ACTING Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Ibrahim Magu, said last week that the agency was planning to rehabilitate young people who engage in internet fraud popularly known in Nigeria as ‘Yahoo Boys’. Magu who spoke in Lagos at the 3rd All Administrators National Conference of the Chartered Institute of Administration, did not disclose the kind of rehabilitation the commission was considering, but he said the young ‘Yahoo boys’ would be “useful to the agency in the future”. Nigerians need to know details of this plan. Few times will be considered as rough and tough as what internet fraudsters, popularly known in Nigeria as ‘Yahoo Boys’ are going through now.
More than ever before, their tracks have been exposed, their lifestyle often gives them away. The glamour, glitz and all the perks and prestige that define their modus operadi seem to have been mastered and checkmated by the tough as nails EFCC operatives. For the ‘Yahoo boys’, it’s no longer like the dungeon crawls which they are familiar with, a turf they used to navigate the internet space freely, rummaging through the accounts and looting other people’s money and vital information. The day of reckoning has come. Every day for the thief, one day for the owner of the house. That, it appears, is one of the lessons the Yahoo boys are now learning the hard way. ‘Easy come, easy go’. Last week, the EFCC said it made a harvest of arrests. For instance, in Osogbo, Osun state, 94 fraudsters were arrested at an underground night club located on the Ibadan-Iwo expressway. According to the ant graft agency, the fraudster perfecting a grand party to celebrate their loot when luck ran out on them. About 19 exotic cars, Smartphones and other items were recovered during the raid. Also, in Enugu, nine cyber fraudsters, among them, a woman, were nabbed by the EFCC at a swanky hotel in the state capital following a tip-off. Items recovered from them include expensive mobile phones, cars and laptop computers. Last week, one of the Yahoo boys who was recently indicted by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Joseph Oyediran was jailed by a Federal High Court in Ilorin, Kwara state presided by Justice Manhood Abdulgafar following his prosecution by the EFCC. From Owerri to Abuja, Port Harcourt to Uyo, Awka to Lagos, the EFCC has gone on the offensive against internet fraudsters.
Five months ago, the Uyo Zonal Office of the EFCC located in Calabar, Cross River State, made huge arrests . One of those in the net of the ant graft agency was 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. He was arrested in his lavishly furnished duplex located at University of Calabar Satellite Town. He confessed he bought the property 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. This excludes three eye-popping luxury cars, among them a Range Rover SUV. Until the FBI took into custody scores of high-profile cybercrime suspects, most of them Nigerians, few Nigerians suspected the sources of wealth of some of the suspects. One of them was highly celebrated as a global entrepreneur to whom the young and upward mobile should look up to for inspiration. Not anymore.
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 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 the gritty truth. 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. 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 responsible for at least $9.3 billion out of the global loss to the rising cybercrime. 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 Cyber security 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. The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) says 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. Undoubtedly, internet fraud is taking its toll on the nation’s economy. It also endangers national security with billions of naira lost. Cyber security 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), 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.
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. While the EFCC continues to burst the operation of the fraudsters, any plan to rehabilitate them will not be enough. 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 was perhaps ready to tackle the scourge.
Many stakeholders say that if the cybercrime Act is enforced as it should be, it will help to burnish Nigeria’s image abroad, especially now that many of our nationals are facing trial in the USA on internet fraud indictment. The EFCC needs the cooperation of all to deal with cybercrime . The Office of the National Security Adviser(ONSA) should help illuminate more public discourse on the problem and how best to deal with it .
The Central Bank of Nigeria should see the threat posed by internet fraudsters as a compelling need to redesign regulations that will address risks that may emanate from the new emerging and increasing modern class of financial firms not only in the country but across the globe. This is necessary because, in today’s interconnected, borderless networking, unregulated financial services can become vulnerable to internet hackers to conduct illegal activities online.