The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life talks about moving to Malaysia to get an education but meeting something totally different: a life where he had to evade cultists and fraudsters who needed his programming services for high-end crimes.
When did you decide you wanted to leave Nigeria?
2013. I was in my third year of university studying pharmacy when I got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore studying in a Nigerian university. Everything was wrong. The lecture halls were always too crowded, the lecturers weren’t actually imparting knowledge, and I got frustrated. I told my parents I wanted to drop out, and they understood my frustration and supported my decision.
Where did you go?
Malaysia, because getting a visa was easy and education was cheaper than most other countries. My parents agreed, and the agent did all the processing for me. He even picked the school for me. All I did was tell him the course I wanted to study — software engineering. I left that same year.
Tell me your first thoughts about Malaysia.
It was exciting because it was a more advanced place than Nigeria. I remember being excited to use the trains for the first time in my life. My school didn’t have hostels so I got an apartment alone outside school and settled in.
Almost immediately after I started going to school, I realised something that unsettled me.
My school wasn’t a serious school. It was just a front for people, mainly Nigerians, to come into Malaysia and have student visas. There were classes, assignments and exams, but you could decide not to do any of that and pay your way through. Lecturers hardly came to class. Many times, I had just one class in the space of two weeks.
The majority of the school’s population comprised of Nigerians who were fraudsters, so the school had gotten used to being a visa refuge for them. You’d see people who wore $5,000 chains and drove insanely expensive cars on campus, and that would give you the full picture.
Foreign education in the mud.
It was utterly disappointing. On the bright side, through personal study, I got really good at the things I was meant to be learning in school and people noticed, so just two months after I got to Malaysia, I started doing school assignments and projects for people. I was doing assignments for $150, and projects for $1,500. There was another Nigerian also doing the same.
What do you mean by projects?
I was building software for people.
I still wasn’t happy though. I was in Malaysia to primarily get an education, not to hustle, so as much as I didn’t mind making $2,500 a month, what I really wanted was to go to school.
After six months, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore, so I transferred to another school. The school I transferred to was much better. I could learn and focus on my studies.
Were you still doing assignments and projects for people?
I was, but the frequency reduced after some time because my new school was far, and students from my old school didn’t want to come all the way to explain their assignments. After some time though, business picked up aggressively again because the other Nigerian who offered the same services just upped and left for Nigeria.
Interesting. What was your life like in the new school?
I didn’t have a social life because I was always busy with school work or assignments so I stayed at home a lot. I also didn’t roll with Nigerians a lot because the Nigerians I met in Malaysia were involved in fraud, drugs and cultism. I decided to hang around Kenyans, Somalis and Arabs instead. But as I said, I wasn’t doing a lot of hanging. I was always in my room.
LMAO. Did anything interesting happen in your new school?
That’s where the real story starts.
I am ready.
I was on my own one day, about four months into my new school, when I got a call from someone who said they wanted me to help them with a project but would love to meet to discuss the specifics. We set a date and met, and his “project” was for me to help him clone a bank app. I asked him what he wanted to use it for and his response was that he was going to pay me well. It didn’t sit well with my spirit, so I told him I wasn’t going to be able to do it for him. He didn’t mind.
Two weeks later, I got another call. Someone wanted me to help them make a website that worked exactly like MMM, the ponzi scheme. The pay was $10,000. I asked him to meet to discuss details and somehow I agreed to do the job. By the time I started, I realised once again that I was doing the wrong thing, so I called him and said I wasn’t going to do the job. I didn’t want to live with the guilt. I refunded him the money he paid for the domain name and hosting and went my way.
In this same period, things started getting hard. It was 2014 and the Nigerian economy had gone to shit, so things weren’t so easy for my parents. I remember that the amount I had to pay for my school fees tripled. I had to find a job to make ends meet. When I eventually got one, it was at a startup that built software for hospitals. The money was good.
Two months after I turned down the MMM gig, I met the guy again. This time, he came to meet me at the restaurant I went to every day after work. He came to me and said:“Whether you like it or not, you will do that website for me. If you don’t, I will pick you up and make you do it.”
Fear is an understatement for what I felt that night. Nigerian cult activity is high in Malaysia and Nigerian cultists have occasional inter-cult battles where people die, get maimed, and are kidnapped, so I knew that for him to threaten me like that, he was either a cultist or was connected to some wicked people. The next day, I went to report him to the police. They requested CCTV footage from the restaurant, a statement from me, and asked me to report him to the Nigerian embassy in Malaysia.
Why the Nigerian embassy?
The Nigerian embassy is meant to be able to recognise and track him because he’s a Nigerian citizen. At least, that’s what they said.
Makes sense. What happened next?
Things went silent for a whole year. In that period, I had changed jobs and was now working at an institution that built financial apps. At some point, it was time to pay my fees again and I could afford it, so I went to the bank to pay. On my way back home, I met the guy who had asked me to help him clone a bank app. He was excited to see me and said he’d been looking for me for a while because he had a job for me. He told me he’d reach back out later to discuss.
