By Williams Oseghale
There is no greater evidence of the monstrous and audacious activities of internet fraudsters, aka yahoo boys, than a trending video where some internet fraudsters are seen, standing on the roof of exotic cars at a popular plaza in Benin City, Edo State and, throwing wads of naira notes into the air. The online comments on this show of shame provide a window into the minds of some young Nigerians who see nothing wrong with such reckless display of wealth, though a few were equally aghast at the obscene spectacle.
Indeed, activities of internet fraudsters have assumed a frightening dimension as they now more daring. Not too long ago, it was a shameful to be identified as a ‘yahoo boy’ and those involved carried out their nefarious activities surreptitiously. But all that has changed as internet fraudsters now operate with impunity and flaunt their ill-gotten wealth and outlandish lifestyles.
Even more worrisome is the support and collaboration some parents provide for their wards and children who are involved in this despicable trade by procuring for them instruments of fraud such as mobile phones, iPads, and laptops.
Some parents go as far as sending their teenage children for apprenticeship, to learn the art of trickery in cyberspace. Recently, a heart-breaking video of an association of yahoo boys’ mothers, wearing asoebi attending an event in a grandiose fashion emerged on the internet, an epitaph of how far we have sunk in values and morals.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, as an agency of government, saddled with the responsibility of curbing economic and financial crimes has been relentless in its drive to stamp out cybercrimes from Nigeria. Under the leadership of Abdulrasheed Bawa, it has upped the ante. This year alone, the Commission has arrested over 1500 internet fraudsters and have so far secured over 900 convictions. Victims of internet fraud have also been restituted through the efforts of the Commission.
Ordinarily, such success should draw commendation and accolades. However, that is not the case as social media influencers and celebrities would rather condemn and castigate the EFCC. They condemn the Commission’s style which they tagged Gestapo-like.
Sadly, most of the accusations hurled at the Commission are grossly exaggerated and sometimes, outright lies contrived to impugn its reputation for reasons that are unclear. Except in the observation of the Covid-19 protocols, officers of the Commission do not mask themselves during operations neither are they hooded in black attires as alleged by one of its accusers. EFCC operatives are noted for their red jackets with EFCC NIGERIA boldly emblazoned at the back.
Even more shocking is the allegation that the Commission break into homes, shot sporadically and manhandles suspects during operations. Though operatives of the agency are often accompanied by armed mobile police officers during operations as security back-up, there has never been a single shooting incident involving the Commission’s operatives.
Significantly, critics of the EFCC may need to be a little circumspect about atrocities ascribed to so-call EFCC operatives. Sadly not all those who parade themselves as operatives of the Commission are truly bonafide detectives of the EFCC. The Commission has severally arrested fraudsters who impersonated its officials in their attempt to give legitimacy to their illicit activities.
A few months ago, some daring fraudsters parading themselves as EFCC operatives, went on a raid in Lagos, brandishing a fake Court Order to confiscate the property of an innocent Nigerian whom they claimed was involved in fraudulent activities. The ‘operatives’ came with a truck meant to convey the properties of the supposed fraudster to ‘EFCC office’. What saved the day, was that the Commission received credible intelligence and swung into action, arresting the fraudsters in the process. If this fraudsters had succeeded, the victim would have been on the social media, condemning the EFCC.
Accusation that the EFCC regularly manhandles suspects is not supported by facts as those who have been arrested by the Commission, whether politically exposed persons or internet fraudsters, can attest to EFCC’s civility. This explains why suspects/defendants and their lawyers often plead with judges to remand them in the Commission’s custody.
From the recent attack on EFCC, it is clear that critics would rather EFCC handle yahoo boys with kid-gloves. It is now common to hear some people calling on the Commission to desist from arresting yahoo boys, claiming that they are not the problem of Nigeria but young men struggling to make a living in a difficult economy. How absurd! Acts of criminality cannot be legitimate or justifiable by whatever reason.
Whichever prism we look at it, EFCC determination to rid the nation of economic and financial crimes is a patriotic duty. And all well-meaning Nigerians must collaborate with the Commission by raising their voices against this malaise. Celebrities and social media influencers should take up the gauntlet to salvage our country from economic and financial crimes rather than deploy their popularity to support the activities of fraudsters. Castigating the EFCC is an unnecessary distraction.
· Williams Oseghale is Head, Public Affairs, Benin Zonal Command of the EFCC.