My Money Mistake is a weekly PiggyVest series that explores the worst money mistakes real Nigerians have made, and the lessons they learnt from it.
For this week’s episode of My Money Mistake, we spoke to a driver who lost a lucrative business because of a dishonest friend. He tells us about the lies that ruined his reputation and how everything went downhill from there.
Could you tell us your money mistake?
Let me first say that this mistake happened decades ago — in 1993 — but it remains relevant because my life might have turned out differently if it didn’t happen.
It was around the time Babangida annulled the June 12 election results, which led to a scarcity of petroleum products. At the time, I supplied gas to homes, retailers and other entities.
How long had you been in the business at that point?
I had been doing the business for four years, and it was doing well. I had a good client base in Surulere, where we lived. Anyway, the crisis made it imperative that I travel to Port Harcourt to buy gas.
I was leaving Lagos with two trucks full of cylinders and knew I wasn’t going to be around for a while. So I entrusted the business to a friend.
How does one entrust a gas supply business to someone else?
I took him to all my clients and told them they could trust him in my absence. The confidence that they had in me and my business, I asked them to extend to this friend.
If there was an opportunity to purchase gas in Lagos, I told them to give him their cylinders. He would buy the gas before my return. I thought I was handing the business over to a trustworthy person.
When there was an opening at Apapa to buy gas, some of my clients gave him their cylinders and he bought gas for them. After that, he couldn’t get gas in Lagos. He told them he was travelling to Port Harcourt to get gas.
That was how they entrusted 450 cylinders to him.
That’s a lot.
That was when things started to change. I had been in Port Harcourt for two weeks by the time he came, so I had spent money on accommodation and the two drivers I hired to drive the trucks.
But I needed some money to complete the cash at hand, so I asked my friend to lend me some. He told me he didn’t have money when I knew he did.
How much money did you ask for?
₦50,000. The price of gas had increased because of scarcity. He didn’t have a place to buy, but I was opportune to find one. The plan was to pay back after I returned to Lagos and get my balance from sales.
My clients were already waiting and I needed to gas quickly.
So what happened?
After I asked him for money, he started spreading rumours about me and my business. This guy told my friends and clients that I stole ₦200,000 from him.
Ah! But how?
I was shocked. When my brother heard the story, there was a fight at our hotel, and this friend vandalised my brother’s car. We got him arrested in Port Harcourt so he could pay damages, but when we got there by 7 PM the next day, we saw two police officers from Lagos who put handcuffs on us.
Wait. How did any of this happen?
Back then, night buses were popular. You could make a trip from one state to the other in the night and be sure to get there by morning. That was what my friend did. He managed to leave the station and travel to Lagos by night bus.
When he got to Lagos, he contacted our clients and told them they needed to travel to Port Harcourt with him because my brother and I had taken their cylinders, sold them and were planning to use the money to relocate to America.
The same clients you introduced him to?
Yes. They entrusted me with 1,000 cylinders, so when they got the information from him, they panicked. Among themselves, they delegated three representatives to travel with him and two officers to come and arrest us.
What was your reaction to getting arrested?
It was shocking that clients we had known for over four years arrested us. When they told us why, we offered to show them their cylinders. We took them to the truck, and they counted the cylinders. Everything was complete.
Not at all. They insisted that we follow them back to Lagos with the empty trucks. Even when we told them we had found a place to buy gas, they refused to listen. That was how they took us in handcuffs, hired trucks to carry the empty cylinders and then transported my brother and me back to Lagos in his vandalised car.
Omo! How did they handle the matter in Lagos?
We stayed in a cell in Surulere for three days while they sorted out the cylinders. The records we had kept weren’t even taken into consideration.
I’m truly sorry about this.
It gets worse. Two days after we were released, that “friend” came to my house.
Did you see him?
Yes. I went to see him. He started apologising and blaming the devil for his actions. The next thing this guy said was we should join forces and sell the cylinders with him.
Apparently, the clients now wanted their cylinders (without gas). He suggested we go to Port Harcourt, sell the cylinders and relocate.
I told him to leave my house and never return. The unfortunate thing is, he went ahead with his plans. One of the clients that had entrusted him with 420 out of the 450 cylinders died from shock two weeks after he got the news. Those were 12.5kg cylinders.
The business was never the same after that. My brother and I were publicly shamed, and, even after we exonerated ourselves, the stigma stayed. That was how the entire business failed.
What’s your biggest lesson from all of this?
I have regrets but none of that has left me hopeless. If I had a chance for a do-over, I would not have entrusted my business to a friend. It cost me everything. Who knows how different my story would be if none of this had happened?