel attendants had the habit of collecting 20 Naira “gallon money” from those who bought into containers.
Let us talk about the Omo Onile, or the popular illegitimate land sellers and land grabbers. In Lagos, one plot of land can be sold to eight people, and the proceeds can buy you a chieftaincy title, with a cut for the king who keeps his loot in a coffin. These individuals bobo their title in a piece of land, sell it to you, and then resell the same land to another person. When the real owners of the land question you and you are lucky enough to see them again, they take you to another fake piece of land, and the circle continues, with you paying through your nose. Baba Wande in Oba L’onile to the rescue! Stories of how the ancestor who originally owned the land emerged, as the founder of the place used to be a fish who wandered into the land and drove away all the crabs to possess it. The other ancestor of the person who sold the land to you was a snake who fled to Aso Rock, never to come back. Sometimes, they also harass landowners and demand money before they can use the piece of land or build on it. At every building construction stage, “owo omo onile” must be paid, and failure to do so could result in deadly conflicts.
These land grabbers come in different shades. On March 16, 2022, Vanguard News reported a protest in Lagos State by the residents of Okegun-Museyo in the Ibeju-Lekki Local Government Area. They were lamenting to the State Government about how bobo land grabbers had displaced over 2000 residents in the area, some of whom had lived there for over 12 years. Yes, the residents were being displaced, not due to natural disasters, but by the inhuman treatment excised by fellow humans. Unfortunately, the land grabbers have positioned themselves in high places of influence and government positions across the country. Some of them are traditional leaders, political appointees, and politicians who believe nothing can be done to check their antecedents.
While we talk about all these shades of bobo and zobo masters, we must also talk about the celebrated scammers and Yahoo Boys who have become a phenomenon in the country. In 2020, Nigeria was ranked by the FBI as the 16th among the countries heavily affected by the pangs of cybercrime and fraud. Fake data, as we should be among the top ten! The bobo Yahoo Boys give zobos to their unsuspecting victims, especially those abroad, by either portraying themselves as potential lovers, sugar mummies, sugar daddies, refugees, finance experts, agents, sellers, crypto-currency flippers, or people in need of help, among others to create trust and dupe people of their money and property. The local victims are targeted in similar ways or through phone hacking, disguising like an old Baba who mistakenly sends recharge card pins to the wrong persons, and many other ways.
Nigeria is said to lose over 127 billion Naira to cyber fraud yearly, and in 2020, over 5 billion Naira was lost in Nigerian banks due to fraud-related electronic transfers. The statistic is worse for the international community as this is fast becoming a global stain on the country’s image. Unfortunately, it seems the madness will not end soon as more people are being recruited into the “business” daily. A sting operation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as reported by Channels Television on May 13, 2022, led to the arrest of a 24-year-old owner of a “Yahoo Yahoo Academy” and 16 other trainees to be nurtured in the act of boboing and zoboing to fraudulently obtain what other people have made from honest toils. These bobo and zobo masters become very desperate that they even resort to ritual killings to bolster the spirits that will help further enchant their victims.
Do not get me wrong; I am not saying these are the absolute or major representations of the people of Nigeria. Every society has its own shades of bobo and zobo masters and mistresses in different proportions; however, I have chosen to focus on addressing Nigeria’s. Nigerians are largely good and honest people, and their resourcefulness will always stand the nation out anytime. But citizens’ boboship is more dangerous because it forms the basis of political dishonesty and corruption that have become a major problem for the country. The nation is not in the best possible state. People struggle with poverty, lack of opportunities, insecurity, amenities, and many other challenges. Why should we then turn against one another? Why must Chinedu’s “brother” hoodwink him? Why must Chinedu swindle his girlfriend? Why must we bobo and zobo one another when, as Nigerians, we have enough trouble knocking on our doors daily?
If our country will improve, we must start from the grassroots. We must be honest with one another. We must not bobo one another or serve others zobo. Nigeria needs to change from the bottom to the top and from top to bottom. If you bobo as a citizen, you and the politicians are destroying us.