FBI’s indictment of 77 Nigerians

WHEN it rains, it pours. Nigeria was once again on the spot recently with the indictment of 77 of its nationals by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on account of alleged internet fraud. This came on the heels of the arrest of the Forbes-rated young Nigerian billionaire, Invictus Okeke, by the FBI over a similar offence. This is yet another blight on Nigeria and a confirmation of how Nigerians are finding it hard to escape the corruption in the country. Expectedly, there was an outpouring of national outrage over the indictment. This is somewhat hypocritical because the Nigerian society is inherently corrupt. What these crooks are doing is a reflection of the heists they see the elite engaging in. Civil and public servants as well as their close associates constitute the privileged class in the country. This is evident from their flamboyant lifestyles in and out of office which cannot be accounted for by their legitimate earnings. Unfortunately, the government’s strategy for fighting graft is defective as it continues to make room for fraud while it eliminates economic opportunities.  One of the consequences of such turn of events is what is happening now. Regrettably, the desperate and the morally weak tend to take to crimes, not only to survive, but also to join in the unabashed display of wealth by the elite.

To be sure, crimes, especially sleaze, can hardly be rationalised under any guise, but good governance is a must in order to reduce the spate of economic hardships that tend to predispose some citizens to engaging in criminal activities. We note and commend the government’s quick response to this unsavoury development. However, we hasten to urge that beyond its sanctimonious reaction to what has happened, there should be deliberate official efforts to make life endurable for Nigerians. Indeed, there is the need for official acknowledgement that life is truly unbearable for many a Nigerian with a view to doing something concrete to ameliorate the situation and  stem the tide of consequential indiscretions among the youths. Mere self-exculpation can hardly do that. The point we are making is that while it is off beam to continue to  blame poverty and frustration  for the spike in fraud and other criminal activities by the youths, the government has a duty to  conduct its affairs in a manner that does not tempt its citizens to take to crime.

Ironically, amidst the unfortunate development, the country and in particular the security agencies have an important take-away. The FBI spent months studying and monitoring the alleged fraudsters; it did not harass the suspects on the roads or hotels. It was after a painstaking investigation that it charged the suspects to court for cybercrimes. This approach differs from Nigeria’s style where security agencies flag down cars and forcefully check young men’s phones, bank accounts and messages on their social media accounts on the roads, all with the sole aim of extorting money from their victims. And there have been instances of disastrous consequences for victims who failed to cooperate with the errant security officials. Perhaps the country would not have been the cynosure of all eyes, albeit for the wrong reasons, at the world stage if its security agents had operated like the professionals in the FBI.

It is rather painful that at a time when the country’s economy is tottering and help is needed locally and internationally to prop it up, its reflection in the global arena is plummeting because of the actions of the 77 indicted persons. The consequences of this state of affairs are calamitous, even though the image of the country is already impaired: members of the civilised societies are bound to deal with Nigerian businessmen and women with caution, and young Nigerians going abroad to study or better their lives will face a herculean task persuading officials of foreign embassies that they are not potential cybercriminals. Nigerians would suffer extreme vetting, delay and other inconveniences at airports. Worse still, citizens of foreign countries who are already attacking Nigerians, killing, maiming, destroying and robbing them of their properties will now become more emboldened in their resolve to continue the dastardly acts.

Sadly, even though it would not have justified their illegal and morally reprehensible acts, these fraudsters seldom invest the proceeds of crime in the productive activities within the domestic economy. Their motivation for fleecing foreigners and Nigerians of their hard-earned money is to lavish it on alcohol, drugs, prostitutes, night clubs, hotels, parties and so on. They display inexplicable affluence to the disdain of their discerning compatriots and to the envy of unsuspecting Nigerians. The rearrangement of the patently warped societal values has thus become imperative. The claim that the actions of the few criminals do not represent the values of Nigeria and Nigerians, which President Muhammadu Buhari also echoed  recently in Yokohama, Japan, should not be made without a caveat. The values being referred to are the old ideals which the society has jettisoned by its tolerance and accommodation of criminals. For instance, there is a preponderance of obscene display of wealth, especially by a few who cannot account for their sudden affluence, yet the society is culpable of conspiratorial silence or unabashed worship of rich criminals.

There is virtual absence of a sense of shame for actions that diminish the society as a member of the human community. The social order has literally collapsed. A society can hardly escape the embarrassment and the consequences of the actions of its members if it fails to impress it on them that there are ways to access wealth, comfort and happiness outside of criminality.