Ifeanyi had just graduated from one of the notable Federal Universities in Eastern Nigeria. He like many others had no jobs. Being the first of a family of six a lot rest on his shoulders. He meets an old friend Archo who impresses him with his neat “Honda Holler”. Archo eventually invites him to the “office” and introduces him to the 419 business. After 5 years of scamming people, he quit and used his funds to start “Oil and Gas” business somewhere in Lagos.
Wale, just got out of secondary school and was looking forward to be a student of Unilag. However, the school fees and high cost of accommodation threatened to ruin his dreams. He had no where to go to. There were no Student Loans and he had no scholarship. On one of his trip to the school he meets Damte an old pal who was driving a Honda and look flashy. Damte introduces him to his world giving Wale the opportunity to fund his fees and even more. Wale is now a graduate and after quitting the scamming business sells cars to earn a living.
The above helps illustrate some of the reasons for the lure of the much condemned 419. So much have been said about 419 in the last 15-20 years, most of which bother on it’s negative impact on the image of Nigerians. People have also talked about it’s effect on the psychology of the youths as it’s wider participation nearly eroded the conservative societal values instilled in them by their parents.
I have been curious to know what role 419 might have played in reducing unemployment,armed robbery or even terrorism. 419 was mostly carried out by unemployed youths. These perpetrators were mostly fresh graduates who couldn’t get a job after spending 4 to 5 years in school. Some of them were the last hope of their family having gone through hell to school them.
Back then, most fresh graduates who didn’t have a job spent a large part of their time in cyber cafe’s. This engaged their minds for most of the day taking away any other thought of a different kind of crime. Armed robbery wasn’t very attractive to these guys. Neither were they ready to engage in some positively creative activity.
If I recollect just some years back,a fresh graduate who just joined the cyber crime network can within 3 months “pick” as much as $5,000 from victims. The British government once estimated a sum of £150m had been lost to cyber crime in a research conducted in 2006.
These guys made a lot of money. They bought flashy cars, some built houses and most even got married all with their ill-gotten wealth. Some of them were also good investors and at the time helped boost the Nigerian Stock market. No wonder the stock market crash of 2008 also coincided with the drastic fall in cyber crime by the late 2000’s.
With all this in mind one may not be wrong to infer that cyber crime did help keep busy a restless group of our society that may otherwise had been engaged in a bloodier activity. This now brings me to think if the reduction of cybercrime has a relationship with the increase in the spate of kidnapping and terrorism thought to be perpetuated by youths. This may well be difficult to prove as kidnappers and the terrorist have all been a mixture of people in different age grades. But then there may be a compelling argument to believe a strong relationship does exist.
Back then, we never heard of kidnapping. We didn’t hear of bomb blast as well. The youths were fully engaged in a cyber crime that involved absolute concentration and tasking of the mind as they strive to device more creative means of scamming. The idle mind is the devils workshop as they say and their minds were hardly idle.
Statistics are hard to find in Nigeria, but 419 cannot be ruled out as a major contributor to the reduction of unemployment in the 90’s and Early 2000’s. 419 may well have had a larger than expected economic impact on the Nigerian youth even if the government fail to admit it. Some of these guys have used the funds and expertise derived in this scamming business to run successful private businesses employing countless other Nigerians. Most of them can be found in the diesel business, selling of clothes and fashion designing and even singing. Could it also be a coincidence that the Nigerian entertainment Industry became prominent at the height of the 419boom. Some school of thought even believe most of the popular and successful record labels we have in Nigeria got their seed (initial) funding from 419ers.
I do believe a lot of research still needs to be done on the impact of 419 in a larger and multilateral context. Assessing not just the ills but it’s attendant benefits too. That way we can learn more about vices and possible use them to our advantage. Cybercrime was bad but it also ushered in the information technological awareness we have amongst Nigerian youth today.