The menace of internet fraud across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, has become so widespread and damaging that it has become a major preoccupation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the past few years. Aside ruining their victims economically, the illicit business has also earned the country a bad international image. In this report, STEPHEN OLUFEMI ONI examines the menace in Kwara State and efforts of the Ilorin Zonal Command of the anti-graft agency in curtailing it
Internet fraud, popularly known as Yahoo Yahoo in Nigerian parlance, has become a cankerworm and so endemic that it has given the country a bad international image. Curiously, these Yahoo Yahoo boys, who are desperate and hungry for quick money, no matter how they get it, are highly proficient and versed at scamming unsuspecting members of the public of their hard earned money, making people, especially foreigners, to be wary and skeptical in transacting any business with Nigerians. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and so it is not therefore surprising that with each passing day, the sophistication of these young boys in the illicit business is on the increase.
It is lamentable and regrettable too, that despite the daily clampdown on their activities by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the destructive and illicit business has continued to thrive and rise so phenomenally across the length and breadth of Nigeria, particularly in state capitals, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and major cities in the country.
As a result of the nefarious activities of the fraudsters, mostly in their teens, not a few unsuspecting and gullible locals and foreigners alike, have fallen prey to their antics and were subsequently defrauded of varying amount of money, both in local and hard currencies. Incidentally, many of these boys indulging in this illicit business belong to the generation of young Nigerians that witnessed, and are still witnessing, the shameless and massive plundering and looting of the citizens’ common patrimony by a few individuals, both in high and low places with impunity and without dire consequences in most cases.
Sadly, even when such culprits are arrested, arraigned and convicted by the Court of law, the judgment handed down to them amounted to just a slap on the wrist, especially the high profile convicts. A particular case in point is the court judgment on former Governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion, who though was convicted for defrauding the state he governed of humongous sums of money was only asked to refund a paltry sum to the coffers of the Edo State government following the plea bargain he entered into with the EFCC.
This is not to talk of the presidential pardon granted the jailed ex-Governors of Plateau and Taraba states, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame respectively, for also defrauding their states when they held sway as helmsmen. What moral lesson do we expect other Nigerians, especially the youths to learn from this ‘un-presidential’ action, if not to goad them on to go ahead and defraud, get arrested, convicted and jailed with the mindset of enjoying their loot after they might have also received presidential pardon from the next government, just as President Muhammadu Buhari now did? So, seeing this kind of scenario, these youths might have erroneously concluded in their minds that fraud is the surest pathway of enriching themselves, hence their resort to cybercrime and combing the cyberspace for ‘clients’, with incalculable damage to the citizenry and the nation at large.
The menace of fraud
in Kwara As a matter of fact, Kwara State, like other states of the federation, has had its own fair share of public opprobrium, as the state is often in the news, for the wrong reasons, of massive arrests and prosecutions of these unscrupulous elements, almost on daily basis, by the Ilorin Zonal Command of the EFCC, resulting in convictions and various jail terms for most of the arrested Yahoo Yahoo boys. This is aside recovery from them of humongous sums of money, different brands of exotic cars, and working tools which included laptops, phones, software for hacking, among other incriminating items.
Operatives of the anti-graft agency in Ilorin Zonal Command with Kwara State as its headquarter, checks by this medium confirmed, are doing a yeoman’s job to nip the activities of Yahoo Yahoo boys not only in Kwara State, but also the zone, in the bud.
The medium also gathered that attempts by some suspects to compromise the operatives with huge sums of money so that they (operatives) could cover their tracks and leave them off the hook were rebuffed by the operatives. In fact, the fear of EFCC has now become the beginning of wisdom for Yahoo boys not only in Kwara State but also in the zone. In one fell swoop on September 19, 2021, operatives of the Ilorin Zonal Command of the EFCC arrested a whopping 30 suspected internet fraudsters in a sting operation at the Kwara State University (KWASU), Malete. According to the Head, Media and Publicity of the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, the suspects were arrested following actionable intelligence on their alleged involvement in internet-related fraudulent activities, adding that: “Based on the intelligence, and weeks of surveillance, operatives of the Commission on September 19, 2021 executed a search warrant in hostels within the KWASU campus, where a number of arrests were made.
“In the course of interrogation, those found not culpable were released to the Student Union Government (SUG) of the school, while the targets of the sting operation were brought to the Ilorin Zonal Command for further questioning. “Items recovered from them included six exotic cars, several laptops, mobile phones and other incriminating documents.”
Prior to the arrests made by the Commission at KWASU, and even thereafter, it had been one arrest after another of the Yahoo boys in the capital city of Ilorin, making a number of these boys to relocate to Offa in Offa Local Government Area of the state. Yet, they are being smoked out of their hideouts by the eagle-eyed operatives of the EFFC, culminating in the February 17, 2022 arrest of another whopping 29 persons at different locations in Offa for their alleged involvement in internet and other related fraudulent activities. The arrests, EFCC disclosed, followed credible intelligence received by the Command on the activities of the suspects, while items recovered from them included mobile phones, laptops and a number of exotic cars.
