Thursday, August 22, 2019

RE: Massive International Fraud and Money Laundering Conspiracy

I am very angry tonight.

I have just read the recent press release by the United States Department of Justice detailing how 80 defendants participated in a massive conspiracy to steal millions of dollars through various fraud schemes. I condemn theft and welcome efforts to apprehend and prosecute thieves, so that is not what angers me. I am angry because “most of these 80 defendants are Nigerians”.

I am angry because these people seek to normalize a world where it is okay to steal the hard-earned money of other people and companies. It will never be right to cause other people pain by stealing things that belong to them!

I am angry because these people and others like them make it harder for upstanding Nigerians to do business globally, travel the world easily, and access goods and services citizens of other countries take for granted.

I have had online retailers refuse to sell to me because “we don’t sell to Nigeria under any circumstances”. I had issues opening a bank account as a student in France because I presented a Nigerian passport. I was singled out for additional checks in Kenya – an East-African country – because I was a “young Nigerian man traveling alone”. When I worked in Nigeria, internal auditors would treat us like we were guilty until proven innocent, because “we understand it’s a very corrupt country”. (I am not proud to report that they sometimes found messy things).

These fraudsters make us all look very bad on the world stage.

It doesn’t help that the government’s stance on these things is mostly reactionary. There is no concerted effort to fix the underlying issues, seize control of the narrative, and burnish the country’s image.

There is no point complaining without proffering solutions. While this is not exhaustive, here are a few things I think we should be doing:

  1. Continue fighting financial crime. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should accelerate its efforts to detect financial crime and apprehend criminals. They also need to do better at prosecuting fraudsters, securing jail terms, and recovering ill-gotten wealth. They should also step up the collaboration with foreign crime-fighting agencies. This recent release by the US DOJ would sound very different if it included recognition of (and praise for) the EFCC’s support during the investigations. The EFCC reports a significant number of convictions, but word on the street is that some criminals manage to go free.
  2. Publicize crime-fighting efforts. There is nothing wrong with the EFCC calling press conferences after successful busts (like the ones the US DOJ called to announce this bust). Apart from the ‘name and shame’ effect, it sends a signal to the world that Nigeria will not condone bad behaviour and is serious about fighting crime.
  3. Stop celebrating criminals. Songs such as Maga Don Pay, Yahoo Lawon Oremi, Living Things, Wire Wire, Prayer for the Client, I go chop your dollar, and many others celebrate Advance Fee Fraud and praise fraudsters for their ill-gotten wealth. Many of the lyrics in these songs are frankly shocking. It’s not just in the music. We also need to stop appointing fraudsters to high office or voting for them in elections. (I believe in redemption, so there’s probably some nuance here. I wonder what the constitution says about electing ex-convicts?).
“Omo ase, o lo n to’ro jacky, kuro n’be, To ye ko lo ra lappy. Tete connect, ki iwo na le collect, Ko le rale si Lekki, ko put e for Rent.” - Able God
“Bastard, you’re begging for jacky (Jack Daniels), Leave that place and go get a Laptop (For Yahoo), Connect (Start Yahoo) so you can collect (Money), so you can buy a house in Lekki and put it up for rent." - Translation
It’s such a shame.

Do better Nigeria.

Do better, Nigerians.

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