See what swindlers have done to us

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 1 Jul 2007

Like an unfortunate osu in Igboland, Nigerians abroad often contend with image problems. Recently, a journalist with ITV Wales, Nicholas Whitehead, refreshed this image in my memory. A friend had given me his email address so I could contact him with regard to a research I am currently doing. I sent Nicholas an email requesting an interview. Here is his reply: “Thank you for your email which, I am sorry to say, I very nearly filed under ‘SCAMS’. This was because you addressed me as ‘Nick’, you come from Nigeria and you have a web-based email address.

“You will be aware of what is known to authorities here as ‘the Nigerian scam’ which in Nigeria, I think, is called the 419 scam. In the past week, I have collected 50 of these emails. They don’t all come from Nigeria but your country does seem to be their natural home. You know the sort of thing I mean? They begin with a friendly greeting from a total stranger who describes himself as a bank or government official in charge of a bank account with a few million dollars in it. They propose a phoney business deal involving their access to imaginary money and your bank account. However, on further reading, it was clear that my initial impression was quite wrong. I apologise.”

In recent times, I have received a couple of these scam letters. The latest one goes thus: “Congratulations! You have won the sum of $600,000 in the Euro-Afro-American sweepstake Internet lottery. This is a lottery played with randomly chosen e-mails from Europe, Africa and Asia. You are hereby directed to contact Barrister Morgan Chukwuma, our African coordinator for onward transfer of your money with the numbers +2348036611354, +2348032699515 or email Thanks. Sincerely from Sheik Ahmed Martins Ahmed, Manager Euro-Afro-America Lotterys, (sic) Faisal Street, New York, USA.”

The above sum is not up to the amount I won from another lottery organisation. In a winning notification it sent recently, the management of the organisation was happy to inform me that I won $1m in a London Million Internet Lottery Award. The award, said to have been held on 27 January, was in recognition of my patronage of Internet services. My award is part of a total cash prize of $48.4bn shared among 22 countries. To receive my money, I am to contact the claiming manager, Allen Smith, at 12th Avenue, Kwame N’krumah, Cotonou – Republic Du Benin.

And from the desk of Mariam Kabore (Esq.), “the Head of File Department of the African Development Bank Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso,” came a jumbo offer of $15m. Kabore said he got my contact from Yahoo tourist search. And when he was searching for a foreign partner, “I assured (sic) of your capability and reliability to champion this business opportunity when I prayed to God or Allah about you.” The money, he said, belonged to a foreign customer who died with his entire family in a plane crash in July 2000. To convince me the more, he gave the plane crash website as Since the bank got the information, it had been expecting the deceased next of kin to come and claim the money. “Unfortunately,” Kabore noted, “We learnt that all his supposed next of kin or relation died alongside with him at the plane crash leaving nobody behind for the claim.” For this reason, they need me to claim the money as the next of kin. As the foreign partner, 30 per cent of this money belongs to me, 10 per cent will be set aside for expenses and 60 per cent for Kabore and his woman colleague. And I must keep everything secret so as to enable the transfer to move smoothly into the account I will prove to the bank. Fools!

If not for greed, why will anybody engage in or fall for this kind of scam? Some of the people doing this are wealthy and well connected. And so poverty has no business with it. Even if one is poor or unemployed, does the solution lie in fishing fraudulently where one did not sow?

When you introduce yourself as a Nigerian abroad, people tend to assume you are a criminal until you prove otherwise. In November last year, a research group, Chatham House, reported that financial crimes emanating from Nigeria had cost the UK economy billions of pounds over the past 10 years. The report said the style of incidents alone cost the UK economy £150m a year. In one single incident, fraudsters from Lagos reportedly couriered more than £20m forged cheques and postal orders to the UK. This was found at Heathrow Airport.

In spite of the efforts of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, such criminality has not abated. Earlier this month, the EFCC was reported to have arrested a transporter in Imo State for allegedly duping two Indians of N51m on the guise of offering them jobs in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, some of the tactics of the EFCC are affecting ordinary Nigerians. Sometime last year, Internet café operators in Lagos made a hundred per cent increase in their charges. A one-hour browsing that used to be N100 in most cafes jumped to N200. Most operators I spoke to then said it was the EFCC that directed them to increase the fees as a way of deterring fraudsters.

I do not know if the fee is still the same now. I also do not see how increasing the cost of browsing will stop 419. But what I do know is that the majority of Nigerians are not criminals. Nicholas and some other foreigners will stop treating us as osu the moment a few bad eggs among us develop the right values and discountenance selfishness, greed, corruption and high desire for quick riches.

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