Advanced Fee Fraud in Nigeria is like an Abiku phenomenon – a mystery of multiple births and deaths – a child and mother debacle – a multifarious but single journey of life- of death, and the bond that connects two extremes, a journey beyond realms; a cycle of one’s pains, losses and sufferings, and another’s perverted joys; the phenomenon of a child’s repeated journeys through the same portal – in savage lust for a life that seeks satiation only in its own untimely death and its mother’s torture. The topical question however is at what point in this gristly cycle of life and death do both torturer and victim begin to look forward to their convoluted but interwoven pathways of life and death- at the crossroads of twisted joys? Are we finally at the crossroads of twisted joys in the saga involving the Motherland and its Abiku Child- Advanced Fee Fraud?
Perpetrators of Advanced Fee Fraud A.K.A ‘419’ have generously donated a bogus image to Nigeria; it is such a travesty that a Nigerian Nation which has produced some of the world’s finest in almost every field of human endeavour could only be ‘eulogized’ as “a Nation of Marvelous Scammers” by US Secretary of State General Colin Powell. The truth be told, as much as one cringes from the angst of such a tag, it does reflect a universal perception of Nigerians, which I might add would still persist until this misplaced acuity is tackled and effectively addressed.
Despite the ranting and posturing of the Federal Government on Fraud and Corruption, ‘419’ remains ever pervasive and continues to smear our corporate and national image both at home and abroad. It is quirky that few individuals who decided to deploy the mechanics of a Nigerian mind as a device set to beat any system any where in the world have baptized a Nation of very hardworking and responsible people with a stigma; an odious identity, which rubbishes every dint of hardwork by well meaning Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora.
Advanced Fee Fraud is a crime predicated on greed- greed of both fraudster and his victim; it feeds on the greed of the victim and feeds the greed of the fraudster. The fraudster has a thousand lives and a thousand aliases. He is mechanical, hard calculating and cold blooded. Often a charming monster, he has panache and is debonair. Most are well educated, others are not. The fraudster is no ordinary criminal, but a flesh and blood automaton, equipped with all the acute sensory faculties to make his ‘kill’. He can ‘smell’ the greed of his quarry- the victim of course is but a greedy gullible fool. The Internet is the latest hunting ground. The victim is processed thoroughly; with collusion from fraudulent NIPOST and sometimes bank officials the deal is sealed. Soon the chase down begins- letters from top government functionaries promising mouth-watering remunerations for the convenience of YOUR bank account to help spirit away ill-gotten loot, of course acquiescence to these spurious offers translates to YOUR bank account being cleaned out.
What excuse could one proffer for falling prey to such ruse? Hmmm! Let’s think! The correspondence was with an official government letter head? Think again, you can buy those a penny for a dozen at the backstreets of Oshodi. You were ushered into the vaunted halls of NNPC where you met with a certain Alhaji (Dr.) Isiaku Okoro who is a nephew of the Nigerian CBN Governor-General? Let’s get serious, the answer is greed; pure breathing greed; because each time we fall victim we forget our part in the crime- the catch has always been a fast break, easy money, at the expense of a long suffering nation. Just remember anytime you angle for such a fast break, you might just be IT.
In the aftermath of a successful hunting season the fraudster builds palatial mansions, buys exotic and quite expensive cars, stocks a wardrobe full of designer wears and watches. The fraudster is the Prince of dreams; his is a gilded world- the phantasmagoric realm of the Azaros of Ben Okri’s ‘The Famished Road‘. The fraudster is ruthless in his sordid display of ill-gotten wealth. Some pride themselves as a modern day Robin Hood- feeding the poor and helping their impoverished communities, and of course, they receive numerous accolades and chieftaincy titles for their pains.
We covet this life of infinite riches. We idolize those who live such lives, and as such 419 has become our Abiku child, enjoying a continuous cycle of rebirth despite the various regimes and their antics on how to curtail this most pervasive societal malaise. We thus have lent a tacit assent to our degradation in the comity of nations.
