INTERNET FRAUD, THE IGBO ETHNIC GROUP AND NIGERIA’S BATTERED IMAGE
Last week, the United States Department of Justice released a statement announcing that 80 defendants, most of whom are Nigerians, have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft. In a 145 page document, these Nigerians are alleged to be involved in schemes resulting in the fraudulent transfer of fraudulently-obtained funds of about $46 million. The suspected fraudsters targeted victims in the United States and across the globe, including individuals, small and large businesses, and law firms. Some of the victims, mostly elderly individuals seeking love relationships, have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in one fell swoop. While a few have been arrested in the United States, the report told of how most of them live in Nigeria – and from the names i saw, all 80 but one are of the Igbo ethnic group and males.
For those who do not know, Nigeria is one of the most heterogeneous country in the world with over 400 ethnic groups. It was therefore intriguing to see that all but one of these alleged fraudsters are of the Igbo stock; a people known to be the most industrious and driven ethnic group in the country. The Igbos are (particularly in the world of business) one of the most hardworking and success driven people on earth seeing that an Igbo man/woman has the ability to sell snow to an Eskimo. Such is the drive of the Igbo people that we often joke that: if you find yourself in any Nigerian village and you do not see Coca-cola and an Igbo man there, you must run away because that village is cursed. Due to their drive for financial success, the Igbos are everywhere in Nigeria and around the world (even in ice cold Siberia) running both legitimate and illegitimate businesses.
In business, the Igbo system of apprenticeship is one of the most successful business models as it has empowered many Igbo men, young men who ‘served’ their ogas (masters) for at least seven years and at the end were given the capital to start-up their own businesses. Growing up in the northwestern city of Kaduna, some of my childhood friends were Igbo boys who served their ogas who are engaged in different businesses. Today, and years after they were ‘settled’, most of them are millionaires while I and other non-Igbos are still struggling to find our financial feet. This Igbo apprenticeship business system ensured that the Igbos are easily the most successful (in terms of wealth) ethnic group in Nigeria such that on Sundays, young Igbo boys who are still serving their ogas have enough money to spend on drinks and on isi-ewu (goat pepper soup). For these boys, spending money “nor be ploblem” because they are in business.
Sadly, this laudable business model that launched many Igbo youths into wealth have largely been abandoned and this is why 79 names on this list of internet fraudsters are Igbos. You see, it is almost second-nature for an Igbo man to show off his wealth among his peers/age group and so the average Igbo man would work so hard from January to November just so he can travel to his village to show off the ‘fruits’ of his labor in December (Onwa December) during the Yuletide. This happens because the typical Igbo family, society/community is wealth driven and most Igbo men are pressed to “make it big” – and it is this insatiable hunger and impatience to “make it big” that has pushed many Igbo boys to abandon the legitimate but slow apprenticeship business program to engage in the illegitimate and quick money spinning world of internet fraud and drug trafficking.
An all but one Igbo name on this list does not make every Igbo person a fraudster – but it says a lot about how young men in Igboland are been pressurized, directly and indirectly, by their families and the society to make money since for many Igbo families, wealth is the first way to measure success. Of course other ethnic groups in Nigeria are guilty of this but with this list and many other reported crime cases, the Igbos are in a class of their own. This is the truth but beyond the reactions from this list, the Igbos themselves must look at the root cause of this and work towards changing the narrative. Changing the narrative means parents, family members and the society must desist from pilling pressure on young Igbo men to get rich quick. Changing the narrative also means educating and re-educating Igbos that money is not the only way to measure success, no matter how important having money is.
© Chad Otsapa