The History and Progress of Nigerian Scamming
Beware whose hand gets in your pockets
It certainly will not be fair to say that Nigerians were the originators of the internet mail scam, but once all sugarcoating is done, they really have redefined it. Before the internet became widespread in Nigeria, phone scams were already very popular and many were quite unwary of it. My father once had a call about ten years ago and the caller introduced himself as one of the state's commissioners, had gotten my dad's number somehow, he said (and with directories very common, my dad didn't bother to ask exactly how). Enthusiastically, he announced he had a business deal for my father. And the deal was to supply barrels of palm wine for a conference which was to be held in Lagos. My father was unnaturally unsettled. The business was legitimate, the bargain was excellent, but he felt there was more yet than he could see. Had he not an innate distrust of people, he would have gone ahead with the deal. On second thought he announced to us that it was a scam, a "419" deal (the number 419 was contrived as a euphemism for graft, but today it has to become the informal name of the business). We applauded his perspicacity and drew lessons for ourselves from that event.
419 was very lucrative business some thirty years ago, but my father and most other youths of the time spurned it preferring to labor for their money than hoodwink another out of his'. And there was also the wholesome anxiety not to bring shame to the family name. However, a great number took to this venture with abandon, made good money --as is said in everyday parlance, though I should prefer to label it bad money-bought houses here and there, rode the latest cars, but still the vast majority spurned such a line of business as I've written.
Then came the internet with its illimitable opportunities. The older generation (my father's) was not quite conversant with the hues and shades of this new tool, but my "Y2K-compliant" generation did not fail to put this modern tool into quick employ. By and by, 419 failed to describe the nature of this refurbished form of scam and so it became necessary to invent new names, and especially euphemisms able to dissolve away the enormity of the crime. Eventually, "Yahoo" was adopted as the name of choice for this "game". The fraudsters became known as "Yahoo Boys". Then with the release of Olu Maintain's song, "Yahooze", this business' name grew funkier still.
Yahooze crept up stealthily. Its growth was overnight and awe-inspiring. The Federal Government saw the threats of this new scam as a far cry and did not, at first, bother to attend to it. When faced with external clamors for a speedy combat, two institutions were set up: the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commision (ICPC). But, at first, internet scam was among the least of these institutions' cares. There was the more pressing need for probity in the public service, in the various ministries and commissions, in the presidency, in state parastatals and therefore these two institutions bothered with combating crimes in these more important spheres, while internet scam hit its peak! Thereupon, the EFCC and the ICPC sprang to life arresting, prosecuting, jailing, executing internet scammers depending on the enormity of their crimes, for there were mail scam cases that involved murder. Cybercafés were raided by the EFCC every so often and scammers were apprehended at one fell swoop. Many thought the EFCC would be able to give mail scam its quietus, but this was not possible for the following reasons:
- o Some rich scammers from highfalutin families often bribed their way away from the EFCC's penalties
- o Dissatisfied, low-rank, low-pay officials proved an easy way out for most scammers who would make these officials offers that could not be refused
- o Legal bureaucracy often terminated several cases before they could get a hearing
- o Most importantly, there was the belief that the two institutions were hunt dogs for the then Mr. President who exploited these institutions to further his political theory
I should love to think that internet scam will be extirpated all too soon, but such thinking would be entirely wishful. Internet scam has provided a source of income for very many people who profit from it one way or other. Scammers are indefatigably resolved to "yahoo till the casket drops" as I once heard from a friend. And as many ISPs have sprung up caring all for profit and not at all for the use to which their service is put, it becomes unarguable that yahooze would hit an all-time high every new year.
Finally, when I see these scammers actively at work "to yahoo till the casket drops", with not a twang of compunction to hit their consciences and stir it around, but instead beseeching Jesus of Nazareth, that man full of holiness and virtue, to bless the work of their hand, I shudder to think that this terrible state of affairs may continue ad infinitum, unfortunately.