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Institutional corruption is driving internet crimes in Nigeria

BY CHIEMEZIE UGOCHUKWU

Corruption is the abuse of institutional systems for private gain. In organised societies, some legal frameworks and standards prevent a system from being abused. Such countries strictly monitor the enforcement of laws to reduce corruption to a minimum. Nigeria is battling corruption in all sectors including the institutions that enforce the law.

Internet crimes in Nigeria have been a challenge in the country, given the rate at which young people engage in crime and the financial losses incurred by financial institutions. These internet crimes include identity theft, ATM card fraud, online impersonation, online money transfers, and hacking, among others. A recent report by THISDAY newspaper attributes the root of corruption in Nigeria to criminal activities like internet fraud.

Nigeria’s ranking on corruption

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Globally recognised institutions like Transparency International (TI) have carried out extensive studies on the magnitude of corruption in different countries, including Nigeria. In 2022, TI observed that most nations, including Nigeria, are not doing enough to mitigate corrupt practices, and the result is a lack of trust in government institutions, especially security agencies. Additionally, the whistleblowing policy launched in 2016 to expose corrupt practices may not have yielded much, as shown by the ranking of Nigeria on corruption.

The 2022 TI corruption index placed Nigeria at 150 among the 180 countries examined. It implies that the country scored 24 out of the 100 points set by the agency, revealing the impact of corruption. In 2023, TI ranked Nigeria 145 among the 180 countries that were studied. Although the government sees this as an improvement, unfortunately, the 2023 ranking indicates that the country scored 25 out of 100 benchmarks from TI. Similarly, the World Bank 2023 report indicates that Nigerians have low public trust in government institutions due to corrupt practices in government organisations. Regrettably, the corruption ranking of Nigeria is a fact; the country is battling myriads of corrupt activities that hamper institutional operations, especially in the fight against internet crime.

The Nigeria Police Force  

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The Force established a cybercrime unit in 2017 to help reduce the increasing internet crime in the country. Primarily, the unit is responsible for the detection and prevention of internet crimes in an evolving digital society like Nigeria. According to the Nigeria Police Force National Cybercrime Centre, the unit is equipped with current forensic digital devices that aid in collecting data and evidence from suspected internet scammers. Further, the unit boasts trained officers with a rich background in digital technologies, devices, and systems. Also, the cybercrime unit of the Nigerian Police insists that the officers of the unit are brilliant at writing reports, analysing gathered digital evidence, and aiding the judiciary in providing expert witnesses to reinforce forensic findings that help the court process.

In a study carried out by researchers at the University of Oxford and the University of New South Wales, Nigeria was ranked 5th globally on cybercrime. Such a ranking indicates that the country is deeply enmeshed in cyber fraud, and the unit may not be doing enough given the corruption that affects all government institutions, including the Nigerian Police. Various reports have shown that most officers of the force are engaged in corrupt practices that negate the ethical standards of the police and negatively impact the fight against cybercrime in the country. Recently, there have been reports on the corrupt activities of the police, which signifies that corruption is affecting the institution.

The 2019 survey by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) found the Nigerian Police to be the most corrupt public institution in the country. Over the years, most Nigerians have seen the police as an institution that operates contrary to laws and thrives on various forms of corrupt practices. Moreover, the United Nations argues that decades of corruption in the Nigeria Police Force have led to low confidence among Nigerians in their integrity and confidence to tackle crime. In some states, the anti-cybercrime unit has been indicated to be involved in various forms of corrupt activities, which is not in tandem with the vision of the force cybercrime unit. Relatedly, the report on the return of ₦80 million extorted by the anti-cybercrime unit of the Rivers State Police Command is an indication of corruption in the unit that is charged with investigating and reducing crime. This corrupt act by the Rivers State command of the anti-cybercrime unit demonstrates that officers are using their position to enrich themselves and neglecting their primary responsibility, which is reducing the cybercrime level in the country.

Findings from research carried out to investigate the laxity of security agencies in the fight against internet crime in the country reveal that police officers usually arrest suspected cybercriminals and force such persons to make payments or transfer a bargained amount of money without charging them to court. This revelation from the report about the corrupt activities of some police officers, especially those whose mandate is to reduce cybercrime, is encouraging perpetrators of the crime.

