If you are Nigerian, then you are probably familiar with the term "419" or the more colloquial moniker “Yahoo-Yahoo". If you are not Nigerian, then you might have come across the term either from personal experience or by just merely existing in a digitized world.
With the advent of mobile phones and the internet, cybercrimes have become so rampant that it has almost become a norm and an overlooked activity. From email impersonations to credit card scams, the cybercrime sphere has become a negative attachment to the Nigerian society, and unfortunately the lens through which most Nigerians are judged and assessed globally.
The term “419” originates from Section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code. Today, the term is used broadly to classify a complex list of crimes which in are associated with stealing, cheating, falsification, impersonation, counterfeiting, forgery and fraudulent representation of facts.
Cybercrime is not peculiar to Nigeria; it is a global issue affecting the most developed and the least developed economies. According to a 2014 survey by McAfee, cybercrime costs the global economy around $500 billion (nearly one per cent) of global GDP annually. In 2018, they estimated that it now costs the world economy $600 billion (around 0.8%) of global GDP. The increased figure can be attributed to several factors, such as; an increase in the number of online users (particularly those in developing regions with weak cybersecurity), the increase in the ease of committing cybercrimes and the growing number of cybercrime “centers” in places such as Brazil, Vietnam, North Korea and India.
Cybercrime in Nigeria
In a report by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria ranks third in global internet crimes; behind the US and UK. In 2015, around N127 billion was lost to cybercrime in Nigeria. This increased to around N233 billion in 2017 as illustrated below. Cybercrime in Nigeria is seen to be motivated by socioeconomic, psychosocial and geopolitical factors. However, in a nutshell, money is the biggest motivator.
The Economic Impact of Cybercrime
A lot of financial institutions in Nigeria lose money daily as a result of cybercrimes. Most of these cases are unreported because they do not want to create uncertainty and damage consumer confidence.
Businesses contribute immensely to GDP growth through the ongoing cycle of demand and supply. One of the many implications of cybercrime in Nigeria is that it limits the potential of businesses to thrive. Nigerians are very distrusting (and for the right reasons). I personally would think twice before putting my card details on a website I cannot verify, because of the fear of fraud. As a result, many businesses who cannot provide alternative payment methods lack credibility and suffer a huge cash loss, because consumers are uncertain of their legitimacy.
Cybercrime also has huge implications for global perception and investor confidence. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is an important catalyst for growth in developing regions. Thus, if potential investors cannot fully assess the credibility of a market, they lose interest and divert their investments elsewhere. Furthermore, companies who decide to invest regardless, have to incur additional costs to minimize the risk of fraud. This reduces their competitiveness when compared to their counterparts who invest in countries with lower cybercrime rates. Also, in relation to competitiveness; the theft of sensitive company information or intellectual property is detrimental to businesses, and can dampen competitiveness if this information is exploited by the perpetrators.
The loss of human capital is another important economic cost. Think about the amount of spam and scam emails generated daily in Nigeria and the time and effort invested in doing so. Most of these people could be engaging in more productive and purposeful activities that drive economic growth. Surely, if they are tech-savvy enough to defraud thousands of people, then they are also skilled enough to develop ground-breaking apps and online businesses. Cybercrime harnesses the skills and talent of the Nigerian population negatively and impedes our desperately needed economic advancement.
Tackling cybercrime requires a significant amount of time and resources. These resources could be channelled towards sectors that spur productivity and improve the welfare of society. Nigeria has a myriad of issues to deal with; from rising unemployment to increased poverty and a deteriorating educational system. The government cannot afford to keep wasting resources on an issue that could be addressed with the right institutional and legislative framework.
While agencies such as NCC, NITDA and EFCC have all made a commendable effort towards tackling the issue of cybercrime; there is still room and an urgent need for improvement. The government needs to implement and strengthen cyber-security strategies to monitor and prevent the activity. Also, the legal framework needs to be articulated with clarity. Perpetrators of the crime need to be aware that there are severe consequences for their actions. Finally, the government needs to foster public enlightenment and education on the matter. The Nigerian society needs to be aware of the avenues of fraud, who to report suspicious activity to and how to avoid falling victim in the cyberspace.