In recent times, there has been an alarming increase in the number of reported cases of Nigerians alleged to have been involved in Cyber scams in different parts of the world. The sheer number of these cases, the amount involved and the effect that they have on the national image and psyche require urgent action by our government and Nigerians at large.
A few days ago, the United States Treasury Department sanctioned some Nigerian cyber criminals who are said to have targeted U.S businesses and individuals in wire frauds. In the same week, a young Nigerian, who was recently featured in Forbes Magazine’s “30 under 30” pleaded guilty to cyber fraud involving over $11m USD in Virginia. Also, some Nigerians were reported to have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates for allegedly committing cyber fraud in excess of $35m USD, by allegedly illegally diverting money from a fund set up to combat the negative effects of Covid-19.
What all these cases portend is that while the world is battling with the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and confronting the raging agitation against racism and discrimination, Nigeria has to additionally cope with more negative news generated by the activities of her fraudulent citizens particularly against the United States of America and the United Arab Emirate.
Another implication of this rising trend of Nigerian fraudsters becoming bolder and daring in their nefarious activities is that the national outcry against their activities and the operations of the nation’s law enforcement agencies have not effectively checkmated these shameful ambassadors.
It is worrisome that this insignificant population of misguided Nigerian youths have chosen to earn a living through criminal activities. More than that, it saddens me greatly to notice the damaging effect the activities of these fraudsters is having on their fellow country men and women. These fraudsters have earned the disrepute for Nigeria as a nation of dubious people. Millions of Nigerian citizens who travel across the world to study, work and live peacefully while abiding with the laws of their host countries have also now become stigmatised. The immigration and homeland security officials will certainly reinforce intrusive inspections when screening us at the point of entry and even when we go around town in foreign lands. There might be more humiliating experiences and some negative comments made against us.
Our genuine business men and women will have to pass tougher diligence tests while dealing with new partners. Our diplomatic chanceries also will have a lot more work to do and more endurance to cope with the sniggering that will be directed at them. One can only pity young Nigerians seeking to obtain STEM qualifications in order to secure good jobs, at home and abroad.
Only recently, during a trip to Berlin, I met young Nigerians representing their nation. They are highly skilled young IT players who can compete internationally. Indeed, their skills are of the kind that can be used to combat cybercrime. However, they are but a few and their achievements all too easily get lost beneath the flood of bad news generated by the fraudsters.
The question then is: why should millions of innocent, hardworking people suffer from the thieving tactics of a few hundreds of people with warped sense of fiscal immorality and no passion for patriotism and Godliness? Every national or citizen is an ambassador of his country wherever he is. That is why the activities of these international fraudsters or internet scammers deserve tough and collective measures from all of us.
There is the need for everybody – current and past political office holders, leaders of the private sector, religious leaders, Non-Governmental Organisations, Civil Society leaders, members of the academia and professional groups. We should all take responsibility and commit to tackling the menace of the fraudsters who de-market our country. The implication of their actions on the national economy, on inflow of foreign investments, on international confidence in the Nigerian nation or self-respect of the Nigerian is too high.
One has to acknowledge the present and past efforts of government to deal with the situation. The current efforts aimed at curbing this scourge, such as the Cyber Crimes Act and the Digital Rights Bill, now seem inadequate in the face of recent statistics. Definitely, there is an urgent and apparent need for innovative and effective approach.
What then do I propose as an initial step? One, we must totally rejig and restructure our education system in such a way that it faces the reality of today’s world and prepare those who go through the system with useful skill and mind-set to be useful to themselves and to society. Our emphasis should shift from just possession of certificates to that of skill acquisition and developing the mind to nurse progressive ambition that will serve collective interest. There should also be inbuilt moral, patriotic and positive content in the knowledge impacted by education institutions to their students.
This review of the education system must involve the private sector to work with educationists and policy makers for a needs assessment. This will enable the classrooms to produce graduates that fit into the industry. The objective of the proposed review is therefore to achieve the relevance of the education system to today and tomorrow’s need of the industry, create synergy between these two sectors of the society and eventually reduce unemployment. It will also create useful, competent and confident graduates who can create employment and survive without resorting to crime.
Two, we need to change the conditions that make crime appeal and attractive to our youth by creating an economy that encourages and incentivizes hard work, talent and skill. There are various uncharted path in our economy which needs to be navigated and mapped by the government to enable the youths creatively and gainfully exploit it. For example, agriculture, mining, the creative industry, tourism and information technology sectors retain and harbour huge potential to grow Nigeria. Our governments must lead the way to enable our youths pursue their goals in these areas.
Three, there is the need for mentoring by opinion leaders, of all hues. These leaders should engage in one form of mentoring or the other to help in teaching good values, patriotism, hard work and restoring the moral fibre of our society. They should help to inculcate professional ethics in our youth. After all, this is also part of real leadership. There is also the need for society to consciously discourage the chase after easy and fast way to wealth by the youths. At all levels, we should discourage giving recognition to people who run into sudden wealth and those who flagrantly display wealth whose source they cannot explain.
More importantly, our law enforcement agencies should devise and evolve a more comprehensive approach of investigating, prosecuting and getting the judiciary to punish incidents of cybercrimes as quickly as possible. Such an approach will involve working with foreign countries for a free flow of actionable intelligence and the modification of legal and regulatory frameworks. Both the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary should work on processes and procedures that will quickly determine cases involving cybercrime.
Transparent, efficient and prompt delivery of justice in such cases will change the impression held in the international community that these type of crimes are festering in our country because we treat them with levity. It may be necessary for our various law enforcement agencies to embark on ambitious and aggressive training programmes aimed at equipping investigators, prosecutors and judges who will be handling cases involving cybercrime with digital forensic skills. Cybercrime is a sophisticated, modern and dynamic criminal activity. The perpetrators are usually smart, intelligent and have an uncanny understanding of their devious game. It takes an investigator with a better understanding of the tools and techniques, to track them down and prove their guilt.
To help the understanding of this malaise and how to deal with it, I have directed The African Politiea Initiative to conduct a study and propose a holistic solution aimed at discouraging the involvement of Nigerian youths in cyber fraud. The study should include measures to be taken in adjusting the school curriculum with a view to having ethics based modules, training for investigative and prosecutorial agencies, steps necessary to improve international confidence in our local agencies, and how to improve international cooperation towards stemming cyber fraud. This project will involve special focus on working with the U.S. and UAE governments at all levels, especially with their law enforcement agencies, to search for practical solution.
I must reiterate my earlier opinion that to tackle this kind of challenge “we do not require oil prices to rise or dollar exchange rate to the naira to be lower…What is needed is the commitment on the part of everybody…” and the political will. We need a unity of purpose to re-orientate our youths and reset our national values.
Dr. Saraki was President of Nigerian 8th Senate, and is Board Chair, The Africa Politeia Institute (TAPI