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We All Are The 80 Thieves

Tunde Odediran writes on where every Nigerian should share the blame with with the 80 cyber criminals indicted by the United States Government in Los Angeles.

One of the caught Internet Fraudsters / Photo credit: qz.com
One of the caught Internet Fraudsters / Photo credit: qz.com

If you have Nigerian blood, you appeared together with the 80 cyber criminals indicted by the United States Government in Los Angeles last week. You were paraded, disgraced, humiliated and scandalised along with the bad apples.

The press conference by the US Justice Department, at which a multi-million-dollar criminal enterprise made up of mostly Nigerian nationals was revealed, informally declared Nigeria as the global centre of excellence in con arts and an industry more sophisticated than the Eastern European Internet scams.

According to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the 80 accused fraudsters have perfected various types of technology and financial tactics to commit online fraud, “including business email compromise (BEC) frauds, romance scams, and schemes targeting the elderly – to defraud victims out of millions of dollars.”

For years to come, when Internet fraud is the subject, Nigeria will be mentioned. The country will be seen as the land crawling with cyber criminals.

The Nigerian passport, already one of the most inspected at international airports around the world, will pass through worse screening that ever before.

The harm done to the reputation of Nigeria, and Nigerians in the Diaspora, by the conspiracy charge is too deep and vast to articulate.

The African social media wasted no time to circulate relevant content, including videos of wasteful spending of hard currencies at social gatherings by the alleged perpetrators of the crime.

Our blame is that Internet thieves and corrupt Nigerians are our creation. They are not only visible in the society, we have cognitively accepted them. The alleged ringleader of the US conspiracy is well known and respected in Nigeria. And Nigeria did nothing to stop him

While the social media library will continue to dig up materials for weeks to come, Nigeria has been building this reputation since the early days of the 419 crime, which became institutionalized as the Yahoo Boys fraud.

The massive conspiracy to steal hundreds of millions of dollars and identities through a variety of fraudulent transactions in the United States has only cast Nigeria in a light broader than before.

Many years ago, I walked into a dinner with some white American friends, where the host introduced me as the “Nigerian Prince.”

The Nigerian Prince is a jargon for the writer of the “419” scam email who has billions of dollars needing to be siphoned off Nigeria.

It was a joke, the guests at the dinner knew it and everyone laughed it off, but it was not funny. Since then, I have developed a thick skin against such jokes at the expense of Nigerians.

I simply accepted it as a vulnerability for which there was no defense.

Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora have to see themselves pictured among the 80 thieves. The fraudsters may be unknown to many of us, but they now represent who we are.

They are a blight on the image of honest, hardworking Nigerians everywhere but we are also culpable.

Our blame is that Internet thieves and corrupt Nigerians are our creation. They are not only visible in the society, we have cognitively accepted them.

The alleged ringleader of the US conspiracy is well known and respected in Nigeria. And Nigeria did nothing to stop him.

Even though Nigerians in America and the United Kingdom are becoming the most college-educated immigrants, stories as the one from last week tarnish that image, and take eyes away from the positive acts of many. The stereotype of crime will likely stick

The repetition of an action builds reputation.

Reputation releases stereotypes. Nations are stereotyped by the trait of their citizens.

Be it true or not, Columbia carries the reputation of a haven for illicit drug, as Brazilians are known as football lovers.

Russians are stereotyped as drunkards, Palestinians are portrayed as terrorists and Italians are called mobsters.

Even though Nigerians in America and the United Kingdom are becoming the most college-educated immigrants, stories as the one from last week tarnish that image, and take eyes away from the positive acts of many.

The stereotype of crime will likely stick.

Nigeria has allowed too many lazy swindlers to prosper while doing so little to discourage the export of crime with a Nigerian signature.

The system and the people are too friendly to corrupt people, and Nigeria has earned a bad reputation deservingly.

To those who now condemn the suspects in the FBI case, I say it is too little and too late.

The establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) in addition to the Nigeria Police illustrates the challenges of law enforcement in the country.

Among us, rogues not just freely roam but flex muscles in politics, business and the top level of the social strata. The judicial system, also groaning under corruption, is ineffective to deal with the threat.

Most Nigerians have reluctantly but willingly accepted the obnoxious display of ill-gotten wealth.

Our high places are littered with scoundrels. President Muhammadu Buhari’s executive and the Nigerian Senate parades those who have open files with the EFCC and ICPC

There are few questions asked when people with questionable wealth display their heist in public. Rather, we have turned such display into a form of entertainment.

The reckless throwing of bundles of thousands of dollars at social gatherings, once unheard, is now common and acceptable.

Such do not lead to criminal investigations in your Nigeria. Unknown persons pop up minted out of nowhere to be honoured as traditional chiefs, honorary doctors and even philanthropists.

Many in the political leadership cannot explain the source of their stupendous wealth. Political office holders, among them former governors and senators, have been guests of the EFCC, which does nothing but interrogate for a few days in exchange for positive press coverage.

Sincere, deep, penetrating and conclusive investigations and indictments, such as the one conducted by the FBI on the Nigeria 80, are never done. EFCC’s targets get only a slap on the wrist.

Our high places are littered with scoundrels. President Muhammadu Buhari’s executive and the Nigerian Senate parades those who have open files with the EFCC and ICPC.

The mere appearance of criminal conduct should arouse legislative oversight when the ministers undergo confirmation hearing at the National Assembly.

The concept of Yahoo Boys is totally acceptable to too many of us. After all, their victims are foreigners. It does not matter that one of the victims of the Nigerian fraud is an 86-year-old American with dementia and Alzheimer who wired nearly $12,000 to a bank account controlled by one of the fraudsters

It rarely happens in your Nigeria because the lion cannot accuse the leopard of consuming deer meat.

The same attitude is cascaded down the line at the state and local government levels. The Federal Government has given the cue to everyone to help themselves to other people’s money.

Not only is it evident that traditional rulers, the custodians of cherished customs and values, do not vet their chieftaincy awardees, some traditional rulers are themselves fraudsters.

In fact, the king of a major town in Osun State is the star in a recent video where he suggested that if any Nigerian had mystical powers to raid the US Federal Reserve, he would be glad to assist.

Corruption has eaten so deep into our collective fabric that we tolerate any form of acquisition of wealth.

We eulogise the immoral and participate in their crimes by association, either through physical activities or mental acceptance.

Young people are being taught that it is okay to acquire wealth by any means necessary and take what is not theirs.

Until we flush the blood that carries the malignant tumour, all Nigerians should hold themselves accountable as the root cause of the crime that is now deemed to be the largest of its kind anywhere in the worl

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The concept of Yahoo Boys is totally acceptable to too many of us. After all, their victims are foreigners.

It does not matter that one of the victims of the Nigerian fraud is an 86-year-old American with dementia and Alzheimer who wired nearly $12,000 to a bank account controlled by one of the fraudsters.

The nation is suffering a moral cancer.

Until we flush the blood that carries the malignant tumour, all Nigerians should hold themselves accountable as the root cause of the crime that is now deemed to be the largest of its kind anywhere in the world.

As I was writing this article, a Ghanaian friend, sent me a quick message that a recent list of 23 insolvent banks in Ghana has significant Nigerian participation, but added, “we have to be bold enough to expose corruption in all forms.”

Every Nigerian should be driven by the determination to expose the criminals and reject their shameless display of ugly wealth.

We cannot continue to indulge thieves and corrupt citizens just because they are rich. We must set the bars of leadership, morality and social acceptance very high.

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