Last week was not particular pleasant for the nation in terms of its international image. Even though the cabinet has just been inaugurated it was the news of internet fraud and huge court judgment award that dominated global news. The announcement of names of 66 Nigerians by the Federal Bureau Investigation, FBI, as part of the criminal networks in the U.S. was particularly appalling and disgusting.
In an investigation spanning more than three years since 2015, a total of 80 individuals were indicted with Nigerians dominating the list of criminal networks involving both those at home in Nigeria and abroad.
In a 145 page document released last week these Nigerians were allegedly involved in the scheme to defraud and many of them were arrested during coordinated raids, according to Mr. Tom Mrozek, spokesperson of the U.S. Attorney’s office, for the Central District of California. The document noted that the individuals were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and bank frauds as well as aggravated identity theft and money laundering.
‘Today we have taken a major step to disrupt criminal networks that use business email scam schemes, romance scheme and other frauds to fleece victims”, it said. According to the FBI, the impersonation attacks have cost consumers and businesses $3 billion since 2015 when the investigation into the matter started.
Earlier, the FBI had named Mr. Obinwanne Okeke, CEO of Invictus Group, in one of the recent fraud cases, which has put the nation in bad light. The Nigerian entrepreneur and young billionaire who was recently celebrated by American Forbes Magazine as one of the “30 under 30” billionaires in the world, last month was arrested by FBI over an alleged $11 million internet fraud, from which he was said to have got his wealth.
While we do not intend to join issues with the ethnic profiling of the perpetrators of these acts, we are saddened by the attempt to ethnicise the matter, which in effect is a trivialization of a very serious national issue. We agree that the Igbo represent a preponderance of the names on the list, but we object strongly to any attempt to label the Igbo as fraudsters for the same reason it is unacceptable to tag every Fulani herdsman a murderer.
Besides their insignificant number, it will amount to an empirical absurdity to generalize the action of such a small number of the Igbo as representative of their behaviour and conduct. Both at home and all over the world there are genuine and hard working Igbo men and women making legitimate contributions to the economies of their host societies as well as Nigeria.
Without mincing words the global embarrassment these people have caused the nation should be taken seriously and every effort made to get to the root of the matter and those culpable severely dealt with. However, the booming Yahoo business in the country is symptomatic of the crippling effect of the worsening social and economic situation in Nigeria and institutional failures to tackle the menace.
Although the EFCC has been grappling with the challenges of exposing those politically exposed and their sordid corrupt deeds, it has not paid sufficient attention to this area of its assignment, perhaps because of its sophistication and digitalization, a failure that has brought this infamy to the nation. Frequently, we hear of police making feeble attempts to arrest these people who most times turn into an unholy alliance with the criminals; allegations of collusion of police men with these people are rife.
It took the FBI three years of painstaking investigation to unravel the criminal networks, which is a lesson on how to pursue and deal with such cases. Our crime busting institutions have much to learn from this in terms of the resources available to them and the patience and diligence display in the execution of the case. There was no media awareness until the criminals were properly identified, profiled and apprehended.
It is also significant to note that government owes its citizens some minimum level of social obligations that guarantees them basic comfort of life. It is such a painful experience for the youth population, which is the active labour force of any society, to be left to rot away in their prime as a result of some leadership failures and the inability to organize our-selves. Some of these people may have graduated from different higher institutions of learning with degrees that could have provided them a decent standard of living if there were such opportunities.
But they are forced into criminality arising from the lack of opportunities and constructive engagement for their abilities and training. It may be simplistic to moralise about the psychology of criminality but most civilized societies recognize the need to provide useful engagement and minimum comfort for the people. True, a crime minded person would so indulge himself regardless of the situation but there are also those drawn into it on account of circumstances.
Reason, therefore dictates that attempt should be made to empower those who are victims to discourage them while policy measures are devised to tackle the pathological cases. Experts say that the best way to deal with criminality is by prevention because it is more positive, safer and cheaper. Before this government came to power, Nigeria’s ranking on the corruption perception index had improved appreciable majorly as a result of improvement in the economy which grew at an average of seven percent over a 15 year period.
However, since 2015, the economy has suffered major dislocations leading to the renewed exodus of Nigerians abroad. It is the position of this newspaper that we can do more for our people to ensure that they are not forced to emigrate to other countries where they would become an embarrassment to the nation. We call on the government to cooperate with the U.S. authorities to bring all those involved in this nefarious activity to book.
Furthermore, government should strengthen our fraud investigation agencies to perform their duties optimally by making them well resourced in both human and material, and ensuring that they are insulated from political influences to boost their morale as well as public confidence in their objectivity and fairness.