419 is a section of the Nigerian statute books that deal with obtaining money/goods under false pretence. The renegade groups of brilliant unemployed Nigerians active in cyber space have made 419 popular and painted Nigeria black in the comity of nations. A group of less than 50 000 Nigerians had succeeded in branding a nation of 150 million people, scammers.
Nigerians are treated with suspicion worldwide. All Nigerians are presumed to be thieves and crooks, all 150 million of them until proven otherwise. It may sound crazy and illogical, but it sticks well on a third world country without a powerful world media presence for counter propaganda.
For a 419 transaction to be consummated, it requires two crooks. The one who makes the promise, and the one who plays the role of Swiss banks in receiving stolen goods. These scammers have come to realize that there are some greedy European and American citizens who are ready to ignore ethics and morality and rip off third world countries, and receive stolen goods for a fee. They reckon the Swiss virus has infected them. The scammers prey on such, stoking their greed until they switch off their brains. They promise them millions of dollars of dirty money, in exchange for their bank details.
The classic approach is: they are related to Jonas Savimbi, Charles Taylor, Sanni Abacha, Mobutu Sese Seko, Laurent Kabila, or any such African leader that looted his country’s treasury and carted it over to Swiss bank vaults. They tell you there are still some left where those came from, that did not make it to Zurich. Can you help us? The crooked receiver who had switched off his brain says yes, and gets nailed.
There are other variations:
o They offer you a partnership, and need to use your bank account to make some payments.
o A rich guy dies without a next of kin. They give you a link to a BBC etc looking site, where you can read about the news of his "death". They need your help to access the funds by posing as his next of kin.
o You meet in a chat room, fall in love, then the "lady" has some financial problems, or wants to come over to consumate your love. Of course she needs funds through Western Union...
o You get paid for shipping stuff to a certain address (mostly goods bought with a stolen creadit cards) to be shipped abroad
o You land a deal to buy a vinatge car for 25% of the going price
o A bidder pays for your item at a "too good to be true" price, you are sent a mail where you are required to click on a link which takes you to a Western Union, Paypal etc looking site, where payment for the item is "confirmed". On the strength of that, you gladly ship the item right into the waiting arms of scammers.
o You win a lottery you never participated in...
o Your bank suddenly realizes they need you to confirm you detail, and sends you a mail to click on the link (an American Specialty, code-named phising attacks)
o A charity is in dire financial straits...
o The list is inexhaustive, as these scammers squander their God given ingenuity to cause others grief...
There are other scams that target decent ethical business people. These are in the minority. A proper due diligence will expose the scam.
For a country the size of Nigeria, with an extremely low Internet penetration, the reign of the scammers was an accident waiting to happen. Internet access in Nigeria is about the most expensive in the world. You need to shell out a minimum of $120 a month for 24 hours access. This is in a country where per capita income is about $1 a day. Most people access the Internet through the cyber café. Most decent people, after a hard day’s work stay at home to watch TV. This leaves the cyber café open wide to scammers to ply their trade. This is when the damage is done.
The story was the same when telephone was only for the rich, a few years ago. The GSM revolution changed all that. The number of phone lines jumped from about 400,000 to 10 Million in 3 years. Nigeria is about the fastest growing telecoms market on the planet.
The same scenario is about to play out in the theatre of internet penetration. NITEL, the national telecom provider has installed its SAT-3 submarine cables. The GLO network, the second national carrier is putting finishing touches on it’s own version. These will act to crash the Internet access charges, and enable honest Nigerians to log onto the worldwide web from the comfort of their homes. When this happens, the 419 population will become an insignificant minority. Coupled with the arrival of Visa and MasterCard, Nigeria is set to take its place in the e-commerce world. Payment processors like Pay pal and co will be forced to do a rethink.
For the present, the 419 beat goes on, in different forms and ramifications. There is the corporate 419. This is practised by the rich and powerful. Western governments and institutions that scam Nigeria, far away from press cameras and the prying eyes of Transparency International.
o Foreign oil companies that "Enron", "Authur Andersen" and "Worldcom" their books, inflate their operating budgets and obtain money from the Nigerian Government under false pretenses through dubious Joint Venture cash call agreements and production sharing contracts.
o A $12 billion loan was obtained from creditors in the 80's, $54 billion has since been repaid and yet the country is still owing $36 billion, with a recent partial phantom "debt forgiveness" laced with conditionalities. Debt repayment without end.
o Loans that end up in Swiss bank vaults en-route the Paris club for further recycle
o Foreign aid that can only be executed through contracts to companies from the donor nations
o Breaking of Nigeria’s tax laws (Only Haliburton got caught, tip of the iceberg), and bursting of expatriate quotas. Creating jobs abroad at the expense of a so called third world country.
o Companies that operate outside the law in Nigeria, and pull stunts they would never dare attempt in their home countries. Companies that contribute their own quota to Nigeria's famed corruption rating. Angels at home, devils in Nigeria...
o It goes on and on. The rich stealing from the poor......
Will it ever stop? Maybe someday, Nigeria will get a government that is fully alive to it’s responsibility that will put a stop to this huge scam perpetrated by foreigners doing business in Nigeria. Or maybe the corporate scammers will feel a prick of conscience and decide to leave Nigeria alone, to fully rise to its feet. Just maybe.
For the present, Nigeria ends up with the bad name while the western companies and financial institutions smile all the way to the bank. Makes you wonder. What the heck is 419?...
©2005 Usiere Uko