May 21, 2021
By Oludayo Tade
Twelve months ago, Ramoni Abbas, aka ‘Hushpuppi’ was arrested in Dubai for alleged money laundering from business email compromise fraud and other scams which targeted firms, and an English premier league. He reportedly made a total sum of $435million after defrauding 1,926,400 victims. A year after, Abidemi Rufai (also known as ‘Sandy Tang’), an aide to Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun was also arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at John F Kennedy Airport, New York over criminal complaint of defrauding Washington State Employment Security Department of $350,000 (N144,375,000). The funds were designed by the Washington State for people who might have suffered job losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fraud was perpetrated by stealing identities of more than 100 Washington residents by filing falsified claims with the Employment Security Department (ESD) for pandemic-related unemployment benefits. If these wire fraud allegations are proven, the Ijebu-born Senior Special Assistant to Ogun State Governor may spend up to 30 years in jail.
Cybercrime is a global threat to individuals, organisations and countries. Nigeria loses more $128billion to cybercrimes annually. By the end of 2021, the world would have lost a total of $6trillion. Till date, over 40 Nigerians have been or are being investigated for their complicity in fraudulent scams by the FBI. Some have been convicted and serving different jail terms but we do not hear about them because they are relatively unpopular unlike flamboyant social media celebrity, Hushpuppi or are not politically exposed like Abidemi Rufai. For instance, Esogie Osawaru, was arrested in Boston in June 2020 alongside Nosayamen Iyalekhue for their involvement in wire fraud, romance scam, and pandemic unemployment insurance fraud. Both of them have pleaded guilty. In Indianapolis, Ismaila Fafunmi pleaded guilty to money laundering charges related to romance fraud and grant fraud scheme in 2020. The trio of Olufemi Oluwaseun Banjo, Francis Nwabueze Iwuoha and Oluwadamilare Gbenga Macauley were charged with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy. They are at large and the Minnesota authorities believe they are back in Nigeria. These are few of the many cases involving Nigerians in the USA. However, these deviant characters do not represent the majority of hardworking Nigerians involved in legitimate businesses and contributing to the growth and development of their host country.
Rufai’s alleged unemployment benefit fraud falls under what I have called COVID-419 frauds in Nigeria. These are fraudulent scams leveraging on the loopholes created by COVID-19 pandemic to scam people, government and organisations. During the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria, cybercriminals patterned their frauds along the interventions from government and private sectors and scammed many and some of these schemes still exist till date. While there are those who engage in cybercriminality in the Diaspora, some youngsters do so within Nigeria. They are regularly arrested, tried and convicted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). These yahoo-boys and yahoo-girls live flamboyant lifestyles and may be located in Government Reserved Areas (GRAs), estates and other remote locations. Understanding the cultures sustaining cybercriminality may help a serious government in fighting the crime.
The family is the microcosm of the larger society. It is the place where a normal human being is expected to be nurtured for the society. Apart from the fact that many Nigerian families are in the dungeon of poverty and can hardly take care of their children, some of these children have become breadwinners, albeit, illegitimately. There is challenge with ethical behaviour training in many homes as parents being arrested alongside their children who are involved in cyber-criminality. Elsewhere, mothers of yahoo-boys are forming association to celebrate their sons’ success and justifying their criminal behaviours. In the religious setting, depraved ‘pastors’, ‘alfas’ and traditionalists create home and benefit from yahoo-boyism proceeds. Moral teachings have given way to materialistic religiosity. There is a viral video where some boys were shown praying money while those who appeared to be shepherds in a supposed white garment church enjoyed the moment while the captive members of the church, led by their female youth wing recorded the shameful scene.
A child born in 1999 when Nigeria returned to democracy is now 21 years old. Sadly, they grew up to appreciate lying as a way of life from the mouth of politicians (and in many cases from home) who deceive people to vote for them and do not fulfil or jettison the campaign promises. Lying itself is the foundation of the sociology of hushpuppism. Youths are daily being socialised to corruption and fraud by those holding public offices. They see how their systems provide soft landing for the fraudulent persons (public or private). They ask how many fraud and corruption allegations have been fully investigated and discharged with punishment when the accused are found guilty. Majority of the cases ended with ‘off-the-mic’ like the Nigeria Delta Development Commission (NDDC) case ended as a ‘family affair’. The youths see flamboyant lifestyles being celebrated amidst squalor. They see how once poor political aspirants transform into millionaires within months of inauguration. They see how traditional institutions have become cash and carry in awarding chieftaincy titles. Tertiary educational institutions, with few exceptions, award undeserving honours in exchange for money. All those who mismanaged funds are provided with soft landing while Nigeria that cannot find Ibori guilty of looting treasury begged UK that the recovered loot be repatriated to the country. UK feared the recovered loot can be re-looted if not tied to specific projects. Added to this list of cultures nurturing cybercrimes are lyrical glamorisation of cybercrimes by some popular Nigerian musicians who present cyber-criminality as ‘work and game’ that everyone is involved in and not a ‘crime’.
If we elect fraudsters as legislators, will they make laws against the crime they are involved in? The process of giving party nomination to highest bidders by party leaders need to be reviewed if we are to stop importing ‘problematic tokunbo’ products into our already morally bankrupt political system. It is unfortunate that the critical reasoning of party leaders is lowered when money is dangled in their eyes. They provide platform for dubious characters to cover up their tracks and our society is worse off through their actions. Greed also nurtures cyber-criminality. FBI agent investigating Rufai, Donald Voiret stated that “greed is a powerful motivator. Unfortunately, the greed alleged to this defendant affects all taxpayers”.
Moving forward, we cannot live in sin and expect grace to abound. Nigeria must sanitise her anti-corruption system and emplace accountability policy that tracks lifestyle with material accumulations. We must give the youth hope in Nigeria by creating employment opportunities, reduce poverty and review reward systems. The EFCC needs to invest in technology and expose her detectives to modern cybercrime investigation procedures. The commission needs to conclude investigation before arresting suspects as done by the FBI before arresting Ramoni Abbass ‘Hushpuppi’ and Abidemi Rufai ‘Sandy Tang’. Unless, the cultures sustaining cybercrimes in Nigeria are tackled through social engineering, cyber-criminality will continue to fester.
Dr Tade, a sociologist sent this piece via email@example.com