For them, the vocabulary is wide and ever-expanding: from words like ‘streets’ to ‘clients’ to ‘updates’ to ‘cashout’ and so on, the language, inspired by some of Nigeria`s most contrarian but popular musicians is a tool, and also a driver. Many of Nigeria’s fraudulently rich also count among their models.
The saying that the devil makes work for idle hands is proving terrifyingly true in Nigeria as a sprawling army of internet fraudsters dreaming of the dreamy exploits of the likes of Hushpuppi, and a bevvy of others is crashing into Nigeria`s cyberspace.
They are everywhere these days, and they have in their massed ranks a lot of teens and young children. However, they are unmistakably internet savvy, hungry for success, marked by poverty and driven by unemployment. Armed with internet-enabled gadgets, they flock into cyberspace where their victims who include locals and foreigners alike keep a trickle of funds coming their way. With each passing day, their sophistication grows, with necessity proving the fruitful mother of invention.
They used to primarily target Nigerians who had bank accounts. With their antics discovered, they have been forced to upgrade and these days, they net victims all over the world, consequently dragging Nigeria`s already soiled reputation through even more dirt. To ensure that this, however, does not get out of hand, the criminal justice system exists to check crimes and criminals albeit with its spectacular failings in Nigeria.
So, internet fraud thrives. Many of those who indulge in it are young, technology-savvy and hungry for quick cash. Many of them belong to the generation of young Nigerians that has witnessed some of the worst plunder of Nigeria`s commonwealth. Thus, many of them have grown up seeing and hearing for themselves the massive amounts of public funds that have gone unaccounted for into private pockets in Nigeria. As such, they know that there is a highway to riches that is peculiarly Nigerian.
So, with their internet-enabled phones and laptops, they comb cyberspace, searching for `clients.’ The harm has been incalculable.
The deep-seated resentment towards the 2020 SARs protest was also fueled by the fact that young Nigerians perceived in the police heavy-handed methods an endorsement from President Muhammadu Buhari, who in 2018 branded Nigerian youths lazy. SARS (Special Anti-robbery Squad) was quickly taken down. Another similarly monstrous police unit is yet to take the place of SARS but Nigeria currently faces a mounting crisis of internet fraud.
With the internet being the diverse tool that it is, the possibilities are endless. Nigeria has in place a number of laws to check cybercrime and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is always beside itself trying to rein in internet fraudsters. Yet, it is easy to see that in the endless space that the internet is, it is easy for Nigeria`s reactionary laws and even more reactionary law enforcement to et lost.
The campaign to rid Nigeria of cybercriminals promises to be a long one not only because internet fraud is lucrative, but because it is perfectly playing into the hands of many young people who have seen their options evaporate in the cauldron of social insecurity that Nigeria is.
Addressing this problem means Nigeria must look hard and long at itself in the mirror. Nigeria must address the root causes of this social infirmity. This exercise in self-reflection is admittedly beyond the current crop of Nigeria`s leaders. For as long as it remains that way, internet fraud will continue to boom in Nigeria, biting into the hard-earned money of countless Nigerians, and the already battered image of the country.
• Obiezu (firstname.lastname@example.org)