Enter a certain Nuhu Ribadu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) appointed to head one of President Obasanjo’s babies; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). ACP Ribadu gained my attention in 2001 during that National Soap Opera also known as ‘The Oputa Panel.’ Apart from his trendy suits (maybe he was dressed for the occasion, having seen the event for what it really was; a grand hoax destined for our national archives of wasteful expenditures) he offered almost nothing (though he was all in our faces in his various appearances in the multifarious suits, which involved The Nigerian Police, one came away with the impression that he was a brash loud mouth). So granted that ACP Ribadu has foresight (I believe I have already given a reason for this assumption) how he has brought that to bear on the EFCC, given the onerous tasks bequeathed on him as its leader remains to be seen.
Days after his appointment ACP Ribadu struck like a vexed Cobra; alleged fraudsters like Fred Ajudua, Ade Elumile A.K.A. Ade Bendel, Anayo Nwude, Amaka Anajemba, even our Honourable Morris Ibekwe (before he took oath for a second term as an elected member of The House of Representatives) were all herded into jail, and their fleet of exotic wonders-on-wheels adorned the driveways of the EFCC Headquarters. Boy! Did we all say at last a Daniel has come to Judgement? There were a flurry of activities- World Press Conferences where ACP Ribadu reeled out his visions for the EFCC (notice again his prescient abilities?) all known, suspected and wannabe fraudsters were advised to find the nearest rat hole, and indeed we did hear stories of hegiras by some 419ners (since Nigerians now practice a different faith, and eschew easy wealth) we breathed a sigh of relief, the better, because if we had held our breaths….
Months after those gra gra, what???? Not one single conviction! Even some sporadic court appearances by some suspects were done in their bids to seek bail; the trial proper might come whenever the gods deign to live among men, I suppose.
ACP Ribadu might have lofty dreams, but I fear he is headed the way of the mighty Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) – a toothless bulldog, or are the same forces after the ICPC after the EFCC too?
It is on record that ACP Ribadu claimed that one of the factors militating against his fight was the defense of fraudsters by lawyers, and thus advocated against such representations. I crave his indulgence, but not only does the Constitution afford every suspect including 419ners a right to a speedy trial, it goes further to provide for a right to representation by a lawyer. ACP Ribadu is a lawyer, so he should know this. Unless the only crime of Fred Ajudua’s is having the most obscene house at VGC, or commanding an armada of exotic cars, then ACP Ribadu has nothing to fear from any representation by lawyers for Ajudua or any of the other alleged fraudsters. Given what he supposedly has in evidence against the alleged fraudsters before he herded them into detention and impounded their cars he should be able to ground their conviction.
I am covinced that instead of wasting breath over lawyers and their antics, he should rather concern himself with our moribund legal and judicial systems. It is trite that the last time most Nigerian laws had any sort of makeover was… let’s say long before I was born, and being that the Senate Committee on the Judiciary (Constitutional and Legal Matters- is there any committee on this?) does not necessarily understand their duties, I suggest that ACP Ribadu make his way before whichever relevant committee in the Senate that could help his cause and ask for a complete overhaul of our laws. It is equally commonplace that our Laws of Evidence are so archaic that there is hardly any provision for admission into evidence of some of the more sophisticated tools of trade employed by 419ners. Nigerian Laws must be reviewed and brought up to par with what obtains in developed countries; till this is done ACP Ribadu has already lost his war even before it began.
It is my humble opinion that we now have a rubberstamp Senate, so there ought to be no rigors in bringing about a speedy legal and judicial review, that is if Government is serious about its fight against Advanced Fee Fraud, but then, since we have a Government which is constantly toying with the intelligence of its electorate, we might never know.
ACP Ribadu must prove his sincerity to this cause, Nigerians are desirous of a conviction for the perpetrators of 419. We want a speedy trial of the alleged and detained fraudsters, and if found guilty they must dance naked in the market square. We must prove to the world that we are serious about redeeming our tarnished corporate image. Till this is done government’s quest of attracting investors to Nigeria will remain a still-birth. I know this, after all I carry a green passport; therefore I bear the stigma for someone else’s luxurious lifestyle.
Will the ACP Nuhu Ribadu led EFCC turn out to be another Abiku Militant- full of promise, but doomed to die in the threshold of dreams? Only time will tell.