Beside series of arrests effected on the Yahoo Yahoo boys by the Ilorin Zonal Command of the EFCC, several of them that were prosecuted for varied offences by the EFCC in the courts of law were convicted and imprisoned for various terms. Regrettably, in spite of all these efforts by the EFCC to stem the tide of the menace, Yahoo Yahoo business appears not to have subsided, though the boys have not been given any breathing space to freely operate as they hitherto did by the anti-graft agency. To confirm how deep rooted these boys are in this dirty game, there was a particular case of an ex-convict, Joshua Ajayi Oluwatobi, 29, who was sent back to prison for cyber fraud on November 29, 2021 by Justice Mahmud Abdulgafar of the Kwara State High Court sitting in Ilorin.
He had earlier been convicted for same offence by Justice Sikiru Oyinloye of the Kwara State High Court sitting in Ilorin sometime in June 2020. Who could have imagined that Oluwatobi after spending his term at the Mandala Correctional Centre would still go back to the same crime that took him to prison earlier? But alas, Oluwatobi went back to his vomit and was again arrested by operatives of the EFCC who arraigned him in court for justice to take its course. Unfortunately, on November 29, 2021, he was again convicted and sent back to prison. Oluwarobi is not alone in this category, there are several others of his ilk.
EFCC and various fraud challenges
To the EFCC, however, internet fraud is not peculiar to Kwara State, saying the menace has remained a challenge in several parts of the country and across the globe. The EFCC added that what is important is that the agency is unrelenting in its enforcement activities, leading to several arrests, prosecutions and convictions.
It stated that it would not be business as usual for anyone caught engaging in the unwholesome act. “The mandate of the Commission is to fight economic and financial crimes. And if you relate this to our mission in Kwara State, the objective is to stamp out all forms of economic and financial crimes from the zone. This is our commitment and we are resolute not to allow Kwara to become a safe haven for criminals.
That is why the Ilorin Zonal Command is engaging all stakeholders in ensuring that there is no hiding place for cyber fraudsters in Kwara State,” Head & Publicity of the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren said. However, the EFCC spokesman lamented that the society has been too lukewarm to the campaign by the Commission, saying the lust for material wealth is on the increase, as well as moral decadence. He said: “People don’t care about how you make your money, whether by hook or crook. Society celebrates the corrupt and frustrates the righteous. I think we need an attitudinal change. “We will continue to strengthen our advocacy programmes to make the people own the fight against economic and financial crimes, especially in the three states of Kwara, Kogi and Ekiti that make up the Ilorin Command of the Commission. “The challenge posed by the activities of internet fraudsters is worrisome, but not insurmountable.
The Commission is leaving no stone unturned to curb its spread. With the focus on intelligence-led investigations, the Commission will remain a step ahead of the fraudsters. This is even as we continue to press ahead with the aggressive sensitisation campaign to re-orientate the youths against acts of criminality.” On the upping of their illicit business from Yahoo Yahoo to Yahoo Plus which involves ritual killings, Uwujaren said: “This is one development that calls for concern. Unfortunately, matters of killing for rituals are not within the purview of the EFCC.
We can only implore the public to cooperate with the relevant law enforcement agencies in dealing with issues of killings for rituals in the society.” Uwujaren, however, admonished the youths to shun all acts of criminality, including corruption, and imbibe the virtues of hard work and honesty to make the country great and avoid running into troubled waters, while also urging them to enlist as anti-corruption crusaders for the good of the country. Kwara State government has also expressed worry about the rising trend of cybercrime among the youths in the state, while pledging its readiness to collaborate with the EFCC in tackling head on the menace of cybercrime among the youths in the state. State Commissioner for Youth Development, Hon. Adenike Afolabi- Oshatimehin, who disclosed this during a courtesy visit to the Ilorin Zonal Command of the EFCC, particularly expressed worry over a report which, she said, rated Kwara State as number three state with the highest number of fraudsters in the country, saying the narrative must change. Commending the efforts of the Commission in sanitising the state, she said: “The consequences of cybercrime is perilous to individuals engaging in it, damaging to the victims and it is capable of destroying the image of a state or the entire nation. “The youths have the potential to transform the state and the nation to a better society, given the right orientation.
I, therefore, admonish the Commission to further strengthen its advocacy and sensitisation programmes because prevention is the most effective way of winning the fight against corruption. “We all know that youths are the leaders of tomorrow. Aside the fact that they are critical stakeholders in the fight against corruption, they are also crucial to the socioeconomic advancement of any society. This was the reason Governor, Abdul- Rahman AbdulRasaq felt that we should focus attention on how best to reorient and develop our youths to make them responsible citizens.
