|Image: The Guardian Nigeria|
I am constantly seeing people rant on social media about the debtors in their lives. It is so common place that I don’t think one week goes by without one person or the other getting called out for owing money.
And today… I am joining in to call out these debtors.
I remember a while back when I started a new job after a long break from paid employment. I was excited about the new opportunity and was extremely grateful to be earning a salary again.
I had a couple of reasons why working again was really important to me. As mentioned, I had worked before. But a combination of a medical emergency, house rent (and setting up said house), gifts to family and friends, and a very unhealthy spendthrift habit meant that when I was out of work, I had almost no money saved. I kept playing in my head how I had been so horrible with my finances and the more I thought about it, the more I beat myself up. Things got so bad that I could barely afford my necessities. And I couldn’t ask my parents or siblings for money because…ego. It got so bad that one day, I broke down while having a conversation with one of my friends. He saw how sullen I had become and proceeded to send me some money ‘to cheer me up’. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I loathe to collect money from anyone and very few things break my spirit like being dependent on anyone for my money. So when I got the job, I decided to be very deliberate with how I was going to spend my money. I didn’t want to ever be in a place where I had to depend on anyone for money; never again.
On my very first pay day with the organization, I looked at my bank alert…thankful to be earning again and ready to honor my promise to myself and my future. Not up to a minute after I got my pay, a ‘friend’ sent me a message: he was going through some financial crisis and needed some money quickly. I looked at the message and thought of how many times he had come through for me in the past; and vice versa. One time, I had borrowed money when I needed to travel because I couldn’t withdraw. The plan was to pay back when I got to my destination; which is what I did the next day. We basically had that rhythm where we helped each other out all the time. Which is why, even though it was not part of my plan, and it was way more money than I had given anyone before, I didn’t think twice about sending the money. I asked when I would get the money back, to which he responded ‘at the end of the month’…a couple of days away.
‘End of the month’ became two months. Remember when I mentioned that I hated asking for money? Well…it is even worse when it came to asking for my own money. I had to steel myself to call the guy and remind him that he had to pay me my money. I went further to apologize a couple of times for asking for it and was all too eager to get off the phone when he assured me he was sending the money to me shortly.
‘Shortly’ became another month. By this point, the first stages of anger had begun to rear its head. I sent him an instant message reminding him again to send me my money. I told him that if it was any other person, I would have cut them off with the quickness. I told him I was disappointed that he did not respect our friendship enough to not lie to me and that I wish I never gave him the money in the first place.
The guy said he had sent it and I was like, what? When? He quickly said he was going to check and see what went wrong. And by god, I believed him. He sent a message again telling me that his transfer had failed and that he had not known. Then he effusively apologized and told me he was sending the money immediately. Then he began to regale me with stories about how much financial problems he had been on in the last couple of months. I explained that I understood his plight, but it would have made sense if he explained to me that he couldn’t pay rather than stay quiet about it. Again, he apologized and promised I would get the money in less than an hour.
Another two months passed.
This time, I was pissed the hell off. I asked him to send me my money immediately. He didn’t even bother to respond this time. I called, he didn’t pick up. I sent messages and was left on ‘read’. Out of frustration, I sent a message saying that I wasn’t going to ask him for the money again and I was done with him. But I wasn’t really done. I was angry; furious! But most of all, I was hurt! It felt like he had played me for a fool. It felt that he deliberately swindled me of my money when he had no intention of paying. It felt like he knew I was uncomfortable asking for money, so he took advantage of my discomfort to take my hard-earned money.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. I told my friends and siblings about the situation and many of them were of the opinion that I should publicly call him out and shame him into paying the money. I can’t say I was not tempted to do so, but the better part of me prevailed. If I embarrassed him, there would be no coming back from that. If I shamed him and he paid me back, I wouldn’t be able to undo the shame I had caused him. And even though I was sure he deserved it, I didn’t want to be that person. So, I let it slide, but not after making the promise not to lend anyone money again.
Once in a while, I tweet my angst at being played a fool and people come into my mentions to share their experiences with debtors. Some of the stories I have heard is enough to weaken my knees. There are debtors who would collect as much as N10 million and refuse to pay back. What was even more shocking was someone who narrated that after asking for her money, the person said, ‘is it because of this small money that you are disturbing me like this?’ I was aghast! If I had been that woman, I would have gone ham on his idiotic brain until he was bleeding from the sheer shame of it all. But I learned it was not uncommon. Many people reported the very same thing.
I believe that when you owe people money, the common-sense thing to do is pay back when you agreed to. But, I also understand that a lot of circumstances can prevent one from clearing their debt at the time they promised to. That is fine. What isn’t fine is keeping quiet about it like it doesn’t exists, or avoiding your lender with the convenient excuse of, ‘I wanted to get the money before getting back to you’. There is absolutely nothing wrong in saying, ‘I thought I would be able to pay you now but unfortunately, I cannot at the moment. Can we extend the time frame?’And please, choose a timeframe that you can actually keep to. It is also important to note that the lender may not accept your new terms. It is within their purview not to. You are the one who has defaulted, so there is absolutely no reason why you should be angry or put on airs.
Many people say they are no longer lending money to their friends, families or acquaintances. They say when asked for money, no matter how small it is, they report being ‘broke’ and send a tenth of the said amount; basically money they can afford to ‘miss’. I think this would encourage debtors to carve out new ways to scam you of your money. If they know you only give a tenth of what they normally ask for, they can pretend to require a loan of say, N100,000, when what they actually need is N10,000. That way, if you send them the money, they don’t have to pay it back.
And the scam will continue.
I think we should instead focus on debtors getting some integrity. Your word should be your bond. Don’t take money you can’t pay back. Don’t abuse people for asking for their money. Don’t put on disappearing acts because you want to avoid someone you are owing money. Be true to yourself…and the people who trust you enough to give your some of their hard-earned money.
But even I know that this is idealistic, and maybe even naïve. People will be people and if they can get away with doing wrong, they will continue to do so. Which is bad market for the genuinely good people who actually have needs that a loan could solve; people who ensure they pay back on time. But their chances of getting these loans reduce every day that a person decides to be a horrible debtor. If you are a debtor, pay that money you owe. Please!
Dealt with a bad debtor? How did you get your money back?