Scheming to dream
On their own they would make you think of a delicious treat… Just close your eyes and imagine that chocolate cake you’ve been looking forward to enjoying after a long weekend, or the suya from Glover Court (my erstwhile Friday evening treat). Mmm… Mmm… Mmm… what?
What should have been a sound of sheer enjoyment has now become a menace to society. I have kept my ear to the ground over the last few month about the steady, stealthy rise of MMM, and other similar Ponzi schemes. Let’s face it, 2016 has not been rosy for much of the world, and as the year hurtles to a close, MMM proved a major thorn on Nigeria’s side.
Finally, we have reached peak MMM: This week panic ensued following weeks of frenzied rumours of a potential crash, as the Mavrodi Mondial Moneybox, popular Ponzi scheme known as MMM, halted all its payments. The freeze was explained away with the excuse of “heavy workload” in what seemed like an amateurish note penned by an errant school boy to teachers faking illness.
Then, two days later, mysteriously, the authorities behind the scheme decided to lift the ban following outcry by participants of the scheme in Nigeria. Reassuring the members there is room for growth well into 2017 The leadership of the scheme in Nigeria said the progress, failure and expectation of the scheme depends on the participants.
“MMM Nigeria’s progress depends on you, your expectation determines the future. You determine what you want. You have to encourage yourselves and your downlines,” read the statement.
Yet, recent history records very little progress and a lot of failure. The scheme, which many have described as a well-executed fraud, had failed in South Africa and Zimbabwe and was equally banned in China.
Incidentally, MMM is the ultimate throwback to the ‘90s – the heyday of pyramid schemes rampant all across the world. The first time I heard about the scheme and its grip on the Nigerian public, I thought I had gone to sleep and woken up back in 1992. Such schemes were very popular at the time in my native Turkey, and one of my mum’s good friends had erroneously invested in one. Not only had she put money into the scheme, her faith in it was fervent and fanatical. For over a year, every conversation she had was dominated by the scheme and the inevitable dream of how one day she would be able to buy a house, a holiday home, a round-the-world trip. Every weekend she would attend conferences organised for members like her where they would convene, network and share their dreams – all at a fee of course!
Increasingly her husband and my parents were worried about her blind faith in the scheme. Months went on and she had not made a dime; she had only found three people to invest, and was struggling. Yet, every other word was either scheme or dream. It was as if she was do blinded by the dreams of an opulent future that she couldn’t see the truth.
Was it greed? Doubtful. Was it naivety? Certainly not, as here was woman shrewd under different circumstances. Was it poverty? No, as she led a comfortable upper middle class life. Her only downfall? Wanting to earn her own money and realise her material dreams instead of relying on her second husband after years of financial hardship following the death of her first husband. Perhaps, she never wanted to go back to those days of having to mend clothes for small change. It took her almost two years to snap out of this sleep-walking dream and see this system for what it was: a fraud preying on the naïve, the needy and the greedy.
Many in Nigeria have not been as lucky. There have been reports of people investing their life saving and young men committing suicide falling into depression after realising that they had fallen prey to a scheme. Yet, there are still many who are expectantly waiting to reap the fruits of the investment they have sown, with promises that a period of patience will yield prosperity.
Fair enough, the country is well and truly in recession, and desperate times call for desperate measures; yet it is important for all of us to heed what is financially savvy and what just isn’t while doing our best to educate ourselves and each other – explore other investment streams, find out how you can make your savings work for you (If you’re lucky enough to have savings, that is), learn to recognise that when something looks too good to be true, the chances are, it really is. For those who have fallen down the rabbit hole, while the desire to label them a ‘mugu’ with capital MMM may be too tempting, refrain from labels, be patient and compassionate, for one day they too will wake up from the dream and find out it was all a fraudulent scheme.