The Hushpuppi, Woodberry cases

THERE is no doubting the fact that fraud rings have become a pandemic in the country. While the embarrassment was largely confined to its shores before now, an international dimension has been introduced in recent times. First was the arrest in August last year of Obinwanne Okeke, Chief Executive Officer of the Invictus Group, popularly known as Invictus Obi. Okeke had acquired fame  internationally when, in 2016, he made Forbes magazines Africa Under-30 billionaire List. However, he was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) for alleged conspiracy to commit computer fraud at the Dulles International Airport, on his way out of the United States. The charge was that between April 11 to April 19, 2018, through hacking into the email account of the Chief Financial Officer of Unatrac Holding Limited, which deals in heavy industrial and farm equipment, he had stolen the sum of $11 million.

A few weeks ago, Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, also known as Ray Hushpuppi and his accomplice, Olalekan Jacob Ponle, known as Woodberry, were arrested by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) police on allegations of multiple cyber-heists. According to the Dubai police, the raid on their residence led to the confiscation of incriminating documents showing a planned fraud in the neighbourhood of $435 million. Items confiscated from them included more than $40 million cash, 13 luxury cars valued at $6.8 million, 21 computer devices, 47 smartphones, 15 memory sticks and five hard disks containing 119,580 fraud files and the addresses of 1,926,400 potential victims. The duo were later extradited to the United States. Abbas, who has been arraigned before the United States District Court for the Central District of California, is facing criminal charges bordering on conspiracy to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in business email compromise (BEC) frauds, as well as allied scams. Upon conviction, he stands the risk of a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in a federal prison. The FBI alleged that from October 15, 2019, and continuing through at least October 17, 2019, in the county of Los Angeles, in the Central District of California, and elsewhere, the defendant conspired to launder proceeds fraudulently obtained from a law firm.

The upscale in the number of Nigerians involved in computer frauds has led to a serious image crisis for Nigerians living abroad. For instance, A Dubai-based company, Shirley Recruitment Consultants, was said to have barred Nigerians from its recently advertised recruitment of merchandisers. While the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) seem to be adequately combating this menace at home, the resurgence of these crimes abroad should bother the government and Nigerians. The upsurge has the potential to further worsen the challenges faced by Nigerians engaged in lawful activities all over the world. It is already a problem that the mere mention of the country’s name in international transactions raises a red flag, giving the impression that the person involved is a criminal. Sadly, efforts to conduct legitimate international transactions will be further hampered by this stereotype.

The Nigerian government must rev up efforts targeted at recognising excellence, hard work and honesty. This can be done through hiking governments reward system for persons of proven exemplary conduct, so that there would be a huge traffic on the road to uprightness. The National Orientation Agency (NOA) must also wake up from its slumber. It should embark on country-wide sensitization of Nigerians on the need to be counted on the side of righteousness, while outlining the suicidal route that criminal activities pose to perpetrators. Again, the government must, through its policies, step up efforts to provide jobs for the millions of graduates churned out by the countrys higher institutions. Joblessness is a sure recipe for involvement in criminal activities. There are too many young idle hands in the country which the devil is recruiting into his invidious workshop. This must be blocked, and urgently too, if the country must flatten the rising curve of scam in and out its shores.

Also, Nigerian families must re-engineer their modes of engagements and return to the value-laden operations of the past. The truth is that values have escaped from individual families and the love of money has taken over their thinking processes. When Nigerian homes stop seeing money as an ultimate that must be obtained by hook or crook and government convinces the people that it is working for their good, it will be very close to getting redemption for the country, home and abroad.

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