Singularity

SINGULARITY

Men are getting dumber. If you are 30 years and younger you might not even understand what that statement means. If you did, you might not agree and a percentage of people in that age bracket will close this page before reading this sentence. But men are actually getting dumber. We live in the age of hashtags and passable grammatical blunders. Not long ago, if I write ‘Do I no you’, the other person will probably reply with a ‘What?’. These days, I’ve seen all manner. People writing ‘were’ instead of ‘where’, ‘see’ is now ‘c’, ‘ppl’ is actually ‘people’; then it gets weird ‘fams’ is ‘family’, ‘pops’ is ‘Daddy’, ‘pregs’, ‘preggo’, ‘prexy’, ‘cray’, ‘cuda wuda shuda’; the list goes on and on. Twitter, the 140 character social network didn’t help. Sometimes when confronted, people say they are trying to get their tweet into 140 ‘chars’. The same person can then write ‘prexident’ one week later, and it’s style.

English language and it’s usage is not the only thing that is suffering, people can no longer do simple mathematics without a calculator. Growing up, calculator wasn’t allowed in the examination hall, not until I started my tertiary education. If I get a penny for every time someone has given me more change than necessary, I’ll be a millionaire*. You can try it out. Buy something for 360 or 370 and give the store attendant 500, or something for 730 and above up till 770, give the clerk 1000 and see if you get the correct change. But I grew up in an age where my first mathematics teacher were my parents.

The show – ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ was once very popular with franchises all over the world, today that show is being gradually replaced in popularity by dance competitions and the likes. These days we can afford to pay more for entertainment than we can afford to pay for education, just look at the humongous and unreasonable wages of footballers compared to the tokens we pay our teachers and say I am wrong. There was once something called JETS competition (Junior Engineers, Technicians and Scientists), winning a prize at any level of that competition was once a dream. These days, what we have is ‘The Principals Cup’ and the likes of them. Secondary Schools used to have Literary and Debating days; these days? They’ll rather organise a show and host D’banj (no disrespect to D’Banj).

I remembered our teachers can not afford to make mistakes in class. Before I started my Tertiary Education, I have read Programming in Pascal (by Schaums) not more than twice back to back, and solved at least 50% of the problems in the book. Teachers who don’t know what they teach like the back of their hands are usually objects of ridicule by the students and are soon posted away from the school; pay a visit to a school today and hear the teachers teach, you’ll think you are in hell.

So now you get the point I am trying to make, we are actually getting dumber.

Computers are getting smarter. This one is a no brainer. Head to apple.com and see what their new smart watch can do. Watch Ted videos on their youtube channel. Follow technology news (the real ones, not the ones on BI and TechCrunch) like ycombinator and you will come to one conclusion, computers, maybe not yet more intelligent than the average human, but they are getting smarter and faster too.

The first time I had an argument with someone about Singularity, it was 2008, fast forward 6 years and all the things I said then are coming to pass gradually, definitely a fridge that can order milk from amazon when you are low on milk, or a TV that can auto-renew your cable subscription is not YET mainstream, but who says it won’t in a year or two? So imagine this scenario, your fridge orders milk from amazon, amazon delivers the milk using one of their drones and a robot house help takes the order and stock your fridge. All you know is you have milk. Another scenario, you are wearing a smart watch that constantly sends data to your doctor, your doctor then sends a message back to the watch saying, stay off red meat for a month, your watch is connected of course to your fridge, who refuses to order meat from amazon when you are low on supplies. All you know is you don’t have meat. While these scenarios looked a bit crazy, come back in 2020.

So believe me, Singularity will happen. Maybe not like Von Neuman envisaged it in 1958, maybe not a doomsday prophesy like the current proponents want us to believe, but at a point, in the near future, computers will refer to us humans as Garbage In Garbage Out.

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Faith & Logic

I think there are two pathways to truth, Faith and Logic. The human mind evolved to want to know and when the mind doesn’t know, it hasn’t evolved to say I don’t know. It’s usually funny to watch people give the wrong answers or try to give a wrong answer when they could have just said, I don’t know. But that’s how the mind is,  there must always be an explanation and this is how we came to faith.

At times, once we hit the limit of logic, we invoke faith. Sometimes we invoke faith even without trying to use logic, because at that point faith is easier.

