What else could have I expected? No one wanted Naira and in the fruit and food markets dollars made your buying power better. I had to try and get the group to at least trade together so we continued calling each bank. Then by posting new information on the screens gradually confidence increased and soon trade tickets were being run through to me for collation.
I walked through the building and watched as they discussed how to put prices up or down but the use of the big black thumb was one tactic they employed. The conversation went like this.
‘Hello, can I talk to Bank Jewels, this is Bank Egret, what is your price for exchange today?’
‘Hello, I can show you 8.60.’
‘Why is there only one price sir?’
‘Because I am not selling dollars, only buying.’
And with that a large black thumb pressed the telephone button and the line went dead. At least they were being honest. The day ended and all the trades had to be confirmed and the total profit and loss calculated. It should have all added up to zero. Like clockwork the electricity went off each evening and by a hissing hurricane light I finalised the list, and yes the total was zero. Some groups had made and some lost and I waited to see what they had figured. They told me that all had made money and the Central Bank had lost. I was not surprised they would have come to that conclusion, I had to do some swift maths.
A swarm engulfed my desk, papers being shoved under my nose, hot breath and loud voices as they challenged everything, the prize was at stake.
‘Look,’ I said to one group. ‘You have made a loss here and then another loss yet you combine it to make it a profit?’
‘Of course, a minus and a minus is a plus sir.’
I had to laugh.
‘Of course if multiplied the two negatives do indeed make a positive, not by adding them!’
At last the game was over, prizes were given and group photographs taken. We all hugged and the bank put on lunch. Fried chicken and plenty of beer and someone put on funky music. The girls swayed and giggled and we gave away everything we could. Pens, paper, calculators and notes were eagerly snapped up. The telephones vanished and soon the driver took us back to the villa. We had little luggage now and said our farewells to the steward.
‘Sah,’ he said. ‘I have to ask for payment for the breakfast, in dollars please?’
‘Of course,’ I replied, thrusting some damp notes into his hand and then we vanished from their lives. At the airport the queues for emigration snaked out to the road. I could see that we would miss our flight. David was looking anxious. My arm was pulled and a neat looking chap told us that by ‘dashing money’ this would get us to the front of the queues. I took the bait and we were herded through the concourse, pushing and brushing past a hot solid group of passengers. Many had bundles of clothes perched on their heads, some dragged metal briefcases knocking shins. It was pandemonium. We eventually made it to the passport desk, exhausted already and our new minder looked with expectant eyes at our wallets. David suddenly threw what money he had into the air, leapt over the barrier and ran to the plane dropping papers and money as he went. He just had to be on the flight.
In London that week my expenses claim was questioned as what I paid for the breakfast of yolk-less eggs had been paid even before we left for Nigeria. Well the steward tried for a little bit of ‘dash money’, after all he was only doing what everyone else did.
The Savannah Bank later lost its banking licence and was closed down, but I always remember that two minuses make a plus and I will put my thumb print on that fact!