It’s Time to Own the EFCC

To see it succeed, the Nigerian people must own the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and its battle against graft. Olawale Olaleye writes.

Even the most intrepid and impassive of humans are sometimes shaken and slack-jawed, when certain revelations are let out from the rather impossible quarters.

Something akin to this played out recently when the chairman of the  Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ola Olukoyede, recalled one of the wonders of the cyberworld he witnessed from the prism of a 17-year-old undergraduate adept in hacking.

“I brought into my Lagos office a 17-year-old boy studying History and Anthropology. He is in 200-level. He is not doing anything science-related. The guy sat in my office in Lagos and demonstrated some things on my laptop,” he said, regaling his audience with the wonder from this minor.

“He asked for my number, which I gave him, and through my number, he got my BVN. He then mentioned the name of my account number to me at the bank. I didn’t tell him anything,” he said.

According to the EFCC boss, the young man confidently told him, “Look, oga, I can make N10 million now. I will demonstrate it to you. I will move money from your account to mine. I said no; don’t do that in my office. When he opened my laptop, I didn’t give him the key to my laptop though, but he had access.”

Upon further questioning, Olukoyede revealed that the unnamed boy told him that he got involved in cybercrime because his parents, both farmers, could not work on their farm due to security concerns and he also has two siblings to fend for.

“I saw a Bill Gates in that guy,” Olukoyede enthused, adding that he assured the boy that he would take responsibility for his schooling if he could stop the criminal act.

The story Olukoyede shared was to illustrate how endemic and pervasive corruption has become among young Nigerians, not just among the broad spectrum of public office holders, who parlay their positions for personal gains rather than to serve the whole of society.

For the youths involved in cybercrimes, Olukoyede disclosed that the commission pleads for light sentences as deterrence while also focusing on re-orientating them.

His words: “What joy will I derive from sending a 17-year-old boy to jail? You have destroyed his future. You have destroyed his career. Sometimes, they give them options of fines and all of that conviction. So, we bring them in, lecture them, and talk to them.”

The EFCC chairman averred that Nigeria must take all necessary measures to discourage these young individuals as their actions could lead to imprisonment or even fatal consequences.

Poverty can never be an excuse for criminality, but the depth and spread of it have turned many youngsters into emergency cyber criminals. For them, it is a survival strategy, their gateway out of poverty.

This is why there is an exponential increase in internet-assisted crimes ranging from Business e-mail Compromise, pornography, piracy, and phishing to hacking, spamming, identity theft, cyber harassment, and Automated Teller Machine spoofing, among others.

Every institution and individual connected to the internet, especially through computers and mobile phones, is a potential victim. According to the Nigerian Communications Commission, cybercrime, like hacking, identity theft, cyber terrorism, harassment, and internet fraud, costs the country $500 million per year. And there is no end in sight as yet.

Unemployment has also been fingered as one of the major factors that lead youths into crime, especially the popular ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ with its voodoo-enhanced spin-off popularly known as ‘Yahoo Plus’.

A report from the National Bureau of Statistics released in February, 2024 revealed that the unemployment rate surged to 5.0 per cent in the third quarter of 2023 from 4.2 per cent in the previous quarter.

“The rate of unemployment among persons with post-secondary education was 7.8 percent in Q3. The unemployment rate among youth aged (15-24 years) was 8.6 percent in Q3. Increase of 1.4 percent compared to Q2,” the NBS report declared.

For many youths, however, unemployment and poverty are not the primary motivations for engaging in criminalities. Peer pressure and the get-rich-quick syndrome are equally potent factors.

Today’s generation of kids does not want to put in the hard work before making money, especially when they see their criminally-inclined peers buying Mercedes Benz, wearing ‘bling bling’ and designer apparel, and popping expensive champagnes in clubs. This is not poverty-induced; it is just an urge to ‘belong’ and to live on the fast lane.

In 2019, a former acting chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, revealed what would later become a shocker. He disclosed that mothers of cyber fraudsters now organise themselves into an association.

Magu said, “We are looking at how we can rehabilitate the Yahoo Boys. These are young boys who have graduated, who are in the university. We want to see how we can sensitise and make them know that the Yahoo Yahoo business is wrong.

“And we are also appealing to their mothers. The parents of these children have actually formed an association of Yahoo Yahoo Mothers’ Association – Yes, they are there: Association of Mothers of Yahoo Yahoo Boys.”

The revelation sounded wild and contrived, but it was not. Such associations abound in many southwest states, especially. These mothers, Magu added, always argued that the fathers of the Yahoo Boys abandoned their responsibilities or were incapable of meeting them until their sons came to the rescue with cyber crime proceeds.

There could not have been a more symbolic and poignant pointer to the fact that Nigeria is tottering dangerously on the precipice because the family, which ought to be the first vital cell of the society where children start forming habits, learning, and imbibing social norms and values that would determine how responsible they turn out as adults, seems to have disconnected from their core responsibility.

As the basic unit of society, the family makes invaluable and unique contributions to what a child becomes. But what are families doing today? What manner of children are they breeding?

For the Nigerian nation to develop and be competitive in the global space, citizens have a role to play in stemming the tide of corruption because the more individual members of the society that get involved, the less corrupt the country will be.

Indeed, the anti-graft war should not be an EFCC battle alone. Everybody has to get involved – from the family to religious organisations, schools, and the government – and own it as a public trust of note.

The National Democratic Institute, a United States-based civil society organisation, states that the citizens’ role is social accountability where they oppose corruption by keeping it in check, critically assessing the conduct and decisions of office holders, reporting corrupt misdoings and crimes, and asking for appropriate countermeasures.

The institute added that the concrete ways by which individual citizens may contribute to the fight against corruption include reporting such acts to the authorities or through the media and supporting training programmes and sensitisation campaigns that aim to create a culture of integrity and zero tolerance for corruption.

“Sometimes even refusing to participate in corrupt practices is an important act of resistance,” the NDI stated.

Importantly, too, government institutions at all levels have a huge role to play, and it is interesting to see that the chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Dr. Musa Adamu Aliyu (SAN) has stated that as part of his efforts to tackle corruption, he would embrace inter-agency collaboration for effective prosecution of corrupt practices.

In line with this commitment, the ICPC is taking significant steps to strengthen its collaborative efforts.

“The fight against corruption demands a collaborative, multi-sectoral approach, transcending the capabilities of any single entity. A key focus of my tenure will be to foster such collaboration, recognising that corruption’s multifaceted nature affects every level of society.

“Our strategy involves engaging diverse stakeholders – the media, civil society, the private sector, and international partners – to pool perspectives, expertise, and resources,” he said.

Perhaps, other institutions and individuals will wake up to this grim reality and be part of its amelioration if not total eradication, and not just leave this battle to the EFCC.

After all, Olukoyede, has more than anyone else, shown a rare commitment to decimating the scourge, both from the nation’s private and public life. All that’s left is for the people to own it, too.

Graft, in whatever form, is a cancer, and the people are its cure!

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