Our ancestors, even up to some of the famous scientists use faith to come to truth. The history of scientific discovery has always had a boundary, a limit to what can be logically explained and people tend to attribute that unknown to some sort of supernatural power, or God. One very famous quote attributed to Isaac Newton is this 

Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it can not explain who sets the planet in motion.

Isaac Newton has all these equations to explain planetary motion and gravity and all that. But when he hits the limit of his scientific knowledge, when his equations can not logically explain the phenomenon he’s observing, he invoked faith. Ptolemy, a brilliant scientist of his time also attributed some of the things he doesn’t understand to some sort of supernatural power, here’s a famous quote of his

When I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia

The above examples are to show that even the most brilliant minds in history use Faith to come to their truth at some point.

We do it too, almost on a daily basis. If I asked who is your father, you immediately point to him. But how did you come by that truth? Logic or Faith. 99% of the time, it’s by faith. You just believe he’s your dad. 99% of the time people have not carried out a DNA test to prove paternity. That’s coming to the truth by Faith. 

Also imagine a stone age man, who knew nothing about the heavenly bodies seeing an asteroid hit the earth. He has to invoke faith at some point. Imagine an early human after having his first dream, or his first feeling of Déjà vu, his mind will want to give an explanation and when it can’t, he will invoke faith.

On the other hand, Logical Truth is the truth you come by usually by using the scientific method. Our best way to come to truth today is using the scientific method. The method is usually as follows

  • Ask a Question:
  • Do Background Research
  • Construct a Hypothesis
  • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
  • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
  • Communicate Your Results

As you can see, it’s easier to come to truth by faith than coming to truth by logic.

Faith and Logic usually clash when people want others to live and do and behave a certain way because of a truth they arrived at by faith. So when do you use Faith and when do you use Logic. A lot of people will discard truth by faith at the first glance, even though I understand why that is and I tend to agree with them to an extent, I still think coming to truth by faith has its place. If your truth is personal, and doesn’t have any effect whatsoever on another person, then it doesn’t really matter if you come to that truth by faith or by logic. For example, who your sister or father or mother or family member is personal to you. You can either decide to carry out a DNA test to prove it or you can continue living by that truth. On the other hand if for example a crime is committed and there needs to be proof that X is actually your father, then we have to use the best way we know to come by truth today, Logic.

I also see (and I am guilty of it myself) people trying to convince someone by Logic that a truth they came by using Faith is actually false. This is usually harder than it seems. One would think everyone should prefer Logical Truth to Faith Truth, but that’s not usually the case. Because of several factors some of which may include indoctrination and/or cognitive dissonance, people don’t usually tend to want to let go of their truth. This is where the scientific method trumps faith. Faith encourages you to hold on to that which is truth, to protect the truth at all costs. Logic encourages you to test your ideas and truths every once in a while to see if they still hold firm. And if a previously known truth was found to not hold grounds anymore, it should be discarded and not protected at all costs. 

In conclusion, we must all strive to come to truth by the best means possible. Which is using Logic. But coming to truth by faith is not all doom and gloom either, we just have to know that truth by faith has its limitations.

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The Xendbit Advantage

The Xendbit Advantage

Every few thousand of years, our idea of money changes. But one thing that’s constant is that every single idea of money we’ve had is based on the fact that we are always looking for new ways to exchange value. The last time money was re-invented was in 1661AD with the introduction of paper money. That was a long time ago. Since then we’ve tried to introduce several other ideas about money, from credit cards, to contactless payment systems, but the cardinal idea of money in 1661AD still stands, we still use paper money.

The introduction of paper money also brought about it’s own issues. First the need for a central trusted authority to print money. Then the need to prevent against counterfeits, because unlike gold, it’s easier to fake paper money. Then the issue of trust. Over the years kings and emperors have been known to issue decrees to print money indiscriminately. Then there’s the issue of theft. Because you carry your money on you (even in credit card form) it can be stolen. There have been several bright ideas to prevent against these problems, but one of the brightest of them was put forth by David Chaum, an American cryptographer. His ideas was refined over the years and in 2009, someone under the pseudonym of Satoshi wrote a white paper called Bitcoin, a peer to peer electronic cash system.