“The Ministry is looking at how we can collaborate with the EFCC on advocacy programmes across the three states of Kwara, Ekiti and Kogi covered by the Command. We are also looking at organising seminars and workshops in partnership with the Commission, to make the anti-corruption messages far-reaching and impactful.” In his remarks, Commander, Ilorin Zonal Command of the EFCC, Usman Muktar, enumerated some of the preventive measures adopted by the Commission in the fight against corruption, including advocacy visits, sensitisation campaigns, workshops/seminars, road walks, engagements with relevant stakeholders and establishment of EFCC Anticorruption Clubs as well as EFCC/NYSC Integrity Clubs in secondary and tertiary institutions across the country.
“While not relenting in its efforts at engaging relevant stakeholders within the states under our Zonal Command, we are also not losing sight of the enforcement of relevant laws which is another strong pillar of our mandate. Recently, the management of the EFCC led by Abdulrasheed Bawa launched EFCC strategic Plan 2021 – 2025, which among other things aimed at increasing public engagement in the fight against economic and financial crimes as well as improving intelligence driven investigation, prosecution and assets recovery,” Muktar said.
Curbing the menace
An Ilorin-based analyst, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, rued the rising tide of internet fraud in the state, blaming it on a number of factors, including poverty, idleness of the youths arising from joblessness and lackadaisical attitudes of some parents. He said: “Internet fraud is becoming rampant in Kwara State because of the idleness of the youths as a result of joblessness. Another factor is the inadequate monitoring of the youths by their parents or guardians. The situation is worse when these young men live far away from their parents.
“Poverty at the family level can also make some parents to look the other way when their children/wards take to internet fraud. Such parents see such youths as God-sent to deliver them from abject poverty. Illiteracy and/or ignorance of the parents are another factor that encourages the youths to get involved in the illegal and immoral get-rich-quick syndrome. The indefinite closure of Nigeria’s public universities owing to ASUU strike is equally responsible for internet fraud by the youths, as the devil finds work for an idle hand.”
To solve the internet fraud quagmire, the analyst stressed the need for the governments at all levels to make genuine and sincere efforts to boost youth employment through the reactivation of moribund industries, such as the textile industries, adding that mechanised farming should be encouraged with financial assistance to the youths by the government and the private sector. He, however, added that the menace of herdsmen and general insecurity in the country must be tamed if the young and productive population of Nigeria is to engage in farming.
In addition, he urged parents, religious organisations and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), among others, to organise programmes for the youths on the evils and negative effects of internet fraud, stressing that the law enforcement agents should not collude with the fraudsters by taking gratification from them, as doing so, he reckoned, would not discourage the internet fraudsters.
“However, the handling of the fraudsters must not be brutish. Psychological and sociological rehabilitation of these fraudsters is the way out of internet fraud,” he admonished. In her submission, a resident, Mrs Helen Akande, said the number of arrests in Kwara State is relatively high compared to other states because of the uncompromising attitude of the operatives of the Ilorin Zonal Command of the EFCC. She said: “Internet fraudsters thrive in most states mostly because they have warmed themselves into the hearts of some operatives of the EFCC who are supposed to be their albatross.
Only few of these operatives can resist the huge amount of money given to them as bribe by the Yahoo Yahoo boys and thus they look the other way while the boys continue their illicit business. “However, the above submission seems not to be the case in Kwara State because the EFCC operatives here in Kwara, through diligence and uncompromising attitude, are relentless in their pursuits of these young fraudsters. They refuse to be compromised. This is not to say that there are no bad eggs among them, but they are very negligible.
“The dire economic situation in the country has turned some children to breadwinners of their families. This brings us to the role of the parents in this illicit business. It is sad that some parents encourage their children and also give them support morally and at times spiritually. The whole thing is very unfortunate. Parents who are supposed to be guiding lights to their children now aid them in the illicit business. Truly, things are hard in the country right now and some families can hardly eat three square meals in a day, thus they hardly complain when their children bring home proceeds of this illicit business.
They have forgotten that all that glitter is not gold and when the long arm of the law catches them, the consequences may be devastating.” Internet fraud, according to Edward Bamidele, is rampant among youths these days all over the country, not only in Kwara State, because many youths are idle due to incessant strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the get-rich-quick syndrome.
He said: “Most of them see internet fraud as a quick means of making money, because of the large rate of unemployment in our society. Even some parents are not left out, they encourage their kids in the fraudulent acts and some even go as far as seeking protection for them.” He lamented that internet fraud thrives such that those who toil in normal work are derided and looked down upon, adding that it’s sad that, “our society is only concerned about the glitz and glamour of the good life, rather than the source of that wealth.