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Arbitrary arrest of young Nigerians

In Nigeria, one negative hallmark of the Nigeria Police is the abuse of constitutional powers and the illegal arrest of young people under the pretence of fighting cybercrime. Several reports have shown that young people are the target of officers who claim they are fishing out cyber criminals. Narrating his ordeal, Emeka (not his real name) recounted his experience at the hands of officers of the Nigeria Police while travelling in a commercial bus. He was asked to come down from the bus for a search after the officer asked what he does for a living. Given that the policeman felt that the young man’s explanation was not satisfactory, Emeka was tagged as a cybercriminal by the officers. Sadly, whenever a young person is faced with such a situation it often leads to extortion and illegal detention until money is paid.

Such a scenario can only exist where corruption has weakened public institutions like the Nigerian Police, primarily meant to protect citizens and ensure a crime-free society. The position of the law clearly states that no Nigerian shall be arrested or held responsible for an offence a person did not commit.

Raids by the EFCC

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The Economic and Financial Crime Commission’s (EFCC) mission is premised on eradicating financial crimes by imbibing the four values of the commission, which are integrity, professionalism, courage, and collaboration. There have been reports on arrests, and raids in university hostels and hotels of suspected internet scammers in Nigeria over the years by the EFCC. In response to the outcry over the modus operandi of the agency, it issued new guidelines on its operations on November 1, 2023. The EFCC categorically stated that henceforth, attention will be paid to the rights of the citizens, especially in the arrest, detention, and bail conditions of arrested suspects. Specifically, the EFCC warned its officers against the detention of suspects without a remand warrant for an unreasonable length of time beyond the constitutionally allowed period.

However, like other institutions in Nigeria, these guidelines are not followed because of the inherent corrupt practices that are common among law enforcement agencies in the country. Sadly, on the morning the commission issued a press release on operational guidelines, it was reported that the officers of the commission arrested 69 students of Obafemi Awolowo University for an alleged internet scam around 2 a.m.-3 a.m. In addition, Premium Times reported that two months after the new guideline, the EFCC raided and arrested 14 undergraduates at the Federal University of Technology, Akure. Recently, marriage counsellor Solomon Buchi posted on his Twitter page how EFCC officers, on June 4, 2024, forced themselves into his brother’s compound and broke the CCTV camera in their search for internet scammers. It has been observed that these arrests are just smokescreens, as most times they do not end up in court but rather settle their way out of EFCC custody.

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Addressing the challenge

Tackling internet crime in Nigeria cannot be achieved through incessant and arbitrary arrests by the EFCC. Also, the extortion by the Nigerian Police Force, especially the cybercrime unit, will worsen and embolden cybercriminals. In the United Kingdom, the National Crime Agency (NCA) is synergising coordination of the fight against cybercrime seamlessly, which Nigeria can adopt. Firstly, the NCA hinges its operations on critical cyber incidents and a futuristic model against cybercrime. The NCA methodology for addressing cybercrime is anchored on five standpoints, which include infrastructure, financial services, initial access and compromise, marketplaces and forums, and UK victims.

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These strategies allow the NCA to work closely with the UK Police and international law enforcement agencies like Europol, the FBI, and the US Secret Service to share intelligence and harmonise strategies against crime. Further, the NCA also works closely with reputable private organisations to share information and technical advice on the evolving technology and devices used by cybercriminals. These innovative strategies can be adopted by the cybercrime unit of the Nigeria Police Force and the EFCC to track the activities of internet scammers in the country instead of unlawful arrests and corrupt activities seen in these security agencies.

Interestingly, the NCA, through its ‘cyber choices programme’, aids young people to use their cyber or IT skills positively. The young people are mentored and encouraged to learn coding, gaming, cyber security, and other related skills that companies globally are looking for. This will enable them to make a living rather than engage in internet fraud. In Nigeria, the EFCC and the cybercrime unit of the Nigeria Police should tailor their prevention strategies to motivate young people to learn digital skills.

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Ugochukwu is a doctoral researcher at the School of Law, History and Social Sciences, Bangor University, United Kingdom.



Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.
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