The paper describes a decentralized payment system that doesn’t require a central authority or financial institution. Transactions are included in blocks and blocks are linked to one another, voila the birth of the blockchain. This solves a lot of the problems associated with a centralized payment/money authority. Since 2009, a lot of other cryptocurrency have sprung up and soon the need for an exchange. Where you can trade one crypto for another crypto.

The early cryptocurrency exchanges up until now are modeled after the fiat exchanges. A central authority that stores and manages customer assets. This is in contrast to the idea behind Satoshi’s white paper. What’s the point of a decentralized cash system if the exchanges are going to be centralized. But the problem is beyond one of adherence to decentralization, the problem is that since the exchanges are centralized and customers assets are stored with them, they are targets for hackers who wants to steal digital assets. Between 2013 and 2018, over 1 million bitcoins have been stolen by hackers from exchanges. At the current value for bitcoin that is a whooping 65, 000, 000, 000 (yeah that’s 65 followed by 9 zeros). 

This is where Xendbit comes in. Xendbit is a fully decentralized exchange. It means the assets on the exchange are stored with the customers. If xendbit gets hacked, there’s little to zero loss to the customers. Xendbit is a peer to peer exchange, which means we only provide a platform to bring buyers and sellers together. All trades are protected by the individual blockchains of the cryptocurrencies being exchanged. Xendbit also provides a Crypto to Fiat exchange, this is protected by our Blockchain based escrow service. Finally, Xendbit provides a way to settle trades quicker by using our Tether coins. 

For more information please visit xendbit.com and/or download our white-paper.

We also have a one-pager version of the white paper.

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When Cancer Struck

A few days to Christmas of 2015, we had just treated my son of what we thought was an infection, but wife called my attention to the fact that he was still weak and couldn’t stand for long.

On the 26th of December, we went out for a family outing at a nature park, that was when I noticed it for the first time, my son was afraid. He was scared of climbing a ladder. Something I knew that I should be chasing him away from. Now he didn’t want to climb, because he was afraid. Or so I thought.

What I misdiagnosed as fear was actually something called gait imbalance. It got worse as the year came to an end, and first thing in January 2016, we went to an hospital. They referred us to general hospital and we were asked to do a brain scan. (CT Scan). The result showed a blockage of the CSF (Cerebrospinal fluid). We were referred to LUTH, and because the whole place was filled up (story for another day), we decided to go to UCH. It was January 7, 2016.

After months and months of tests and scans and more tests and more scans, our worst fear was confirmed. My son has been diagnosed with a type of cancer. It’s called Diffuse Astrocytoma. It was a WHO Grade 2 cancer. I was devastated. We prayed. And fasted. And prayed some more.  But it’s cancer, and it’s not going away.

Our options were laid bare before us. Radiotherapy is not advised because of the diffuse nature of the cancer as well as the extent to which it has grown. Our only option is chemotherapy.

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They recommended lomustine in conjunction with other drugs. We were able to get the other drugs but no pharmacy stock lomustine in Nigeria. I combed the whole of lagos and Abuja and couldn’t find. We decided to explore our options outside the country and still couldn’t find. At some point we found in Ireland, but they won’t sell to us. They require a doctor’s prescription, and the hospital must be in Ireland. Same with Poland and then US as well. We searched for a doctor/hospital that will help us, but they want us to bring the boy to their clinic before they could write a prescription for us.

 At this point, having a comprehensive health insurance could have helped, but cancer would be the last thing on my mind, not even for a 3 year old. I know better now.

After a month long futile effort of trying to get lomustine, we decided to go with the second option of some combination of vincrinstine. That didn’t do anything to the tumor. In fact it was growing. So we did other set of scans and x-rays and tests. At this point we decided to fly him out. Maybe the Nigerian doctors don’t know what they’re doing. So we started another round of fruitless searching. We met with genuine people trying to help. We also met with fraudsters trying to dupe. All in all, the efforts yielded nothing. Well, nothing,  Until I met a doctor friend who summoned courage and told me the truth. ‘Don’t waste time, energy and money. The best thing you can do now is give your son palliative care and be as close to him as possible. He is possibly in his last days’.

