On Sunday, I was in a café in West London having a croissant and single espresso (as that famous Jewish detective Inspector Montalbano once said: “God made the croissant for espresso”) when I got talking to the man at the next table, Yemi from Nigeria.
“What do you do, Yemi?” I asked.
“I’m in the kidnap and rescue business,” he said.
“Really? Sounds to me like you’ve got both ends covered there, Yemi.” I replied. “Tell me how that works? You kidnap them first and then you rescue them? Have I got that the right way round? Looks like you’re on to a pretty good business model. Are you thinking of franchising it here in the UK? I might know some people who could possibly be interested. It could be one of our post-Brexit growth industries. Do you get your fees from both ends? Like some London estate agents I know.”
“No,” he said. “I don’t kidnap people. I provide maritime security for ships.”
“Oh… I see! But I’ve got to tell you, I think you’re missing out here. Tell me really, Yemi, how is the kidnapping biz in Nigeria doing these days?”
‘It’s booming. In the Niger Delta, the oil region. Kidnapping expats.”
“So it’s probably not a good idea to take the family up to the Niger Delta for a holiday right now?”
“No, I would not recommend it,” he said.
“Talking of kidnapping – a friend of mine once got kidnapped,” I told him. “In Nigeria,” Yemi asked.
“No, in Notting Hill. In a car park.”
“They kept him in a car park?”
“No, that would probably have attracted too much attention. They kidnapped him from a car park. They kept him in a cupboard for a week until the police rescued him. They’d asked his family for £10m”.
“Was he all right?” Yemi asked.
“Yes, unharmed. He said the kidnappers asked him every night what he wanted for dinner. ‘How do you like your steak? Medium or medium rare?’ He said he got better service from the kidnappers in the cupboard than in a lot of West End restaurants. Of course they weren’t English. They were French and Greeks. I think that’s probably why their cupboard service was so good: they were either professional kidnappers or professional waiters doing a spot of kidnapping to pay the bills after the summer season was over. To disguise their voices the gang only ever spoke to him after sniffing helium gas; it must have been like being kidnapped by a gang of tweetybirds. It ended badly – for the kidnappers. Their leader got 20 years at the Old Bailey.”
I ordered another espresso.
“I went to Nigeria once, Yemi.”
“Why were you there?”
“I went to sell life insurance to a chief. Chief Abiola”‘
“You knew the Chief!? MKO Abiola!? You met the Chief before he was assassinated!?”
“Yes, Yemi. I always try to sell life insurance to people before they are assassinated. It works better while they’re still alive. They can still pass the medical exam.”
“He was a billionaire! A very famous big man. “How did you know him?”
“I didn’t, Yemi. I was just looking around one day for a billionaire to sell a huge life insurance policy to and I heard about the Chief. Luckily I was a life insurance salesman or it wouldn’t have made a lot of sense.”
“How did you get to meet him?”
“I flew to Lagos and went straight to his office and asked to see him. He didn’t know I was coming, it was a surprise: ‘Hello Chief. Surprise! I’m a life insurance salesman!'”
“His secretary said: ‘Chief gone shopping.’ ‘How long will he be?’ I asked. ‘Chief gone shopping,’ he said. ‘To Harrods in London. In his jet.’ ‘I’ll wait.’ I said. He came back a week later. I sold him a huge policy. On the way to the doctor’s for his medical exam, I noticed we were being followed by a car full of men with machine guns. ‘Chief,’ I said, ‘I don’t want to alarm you but we’re being followed by a car full of men with machine guns.’
‘Never go anywhere without them,’ he said.” “Selling life insurance sounds more exciting than the kidnapping and rescue business,” Yemi said.
“Yemi, It’s a very well kept secret.”