Inside the war against cyber-crime and its attendant controversy

The controversy generated as a result of the mass arrest of suspected ‘Yahoo Yahoo Boys’ by the EFCC in some parts of the country and the formation of an infamous association of mothers of those boys are yet to die down, analysts share different opinion on the matter. KEHINDE OSASONA writes.

Disturbing narrative

At the recent EFCC stakeholders’ conference on crusade against cybercrime fraudsters held in Lagos state, the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, took a swipe at mothers of some internet scammers otherwise known as ‘Yahoo Yahoo boys’ who have formed an association to protest the arrest of their sons by operatives of the commission.

Magu while addressing journalists at the Lagos office of the commission in Ikoyi, wondered why parents of those boys justified their children’s activities.

He nevertheless appealed to parents as well as the media to join in the war against cybercrime, saying that unexplained wealth should not be celebrated.

He said, “Beyond arrest and prosecution, the anti-graft agency would see to the rehabilitation of yahoo boys and channel their intelligence and talents into positive ventures that would benefit the nation.

 “We are looking at how we can rehabilitate the yahoo boys; these are young boys, who have graduated while some are still in the university. We want to see how we can sensitise them; how we can make them know that the Yahoo Yahoo business is wrong.

“And we are also appealing to their mothers who have formed an association of Yahoo Yahoo Mothers’ Association – Yes; they are there – Association of Mothers of Yahoo Yahoo Boys.

 “We want to correct them so they can go back as responsible citizens; and very useful; the knowledge can be utilised; we can bring back the knowledge and make it more be useful.

“We are prepared and we are not shying away from arresting and arraigning them, but we are thinking that we should find a way to manage them, so that they can be useful citizens. These are very intelligent boys; we can use their intellect for positive purposes for this country.”

The arraignment of Naira Marley and the drama

When a Nigerian Hip-Hop star Azeez Adeshina Fashola, aka Naira Marley was first arraigned sometimes May this year for alleged internet fraud, his arrest alongside his artiste friends and others caused a stirs amongst music buffs on one hand, young Nigerians on the other and the public sphere in general.

The dialogue partly stemmed from in-discriminating arrest of many young Nigerians and alleged over-zealousness reportedly exhibited in many instances by EFCC operatives in the line of duty.

When asked how long the musician would be detained during the said arrest, the EFCC’s then acting head, media and publicity, Tony Orilade said, “He will be charged to court. As soon as we have a clear date, I will let you know.”

He added that the commission had an order to detain Naira Marley. Meanwhile, an order to keep a suspect in custody could take either seven, 10 or 14 days.

But just few days ago, during his second appearance in court, he created a scene in the court premises.

 Marley was reported to have entered the witness box with a long small red bag, hanging across his left shoulder down to his right waist.

But sensing danger, counsel to EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, had urged the court to order the defendant to remove the bag in his possession from the dock.

According to Oyedepo, the defendant is expected to appear before the court unfettered.

However, before the court could make any pronouncement, Marley quickly removed the bag in order to save the court any further drama.

Controversy lingers over arrests without trial

Any offence contrary to Section 27(1) (b) of the Cyber Crimes Prohibition, Prevention Act 2015 is treated as fraud in Nigeria.

But the uproar generated after the spate of arrest without trial of suspected ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ boys in some parts of the country has continued to paints the commission (EFCC) in bad light.

But while the arrest without trial lasted, it has left trails of deafening arguments, especially among legal practitioners and public commentators, just as the Lilly-livered among them continue to discuss the arrest in hush tones for fear of intimidation.

Not only that, concerned Nigerians have also continued to ventilate different positions over the scourge.

While many people support their prosecution in the law court, others see it as mere witch-hunt, saying that the EFCC operatives are merely being overzealous and chasing shadows.

However the anti-graft agency’s recent clampdown on internet fraudsters across the country was one operation like no other.

The big haul however was the raiding that were carried out in Abuja, Abeokuta, Kano, Enugu, Osun and Oyo and other states.

