It's no secret that Internet fraud is a nasty scar on the face of the country.
Irrespective of strides made in movies, music, medicine, sports and other fields, 'the Nigerian Prince' e-mail scam is still how many foreigners perceive the country. They believe Nigeria is a nation of scammers.
Internet fraud, which is the bastard child of advanced fee fraud (419), has given Nigeria a bad reputation of a country filled with thieves scheming on how to trick innocent people into giving their hard earned cash to them.
An American man, Fredrick Haines, lost $110,000 between 2005-2008. Luckily for the 77-year-old man, Western Union repaid him his money this month.
Not all victims of Internet fraud are lucky to get their money back. This criminal act has ruined many lives and families, banishing them into a life of poverty.
Through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Federal Government has been doing its best to deal with Internet fraud.
In May 2018, operatives of the EFCC arrested suspected Internet fraudsters popularly known as Yahoo boys at a nightclub in Lagos. It was a sensational piece of news that grabbed several headlines even though it wasn't the first time that the EFCC would arrest suspected fraudsters.
This incident led to an online discussion on Internet fraudsters and whether they should be branded as criminals or just victims and products of their environment. Just to clear any doubt, yahoo boys are criminals and they should face the law, prosecuted and jailed for their crimes.
Let's look at the bigger picture. Clearly, Nigeria has a serious Internet fraud which cannot be solved only by regular arrests of these criminals. This approach is merely treating the symptoms and not focusing on the illness. We can arrest 1,000 Yahoo boys in a day and it would do little to stop Internet fraud in Nigeria.
For decades, the United States of America has waged a war on drugs. According to Vox, the war on drugs cost America "$1 trillion on anti-drug efforts" as of 2012. Despite the arrest and death of drug cartel kingpins Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán and Pablo Escobar, America is far from winning the war on drugs.
If the Nigerian government unleashes all of Abacha's loot in fighting Internet fraud, it is a war we are most likely not going to win because it is the wrong approach. To deal with Internet fraud, Nigeria has to take a look at what leads young men into a world of crime.
By 2025, there will be over a hundred million Nigerians living in extreme poverty. According to the Special Advisor to the President on Social Protection, Mrs Maryam Uwais in January 2018, 7% of Nigerians live below the poverty line. This is an alarming statistic that should send our bells ringing.
With so much poverty in a land where the minimum wage is N18,000 ($50), it shouldn't be much of a surprise that young men have gone into a life of crime. Where there is poverty expect criminal acts from the financially disenfranchised. In a bid to live the Nigerian dream (which is to hammer by any means necessary), men and women become online bandits robbing people of their hard-earned cash.
A long-term approach of dealing with Internet fraud is by reducing the poverty rate in the country. If more Nigerians are above the poverty level and the minimum wage is increased to meet the financial demands of the time we are living in, we might witness a drop in criminal activities including Internet fraud.
Another problem that has helped the growth of Internet fraud is unemployment. According to the numbers by the National Bureau of Statistics, 16 million Nigerians were unemployed during the third quarter of 2017.
There are not enough jobs to go around and with our alarming population growth, it is clear that we are not producing enough jobs to accommodate the millions of graduates produced annually. As cliché as it may sound, a young person who has no job and lives before the poverty line would most likely enter a life of crime.
These factors of unemployment and poverty have led many young Nigerians to crime including Internet fraud. Nigeria's long-term approach to dealing with this menace will be to reduce the poverty and unemployment rates. If a sustainable approach is developed the level of crime in the country will dwindle.
ALSO READ: Man proudly rocks 'Yahoo boy' t shirt
We cannot, however, pin our hopes on just dealing with these two factors. There is a third factor that has eroded the moral fibre and screwed the moral compass of many young people in Nigeria. Excessive materialism plays a huge factor in Internet fraud.
Corruption has been allowed to eat too deep into the moral fabric of our society. With corrupt politicians and businessmen having a field day and hardly ever facing the wrath of the law, our society has done away with the value of hard work to worship excessive materialism, people did what they had to do to make money.
"If you no get money, hide your face" is more than just a lyric of a hit single. It is a representation of what the Nigerian society has become. 'Blow by any means necessary' is the Nigerian dream. Hard workers have been replaced by hustlers. We admire and worship individuals with questionable sources of wealth than people who grind daily and earn a honest living.
When you promote the thinking of getting rich by any means necessary, you will have people who are willing do anything to get rich. Many young Nigerians were born into this way of thinking and instead of working hard to make something out of themselves they choose the fast life of quick money and crime.
To properly deal with Internet fraud, a national reorientation of our values has to happen. We need to put back honesty and hard work on the pedestal and do away with the mindset of excessive materialism and get rich quick schemes.
Nigeria has to play the long game to deal with and defeat Internet fraud. Poverty, unemployment and excessive materialism have to be dealt with to get rid of this national menace.