Lekki, one of Nigeria’s richest neighbourhoods in terms of expensive and posh real estate development is fast turning into a hub for internet fraudsters or ‘Yahoo-Yahoo Boys’ as they are famously called locally.
According to data from the Lagos Command of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the agency saddled with the responsibility of tackling the menace, for the second quarter of 2021, 402 internet-related fraud arrests were made in the Lekki District alone, indicating that the area is the preferred location for cyber fraud syndicates in Africa’s largest city and Nigeria’s commercial capital. Once home to the upper-middle class of society, the area of Lagos Metropolis, which is rapidly developing at a fast speed is now emerging as the safe haven for young Nigerian men who have embraced the illicit act of internet fraud to live the ostentatious lifestyle. Like the proverbial American Dream that drives innovation, hard work and excellence, the Nigerian Spirit of hustling against all odds is gradually being turned on its head to mean, Get’Rich by whatever means possible even if it means defrauding unsuspecting victims abroad of their hard-earned money.
Between April and June 2021, the Advance Fee Fraud Section of the Lagos unit of the agency made 243 arrests, the Cyber Crime Section executed 18 sting operations which resulted in 159 arrests, from which 13 convictions have so far been recorded. Out of the 159 suspects arrested by the Cyber Crime Section, 70 reside in the Lekki environs of Ajah, Badore, Victoria Garden City, Sangotedo and Oniru. Lagos is divided into five divisions namely, Ikeja, Badagry, Ikorodu, Lagos Island and Epe. From the time the city was a colony under British rule, the Island part of the metropolis has always attracted the rich and powerful in politics and business. Since the days of the colonial and military rulers, Ikoyi and Victoria Island have always been home to the upper echelon of Lagos society and much later Lekki Penninsula Scheme 1. It is, therefore, no surprise that the Lekki axis continues to attract real estate developments and the middle class.
Why Lekki Is Turning To Fraudsters’ HubThe Real Estate Boom
Bordering Victoria Island, the Lekki area is the fastest developing neighbourhood in the state and it has been attracting huge real-estate investment in the last two decades, especially since the Lekki -Epe Expressway was dualised. Speaking recently on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily, Abdulrasheed Bawa, the boss of EFCC said most of the fraudsters now launder their ill-gotten wealth through real estate. “One of the problems we have now is the real estate. 90 to 100 per cent of the resources are being laundered through the real estate,” he said.
Shielded From Prying Eyes
For these cyber-fraudsters, the quest to live the Lagos ‘Big Boy’ life in a developing area with beautifully designed homes inside gated estates is a dream come true for most of them. To shield themselves away from the gaping eyes of the law, most of the young fraudsters prefer to buy or rent homes in this part of the city to engage in the phishing, love and Business Email Compromise (BEC) scams.
The Allure of NightLife
Most of the best entertainment centres in Lagos are situated on Lagos Island, so for many of these fraudsters, the best way to enjoy thousands of dollars fleeced from victims abroad is to hit the club, dance to loud music and pop some bottles of champagne in celebration. Arriving in different models of Mercedes Benz cars, their prefered choice of wheels, these young men often storm clubs, lounges and restaurants situated around the Lekki and Victoria Island areas dressed in designer apparel, with half-clad young ladies in tow to complete the lifestyle. Some of Nigeria’s biggest entertainment stars in music and movies and also content creators and influencers on social media reside in the Lekki environs thus making it an allure for the rich and famous.
What Could Be Fuelling Internet Fraud In Nigeria? High Unemployment Rate
Nigeria is believed to have an estimated population of about 206 million, it is the seventh most populous country in the world. According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data, Nigeria’s unemployment number stands at 32.5%. Aged 30 and below, this age group, forms close to 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population. They are facing the most impact of bad governance, university and polytechnic strike, corruption and lack of an enabling environment. For most of these young Nigerians who cannot endure the pain of hardship and stay on the right lane, they often turn to vices like drug and substance abuse, prostitution and cyber fraud.
A Weak Economy and Dwindling Value System
Nigeria narrowly exited its second recession in four years in late 2020, and growth remains fragile. The slow progress in economic growth means many Nigerians continue to be pushed below poverty and citizens must grapple with galloping inflation. The country’s over-dependence on oil, its major foreign exchange earner, has been one major drawback for Africa’s biggest economy. Rising prices for essential household items are pressuring most Nigerian households. Inflation hit a four-year high in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an oil price slump that weakened its currency, the naira. The implication of this is that most parents who are not able to provide for their children often are not able to have control of their households, leaving these young kids to fend for themselves. Beg, borrow or steal, some of these young people now turn to an illegal practice like cybercrime to live a lifestyle of unexplainable wealth.
A Deterrent That Is Ineffective
While the EFCC and the Nigerian Cybercrime Prevention and Provision Act 2015 have served as deterrents, the agency and the law have been largely inadequate in preventing the growing army of youth from embracing cyber fraud. Almost on a daily basis, the EFCC parades an average of 10 suspects arrested in different parts of the country. It is not a common sight to see young persons being paraded with laptops and expensive cars seized during raids and sting operations by officers of the agency. Though the EFCC has secured convictions of some of these fraudsters, the agency has not been effective in adopting real-time processes for the early detection and prevention of cyber fraud. In addition, some corrupt law enforcement agents shirk their responsibilities and aid some of the fraudsters. There have also been reports of agency officials conniving with perpetrators to beat the system or procure hasty plea bargains in order to benefit from the proceeds of their crime. Recently, it launched the Eagle Eye App, developed to ease the process of reporting economic and financial crimes. “The Eagle Eye represents a new experience in information sharing and crime reporting between the public and the EFCC,” Bawa said. Whether the app will help in stemming the tide of cyber fraud, in addition to the other deterrents already in place in the country, only time will tell. But for now, the Eagle, the emblem of the EFCC is focused on Lekki.