The recent cybercrime case involving the 38-year-old Nigerian, Raymond Abbas, has apparently dented the nation’s image. Police arrested Abbas, also known as Hushpuppi, and his 11 accomplices in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, in a special operation over cyber fraud involving 1.9 million victims to the tune of N168 billion. They were quickly extradited to the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) had filed a case alleging that the suspects engaged in money laundering, hacking, scamming, banking fraud, identity theft and impersonation. The scam was carried out between January and September 2019. If convicted, they risk 20 years in jail.
Last year, the FBI arrested Obinwanne Okeke aka Invictus Obi for conspiracy to commit computer fraud and wire fraud. He was alleged to have received $11 million under false pretence. He was about to leave the US when he was arrested.
What usually gives these people away is their greed and unusual flamboyant lifestyle which they flaunt on social media platforms. Hushpuppi, the self-acclaimed ambassador of Gucci, has over 2.4 million followers on his Instagram page. His posts were usually about his luxury bags, fleet of luxury cars, private jets, yachts, and expensive watches. He usually posed in five-star hotels for effect.
Another suspected fraudster, Ismaila Mustapha aka Mompha, always shows off his luxury cars, designer wears and some other expensive items on Instagram. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested him in October 2019 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on his way to Dubai. He was accused of laundering about N14 billion through Ismalob Global Investments Limited, his bureau de change firm.
The emerging cybercrime is a present danger to the society. It has taken a frightening dimension largely because of our warped value system, which tolerates unbridled opulence. Now, it does not matter how some people made their money. That is why there is urgent need for reevaluation of our social values.
Already, the involvement of our youths in cybercrime is giving us a bad image abroad. The situation has become so bad that a Dubai recruitment firm, Shirley Recruitment Consultants Dubai, recently posted a job opening online for Africans but excluded Nigerians.
The unfortunate action is a reflection of the growing anger against cybercrime. In 2017, it cost the global economy as much as $600 billion. RiskIQ, in its annual report titled ‘Evil Internet Minute,’ said in just one minute on the internet, $2.9 million was lost to cybercrime in 2018. This amounted to a total of $1.5 trillion. Banking sector is reportedly the most affected with annual costs of over $18 million in 2018. A single malware attack in 2018 reportedly cost over $2.6 million. Experts estimate that approximately $5.2 trillion in global value will be at risk from cyber-attacks from now to 2023.
Undoubtedly, cybercrime will remain a major concern for years to come. But no crime goes forever. This is why the investigation and trial of Hushpuppi and his accomplices must be thorough. The security agents must apprehend those involved in cybercrime and bring them to book.
Besides, the extant cybercrime law must be amended to take care of the current realities. Nigerian Cybercrime Act 2015, among others, prescribes death penalty for an offence against system or network designated as critical national infrastructure which results in the death of an individual. Under the Act too, convicted hackers are liable to a fine of up to N10 million or a term of imprisonment of five years.
There are some loopholes in the Act which must be addressed. Many lawyers and activists believe that the Act is oppressive, repressive and illegal as some of its provisions offend the rights to freedom of expression and media freedom. Under the Act, some journalists and bloggers have also been harassed and threatened by the authorities.
It is gratifying that the ECOWAS Court of Justice recently ordered the Federal Government to repeal or amend the provision of the cybercrime law that violates citizens’ rights of expression. It also ordered the government to make the law to align with its obligations under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The arrest and trial of Hushpuppi and others should remind the youths that there is no shortcut to success. The reality is that people can make fortunes through hard work. There are many Nigerian professionals who are doing positive things in different parts of the world. Recently, a Nigerian, Mr. Ikenna Nweke, received commendations from the Japanese government for returning a lost wallet containing large sums of money and a credit card. Also, another Nigerian, Dr. Chidubem Obi, made history by becoming the first African to graduate with 5.0 Grade Point Average (GPA) from Sechenov Medical University in Russia. Nigerians are reportedly the most educated immigrants in the United States. About 25 per cent of all black students at Harvard Business School are said to be Nigerians. And the first black woman to be president of the Harvard Law Review, Imelme A. Umana, is a Nigerian. We urge the youths to emulate these exemplary Nigerians.