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America and the 77 Nigerian thieves

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Nigeria made the headlines across the world last week when the American Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested 77 thieves (fraudsters) of Nigerian origins following an investigation that lasted two solid years.

The week before, Invictus Obiwanne the Forbes-listed 35-year-old whiz kid entrepreneur from Nigeria was also busted for fraud. While ‘we were yet speaking’ another list surfaced of some 23 Nigerians awaiting execution in Saudi Arabia for drug-related offenses.

In the midst of these, the story broke of an earnest Echeruo, a Nigerian whose company was bought by Apple for $1 billion! President Muhammadu Buhari in faraway Japan tried to save the day by declaring that the 77 bad eggs are not representative of the Nigerian youth. But as usual, bad news drives away good news. Not many paid attention to the good news. Which was sad. We need good news in Nigeria to cheer us up in this season of fear, worry, and sadness! And we need spin doctors at the international level to change the narrative. We are not all fraudsters. The good guys are more than the bad guys. And that’s the fact.

Immediately I saw the ‘Seventy-seven thieves’ headlines, I remembered a tale from my youth titled ‘Ali Baba and the forty thieves’ with the ‘open sesame’ and ‘close sesame’ tricks! Forty thieves bound together to carry out a deadly plot could be deadly especially if all of them were armed like those domestic terrorists from America who kill off children in American schools, praying Jews in a synagogue, blacks in spirit-filled churches or adults having fun in a clubhouse. Can you imagine a gang of 77 armed robbers bent on having some dollars from their victims? Not funny!

Seventy-seven thieves! The report stated that 77 Nigerians formed a ring that extended from America to Nigeria and London to defraud women of $70 million. Yahoo boys. 419! Guy men. Different names for these miserable worms of humanity who have become an ugly permanent feature of our social lives. Who does not know the Yahoo yahoo boys in Nigeria? Take a walk to Ikoyi Registry and see the trail, represented by a 70year old woman who is madly in love with a 25year old man and has come to conclude nuptials with her beau, smiling sheepishly to the altar. Sometimes the mother of the scoundrel man would be present at the charade. Another ‘mugu’ has fallen into a love trap. How gullible can some women from Europe and America be!

We have always known about 419 criminals in our country. A prosperous-looking Nigerian gets across to some dumb foreigner and offers to sell crude or makes some outlandish proposals to a greedy fellow in the U.S. or wherever. All things look rosy. Sometimes the ‘mugu’ comes into Nigeria and meets fake NNPC officials and returns home convinced that his millions are on the way! His greed lures him into being fleeced by habitual fraudsters. We are told that some of the 419 boys employ black magic to cast a spell on potential victims so that they become playthings. It would seem that our people don’t really mind this type of criminality because the victims are foreigners.

Indeed, I was appalled once when somebody argued that it was our way of getting reparation for the years of plunder which Africa suffered from oyibo people! You know, a sort of retaliation for ‘how Europe underdeveloped Africa’! So, the culture of questioning sudden wealth is no longer fashionable. Too many people have suddenly become wealthy and society celebrates them even without knowing their source of wealth. The yahoo boys have benefitted from this culture.

Of course, there are fraudsters all over the world. That’s the reason the United Kingdom has a Serious Fraud Office and why America has the FBI and other jurisdictions have special units to deal with massive fraud. But some of our boys have taken enough for the owner to notice! Yet, they are not representative of what or who we are. The average Nigerian is not a fraudster.

Another dimension to the bad week of bad news was ‘ethnicizing’ the crime. Some were of the view that a particular ethnic group was notorious in the 419 business because the FBI list was dominated by persons from the southeast. Others were quick to point out that the Saudi Arabia list was dominated by names from the southwest. Crime has no ethnic coloration. It would seem to me that these criminals operate in gangs or rings and anybody from any ethnic group or any race for that matter could get involved. The boys who are arrested in the Far East are also from certain ethnic groups. Yet they are Nigerians and have done a lot of damage to our image.

By the way, the circulating Trevor Noah video of a Nigerian prince who is a scammer is very instructive - he is a white American named Matthew Neu who has scammed ‘every grandmother in Florida!  Although Bernard Madoff is serving a 150-year sentence, his fraudulent Ponzi scheme deprived investors almost $65 billion.

We seem to lack the will to thoroughly deal with the yahoo boys because of the pervasive culture of sudden wealth. If parents, community and religious leaders reject monies from these fraudsters there would be less attractive to yahoo! These boys and girls are everywhere and are known in families and communities. You just need to spend a weekend in a middle-level hotel in some of our major cities and you would see how these vagabonds display filthy wealth. Sometimes the police swoop on them. They also get routinely arrested but within the twinkle of an eye, they are let off the hook after ‘settling’ the appropriate authorities. How many yahoo boys have been jailed by Nigerian courts?

Scamming as an international enterprise has given Nigeria a bad name. Out there the perception is that we are a nation of scammers. The politicians scam the people and the people scam foreigners. But we need a massive intervention by the state security to decisively deal with the scourge. The time is now. Naming and shaming in the communities should also be considered though one is worried that some of the so-called traditional rulers were once active yahoo yahoo kings! Will the soiled fingers did not point in their direction?


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