Posted by Dr. Jummai Umar-Ajijola
Citizenship Manager Lead, Microsoft Anglophone West Africa
The concern for Internet safety is a global phenomenon. It is of particular concern in Africa as those who previously never had access are increasingly being connected through their computers, mobile phones and other devices. Although the prevalence of both social and business Internet-enabled processes is generally seen as good news, the concern for safety and the attendant fears around cybercrime remain a major source of worry.
Nigeria itself is beset by many of those problems common to Africa and the rest of the world – many people living below the breadline, high unemployment and a segment of the population that is willing to do anything, legal or otherwise, in order to make a living. However, since there is no clear legislation in Nigeria around cybercrime, it has become one of those grey areas increasingly exploited by criminals seeking an easy route to riches.
But all this is changing and this week in Nigeria the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Microsoft, held the first West Africa Cybercrime Summit. This event was the first ever regional event on combatting cybercrime and bought together over 200 people from across the world, from both the public and private sector, to focus on eliminating cybercrime and fostering legitimate economic opportunity for West Africans.
It may seem unlikely that Nigeria, a country that may sometimes have something of an infamous reputation with regards to cybercrime, would be the host for a cybercrime summit. However, the impact of cybercrime on Nigeria’s ability to do business globally is enormous. With figures suggesting that some 40 per cent of the country’s annual $20-billion income is lost to fraud and corruption, the nation’s international reputation has taken a battering. Not only is Nigeria losing millions in tax revenue that could go towards local infrastructure that would attract foreign investment, but even local businesses find their emails are automatically blocked, simply because they originate on a Nigerian server.
With this in mind, it is vital for private and public sector players to work at redirecting the country’s youth towards a more appropriate use of online resources. The aim is to provide opportunities to use skills positively, if they are not to waste the opportunity that ICT offers to compete globally.
As co-sponsors of the summit, Microsoft Nigeria and the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit are actively working with international stakeholders, including the EFCC of Nigeria, on programs to fight Internet fraud in West Africa, a problem that continues to victimize people around the world. One form of cybercrime that has become especially associated with the region is the advance fee fraud, collectively known as “Nigeria” or “419” scams. Through schemes such as fake lotteries, bogus inheritances, romantic relationships, investment opportunities or – infamously – requests for assistance from “officials,” scammers promise an elusive fortune in exchange for advance payments. According to Microsoft’s Security Intelligence Report volume 9, advance fee fraud accounted for 8.6 per cent of the spam messages blocked by Microsoft’s Forefront Online Protection for Exchange (FOPE) in the second quarter of 2010 alone.
419 scams, known locally as “yahoo-yahoo,” have also taken root in Nigeria’s popular culture, where scammers’ reputations in Nigeria are popularised in songs and music videos celebrating their exploits. To help address this issue, the Microsoft Internet Safety, Security and Privacy Initiative for Nigeria (MISSPIN), EFCC and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria collaborated with the highly respected Nigerian music producer, Cobhams Emmanuel Asuquo, and popular local musicians, Banky W, MI, Modele, Omawumi, Rooftop MCs, Bez and Wordsmith, to release the song “Maga No Need Pay.”
The phrase effectively means ‘you don’t have to scam to become successful’, and both the song and the music video emphasize the message to young Nigerians that cybercrime is neither cool nor beneficial – it is far better to utilize Internet skills positively. It is a message that we are all hoping will ring true. Nigeria has such a bright future ahead of it, and by educating, empowering and equipping individuals, businesses and communities with the right skills and technologies, together we can drive further growth, development and regional competitiveness. We all need to work together in our quest to achieve the national vision of making Nigeria into an IT-enabled, just and prosperous society.