Fighting thriving cybercrimes in Nigeria

Young men use the internet at a cyber cafe
Copyright: Jacob Silberberg / Panos

Speed read

  • Cybercrimes make Nigeria lose almost US$450 million a year
  • Experts say Boko Haram and increased access to ICT are aiding cybercrimes
  • A new law and other efforts by governments are helping to address the issue

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Alex Abutu identifies the reasons for increased cybercrime in Nigeria and efforts to curb the canker.

A Swedish couple arrived at Lagos on 8 March this year with the aim of taking over an oil company in which they had invested about US$3 million through an offer on the internet.
Officials of the Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (CIID) of Nigeria Police Force were helpless in how to assist the crying couple after they had narrated how they learnt of the lucrative offer on the internet and decided to invest their retirement savings in it.
The CIID in cities such as Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt are often inundated with different cases related to what has become popular in Nigeria as 419 or Nigerian Letter.

The Nigerian Letter or 419

In many countries, the term Nigerian Letter connotes a beautifully crafted letter either soliciting for investment or partnership to transfer funds from a wealthy father’s account due to hard government stand on how their parents acquired the wealth.

“Young boys in secondary and higher educational institutions now see the internet as an opportunity to make money [through fraudulent practices],”

Oko Johnson, Federal University of Technology, Minna, Nigeria

In some instances, the scammers go as far as claiming that they are the children of Nigeria’s late military rulers such as Sani Abacha (who was accused of stealing millions of dollars from government coffers during his reign) and that they are interested in moving huge sums of money from their father’s hidden account to an off-shore account to avoid government officials tracing it.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the 419 business was only restricted to Lagos and the exclusive preserve of those who had access to the internet or those who have networks with friends or relations outside the shores of Nigeria.
But with the liberalisation of the communication sector by government and increased access to the internet, and coupled with the public display of affluence by the scammers, 419 has become so attractive that most young graduates in Nigeria cities spend many hours daily on the internet subtly crafting one trick or the other with the aim of luring innocent and unsuspecting members of the public, especially foreigners.

 Why the increase

A workshop organised by the National Information Technology Development Agency in March this year to build capacity of the media in addressing cybercrimes has heard that Nigeria loses 89.55 billion naira (almost US$450 million) a year.
Oscar Ekponimo, a cybersecurity expert based in Nigeria, tells SciDev.Net that a common form of cybercrime in Nigeria include social engineering for money fraud.
Ekponimo adds that cybercrime is steadily on the increase in Nigeria in recent times, with the advent of mobile penetration partly because over 60 per cent of the Nigerian population have access to mobile phones, and about 65 million people use the internet users.
Ekponimo explains that increased mobile penetration and internet use make cyberspace a valuable arena for the value exchange of goods and services for monetary compensation, but such use also fuels cybercrime.
The cyber criminals in Nigeria have also taken advantage of the Boko Haram insurgency to defraud unsuspecting international organisations and individuals who are sending in aids in support of the victims of the terrorists attacks.   
The criminals set up websites soliciting for help on behalf of the victims.

Combating cybercrimes

In efforts aimed at curbing cybercrimes, the Nigerian government introduced certain measures such as Nigerian Cybercrimes Bill that became law — and thus a key policy — on 15 May, 2015.  The new law provides for the prohibition, prevention, detection, response, investigation and prosecution of cybercrimes; and for other related matters [1].  
It is an elaborate policy insulating Nigerians from unscrupulous elements who use the internet to defraud the unsuspecting individual and organisations.

Ekponimo cites the setting up in 2014 of the computer emergency response teams by the government to handle cybersecurity incidents and the inauguration of a cybercrimes advisory council as part of government overall efforts in combating cybercrimes in the country.
Oko Johnson, a final year, computer science student at the Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State in Nigeria, says that the internet offered a lot of opportunities.
“But how these opportunities are used is what government need to seriously address as young boys in secondary and higher educational institutions now see the internet as an opportunity to make money [through fraudulent practices].”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.