Harsh truth. But truth nonetheless. That was 6 months ago. During those 6 months we didn’t give up on him. I personally was hoping for a miracle, I read every cancer news with hope that someone would find the cure before it’s too late for our son. Medically,  we did a shunt to reduce the ICP (Intracranial pressure), we continued with chemotherapy, we tried different drugs combination,  we kept trying to get lomustine, and we didn’t give up on the idea of flying him out as well. We did everything we could.

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The hardest part of dealing with cancer is watching your loved one suffer and not being able to do something about it. The second hard part of it is watching it tear the family apart. The last one year was the most difficult for me and my family. The third thing about cancer is it’s expensive to manage. We were spending over 200K every month on drugs, consultations, tests, scans, etc. To fly him out to india would require us to have cash of about 10M and another 10M in reserve.

The new chemotherapy wasn’t working either. So we decided to stop. My wife told me of a professor with some sort of alternative native portions. Although I don’t believe in it, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. At this point, we were ready to try everything, as long as it would work. This new therapy will cost us about 25k every 3 weeks or so. It also wasn’t working.

The first sign of the cancer was the gait imbalance. At some point he couldn’t even walk at all. His left arm was so stiff he couldn’t bend it. So we started physiotherapy. The physio yielded some gains, and after a while he was actually able to walk, with a little imbalance and up till about 3 months ago, he was able to eat by himself.

But then cancer is really a bitch. after some time, he couldn’t walk again. But could sit and crawl and eat. Soon he couldn’t open his eyes properly and then he started having speech impairment and finally he couldn’t speak. All he could utter was grunts. I think the point when he couldn’t speak anymore was the point it finally broke me. I broke down many a night and cried myself to sleep. All these happened in the last 6 months leading up to February 10, 2017.

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One thing about this brain cancer is that it didn’t take away all brain functions, just those associated with movement. He wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes and start singing. When we stopped the chemotherapy and left UCH, the nurses were almost in tears. He was such a sweet boy. At just 3.5 years old, you’ll hear him say things like can I have a cup of water please!

But once he couldn’t speak again, he became a totally different person. I can sense that he was depressed. And that hurts. Deeply too! Watching a 4 year old go into deep depression is hard to take. He’ll stare into space for a long time and heaved a heavy sigh. When you’re trying to talk to him, he’ll be starring at you, but not really seeing you. It’s like he’s looking through you. He became secluded. He sleeps. Sits. Eats. And stare. I couldn’t imagine what was going on in the brain. Sometimes I hold his hand and I could feel him squeezing my hand as if he want to tell me something, but I could only imagine what is it he wanted to say. I missed the shout of Daddy!!! whenever I come home.

 At times he’ll try to stand up, but he’ll just fall back down. Sometimes hurting himself in the process. So gradually he stopped trying. A 4 year old shouldn’t be going through this, but here’s one, my son, going through one of the worst times of his young life.

 I cried at every moment I get to be alone. I cried in the car. Everytime I remember him, tears well up in my eyes. I can only imagine what my wife, the mother was going through at the time. I became absent minded. I lost at least 3 phones during that time. I lost my wallet once. I almost lost my job as well.

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I once traveled to Sierra Leone for a business meeting. He was supposed to be in the hospital for chemotherapy the day after I was supposed to arrive. I got to the airport at about 12am, on a good day I would have just slept at the airport, but I had to be with them the next day, so I entered my car and was driving home. Half way home, I was stopped by armed robbers parading as policemen and I was robbed. They took away money and valuables worth well over $100K.

At this point, I should say a big thank you to my boss and coworkers. They stood by me during this time. I was refunded about $10k for my personal belongings that was stolen. But company properties worth over $100k could not be retrieved till date.

Finally, during the week of February 6th to 10th, I had some urgent deliverables so I was working late. On the night of February 9th to 10th, I worked to about 4am. I was about to sleep when my wife called me,  (they were in ibadan and I was in lagos) she said the words I’ve been dreading to hear everytime she called me. Opeyemi is not breathing. With teary voice she said, he’s gone. Our son is gone.

All week he’s been having serious symptoms. Difficulty in breathing, coughing, restlessness especially at night, etc. And on the 10th of February 2017, 1 year, 1 month and 3 days since the first time we checked into UCH, my son succumbed to cancer and took his last breath.

