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Nigeria has a narrative problem

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Nigerians generally get a bad reputation for cyber crime around the world. However, are they really t
 
August 20 · Issue #56 · View online
iAfrikan Daily Brief
Nigerians generally get a bad reputation for cyber crime around the world. However, are they really the main culprits globally? - Tefo Mohapi

Over the past few days people on social media, especially in Nigeria, have been abuzz about the news that Obinwanne Okeke, better known as “Invictus Obi” as he is the Founder of Nigeria’s Invictus Group, was arrested by the USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). The charges: conspiracy to commit computer fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
What makes the arrest even more interesting is not only the fact that the 31-year-old’s company apparently has companies in a wide variety of industries including oil and gas, agriculture, and telecommunications, to name but a few; it is also that in 2016, Forbes had him on their list of 30 under 30 most promising African entrepreneurs to look out for. This has since raised suspicions about how Forbes researches its lists.
However, I digress.
Just in December 2018, Obinwanne Okeke was one of the renowned speakers at TEDxYaba in Lagos, Nigeria. This is even more curious considering that several months earlier, during April 2018, he had allegedly (according to the FBI) illegally siphoned off $11 million from Unatrac Holdings Limited using a phishing e-mail and illegal access to the CFO's e-mail account. Source: Invictus Group
Now, the news of Okeke’s arrest (or rather revelation of his arrest considering he was arrested on 6 August 2019) have set many tongues wagging in Nigeria’s technology ecosystem and even the broader African technology ecosystem at large. The story has also raised the perennial topic which led to me penning (I actually do write the newsletter down using a pen and paper first) this newsletter - cybercrime, and fraud being associated with Nigerians.
Looking at various reports and statistics regarding cybercrime, cybersecurity and various social engineering incidents around the world, it won’t take you long to realize that Nigerians don’t feature among the top cyber criminals in the world. This is both in as far as the money value of the cases is concerned as well the number of incidents. In fact, Nigeria does not even feature in the “Economic Impact of Cybercrime— No Slowing Down” 2018 report released by McAfee and the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
One of the key pieces of evidence that led to Okeke being positively identified as the individual behind the phishing scam and fraud was his Instagram account. Source: FBI
So, given that Nigeria and Nigerians are not the top culprits of cyber crime globally why is it that every time we hear of a Nigerian involved in cyber crime we are generally not surprised and are quick to exclaim “419!” or “Yahoo-Yahoo!”?
“More than $5 billion has been stolen through these attacks since 2015. The FBI reports that 22,000 businesses worldwide have been victims of business email compromise.” - Economic Impact of Cybercrime— No Slowing Down
I argue that it all has to do with narratives and Nigeria not having reclaimed its narrative and letting the cyber crime narrative run wild for too long. If you look at Nigeria’s technology ecosystem and Nigerians in the diaspora working in the digital technology sector in various countries around the world, you will realize that there is more (dollar) value they are contributing to the tech world compared to the Yahoo-Yahoo narrative. I also observed this Nigerian cybercrime narrative bias when iAfrikan published a story on the FBI arresting an elderly American man (67 years old Michael Neu), with less melanin than the average Nigerian has, for pretending to be a Nigerian prince via e-mail and charged for over 200 counts of wire fraud and money laundering. Not a single person reacting to that article generalized or even alluded that “look, typical American fraudster!” As all crimes should be treated, Michael Neu’s case was treated on its merits and Neu seen as a criminal but not as a representative of Americans in general. The same bias is evident when Nigerians and Indians committed India’s largest cyber crime recently, most reports highlighted the Nigerians involvement.
As such, the only conclusion I can reach is that the positive narrative of Nigerians in the tech sector is not being told well or consistently enough to make everyone realize that yes, Nigerians do commit cybercrimes, but they are actually not the main culprits of global cybercrime, in fact, they are contributing more positive to the world of tech than bad.
Don’t get me wrong, Nigeria does have a cybercrime issue to deal with as witnessed by the regular arrests made by the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). As Oludayo Tade writes after doing some research about Yahoo Boys in Nigeria, most of them are young, unemployed and undergraduates. More importantly, they seem to be demoralized about unemployment.
“It is no surprise that there is a proliferation of “Yahoo Boys”. The celebration of wealth, particularly among politicians, serves to motivate the involvement of the youths in cyber-crime. Nigerian society celebrates wealth without questioning the source of the money. So what do these young, undergraduate Nigerians do under these circumstances? They see a leadership that doesn’t care about their future. And they use their education to follow the example set by their elders that shows crime pays.” - Oludayo Tade, Meet the “Yahoo Boys”
However, as I’ve tried to illustrate, Nigerians are not the main culprits of cybercrime around the world. Not by any stretch of any of the available facts. What needs to happen, in my opinion, is someone (or a group of people) needs to make it their responsibility to constantly shape the narrative around Nigeria and its contribution to tech around the world. It won’t be easy but well worth it.
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