The profiling of Nigeria in the global eye of cyber-criminality has gone beyond terms of tolerable limit. The extensive growth of the wide network of the sharp practice as an estate of fraudulent activities may be growing to the rubicon of discomfiture which, among other socio-economic delinquencies, would have continued to purchase a wrong notion of who the true Nigerians are, across the space of the global community.
As the civilisation of globalisation takes shape of record, the purview of how Nigerians are perceived with the ever integrating network of interfacing connectivity becomes a subject of concern. While the framework of the government authorities in Nigeria may not be seeing the depth of the threats before the Country as a community within the larger global entity, it remains thoughtful that the perception of the people is much a potent force in the benchmark of reckoning with potential national power. A well coordinated population with robust human capacity profile, with minimal records of criminality, would be accounted formidable in the power profiling of a Country in the international realm, just as otherwise would be of note for a nation known for criminality, forming a constructive fixture in its socio-economic and political definitions.
Recently, cyber-crime has undoubtedly added harshly on the wrong perceptions of Nigerians. One would not be in any justifiable position to argue that the phenomenon is a conspiracy, as increasing narratives of high profile cases of cyber-crime, drawing global attention, have over time being linked to Nigerians. Recently, a US court sentenced a Nigerian, Shalom Ayotunde to 46 months in jail for offences relating to cyber-crime, ordering him to pay restitution in the sum of $1,067,000 (about N439,113,180). Ayotunde, 39, was sentenced by US District Judge Amos L. Mazzant, III on charges of passport fraud, false claim to US citizenship, wire fraud, and false statement to a financial institution. He had pleaded guilty to the charges on July 1, 2021. The crimes were committed in the Eastern District of Texas. In a statement by the US Department of Justice on Thursday, it was revealed that Ayotunde’s crimes were federal criminal offences. According to court documents, in June 2018, Ayotunde provided false identifying information in his application for a US passport, and in doing so, also falsely claimed to be a US citizen. Ayotunde was also involved in falsifying information in connection with numerous applications for Payment Protection Program loans, and ultimately received more than $1 million in fraudulent PPP loan proceeds. In addition, evidence showed that Ayotunde was part of a conspiracy to defraud companies through business email compromise schemes and acted as a money mule when he knowingly received and transferred proceeds of fraudulent activity. Evidence showed that Ayotunde received or attempted to receive more than $800,000 in stolen funds. A federal grand jury had returned an indictment charging Ayotunde with federal violations on November 13, 2020.
Last July, 2021, a court in the Western District of Texas had sentenced a Canada-based Nigerian, Olumide Bankole Morakinyo, to eight years in prison for conspiracy and money laundering. By the Court verdict, he was also to refund a sum of $975,863 to the multiple victims of his escapades. According to the United States Attorney’s office, the 38-year-old Morakinyo conspired with one Lukman Aminu to create illegal accounts for participants on the online portal of the Texas Employees Retirement System. It was contained in the court’s document that the duo had used bank deposit information in the system to re-route pension payments to accounts controlled by Aminu. The U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman had also ordered that Morakinyo be placed on three years of supervised release after completing his prison term. Aminu, charged in a separate indictment, was sentenced on December 18, 2019, to 51 months in prison.
In reaction to the verdict, the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS CI) Special Agent in Charge Richard Goss of the Houston Field Office, had commented that: “Today’s sentencing of Olumide Morakinyo highlights how seriously IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS CI) and our law enforcement partners take the issue of identity theft. We will continue to pursue those criminals who prey on innocent victims, stealing their identities to promote tax and other frauds. This sentencing should send a clear message to would-be criminals, that you will be caught and you will be punished.”
Such case as that of the Nigerian fraudster Kingpin, Ramon Abbas, alias Hushpuppi, arrested in June 2020 by Dubai Police and subsequently transfered to the FBI in the US for trials had attracted global concern. In his trials, he had pleaded guilty in the United States. A later unsavoury narrative shot-up when trials revealed how he bribed Nigeria’s celebrated embattled Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari, a whopping sum of $1.1m deal to arrest a co-fraudster.
It would be recalled that another high profile internet fraudster, Obinwanne Okeke, also known as Invictus Obi was on February 17, 2021, jailed for 10 years in the US over a cyber fraud scam that led to the theft of about $11m (£8m). The folk who pleaded guilty of the crime was a more refined fraudster posing as a successful entrepreneur, who had featured on the Forbes 30-under-30 magazine cover, and had once spoken at the London School of Economics Africa Summit and lauded by the BBC as a “rising star.” Invictus Obi, had used Nigerian-based companies to defraud people in the US. His companies used phishing emails to steal funds from victims.
In its internet crime report released in March 2021, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had ranked Nigeria 16th among Countries most affected by internet crime in the world in 2020. According to the report, Nigeria received
443 complaints relating to internet crime in 2020. The Country had featured in the annual reports in 2016 (19th) and 2015 (3rd). The FBI had said victims of such scams globally lost $4.2 billion in 2020, compared to $3.5 billion lost in 2019. The top five crimes reported include: phishing, non-payment/non-delivery, extortion, personal data breach and identity theft.
The 2020 COVID-19 induced lockdown was observed to have been an instigating factor that gave ample chance to spur more youths into the sharp practice of cyber-crime. The profile of Nigeria’s image in the international realm have continued to wax gross and unbecoming with demeaning impacts on Nigerians in diaspora, among thousands seeking opportunities abroad. The image of any nation remains key to the influence she commands in the international realm of politics. It is therefore essential that the Nigerian Government redirect the course of stemming down the tide of cyber-crime from its nationals.
While the need to strengthen enforcement and the architecture of security on clamping down the networks of cyber-crime is essential, addressing the root factors spurring resort to the illicit estate is sine-qua-non. The subject of the prevailing harsh economy has remained a topical discourse in the analysis of the phenomenon. The rate of unemployment in the Country has been linked by social observers to be responsible to the preponderance of socio-economic escapades which cybercrime fixtures extremely. The grounds of the argument of the extending tentacles of the enterprise have been premised on the heightening of economic conditions characterised with troubling profile of unemployment, inflation and recession, which are believed to be harsh conditions warranting more Nigerians to divert their productive energy to criminal ventures. Other factors as the erosion of social values are subject matters demanding the attention of the Government. Thus, in as much as using force and intelligence to track the network of the escapade for a clampdown is paramount, looking deep to addressing the factors giving ambience of resorts to the phenomenon has become sine qua non for the Nigerian authorities to delve into.