The next day, he called me and told me about the job: he and his gang had access to some Arab guy’s account and wanted to move money out of it. They didn’t know how much he had, but they knew they could take out at least $2 million. What they needed from me was to recommend a good VPN, to create a fake email where his OTPs would be redirected to, and to orchestrate the process. My cut was going to be 10%.
Straight up, I told him I wasn’t interested. Apart from the fact that it was wrong, I worked at a place where we created sensitive financial software and if they knew I was talking to people like that, I could lose my job. He called me back that night and said if I changed my mind, I should reach out.
I didn’t hear anything from him until a few weeks later when he came to meet me at the same restaurant. This time, he had $25,000 in cash and offered it to me. It was a gift to motivate me to do the job. I would still get the 10% he offered me initially on completion of the job.
I said no.
A man of virtue.
That night, when I was home, he called to tell me he wasn’t working alone. He was working with big, dangerous people that would do anything to get the deal done, and when he said anything, he meant anything. So I told him about the other guy who had threatened me and how I reported him to the police. I told him I didn’t want to have to report him to the police, but he just laughed.
The next day, I reported him to the police, and the same process happened; they asked me to get CCTV footage from the restaurant, make a report, and then report him to the embassy.
Did the threats stop?
Nope. He and his gang started looking for me everywhere in school. Almost every time I went to school, people would tell me that some strange looking people came looking for me, asking for where I lived and where I worked. I reported this again to the police and they just asked for CCTV footage from school, which I provided.
One night, I was in my apartment chilling when I heard a knock on the door. I told my flatmate, “If it’s someone looking for me, tell them I’m not at home.” It was the guy. When my flatmate told him I wasn’t around he entered the house and said he was going to wait for me. Guess what?
He waited all night, sleeping on the living room couch, while I was in my room shaking out of fear. In the morning, he left.
That same day, I moved out and went to stay with a friend. I stopped picking calls because I didn’t know who was calling. I also stopped doing assignments because I was now scared of meeting with people. There was no point reporting to the police because they weren’t going to do anything. My daily routine was simple. It was just home and office. Nothing else.
What about school?
I dropped out. They knew I was a student there, so it was dangerous going to school there.
Whoa. Did your parents know about when was going on?
I didn’t tell anyone. Even now, they don’t know. None of my family members know.
Wow. what happened next?
Again, nothing happened for months, so I decided to move back to my apartment. One day, on getting home from work, I met the guy and his gang outside waiting for me. They didn’t threaten me or anything, they just told me that they needed something else. This time, it wasn’t going to be anything financially related. They needed me to clone a school portal to show that a student had good grades.
Because I was at their mercy at that moment, I agreed to do the job and charged them $1,500. The next day, I moved out again and went under the grid. This time, they called me with someone else’s number and threatened that the next time they saw me, I would be in big trouble.
For months, I laid low again. It was terrible knowing people were after my life.
Was that the end?
After another few months, I ran into the guy who wanted me to make the MMM site. He needed my help with his academics, but I told him I was busy.
That night, I got a call from a friend who I had never told about anything I was experiencing. She told me if I liked my life, I would stop rejecting jobs from cultists because she was also friends with them and was hearing some pretty disturbing plans they had for me.
Omo. Why were you still in Malaysia?
I had a job. I was making legit money and I didn’t want to leave.
A few months after the call from my friend, I got back to my apartment and there they were, waiting for me. It was something like a standoff. They saw me and I saw them, but nothing happened for a while. I knew I was in trouble though.
How did you get out of that situation?
As they made their move to get out of their car to get me, a random police car passed by, and they got back in their car and zoomed off. That was when I knew I had to leave Malaysia. It also makes sense why the other Nigerian left in a haste.
How long were you in Malaysia?
I was there for about six years. I got there in 2013 and left in 2019. I didn’t resign from my job before I left though. I worked remotely for a few months before I quit.
What did you do when you got back to Nigeria?
I tried to found a startup but it failed, and now I work as a software lead at a startup. I told my parents I dropped out, but they were fine with it because I have all the necessary software development skills, and that was what I needed, and not necessarily a degree. When they asked why I dropped out, I just told them I felt scared because someone threatened me, and that was all. They didn’t prod too much.
Whew. Have you ever heard back from the people who threatened you in Malaysia?
Nope. But I live in constant fear that they might find me. It sometimes gives me PTSD to think about the things I’ve gone through. All the text threats, the time they deflated my car tyres, the time someone jacked my shirt up and threatened me, and so much more.
It was terrible, but I’m glad I’m back here now.
Hey there! My name is David and I’m the writer of Abroad Life. If you’re a Nigerian and you live or have lived abroad, I would love to talk to you about what that experience feels like and feature you on Abroad Life. All you need to do is fill out this short form, and I’ll be in contact.