Schadenfreude is a German
word, made popular by the South African stand-up comedian Trevor Noah. Up until
he slipped it into his comedy act, I had no awareness the word existed but
since, it has grown to become a part of my Lexicon.
Nyesom Wike is a name that has grown in popularity amongst the Nigerian political class in the past one year. Like him or hate him, you can’t ignore him. One of his enduring contribution to social discussions in the country is his ‘as e dey pain dem, e dey sweet us!’ phrase which has now become a popular mime. Unbeknownst to him, in that phrase, he gave a Nigerian interpretation to Schadenfreude – rejoicing at other people’s woes.
In the early 90s, I was fresh in paid employment and was learning the ropes in the Nigerian financial sector. Popular then was Forum Mortgage Bank with her ‘everyone come inside’ advert enacted by the Yoruba comedian Aluwe. The problem not recognised by the indiscernible was the unsustainability of the above-market rates that Forum and it’s ilk were offering to depositors. Suffice it to say that everyone did go inside. Unlike as it is in the proverbial Tortoise story, no one was noticing that all the foot mark only showed a one-way traffic into the Lion’s den with no foot traffic coming out!
Soon, the market crumbled, as it was meant to, like a pile of cards and the promoters of Forum and co disappeared with their briefcases full of depositors money out of Nigeria. The loss of investment that had taken many years to accumulate was a pain, too much to bear. It led to the Failed Banks Tribunal set up by General Abacha to clear the mess, remanding in detention the so called crème de la crème of Nigerian banking.
It was in this era that many learnt of what has now come to be popularly known as pyramid scheme as well. Then came Mavrodi Mundial Moneybox (MMM), MBA Forex, Umanah Umanah, the Agric Investment schemes as well as the Bamise and Elizabeth Ajetunmobi of recent fame. They all had one thing in common, which is in the words of Gordon Gekko – “Greed is Good”
This is not just an issue peculiar to Nigeria, it is global. Bernard Madoff was an American mastermind of the largest Ponzi scheme in history, worth about $64.8 billion. And then came also, the “Crypto Queen”, the Bulgarian-German Dr Ruja Ignatova of the OneCoin ponzi crypto scheme who fleeced people of an estimated $4 billion and has disappeared into thin air.
The modus operandi is the same in all these schemes – promise them ridiculous returns, pay a few from the funds collected from some and then disappear with everything else.
The new game in town is crypto. Don’t be surprised if you asked a pepper seller in a typical market in Nigeria about it and she gives you a lecture akin to a professor in a university. I didn’t realize how deep into the society this crypto craze has gone until I heard my teenage nephew and niece discussing how they would ‘hammer’ (in Nigeria, it means get rich) and their plans centred on investing massively in cryptos. One of them was reeling out what the prices of crypto had been and how some smart friend of her’s had made a fortune from it. I had to call them out and gave them advice that:
1. If it is too good to be true, it most likely is and
2. Invest in things you can feel, see or touch. In entities that produce such.
Then, as it all usually ends, the crypto world came crashing. The headlines are damning. From the raft of high-profile Australian investors losing $333 million through the collapse of Nasdaq-listed Australian bitcoin miner Iris Energy. In the brilliancy of their minds, the folks in this company had spent $US107.8 million purchasing Bitcoin mining machines manufactured by China-headquartered Bitmain Technologies.
Is it me being simply stupid or what? Is there any logic in anyone that makes Bitcoin mining machines to sell them? I would think there is more than enough money to be made in keeping the machines and mining bitcoin personally, ceteris paribus, than selling them. Afterall, you don’t sell the goose that lays the golden eggs, do you?
When it rains, it pours! It was a tsunami of bad news. From
the report of a 90 per cent decline in price of the largest US crypto exchange,
Coinbase to the loss of 81.2 per cent in share price of the world’s largest
mining trust – The Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.
If it had ended there, one could simply blame the market for the erratic price swings but it did not. Then came the revelations that Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX business may have siphoned as much as $US10 billion of customer money out of the exchange and used for frivolous purposes. For FTX, there might be about 29,234 customers impacted, losing between $40,000 to $1 million. For crypto, the cesspit stinks.
Unfortunately, there will be more in years to come and there will be many gullible enough to fall for the same bait. It seems people are not learning from experience and, for these people, schadenfreude.