Saturday, May 27, 2006

Nigerian Yahoo Boys: The Scourge of a Nation

“The fear is that in 5-10 years, what will be left of the African or Nigerian Information society space will be pieces of recycled information about the bad things happening in Nigeria…”-- Edward Popoola.

Smacked right on the my monitor screen is this CNN headline screaming at me: “Online scams create ‘Yahoo! Millionaires’”, and below were these text: “In Lagos, where scamming is an art, the quickest path to wealth for the cyber-generation runs through a computer screen.”

I’m not so much worried about the insult and shame the scams have brought on every Nigerian in the Diaspora than the problem it has caused many budding entrepreneurs in and outside the country- some of whom need letters of credit or similar instruments from western financial institutions, or interact with customers and affiliates overseas.

Headlines such as this create unnecessary obstacles and barriers to business in many ways than is readily obvious. Unfortunately, and shamefully too, these scams have become the Nigerian trademark oversea.

The absence of concrete actions to curb these scams by the authority is as frustrating as it is aggravating. To date, there haven’t been any clear-cut strategies to fight online scam. This shouldn’t be a surprise since some government officials would rather “claimed ignorance of such scams” and “laughed it off as Western propaganda”, according to the CNN article.

Edward, the Nigeria’s Information Technology youth Ambassador and a computer science undergrad, somewhat attributes the proliferation of the scam to unnecessary bureaucracy and delay in the Nigerian justice department.

The problem is more than just bureaucratic bottlenecks though; the proliferation of the scam is due to the shoddy enforcement of the law since there are no clear policies or guidelines on how to deal with suspect cases. Very few law enforcement agents are experienced in investigating these cases; the majority are referred to the overworked EFCC, the anti graft watchdog of the Nigerian government. The corruption that has beleaguered the Nigerian police force has also contributed immensely to the difficulty in enforcing anti-fraud law and prosecuting suspects.

As Edward recommends, anything short of a national campaign against online scam will not yield meaningful results. The Nigerian lawmakers and other policy makers must be galvanized into action since the majority of them are oblivious of the damage caused by these fraudsters. This is a challenge primarily for the Nigerian (local and overseas) IT professionals since this is their domain; so far their efforts against online fraud and scam have been lackluster and rather diffuse. It is their sole responsibility to fire-up the campaign all over again and fight this scourge.