Indiscriminate arrest illegal, says lawyer

Just recently at the opening ceremony of the Conference and Retreat for Senior Police Officers in Lagos, President Buhari has also voiced his concern over the repeated stories of harassment from Nigerian policemen shared by many young Nigerians.

The president, therefore, cautioned men of the force to stop arresting innocent Nigerians in their bid to arrest fraudsters.

Represented by the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, President Buhari said civil society groups have complained about the arrest of young men and women just because they look successful and are carrying laptops.

“Yes, we must apprehend yahoo criminals but we cannot harass young men and women on the streets and in taxis, most of whom are merely going about their legitimate businesses,” he added.

Against the backdrop of incessant arrest, young Nigerians who are perceived to be innocent may have been clamped into detention knowingly and unknowingly.

“More worrisome is the fact that the spate of detention alongside the suspected internet fraudsters is dangerous and unlawful,” this was how an Abuja based lawyer, Napoleon Otache, puts it.

Otache described the spate of arrest as not too different from that of innocent Nigerians being arrested indiscriminately by police and other security agencies.

The legal practitioner argued that if the state is not ready to institute prosecution against the arrested Yahoo boys detained across the country, they should go ahead and grant them bail rather than keeping them in their facility.

He said, “Don’t forget that court frowns at abuse of citizen’s rights. Any accused person is expected to be arraigned in court within 24 or 48 hours as the case may be. And it is the EFCC duty that has leveled allegation against them to prove it beyond reasonable doubt and then allow the law to take its course.”

On the endless raid going on, he said, “The idea of swooping on Nigerians to me can be described as big animal in the jungle swooping on another small animal.”

Otache nevertheless advised that should any of the detained Yahoo boys have access to legal means, they are at liberty to press charges for being detained unjustly by the authority.

On Mothers of Yahoo Yahoo Boys Association

 Meanwhile, while applauding the Lagos state commissioner of police, Zubairu Muazu, on his continuous and relentless effort in making sure cybercrime becomes a thing of the past in the state, the deputy commissioner in-charge of the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) Yaba, DCP Longe, has threatened that more internet fraudsters and possibly their mothers will be sent to prison, if found guilty.

While reacting to the news making rounds in the media that yet-to-be-identified women have formed an ‘Association of Yahoo Boys Mothers’, DCP Longe said it is still a hear-say until police investigation reveals that there is truth in it.

 She said, “If it turns out to be true and its proven that they are in any way involved or provided any form of support to the crime, that makes them accomplices and co-conspirators of which they would be made to face the full wrath of the law.

But shedding more lights on the issue, a legal practitioner Oluwaleke Atolagbe, condemned the alleged formation of such association, lamenting that depraved parents have succeeded in raising a generation of criminally -minded children who now have a sense of entitlement to making money through crooked means.

He said, “If a child is apprehended for engaging in internet fraud the mother of such child is supposed to cover her face in shame and not cover up such child or come out with pride that such child is assisting the family.

 “They (both parents and their children) may want to justify their actions by the level of corruption in the public sector and among politicians. It is unfortunate that corruption seems to have become a mirror of accepted usage and the culture in Nigeria.

 “Corruption and impunity seem to have become the way of life in Nigeria. This development shows that the major problem of these children are even the so-called mothers who must have raised the children with the wrong orientation of seeing nothing wrong with acquiring ill-gotten wealth, cutting corners, materialism, laziness and all other evil vices,”

 Continuing, he added, “Our value system has been grossly eroded and we now live in an extremely dysfunctional society where it has almost become a taboo to be good and uphold the right virtues.”

On the danger the development portends for the society, Atolagbe said, “I would propose that any mother or parent suspected to be engaged in aiding and abetting crimes should be investigated and prosecuted to deter others.”

Going forward, he advocated that government at all levels should also ensure that enabling environment is created for young people to engage in legitimate and profitable ventures and people in government must eschew corrupt acts. He also said that there is need for a thorough reorientation and serious social reengineering as a people.

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