Saturday Notebook

Of a lost phone and a discovery…

Thank you, folks, for the outpouring of concerns at the theft, Tuesday last week, of my cellphone in an airport taxi. I appreciate you all. Thanks for your prayers, which, I believe, helped minimize the collateral damage from the loss—indeed, as a Catholic, I am always reminded that the prayers of the faithful availeth much.

But, no, dear friends, the DISCOVERY in the above headline isn’t discovery as in RECOVERY. The phone thief kept the phone. The good news, however, is that he couldn’t succeed with a few funny tricks he wanted to play with the device. Yes, He. The misguided soul (don’t want to pour invectives on him) did call me and had the nerve to invite me to a WhatsApp group meeting hosted by a fellow online platform editor into whose account he had obviously hacked. He also invited my partner and a few other mutual friends of ours to that meeting, apparently using the numbers on my phone book.

But that’s as far as he could go. He had actually emptied my account before I blocked it. I had gone to block the account the following morning and my accounts manager had advised me to withdraw some money, explaining that until I re-applied for the account to be unblocked, I wasn’t going to access it again. So, I ran out to do ATM but the system was unapologetically unsympathetic: there were insufficient funds to sustain my transaction! All the money was gone!

Shell-shocked? That would be an understatement—I was completely devastated! How could anyone burrow into another’s bank account and empty its content—just like that, without any compunction at all? Under such a circumstance, technology becomes not our friend but our foe. Hacking wrecks! When I went back to my accounts manager, all she could offer was ‘ah sorry o, but you should have blocked the account much earlier now, Sir.’

May be. But how would have I done that? At past 8pm, how would I have got across to the bank to ask that they block my account?  The lady said there was (is) a number at the back of my (every) ATM that I could have called. Ok, but here’s the other problem: there are no phone booths any longer and my phone was the dual-sim type. You see, socio-economic progress has its own bad side: practically all of us now own phones but in times of emergency (like I was confronted with), we can no longer pay and make a call. Or you want to be treated as Hushpuppy for borrowing a cellphone at 8pm to tell a bank answer machine to block your account number?

So, head or tail, the odds were against me. Or so it seemed. Because, as it turned out, the thief’s fiddling with my account became his undoing. For, wifey, facing heaven, literally poured scalding hot water on the misguided soul and he just had to run scared. Don’t trifle with a woman whose children are threatened with hunger by anyone’s act of omission or commission. Faced with such a dire situation, she can command fire down from above and heaven will obey. I suppose that it is even easier for heaven to deal with the fury of a scorned woman than that of the mother of hungry children.

The point is that there are many Hushpuppies out there, folks, and they are doing pretty much damage to the system, technology or not. But, just as He did in the case of Tower of Babel, God can confuse even the smartest of techies when He wants to. Just a little indiscretion and seemingly invincible Hushpuppy was caught. Or God can just disable a technology to outwit the techie. Which was what happened in my case.

When I finally retrieved my MTN line, I was to see in the system a ‘credit’ message, which had been there since the 23rd, showing that the ‘debit’ on my account following the Hushpuppyish transaction on it had been reversed. Fire burned the phone thief and the breached mobile transfer technology and both couldn’t but bow to the superior firepower of an angry, praying woman! According to my accounts manager, ‘network’ chose to ‘misbehave’ at that very time the phone thief and hacker thought he had wrapped up his game and so, 95 per cent of the transactions just hung in the clouds for two days before it was reversed!

And now the DISCOVERY story…

About a month or so ago, I went to an MTN friendship centre near my office to buy an internet device. As soon as I entered, a young customer service girl gave me the usual personal identification form to fill out and I did. Once she punched my name and phone number into the system, all the necessary information about me—state of origin, date of birth, local governments of origin and residence, house address, occupation, photo et al—came out. Needless to say, that made the young lady’s work much easier and in a matter of minutes, I was out of the place. You can, then, imagine my consternation when on Thursday, September 23, two days after my phone was stolen, I went to the same MTN office to retrieve my line only to DISCOVER, to my chagrin, that even though the young lady I was facing was seeing all my details in her system, I could not retrieve my line because I neither had the Sim Pack (which I should have kept intact since 2001 when I bought the line, I guess) nor a court affidavit to prove that I owned that line. And I ask, does that make sense?

I mean, we had all endured a lot of inconveniences to register our lines—who would easily forget those long hours on queues at the Networks’ friendship centres, just to register one’s line(s)? And I am aware that it’s practically the same pieces of information about ourselves tendered for phone lines that we used to register for our international passports, national ID cards, driver’s licences, among others. Which means that the official record of one’s existence both in the local and international retrieval systems is one punch away on the keyboard and I cannot transact this particular phone line retrieval business until I have procured an oft-forged, never-seen-by-any-oaths-officer document called ‘Court Affidavit’?

I really need someone to pardon my ignorance and tell me how such an oft-forged document (in these shores, that is) called ‘Court Affidavit’ is superior to the authentic information about ourselves already in secure official retrieval systems. How does Court Affidavit authenticate one’s identity better than what already exists–viewable and, decidedly, verifiable—about us in official systems?

I think we just love duplicating functions and efforts. We register to vote. We register to collect international passports. We register to bank. We register to own phone lines. We register to collect national identity cards. We register to drive. We register births and deaths, among several other security registrations. And in each case, we spend invaluable man-hours on queues, giving the same information we previously gave for another type of registration to a new set of rude, angry officials for whom so much is budgeted for logistics and allowances. And, yet, at the end of it all, such officially documented information about us is still deemed inadequate to identify us? What kind of system is ours?

I had thought that the digitization of information documentation and retrieval was to avoid the endless pushing of paper and files that characterized our official engagements at banks and government secretariats when, as they say these days, life was analogue. Obviously I was wrong. It would appear that we acquire some of these technologies not to use them to make life—or transactions—easier for us but just so it can be said that we have them.  Otherwise, why can we not use modern technologies more productively in these parts?

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