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I came out of this whole ordeal stronger I think. During those early days I read everything I could lay my hands on about cancer. I watched videos and I got educated.

A big positive and major source of consolation for me is that he has gone to rest. He suffered a lot during those 13 months. He was a fighter. He fought cancer, but unfortunately he lost the battle. He will forever be remembered. Even though he spent just 4 short years with us, the lessons his life taught us is eternal.

Goodbye son, you’ll be greatly missed.

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Lucky Me

I have been living in and out of Addis Ababa for about six months now. I have been warned on a few occasions about the Street Kids of Addis Ababa, someone even said you should fear them more than the grown up thieves. Don’t misquote me, Addis Ababa is one of the safest place on the continent, but you can not always rule out these bad elements.

I have lived in Lagos, Nigeria a long time and I always bragged about my street credibility to whoever cared to listen. Although I have not really had time to put this street cred to the test until today, but I knew somehow, I have it.

There are a few things I do to guard myself against pick pockets and street thieves. If I am carrying a wallet, I empty the wallet’s cash into my one of my pocket, and sometimes a few valuables like credit cards, so if I somehow lose my wallet, it’s fine because I still have cash. One of the most painful things about losing your wallet I’ve heard is that you don’t have cash to even get from where you are to a safe place. Another thing is if I am carrying a bag, I constantly switch the bag from my right hand to my left hand. It makes it difficult for snatchers. Another thing I do is, if I have anything in my back pocket, I constantly tap my back pocket.

So on this day, I went for a tea break some minutes after 5pm with a friend from work. It was still pretty broad daylight. After the tea break, they decided to stay and relax some more, but I had some work pending, so I told them I’m leaving for office. We went to a park called Ambassador Park and it’s some 10 mins leisure walk from my office. Immediately I stepped out of the park, I saw these three kids follow me, one of them was trying to sell me a book or something, of course I wasn’t interested.

I was putting on a traditional Nigerian dress with pockets on two sides, my phone was in one pocket and my wallet in the other. When the kids were persistently following me, I increased the pace of my walk. This is another thing I learnt, walking fast and switching between a fast pace, a slow pace and a run puts pick pockets off. They needed you to be in a rythym of pace so they can calculate their move. As I was running, and walking fast paced at the same time, the kids find it difficult to keep up and I lost them for a bit. But I got to an intersection where I needed to cross the road. I put my phone and my wallet in my side pockets and I have my hands also in both pockets, again another trick I learned. I was waiting for the lights to turn red so I can cross. After a few minutes, the intersection was getting full of people waiting to cross and the kids caught up with me.

The kids were good. When the road cleared and I wanted to cross, one of them came in front of me and stopped suddenly, I took my hand, the one on my wallet out to gently shove him aside, and at that same time, one of them removed my wallet. How I knew I still don’t know, but instead of shoving the kid in front of me, I grabbed him by the arm, at the same time I turned around quickly and grabbed one of the two behind me, the third one was half way across the road by this time, so I half dragged the two I held across and cornered the third one. So I have two of them and the third one in my line of sight. Now my two hands are free and I know my phone is also at risk, just in case they have other accomplices. I kept moving from side to side and saying as loud as possible, “Where is my wallet, where’s my wallet”.

We are almost in front of the popular Ethiopian Hotels by this time and a few crowd begin to gather; some were asking me in Amaric, what is it? what happened. I kept my eyes on the crowd looking for the accomplices, while I make sure the third kid didn’t dis-appear. Someone came and spoke to the kids in Amaric and the third kid dropped the wallet. I released the kids, picked my wallet, checked that I still have my phone and walked away.

I believe I am extremely lucky, I still think I have street cred, but these kids were good, and I think they were just unlucky.

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Using WGET to download whole website

Recently, I came about some e-books that are html only (sucks yeah), but they are good books and I want to really have them locally. So I need to download ’em.

I know. There are GUI tools for it. But what if you are stuck in a terminal only server? I am behind a very strict proxy, but I have a server that I can FTP into and the server is not behind the proxy. But the server is terminal only, hence the wget option.

wget can download the whole internet if you so wish. and it’s simple

wget -r url

Now before you go there are a few caveats.

