By Dele Oyewale
Every arrest of a suspected internet fraudster by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is headline-grabbing. For the truly patriotic Nigerian, who desires a better identity and image for the nation, such arrests are healthy and commendable. Nigeria is a nation of hard-working, decent, and resourceful individuals and every enterprise of deception and impersonation must be smashed to smithereens. Besides, victims of internet fraud, across the world, deserve justice and every arrest of their robbers calls for a celebration! This is just one divide of opinions about such arrests.
There are other divides. There are apologists and shade providers for internet fraudsters in the land. To these ones, the EFCC is just a disturbing, trouble-brewing agency, always baying for the “blood” of hustling young men and women. Internet fraudsters, in the reckoning of such apologists, are not criminals. They are just adventurers in the expanse of the cyber world, plucking some fruits carelessly planted on some insecure grounds! Such shade- providers are always quick to scream blue murder at the sight of any EFCC operative. They are the fabricators of fat lies and robust concoctions against the hard-working Commission.
There is yet another divide and this pertains to fence-sitters and non-committal analysts, who neither stand with the EFCC nor strongly pitch tents with internet fraudsters. They are comfortable running with the hare and hunt with the hound. They find no moral offence in speaking with both ends of their mouths. They hold no strong opinions about anything and are unmoved by any clarion for image-building for the nation. These ones, sometimes, see the painstaking efforts of the EFCC in ridding the nation of economic and financial crimes but easily submit to the charge of overzealousness against the Commission.
All these bring us to the kernel of this piece: are internet fraudsters good for the health of the economy and image of Nigeria? Is the EFCC overbearing in the pursuit of its assigned mandate? Is the hoopla usually following every operation of the EFCC against suspected internet fraudsters justifiable? Should the public not continually call fraudsters the very name they should be called? Are these frequent allegations of fence-breaking, room-scattering, and privacy- invasion against operatives of the EFCC true or just trumped-up strategies of calling a dog a bad name?
The task of tackling internet fraud and other forms of economic and financial crimes, by the EFCC, is daunting. Corruption may not be a shooting war, it is, nonetheless, an organized crime: a quiet, fatal grip on the jugular of any nation. To combat such a crime requires intelligence, diligent preparation, adequate training, gallantry, and combat- readiness. It is preposterous to link operatives of the EFCC with house-breaking and robbery because such scenarios are simply impossible. There is yet no verifiable proof of such claims, anywhere.
Internet fraud has grave implications for every nation. As a large youth-inclined crime, its practices could be taken as an escape route from genuine enterprise and industry. There is no future for any nation whose youth are head and shoulder immersed in criminality. Youth is a stage of go-getting resourcefulness and ambitious drives. It is not a stage of crude pleasure and permissive engagements. The EFCC is on a redemptive mission by cracking down on tendencies capable of stealing the future of the nation. There is no nation that owes its development to crimes and moral compromise.
As a growing economy, the nation will fare better if our youth embrace attitudes and tendencies that greatly challenge their ingenuity. There are roles crying endlessly for fulfillment. The agricultural space is expansive. The industrial field is totally untapped and so is every other space of development. The advances in information and communication technology around the world can be replicated in Nigeria, in the same way, science, technology, arts, and entertainment can be embraced. Internet-related criminal practices are escapist tendencies. There is no shaft of light in the tunnel of such engagements.
Beyond moralizing, the tireless efforts of the EFCC are yielding huge dividends for the nation. Just imagine what would have been the possible global ostracism of Nigeria, if internet-related fraud and other acts of corruption are allowed to fester un-checked? What makes cybercrimes ominous for any nation is the fact that the leprous fingers of its practitioners are across the globe. Victims of the crimes are in every nook and cranny of the world and so is the attendant damage to the national image. No nation can survive such damage. This is why the EFCC is always rolling out its dragnet to haul in those who may not see any harm in cyber offences.
Now, those who are always quick to lampoon every internet fraud arrest made by the EFCC should simply consider the implication of such offences on the entire nation. Poverty, unemployment, and other economic troubles in the land are not and should not be excused for anti-social behaviours. No nation has zero- poverty and unemployment levels. It is, therefore, untenable for anyone to justify criminal conduct on the basis of social challenges in the land. Every social problem is a challenge truly but the challenge can only be overcome, if creative measures are taken, rather than cutting corners or playing the Ostrich.
Over the years, the EFCC has been making steady progress in the pursuit of its mandate. Nigeria had no strong structure for combating financial crimes and corrupt practices before the EFCC came in 2003. Now, even the worst critic of the Commission knows that it is no longer business as usual. Advance fee fraud was like an accepted practice before the EFCC set sail. Today, the narrative has changed. Even, Internet-related criminals know that the pastures can never be green for them again if they are caught in the trap of the Commission. What all these indicate is that redemptive works are going on in the EFCC and it requires the collaborative engagement of every Nigerian.
Insinuations being made about arrests of suspected internet fraudsters in social media, are to be expected. Sympathizers of such criminality are bound to raise hell against the EFCC. The onus is on discerning members of the public to study where the accusations are coming from. If there are genuine proofs of unprofessional conduct by operatives of the Commission, such conduct should be reported to the Department of Internal Affairs, DIA, for necessary action. The EFCC is an internationally- respected agency, operating with best global practices. There are rules of engagement, even on matters of arrests.
As a note of finality, the EFCC is working in the interests of every Nigerian, including suspected internet fraudsters. Those not in the net of the Commission know that innocence and integrity can never be ” arrested” by the Commission and those answering one charge or the other know that they are being investigated for suspicious dealings that may not be in the overall interests of the nation. Either way, progress is being made.
Such progress is bound to continue if the larger public is on the same lane of national redemption with the EFCC. Internet-related fraud portends grave danger for the nation but the redemptive activities of the EFCC are the saving grace we all need to applaud.
*Oyewale is Head, Public Affairs in the Port Harcourt Zonal Command of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).