Some disturbing developments have come up in the news for the past week. Although individual and self-contained, these incidents all have a central theme: our national complicity in fraud.
In one week, 80 people were charged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the USA for illegally obtaining 46 million dollars through elaborate internet scams. Most of these people were Nigerians. In the same week, a prominent Nigerian businessman named Obinwanne Okeke was arrested for being involved in fraud. Okeke has previously been recognized under Forbes’ under-30 list for young and promising African entrepreneurs.
Shortly thereafter, popular Nigerian e-commerce powerhouse Jumia, discovered an internal scam
involving fraudulent orders worth over 17.5 million dollars in gross merchandise volume value.The marketplace platform, due to the work of fraudulent internal staff members, had wrongly inflated its order volume.
We reacted to the FBI fiasco by attempting to wash our hands of the incident, blaming it entirely on the Igbo ethnic group. Emphasizing the ethnicity of convicts does not free the rest of the country from culpability for generating a culture wherein fraud is considered acceptable. Regardless of what ethnic group those engaged in fraud come from, the truth of the matter is that we as a society support fraud until fraudsters get caught. We follow them on social media and laud their lavish lifestyles, aspiring to be like them although we do not know where their money comes from. We encourage our youths to live beyond their means by comparing their lifestyles to those of their affluent and somewhat questionable peers and pressuring them to contribute to the upkeep of often distant relatives. We dance to music which promotes illegal sources of income.
Perhaps our most significant contribution to the continuation of fraud is our refusal to create an anti-fraud culture. As anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu once stated, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. In other words, if we as a society do not take it upon ourselves to call out fraudsters or other individuals with dubious sources of wealth, then we essentially support and promote their illegal activities.
The results of this complacency are tenfold. Nigeria was ranked 149th out of 190 in the 2019 World Bank Ease of Doing Business Score. If we want to see an end to our reputations being dragged through the mud on an international scale, we must cultivate an anti-fraud culture. We must undo the damage that has been done to our international image for the past few years by questioning our own reactions to fraudulent operations.
Furthermore, we must put an end to the do-or-die mentality surrounding wealth. We already know that a small percentage of the population becoming extremely rich through illegal means will not solve economic and developmental issues facing the country at large. However, complacency towards fraud and as a result, a pro-fraud culture, does more damage to Nigeria than the cases of fraud themselves.
Funmilayo Adetokunbo A-A, a political and International Affairs Analyst, writes from Somerset, England, United Kingdom.