UNTIL his arrest by the police, John Ewa, alias John Lyon, was an internet celebrity. Like the notorious international fraudster Raymond Abbas (a.k.a Hushpuppi), Ewa frequently uploaded pictures and videos on the internet showing him living his dream life of luxury. He was, as a Nigerian musician put it, “chilling with the Big Boys,” flaunting dollars and scoffing at poverty. His known business was interior decoration and he owned a firm, Lyon Interior Hub. In a particular video, he urged his followers to work hard so that they could conquer poverty: “My brother, hustle o!”. The message was clear: the youth needed to embrace his entrepreneurial spirit and become a celebrity like himself. Alas, his motivational outbursts were mere artifice: beneath the veneer of an internet sensation lay a dark criminal record. Busted by members of Operation Puff Adder, a unit of the Nigeria Police in Abuja, Ewa was a pitiable sight as he pleaded for forgiveness of his crimes, groveling in manacles. He told one Danjuma Emeije, a manager with Premium Trust Bank, Yenagoa, and one of his victims who had come with the police to pick him up, “I was not involved in your kidnap. There is a guy they always call for a job, his name is Millow. Please, sir, forgive me. I was not involved in your matter. Please sir, my wife just gave birth.” Ewa had sat on a couch while his gang members brutalised the banker in June.
According to reports, Ewa had actually been behind a series of high-profile kidnapping incidents in Bayelsa State, including the one involving the sister to a former governor of the state, Seriake Dickson, and top businessmen, and his social media name, John Lyon, was fake. He had acquired that false identity after being sacked from a bank where he worked as a cleaner allegedly due to his involvement in criminal activities. Ewa was said to have run several errands for his superior which gave him access to privileged information which was supplied to criminal elements to carry out operations. He was picked up following the arrest of two suspects, Kingsley Innocent and Godlives Donald, over the kidnapping of Emeije on June 30. The victim had been made to pay the sum of N50 million to regain freedom.
During his parade by the Bayelsa State Commissioner of Police, Ben Nobolisa Okolo, in Yenagoa, the state capital, Ewa said: “I was involved in the kidnapping of Danjuma Emeije, a bank manager. I was not aware of the kidnapping My gang members told me they had a business together and that I should just tell them where he was staying. Because I was working with him at the bank as a cleaner, I knew where he stayed. That was how I led the operation. I left bank work in 2003. I was misled into joining the kidnapping gang. I was given N1.5 million from the $10,000 ransom and the money was handed to me by a member of the gang called Emmanuel. I played the role of showing them Danjuma’s house. I did not play any role in Akin’s (another victim’s) kidnap. I only showed them his house because he was my former boss and I didn’t know that they were kidnappers.”
How interesting that Mr. Ewa “was involved in the kidnapping of Danjuma Emeije,” but was at the same time “not aware of the kidnapping.” With his posturing on social media just a few weeks ago, only a few people would have guessed that his internet identity completely contradicts the real facts of his life. If anything, his story reflects the predicament of the present crop of Nigerian youth who depend solely on social media for their information and self validation. Unfortunately, most of the information purveyed on social media is bogus, and social media preachments when applied to life often fail spectacularly. Nigeria’s young generation must choose their heroes carefully and cut their coat according to their cloth. All too often, a large number of the impressionable young Nigerians who live and breathe social media become depressed when they see individuals just like themselves ‘living large’, and some have even been reported to have committed suicide based on social media lies. The arrest of the garrulous and flamboyant fraud, Ewa, should therefore sensitise them to the limitations and absurdity, if not crudity, of the newfound penchant to glorify ‘hustling’ in order to gain wealth in Nigeria.
Truth be told, ‘hustling’ in Nigerian parlance does not convey a determination to toe the path of hard work and persistence to make wealth. Rather, it refers to an inordinate ambition to come into wealth by all means, especially by foul means. And when many a Nigerian youth takes their cue from individuals like Lyon on social media, they are unwittingly setting themselves up for the inescapable crash that comes with inordinate ambition. How could a dismissed former cleaner at a bank suddenly come into stupendous riches without having any visible work and without Nigerians asking questions? It is all because Nigerians celebrate unmerited riches and do not bother about the sources of displayed wealth, which is not only unfortunate but is a recipe for the unwitting celebration of criminality.
As it were, nobody ought to be genuinely surprised to find Ewa in police custody: his flamboyant display on social media could not have come from a legitimate background. The truth is that many of those who come into riches through grinding hard work end up being sober and self-effacing on account of the demands and structures of the life of struggle, and seldom give in to ostentatious and garrulous displays on social media. The tendency should, therefore, be to take with a pinch of salt all kinds of flamboyant displays on social media. As a matter of fact, serious and methodical security agencies must identify such displays as the place to start while working to solve high-impact criminality involving huge cash and funds.
Effective prosecution and full punishment for Ewa, if found guilty, will serve as yet another indication to Nigerian youth that there is no free money anywhere and that only hard work can open them to some form of riches without ending up in the kind of disaster that has befallen Ewa with his mentality of ‘hustling’ and flagrant and boisterous displays of riches gained through criminality.