The sites will be downloaded, but will not be really suitable for offline viewing. To enable relative links do

wget -rk url

The above will convert the files to be suitable for offline viewing as necessary. You might want wget to keep the original files.

wget -rkK url

Also another caveat. This option will only download the html file. To tell wget to download all files necessary to display the page properly (images, sounds, linked css etc) use

wget -rkp url

Again, don’t go yet. The default level of links to follow is 5. This might be too much (or too small in case your plan is to download the whole internets). you can specify the link level thus

wget -rkpl 5 url

Finally, you might want wget to do all the hard work of downloading the internet and delete the files immediately after.

wget -r –delete-after url

man wget

is also a good place to start learning more about the things that wget can do.

That’s it. Happy interwebs downloading.

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The Accidental Spy (Part One)

The Accidental Spy (Part 1)

I have been out of job for the past 6 months. Things are so difficult that I have to move in with a friend in one of the slums around the busy Idumota market in Lagos. My friend’s name is Seyi, but I was shocked when he told me never to call him Seyi, he said his name is now Spironto. I asked him what it meant and he tried to explain to me, but his explanation was too bizarre to be remembered, I just want to concentrate my brain power on getting that new job. Spironto works as a baggage boy in Idumota, his job is basic, help people move their heavy luggages from one point to another, without asking questions and get paid for it. Of course sometimes the luggages are within the law, but most times, the contents of the luggages are way above what the law allows. Spironto makes about 1, 000 naira (less than 10 USD) on the legal luggages and makes about 15, 000 (100 USD) on the illegal ones. They also have these terms they use to describe the luggages, if you want him to move a legal luggage for you, you call it “Fufu” and illegal luggages are called “Ororo”. It wasn’t long before I had to join him in his trade. But I told him I don’t have the wit and experience to start moving Ororo yet, so I just moved Fufu.

After about a month of moving “Fufu”, I decided to move “Ororo” for a change. The danger in moving “Ororo” is that, if the goods was seized by the Customs or the Police Officers, you MUST pay the bail on them. If they are not bailable, you must refund the owner. The consequences of not doing both are grave. A lot of people who move “Ororo” have suddenly disappeared without trace. There is this fable that if you move “Ororo” long enough, you can buy a house on Banana Island; so it is popularly believed that those that disappeared are actually living a good life in Banana Island. But Spironto swore to me that he has witnessed an “Ororo” boy being beaten to death and being thrown into the nearby lagoon.

Well, I was moving my first “Ororo” when I saw it happen for the first time. It was getting late, I was moving the “Ororo” to a part of Idumota I have never been, mostly because of the stories of the evils that go down there, especially at night. Anyway, this guy came to his car, he was carrying a bag, as he took his keys out to open the car, I heard a shout of “Oga fire dey under your motor, fire, fire, Oga, fire dey under your motor” (which means, Sir, there’s fire under your car). I quickly ran into a shop and told the owner, “Ororo ni mo gbe” (I am carrying Ororo), he said “Elo?” (How much), I said “Owo kan abo” (literally it means – One hand and a half, but translated it means 1, 500 naira). He said “Owo meji abo” (2, 500), I thought quickly and said Ok. He opened a back door, and I dropped my luggage, I also gave him 2, 500 naira and I quickly dashed out. To my surprise, there was no pandemonium outside, there were a few boys around the man’s car trying to help him put out the fire (or so I thought at first), but other than that, people were moving about their businesses as usual.

After about 2 mins, the fire stopped. Someone had sprayed a generous doze of fire extinguisher gas on the fire, there was a hazy smoke in the air and when the smoke cleared, all the boys have disappeared, only the owner of the car was standing beside his car, looking right and left, touching his pockets as if looking for something, then it hit me, he has been robbed. Even the passenger door of his car was open, it seemed he saw it at the same time as I did, he ran over to the other side and looked in the back seat. He immediately shouted “Mogbe ooo, Moku ooo, Egba mi oooo etc etc” (I’m done for, I’m dead, please help me). This screaming and wailing continued for some time, then someone walked over to him, they talked a bit in hush tones, then the man entered his car, with this new guy he was talking to and they drove off.

