Stolen artefacts, and advance fee fraud: a tale of two scams

I am not too keen on science fiction, but in honoring Mr. Chadwick Boseman’s legacy, I had to watch the award-winning film, Black Panther for the first time. The euphoria of watching such a superb theatrical performance was cut short as I whirled into a mental reflection on global responses to international crime.

It began in the 16th minute of the movie when King T’Challa’s cousin schooled the museum orator on the origin and theft of an artefact from Wakanda through Nigeria. Such historical theft of several valuable artefacts from Nigeria, and the brazen display till date in various museums in the UK, may have given validity to international crimes.

Unknowingly, it gave justification and fuelled the passion for a current form of international crime — cyber-crime or internet fraud or advanced fee fraud. With the inclusion of love-scam, these cyber-crimes which are generally cited as “advanced fee fraud” are becoming synonymous with Nigerians and commonly known as “yahoo-yahoo or yahoo-yahoo plus’.

Yahoo-yahoo boys- as referred to in Nigeria — have come to internalize the idea that fraudulently relieving persons or businesses, especially in Western countries, is retribution for the pillage of their motherland. Such ‘valid’ sentiments not only fuels their passion but as being a very effective tool in the recruitment and endless supply of human resources for advance fee fraud.

International cyber-crime is not just high paying but considered a relatively low risk ‘business’ by most brilliant and unemployed youths. Compared with their western predecessors’ method, being on-site and the use of weapons are non-essential requirements as it all happens in the Cyberspace.

More so, yahoo-yahoo boys have relied on — to an unmatched degree — some identical methods as their western predecessors in the act of pillage: technology and psychology/diplomacy. The psychology of making someone believe in the genuineness of a transaction and backed with some technological expertise attest to an academic ingenuity and intellectual skills that cannot be learned in universities.

Yet, while yahoo-yahoo boys brazenly show off their loot on social media as their predecessors do in museums, the response to both forms of international crime by the victims’ home country strangely differs. Even when African’s seek to ‘re-possess’ that which is rightfully theirs and criminally pillaged from their motherland, they are met with the full ambits of the law.

Recent commentaries have even highlighted how Europe’s museums are fighting to keep these stolen artefacts. In the last decades, so many laws have come into effect to curb the rise in internet fraud, but little has been done to compel the return of stolen valuables artefacts back to Nigeria. Such is the tale of two identical scams but different responses.

Some countries have taken their responses to the cyber-crime to new heights via racist and draconian laws that breach international norms. A case in point is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). UAE’s decision -as speculated on several social media platform — to ban or restrict visas to Nigerians resident in the country is a racist and blatant disregard for international laws.

The ban or restriction of visa to Nigerians by the UAE authorities have widely been speculated to be a swift response following the arrest of yahoo-yahoo star — Hushpuppy. Hushpuppy who lived in UAE for years committed felonies also in the United States of America. This vantage of cybercrimes shows that perpetrators need not be physically resident in UAE to commit advance fee fraud.

Although the UAE had refuted this restriction or ban on over 200 million Nigerians, the Nigerian government’s swift ban on Fly Emirates — UAE 3rd largest revenue source- entry into her airspace gave credibility to the claim. This diplomatic tit for tat espouses the fact that countries where Nigerians are treated with disdain, they are heavily dependent on pillages from Nigeria’s elite to fund their economy.

While the UAE might be innocent of direct pillage of artefacts from Nigeria, they have shown culpability in the indirect pillage of Nigeria through the provision of a haven for thieving political elites who come to warehouse and spend looted funds. These elites are big spenders in the UAE, where it is suggested some pay ~ $1,000 per night accommodation at 2–4years down payment in the Burj Khalifa.

It is common knowledge that where ever illicit money goes, so does yahoo-yahoo boys as this makes their victim a more easy ‘mark’. Even if the ban by UAE had held sway or other stiff visa restriction placed on Nigerians by some countries, advance fee fraud is a crime in Cyberspace, and the pillage of Nigeria remains a significant motivating factor for these few yahoo-yahoo boys.

Regardless, most Nigerians in the diaspora are among the most hard-working and educated people, sometimes earning legitimately over and above the national average of the nationals. Such value most Nigerians provide to the economy of foreign countries shows they are an untapped treasure chest of human resources that developed countries have begun to utilize.

Even for these yahoo-yahoo boys, like the father of fraud — Frank William Abagnale Jr., it would be most beneficial if their ingenuity and intellectual skill sets are set to use in national security and cyber-defense. This approach in the short-term may help in re-orientating these low life actors from the ideology of ‘pillaging as their motherland was and is being pillaged’.

For the long-run, countries like the UK should make expedite laws to compel museums to return these sacred and valuable artefacts to Nigeria as done with the return of the Saber to Senegal by the French. Otherwise, the devastation of these yahoo-yahoo boys may be more daring and continue unabated while more activist like Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza may grow impatient.

It is highly probable that as depicted in minute 17th of Black Panther and watched by millions, a crime scene in an African museum in the UK may be more than just theft while cybercrimes may one day have a significant impact on volatile economies. Overall, this tale of two identical and closely related scams should be given the same equal and fair responses they deserve.

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