December 19, 2019

EFCC and cybercriminals in southwest Nigeria

By Oludayo TADE


CYBERCRIMES have devastating effects on the Nigerian economy and her citizens. According to the 2017 Africa Cyber Security Report, the continent lost $3.5billion, out of which Nigeria’s loss was about $649million. This problem is exacerbated by the shortage of certified cybersecurity professionals.

Imagine, Nigeria with over 200million people, more than half of whom are Internet active, has only 1800 certified cyber-security professionals. Kenya, with a population of 49.7 million in 2017 has 1600 cyber-security professionals. This perhaps explains why Nigeria has listed cybercrimes among national security threats in her newly released 2019 National Security Strategy.

READ ALSO:EFCC seizes over N643.9m, $706.8m in Kano(Opens in a new browser tab)

Apart from its internal dimension which threatens online commerce, the cashless economy and a host of other online-based businesses, cybercrime is also a transnational organised crime with devastating consequences on the image and global social relations of anyone identified as a Nigerian. Nigerians had a feel of this image battery when sometimes in August, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, released a list of 80 cybercriminals, majority of whom are Nigerian youngsters abroad.

While the arrest by FBI struck many Nigerians because of its trans-territorial backlashes, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was arresting cybercriminals in the south-western part of Nigeria. Within a year, the Ibadan zonal office of the EFCC could be re-christened as anti-cybercrimes commission with its ruthless ‘smoking’ of cybercriminals from their hidings across the zone. Headed by Friday Ebelo, the Ibadan zone of EFCC secured 171 convictions,167 of which are cybercrime offenders. In addition to the convictions, the Commission impounded 56 automobiles and 14 houses from the offenders and recovered N211,134,927.26; $136,289; €2000 and £765. More importantly, substantial foreign currencies were repatriated to victims of cybercriminals mostly located in the global north. Despite the result, the EFCC experiences logistics issues, insufficient funding, limited cells, and insufficient personnel. These problems made arrests and convictions difficult while also impacting negatively on their operational capacity to apprehend cybercrime kingpins and their groups whose locations have been detected.

The demographics of those arrested are worrisome: teenagers and young adults, students in different tertiary institutions and young graduates.

Cybercrime has become an industry where the kingpins employ workers who are paid monthly salaries. While majority of them live flamboyantly, some maintain low profiles while partaking in deadly multi-million dollar Internet frauds. They ride exotic cars, attend clubs, stay in duplexes or middle income areas and are usually clustered together.

They can further be profiled as digital and analogue as my research shows that many of them use fetish means to aid the possibility of success in cybercrimes. It is their use of fetish items, human beings and tortoise that I have called cyberspiritualism.

How did we get here? Nigeria has over sixty percent of her population as youths yet many of them face awful socio-economic conditions. They grew up in callous environments where no one cares. They attend underfunded tertiary institutions that are best classified as glorified secondary schools. Some of them live in zoo-like conditions in school-owned residential halls. They live in a country where the rulers trade the welfare of the common people with the interests of their families and friends.

The youth of Nigeria see leaders steal and get amnesty while only the individuals without social connections get punished. They watch leaders spray cash at social events despite law banning it. They are confounded by terrible statistics of over 23 percent unemployment and live in the headquarters of poor people of the world. Indeed, the Nigerian political space now ranks as the sixth most miserable place to live on earth!

Moreover, they see school certificate holders in the National Assembly earning millions but making little or no contributions to the legislative process other than sleeping in the hallowed chambers. To the minds of many young people, this is the same system where civil servants organise street protests to get a N30,000 minimum wage.

Coupled with these issues is the circumstances of disempowered parents who already lost locus of control due to weak economic power.

Again, in this same system, landlords rent their accommodation to youths who have no office addresses but ride porch cars and disturb the neighbourhood. Above all, musicians glamorise cybercrimes and cybercriminals and socialise more people to take it as a way of life. These are the cultures nurturing cybercriminality.

While majority of the Nigerian youths are law-abiding and doing great in the informal and formal economies as entrepreneurs, the deviant few perceive being con and fraud as a way out of the woods. But rather than being punitive, the EFCC allows plea bargaining for arrested cybercriminals.

This is commendable as it is rehabilitative considering their ages and what lies ahead of them. This is why many of them are sentenced to three months to one year imprisonment. But cybercriminals have allies in the banking industry and in the police and such must also be smoked out.

The cultures that sustain cybercrimes must be wiped out and this is a system approach. Leadership must be responsible to meet the yearnings of her citizens. Employment opportunities must be created and proper incentive must be given to those who merit it. There must also be post prison re-integration plan for convicted cybercriminals. Releasing them from prison without concrete plan for full rehabilitation and tracking will be futile.

Since most of them use different con strategies, they could be put to use to unpack the complex web of cybercriminality and strengthen cybersecurity. Nigeria must find a way of converting the Internet dexterity of yahoo-boys to functional uses. However, the EFCC must respect the human right of those arrested until the courts have made pronouncement on their status.

For now, more work needs to be done to de-glamorise cybercrimes in Nigeria and Nollywood and the musician association have major roles to play in this direction.