When an arrest was made at the JFK Airport in New York, USA, for a wire fraud to steal over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from a US state government recently, the culprit was not another unknown Nigerian.
Caught in the dragnet was Abidemi Rufai.
Rufai, with the nickname Sandy Tang, 42, of Lekki, Nigeria, well-known in social circles as a big spender, is a Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Ogun State, Mr. Dapo Abiodun.
An alleged criminal with suspicious wealth was a super adviser to a governor in Nigeria.
He sat in the governor’s office and influenced public administration.
Last year, some super-rich, high-flying Nigerians were convicted for fraud by the FBI in a case involving popular Instagrammer, Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, also known as Hushpuppy.
In 2019, it was Invictus Obiwanne Okekeke, a multi-millionaire “businessman,” who was arrested for a mind-boggling wire fraud that involved email spoofing of executives of American companies.
Every year, it appears, the FBI must make a big catch involving a prominent Nigerian for criminal acts.
The frequent arrest of Nigerians in the US for electronic fraud may be worrying, but it is not nearly as troubling as the revelation that some of those criminals have infiltrated public offices and participate in legislation and policy making.
Since we have finally reached this abhorrent milestone under which public office is exposed to despicable individuals, we must ask ourselves just how many Abidemi Rufais are now in charge of our lives all over Nigeria?
In a press statement, FBI painted such details of Rufai’s criminal enterprise that should cause Governor Abiodun to explain what he knew about Rufai and when he knew it.
The FBI stated, “Rufai used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
Rufai also filed fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Rufai used variations of a single e-mail address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems.”
As his long-time aide and business associate, going by reports, Governor Abiodun must come out and explain how such a man became one of a governor’s most senior aides.
We must know how a top adviser to a Nigeria governor during the day is a fraudster in the dark of the night.
How did they become friends and co-partners in Ogun State politics?
While millions of Americans were thrown into the jobless market as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Rufai was allegedly submitting dozens of unemployment claims with stolen identities, in a bid to steal benefits from people who had fallen on hard times.
A man whose job it is to provide service that would lift people out of poverty and deliver a good life to many, lived as a blood-sucking vampire across the ocean.
Is Rufai not an illustration of the characters who are taking over politics, business, religion and even royalty in Nigeria?
We must know how a top adviser to a Nigeria governor during the day is a fraudster in the dark of the night
When we have a person like Rufai – motivated by greed, with no empathy, sense of public service or demonstrable morality – helps to make laws and policies affecting millions of people in Nigeria, we must speak out.
It is such corrupt men who are destroying the soul of the country.
Nigeria has crossed too many sacred boundaries of decency and common sense, creating in the process a mess of a country.
We have built a profoundly unethical, under-achieving and retrogressive society.
Greed and ostentatious living, condoned and accepted by even the oppressed, have made criminal acquisition of wealth and its obscene public display an acceptable way of life.
Not too long ago, a former Senator who lives on social media took a celebrity journalist through his home, gleefully displaying unexplained wealth where more than 90 million live on less than one dollar a day.
The same exuberant politician has two million Instagram followers who he tortures with dirty wealth.
Hustlers and swindlers, when they become rich, are often super spenders.
In fact, they waste much of the money as they travel up the ladder of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, from belongingness to esteem and ultimately to self-actualisation.
Such people try to flaunt their wealth because that is exactly the purpose of acquisition – to show themselves as achievers.
To them, there is no satisfaction if there is no one to “wow” with their display.
They become social magnets, literally wasting money as they “spray” at parties and quickly become known in political circles. Rufai has been seen doing exactly this.
We have seen this before.
The same Ogun State bred Buruji Kashamu.
A filthy rich Nigerian, a former senator, who fought extradition by the FBI in a decades-long battle to bring him to justice on drug-related charges.
While the Kashamus and Rufais litter the political landscape, they are allowed to roam like mobile phones and even have access to state houses, instead of being shut down permanently.
Abidemi Rufai evidently demonstrates to us that we do have politicians who are fake actors, living a dark life that our big banner anti-corruption and law enforcement agencies are not going to deal with.
It is politicians with excessive money who cause well-meaning Nigerians to give up on democracy.
They create a numbness that cause the hungry, in their dejectedness, to collect money at the polling centers, reasoning that instant and temporal gratification are better than no gratification at all.
While millions of Americans were thrown into the jobless market as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Rufai was allegedly submitting dozens of unemployment claims with stolen identities, in a bid to steal benefits from people who had fallen on hard times
The damage extends beyond the political system.
They mess up the psyche of the youths who gravitate towards comfort through stolen wealth.
Hushpuppy commanded two million followers at the time of his arrest in Dubai – simply because of the way he displayed ill-gotten wealth.
We must realise that one evil feeds the other. As bad people gatecrash public office, they corrupt it and use the proceeds to corrupt everything else.
But far more damaging is the false signals they send to malleable minds.
When Invictus Okekeke was arrested in 2019 with 80 others, mostly Nigerians, for an $11 million fraud while presenting himself as a Nigerian entrepreneur, his method of scamming that was described as uniquely Nigerian.
Just like Rufai, Okeke was thought to be a clean achiever, having been named on Forbes Africa 30 for a record of achievement that turned out to be fraudulent.
Rufai and Okeke prove to us that there is a high probability that many of those in places of power, whether in politics or business, may be fraudsters.
The more of these characters appear in the public, the higher the likelihood of raising a group of Nigerians whose only ambition is to scam others, get rich quickly, and become social attractions.
The Yahoo Boys syndrome has become so perfected and entrenched that it clearly is qualified to generate non-fungibility as Nigerian.
We may not know exactly how much swindlers have penetrated Nigerian life, but we should make an effort to bring them down as quickly as they show up.
We enter a dangerous territory when such people are entrusted with public office.
Anyone whose wealth is suspicious ought to be called out. We know who these people are, don’t we?
They usually become suddenly rich and have no foundation to support the wealth. They just tell us they are into some sort of business. We need to know what they do.
We cannot continue to turn a blind eye.
The mass media, in particular, must do a better job at investigating suspicious wealth.