By Owei Lakemfa
THE Mavrodi, Melnikova, Mavrodi (MMM) international scam known in Nigeria as the Mavrodi Mondial Moneybox, has from all intents and purposes, collapsed in Nigeria. It took along, the savings and hopes of about three million Nigerians.
Some of the victims are reported to have attempted suicide. But contrary to our culture of emphathy, and, being our brother’s keeper, many have taken to the media in self righteousness, berating the victims and accusing them of being greedy gamblers.
In a situation where otherwise respectable people are reported to be stealing pots of soup – out of desperation to cope with a runaway inflation that monthly posts at least eighteen percent increase – it should not surprise us that there would be millions of Nigerians attracted to a Ponzi Scheme like MMM.
Some not so informed commentators blame illiteracy, and I say they should examine the profile of the victims; many are educated and have assess to the internet. In fact, a lot got into the scheme through the internet. So they had access not just to the MMM website, but also to search engines like Google where they read that the scheme they were about to get involved in was created in 1989 by three Russians; Olga Melnikova, Vyacheslav Mavrodi and Sergey Mavrodi, who named their scheme using the first letters of their surnames.
Some of the Nigerian ‘investors’ knew that in the 1990s, some 10 to 40 million people lost up to $10 billion in the MMM scheme.
I was aware, far back January that the scheme was running in Nigeria and those who tried to talk me into it, were educated Nigerians with a minimum of a degree. We argued about it. But all I could see were desperate Nigerians who seem to have lost confidence in the country and were trying very hard not to lose confidence in themselves. If so many Nigerians can make the suicidal journey across the Sahara Desert and then a more dangerous one crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Europe in leaky, overcrowded boats, are we surprised that they would take a MMM risk?
It is easy for the overfed to preach contentment to the hungry; it cannot be difficult for those with guaranteed income and who can send their children to school, to talk about morality and the MMM scam, or condemn the victims while listening to sweet Christmas carols. For many of the victims, there will be no Christmas; they cannot hear the Angels singing and do not have hope of a ‘New, prosperous Year’
The issue is not about religion or morality. Like the German writer Bertolt Brecht admonished, we should not be speaking in the name of morality, but in that of its victims. Like an African wise saying, ‘You do not admonish the hunchback to straighten up; if he could, he would have done so without any prompting.’
The MMM matter is primarily, about desperate citizens trying to keep afloat in a society with little or no social security; where hunger is no crime; poverty is no sin; rat race is the norm; dog eat dog; market forces is the religion, and every man to himself and God for us all.
As a people, we should repossess our compass and show empathy for our fellow citizens so afflicted. We should ask why despite our past experiences with such schemes like Forum, Umanah Umanah, the wonder banks and internet scammers, millions of our people still fall prey. We should contribute to finding ways the MMM depositors can get back their funds or least a reasonable percentage of it.
If we ask ourselves why banks give ridiculously low interest rates on savings and charge scandalously high interest on loans, we will come to the inevitable conclusion that generally, banks do not serve the interests of Nigerians nor can their customers rely on them.
The MMM took advantage of the greed and unreliability of the banks to swindle people. It says in its mission statement that:? “This is a community of ordinary people, selflessly helping each other, a kind of the Global Fund of mutual aid. This is the first sprout of something new in the modern soulless and ruthless world of greed and hard cash. The goal here is not the money. The goal is to destroy the world’s unjust financial system. Financial Apocalypse!”. In this, it falsely presents itself as a defender of the poor running a self-help cooperative system as fight back against the exploitative, greedy and unfeeling banking system.
In reality, all MMM did was to modernise the American, Charles Ponzi’s 1919 scam of attracting lots of investors by offering very high interest rate. He used the money of later investors to pay the earlier ones. But when there were not enough new investors, the last group, lost their investment. Hence, such scams are called Ponzi Sheme.
Part of our tragedy as a people, is the abandonment of our culture and tradition. In many parts of our country, we have a pre-colonial, non-exploitative, reliable, mutually beneficial and development-oriented banking system called OSUSU. It is community-based and unlike the modern banks, is there in times of need. The question is, why can’t we develop and expand this banking system to run parallel with the Western banking system? This is what the Chinese would have done, and that is why they are way ahead of us.
I am not completely ruling out the fact that some of the victims of the MMM might have been driven by greed, but that is partly why we have the state; to check the greed of the few, and provide the needs of the many. The greed of the few should be no excuse why the regulators allowed our people to be scammed for a whole year when it is their duty to protect the state and the people.
The MMM after fifteen years of mastering its scam, berthed in Nigeria in November 2015 dangling a monthly 30 percent interest rate. Although its fruits are well known, it was allowed to plant and water its seeds until growing pressure and exposure forced it on December 13, 2016 to announce a one month freeze. It promises to resurrect with the savings of the victims on January 13, 2017, but this is highly improbable. However if by some miracle it does, the certainty that it would soon go down the grave is not in doubt. The Central Bank and other regulators need to act on this and protect the citizenry. We must not abandon our people to scammers. Since the constitutional right to life does not include the right to commit suicide, we cannot allow free choice to include economic suicide. Nigerians must be protected.