The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Uyo Zonal Office, Calabar, Cross River State, made huge arrests early last month. One of those in EFCC net is not an ordinary suspect. His profile says he’s a kingpin of cybercrime. 29-year-old Akpojivi Joel Onoriode, a graduate of Delta State University, Abraka, is a father of two. Luck ran out on him during two separate raids of suspected internet fraudsters on May 4 and 5, 2019.
He was arrested in his swanky, lavishly furnished duplex located at University of Calabar Satellite Town, which he confessed was bought with proceeds from his illicit ‘Yahoo’ business. Within the ‘Yahoo fraternity, Akpojivi is fondly called “Mr. White”. Others call him by his other alias, “Mr.Blinks”. He has multiple bank accounts in different currencies, one of them, an offshore account in faraway China. All of this excludes three eye-popping luxury cars, among them a Range Rover SUV. All have been recovered from him.
For many ‘Yahoo boys’, this is a ticket to another good life. But, a day of reckoning always awaits every criminal. And it often comes with chilling confessions. This is what Akpojivi told the EFCC during interrogation. “Please, don’t tell my children that their father is a ‘Yahoo boy’. I was really known in my school then as a ‘Yahoo boy’. I don’t want to bring up my children where people will say, ah!, your father is a ‘Yahoo boy’. That was why I relocated my family from Asaba to Calabar”. He admitted that he knew his time was up when the EFCC officials raided his comfort zone in Calabar. Now, the adage, “come easy, go easy”, has become a grim, gritty truth.
Few years ago, my younger brother’s bank account was hacked by ‘Yahoo boys’ and all his money stolen. The truth is that there are many ‘Yahoo boys’ like Akpojivi Joel across the country who are living on the fast lane with proceeds from this illicit act. They have deceived many young ladies and even destroyed their own lives and that of their families. Last year, I helped defray part of a huge hospital bill of a young lady whose life was wrecked by a runaway ‘Yahoo husband’. She had a life threatening illness, and that was what caught my attention. She said until her ‘husband’ was arrested by the EFCC, she didn’t know he was a ‘Yahoo boy’.
Nigeria’s image continues to take a battering because of the activities of these cyber fraudsters. Our economy has also taken a severe hit. According to the Cyber Security Experts Association of Nigeria (CSEAN), Nigeria is reported to be responsible for at least $9.3 billion out of the global loss to the rising cybercrime. As reported by The Guardian newspaper of October 28, 2016, CESEAN President, Remi Afon, was quoted as saying that somebody’s identity is stolen every three seconds as a result of the menace. Indeed, cybercrime is currently said to have surpassed illegal drug trafficking as a criminal means of making money around the world.
According to Forbes and Cybersecurity ventures, cybercrime is projected to reach $2 trillion by the end of this year, while damages that will emanate from the crime will hit about $6 trillion by 2021. Also, last week, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) stated that Nigeria loses about N127 billion annually to cybercrime. This is disturbing, and calls for adequate guidelines to protect our cyberspace. The NITDA report said the loss was caused in part by government’s inability to properly guard Nigeria’s information systems against cyber fraudsters.
The agency noted that at a time cybercrime has become a global challenge, it does not yet have any guideline that ought to help it in its assignment. The Director, e-Government Regulatory Department of NITDA, Dr. Vincent Olatunji, who represented the Director General of the agency during a stakeholders workshop on the review of guidelines for information system audit and software testing, in Abuja, revealed some of the handicaps being faced by the agency .
Undoubtedly, internet fraud is taking its toll on the nation’s economy. It also endangers national security with billions of naira lost. Cybersecurity experts say that cybercrime comes in different forms, including 419, phishing, social engineering, cyber bullying, identity theft, software piracy, intellectual property theft and malware attacks. Recent reports by Demadiur Systems, a technology servicing company and Serianu Ltd, indicate that businesses in Nigeria lost about N234bn in 2017.
The 2014 Annual report of the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), had revealed that between 2013 and 2014, fraud on e-payment platform of Nigeria’s banking sector increased by 183 percent. Also, a 2014 report by UK-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, reported that cybercrime in Nigeria was about 0.08 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or N127bn yearly. Furthermore, global tracking of cyber attacks indicate that Nigeria is among countries that are vulnerable to software piracy and other cybercrimes. Undoubtedly, the situation is a serious challenge that can put any economy and security at risk. At a time that global IT industry is expected to hit $5trn this year, managing the risks calls for constant vigilance of the country’s cyberspace.
Apart from financial losses, the activities of cybercrime fraudsters have given Nigeria a bad image as the country is stereotyped as a cybercrime nation. This is based on the rising cases of internet criminals known as “Yahoo boys” who are scamming unsuspecting people, including foreigners online. While the antigraft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes CommissionEFCC) continues to be on the prowl against them, it is yet to deter many of them from the crime.
The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta has said that cybersecurity has become an essential component of human activity, and that its high level complexity requires action at different levels. That’s the gritty truth. Now is the time to enforce the Cybercrime Act 2015. The passage of the Cybercrime Bill into Law four years ago, did raise a glimmer of hope that Nigeria is indeed ready to tackle the scourge. However, the enforcement of certain aspects of the law have been described as selective, making it possible for most of the criminals to continue to have a field day and the threats they pose to the economy. Many stakeholders say that if the cybercrime Act is enforced as it should be, that would have helped to burnish Nigeria’s image abroad.
Since cybercrime has become a global menace, it should be tackled with all seriousness. The EFCC needs the cooperation of all to deal with it. The Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) should help illuminate more public discourse on the problems that cybercrime poses to the country. I support the view of Telecom operators and cyber-security experts that an effective cybercrime law has become imperative, and therefore, requires tough punishment against offenders. This has become expedient with the advent of the platform called Internet Of Things (IOT) where key industry players bring more operations online which increase the potential scale and impact of cyber threats.
The CBN should introduce new regulations to curb the rising losses that emanate from cybercrime and technology risks in the financial sector. The upsurge in cyber fraud requires redesigning regulations that will address risks that currently make banks and financial services firms susceptible to money laundering, terrorist financial flows and other transactions that pass through their networks to fraudulent beneficiaries. This is necessary because, in today’s interconnected, borderless networking, unregulated financial services can become vulnerable to internet hackers to conduct illegal activities online.