By Morenike Taire

Janice met and married her spouse at 37. Having lived quietly abroad for the previous ten years, her friends were surprised when she announced she was coming home with her fiancée to get married. Needless to say, her friends could not wait to ask her the star question: where did you guys meet? It was with an unsure smile that she provided the answer: on a social network. It was all that her friends needed to hear to gather around her and hear all the details. Was she searching for a husband or was it pure fluke? Did they know where they were going from the beginning? At what point did they actually meet. How did he propose and when? Janice was animated . the attraction had been the fact that they had a few things in common, especially their mutual love for good food and the fact that their mothers came from the same village and they knew some people in common. It took another 3 months before they exchanged phone numbers, and 14 months before she agreed to travel one hour in order to meet up with him. “I was scared stiff”, she revealed. What if he was a serial killer? What if he was just looking for a quickie?” a million questions have run around Janice’s mind, according to her, but she had braced herself to meet Bruce, who turned out to be a well educated techie geek who was just too shy and far too busy to get out there and get himself a girl. A few months later they went on their first vacation together. The rest, as they say, is history.

It didn’t turn out quite so good with Chinyere, who started an online relationship with a guy in the UK while she was home in Nigeria. They soon exchanged e-mails, and Sola, her virtual heart throb put the first call across to her. It was to be the last time he would actually be phoning her. “He always has one cock-and-bull story about why he is not able to call”, laments Chinyere, reiterating that she spent a great deal of money phoning him while he complained bitterly of the economic situation in the country of residence. He never returned her voicemail messages and was known to go off the radar for days at a time, only to resurface with another “cock-and-bull story”. But Chinyere only saw real danger signs when he began to pressure her to visit his family here in nigeria and when she refused, he offered to send his younger brother to visit her from Ilorin so they could at least touch base. “according to him”, recalls she, “ he had run out of airtime and needed me not only to buy him airtime but also to accommodate him for the night. For crying out loud, this was a virtual stranger that I was supposed to keep in my apartment for the night. Anyway, I tactically nudged him into staying at a nearby hotel, which I obviously paid for. After that, he called me nearly every day from Ilorin , referring to me as his in-law. The annoying thing is that Sola, when I finally reached him, dissociated himself from his brother’s actions, asking me in strict not to give him any more money”. To cut the long story short, Chinyere got a call from Sola one lonely Saturday afternoon, and he was using a Nigerian number. His next words answered her unspoken question. He was at the International Airport in Lagos and had not told her he was coming in order to surprise her. Excited, she picked him up from the airport. He was a little younger than he had made her believe he was, and all he had brought her was a tired looking box of cheap chocolate, but he had made good his promise of visiting her and by this, she was excited. “I checked him into a modest hotel on Airport road and spent a night of passion with him. It was the beginning of something beautiful, or so I thought. We exchanged sweet texts the whole day the following day and I couldn’t wait to see him after work as soon as I could, but he had checked out of the hotel”. It was the last time Chinyere had set her eyes on him. Feeling confused and used, she had conducted a little investigation which revealed to her that Sola had been deported from the UK.”I only wish I had done my investigations beforehand”, she admits on hindsight.

Last year our cyber innocence was rudely snatched from us when Nasarawa based Cynthia Akuzogwu Udoka, daughter of a retired General was brutally murdered by some Facebook ‘friends’ in Lagos. Indicted in the murder were Ezekiel Nnechuwu and Olisa Eloka, 23, who told the police they met the victim on Facebook and invited her to come to Lagos to buy goods at cheap prices. When she got to Lagos they took her to a hotel in Festac, put a drug in her Ribena drink, slept with her for 12 hours and then attacked her, tied her up, strangled her and then abandoned her in the hotel and fled. Different strokes for different folks, but in spite of this extreme and negative happening a good number of people are finding new friends, business partners and love on the internet. As more and more people show more confidence in social media and spend more time on their phones, tabs and computers, the trend is clearly set in this direction: There is no denying the fact that online romances will become more and more of our reality in the immediate future, and navigating the treacherous waters of this new terrain will be a skill that will be more and more useful.


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