I went back to the shop where I dropped my luggage, picked my stuff and delivered it. But I couldn’t keep my mind off how that man was robbed. I couldn’t wait to get back home and tell Spironto all about it. But Spironto has been living here for some time, so he has seen it all. He told me those guys are called ‘Fire Brigade’, he said the man that got in the car with the man that was robbed is a police man, he will take the robbed man to their station, get his statement and estimate of how much he was robbed, he will use this list to collect his own percentage of the loot from the Fire Brigade.

I just stood there, mouth open, unable to close it. I knew the police men were corrupt, but this is taking corruption to the next level. Now it all made sense, nobody could do anything, or stop the Fire Brigade because they have Police Protection of course. It still amazes me how far people will go to make money in this part of Lagos. Even the police? I told Spironto that I don’t believe those guys are real police men, he shrugged and said he is going for dinner.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept playing the events in my head over and over again. I promise myself that I am going to learn as much about the Fire Brigade and their police protectors as possible. The most pertinent question on my mind was, how do they make the man believe there was truly a fire. It seems I also saw something like fire under the car, but I wasn’t sure anymore now. I hate to be fooled, so I decided I am going to visit that part of Idumota, everyday until the incident happened again.

I picked my watch post, it was what we popularly call a joint. It’s basically a bar, where you can buy other things (weed, cocain etc). The setting is very local, there are usually banters and once in a while a fight. The fights never get too far though as the trouble makers are quickly pushed out of the joint. Nobody wants to attract too much attention to the joint. When I visited the first time, they treated me like a stranger, and some were skeptical at first. But after a few days and a few shared drinks, plus I took Spironto with me one of the days, I began to gain their trust.

It wasn’t until after about 10 days later that it happened again. This time to a woman and what seems to be like her young lover. I have been watching them since I saw them for the first time. The boy could be half as young as the woman, but he seems to be in charge. I was thinking to myself, he couldn’t be the son, he was too controlling to be the son. If he is the son, he must be one spoilt child. Anyway, they went into a gold shop and I turned my attention to my drink, listening to the banter of the joint. When the woman and the young man came out of the gold shop, they are having an argument over an object the woman was holding, from the shape of it, it looked like a neck lace. They walked towards the joint and entered a shop where they sell wrist watches. I again turned my attention to my drink. They came out about 5 mins later, and this time, the young man was grinning from ear to ear, holding a heavy looking plastic bag. After shopping from about six more shops, buying several things, they walked past the joint and I had a better look at them. The woman should be in her late fifties and the young man in his early twenties. The young man was definitely happy about the whole trip because they were talking and laughing animatedly as they walked past us.

This time, the other people at the joint noticed them too, one man asked the question on every one’s mind; “You think say na her pikin be that?” (Do you think that’s her son), and another replied; “Tah, for where?” (No, can’t be). And this sparked a discussion that went on for about a minute until someone said, “Fire Brigade dey follow dem” (Fire Brigade is following them). It was like I was given a jolt of adrenalin, my blood began pumping fast, this is the moment I have been waiting for. There are some discussions about the Fire Brigade and how they are giving the market a bad name, I wasn’t listening, my attention was on the two people that are about to be robbed and their intended assailants. I kept looking around for suspicious characters, there were also a few cars parked and I kept my eye on the cars too.

Then I saw someone walk past one of the cars and threw an object under it. As the object touched the ground under the car, it began to give out a bright glow. So that is how they created the fake fire. If you are standing, you won’t notice the glow, the only reason I saw it was because I was sitting, and of course paying attention. When the young man and his partner (or whoever the older woman was) go to the car, I was expecting a shout of fire, nothing. They stood beside the car talking for a few seconds, and I can see the glow gradually dying, again, another mystery revealed. I saw someone throw another object under the car, again a bright glow. This time, the young man took out the car keys and opened the car, as soon as the door was opened, it began – “Oga, Madam fire dey under your motor” (Sir, Madam, there’s fire under your car).

It took about 3 to 5 mins, the smoke cleared and the robbery operation was completed. Once again after some mins, a guy walked up to the just robbed couple and spoke to them in hush tones, the three of them entered the car and drove off. I was determined to really get to the bottom of how they carry out this operation. I noticed that as soon the car drove off, some boys came to the spot and picked up what seems to be the fire device. So they left no traces, nice.

(to be continued)

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