Are you one of those who received either N5, 000 or N10, 000 worth of recharge cards a.k.a. ‘Atiku cash’ , upon dialling *323# from your MTN sim card? Then stand up to be counted because I have been searching unsuccessfully throughout last week for a recipient since the rumour broke and spread like wild fire in my neighbourhood that PDP’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, reputed to be a generous giver with a large war chest, was giving out cash via doling out credits through mobile phones. It was alleged that the free cash in form of units was to woo voters for the 2019 election and it was even applauded as the best way to share money since virtually everybody in Nigeria has a mobile phone.
But then I asked myself, is the person allegedly doling out this money assuming that every recipient will surely vote for him since all Nigerians cannot follow same path? Indeed, not all those who even have voters’ card will turn up on Election Day. Magdalene typifies one such group when she says, “I just got the voter’s card in case they make it a condition for registering children in school, for vaccination or to get other government services, it is not that I am going out to vote on that day”. Another respondent, a male, Abass, said, “I don’t even have a voter’s card because I cannot suffer myself to go and vote queuing up in the sun because in Nigeria election, they already know who will win”. Then why are they dialling the code, expecting the free money? “One cannot reject a gift, in today’s Nigeria with the economic hardship, we should reject awoof? Abeg I must get my own share”, was the swift response.
Indeed all hands went tapping on keypads once someone ‘confirmed’ the code via telephone from someone who allegedly got the free units. I could not see this person because I was told she had moved gone to the village. Then I put on my thinking cap. If a conservative number of 50 million Nigerians are on MTN network and ‘Atiku’ is giving out N5,000 to each of them, that will amount to N250 billion. Is it possible for an individual to dash out such amount of money? “Aunty, there is money in this country o, we have very rich people. Look at the Port Harcourt convention where they were spraying dollars, dollars not naira o. Abeg, leave matter for Mathias”. My mind flashed back to an experience with the chief executive of a media outfit related to a group of persons, including this writer. He was among those who witnessed at close quarters, the 2014 maiden APC convention in Lagos to elect its presidential flag bearer then, having been ferried to Lagos by a delegate.
He narrated how the delegates made ‘cool’ money for themselves courtesy of Atiku’s dollar rain; how some delegates even ‘duped’ him by passing off some journalists as delegates in order to collect extra dollars, etc., apparently the man was a cheerful giver and anybody who came to him to collect his state delegates’ share was given the dollars without verifying his true identity. This media chief insists that was the genesis of ‘vote buying’ which is now plaguing our polity. In retrospect, this may be why the man was sidelined by President Muhammadu Buhari. It is as though Buhari has some kind of disdain for those who throw money around. Remember that in quitting APC to go back to PDP, Atiku had complained of being marginalised. Of course, there are many people who believe that money is everything, that money answers everything, which is not true; otherwise, Atiku would have clinched the presidential ticket in 2014.
It is said though, that, if you have it, you should flaunt it. And the man is really flaunting it. He flaunted it in Port Harcourt. He flaunted it by hiring a foreign lobbyist at a cost of $90,000 per month for next year’s election. He is flaunting it by taking a large retinue of his campaign organisation personnel, PDP officials and personal staff to far away Dubai, in a choice location for a ‘brain storming session’ spanning several weeks. All of this in foreign exchange, scarce foreign exchange. I believe there are suitable places here in Nigeria where Atiku Abubakar and his retinue could have had their briefing sessions without having to spend so much dollars in a foreign land. The thousands and thousands of dollars spent on accommodation, food, laundry and so on and so forth benefit only that country’s economy, with nothing for Nigeria.
One good place for that event is the Obudu Cattle ranch, located thousands of feet above sea level, in a quiet and natural environment, also in a peaceful state, Cross River. Cross River is a PDP state so the fear of any eavesdropping by the opposition does not arise. Also being high, high up, they are shielded from harassment of political hangers-on, another fear of our politicians who sometimes want to be by themselves for some quiet time….
Let us get back to the rumoured Atiku cash via the MTN code *323#. Out of curiosity, I dialled the code myself. The response was, ‘ failed, try again later’. I tried intermittently with my two MTN lines, the answer was same. And I said to myself that I am not usually lucky with free things. Then two days later while fiddling with my mobile phone I tried yet again and this time I got an answer! I was asked if I want to create an alias number, I clicked on the ‘yes’ option and got another response, “congratulations! You have successfully created an Alias number for your MSISDN to use for purchases at a VTU reseller. Your Alias number is 00003065522”. Same as excited people in my neighbourhood got. They say the next state is for one’s account to be credited with at least N5,000 through MTN recharge cards. We have been waiting since then without seeing anything. But my neighbours are hopeful that it will come.
Meantime, I raced to the MTN store in my area to make enquiries. They said they are aware of the rumoured Atiku cash but that there is no such thing; that what they have is a tariff plan for kids whereby they are gifted certain amount of recharge cards (units) on their birthday. “It has been stopped”, the official told me. Case closed.
Ikeano writes via [email protected] 08033077519 @VictoriaIkeamo